‘War didn’t happen overnight out of the blue’

Long before the crackdown on March 25, 1971, preparations were made for an armed struggle as it would not be possible to liberate the country without an armed struggle, Haider Anwar Khan Juno — now a left politician and then president of the erstwhile Revolutionary Students Union — tells Khadimul Islam in an interview with New Age

Haider Anwar Khan Juno

Haider Anwar Khan Juno

New Age: The competing political parties of the ruling class, the Bangladesh Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in particular, accuse each other of distorting the history of our liberation war. What is your view about the alleged distortion of the history?
Haider Anwar Khan Juno: Parties in power have always tried to write the history in line with their political interests. Our political parties have failed to overcome their mean-mindedness. Nowadays, the Awami League and the BNP are engaged in a debate over who first declared independence in 1971. If anyone tries to establish that it was Ziaur Rahman who declared independence, it would be a sheer distortion of history. Ziaur Rahman made the proclamation on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from Kalurghat Radio Station as there was nobody else to do it. It is not that Ziaur Rahman on his own declared independence and the liberation war began. But it is also true that Ziaur Rahman made the announcement and it would not be wise if the Awami League now tries to deny that fact.
A group of people allege that pro-Chinese communists did not take part in the war. It was true that a faction of the pro-Chinese communists stood behind Pakistan and did not support the war of independence. But the majority joined the war. Claiming that the leftists did not participate in the war is also a distortion of history.
New Age: There is no doubt that the Awami League, under the active leadership of Tajuddin Ahmad, politically presided over the nine-month liberation war against Pakistan and that the Tajuddin government conducted the liberation war in the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. But the AL often claims to be the sole champion of the liberation war. What role did your party, or other political parties for that matter, play in the liberation war?
vic04Haider Anwar Khan Juno: There was a long preparation for independence in the run-up to the war. It did not happen overnight out of the blue. Language and other movements of the like might be different but leftwing political parties all along dreamt of and worked for independence.
Long before the crackdown on March 25, 1971, we made preparations for an armed struggle as we earlier realised that it would not be possible to liberate the country without an armed struggle. Preparations included the establishment of a bomb-making factory in Dhaka. From the very beginning in January 1971, we started making crude bombs and exploded them — sometimes targeting the police which was reported too in the daily Ittefaq saying that Naxals were trying to foil the talks between Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Sheikh Mujib. But we knew that we had to fight against Pakistan. We brought bomb casings from the Tongi Industrial Area where we had a stronghold. We collected chemicals from shops and the laboratory of Dhaka University chemistry department. We had both the mental and material preparations to fight for independence. But when the war began, we found that our preparation was far short of what was actually needed. However, we were mentally prepared to continue with the fight. On May 1, 1970, the Purba Bangla Biplabi Chhatra Union, of which I was the president, made a declaration that an ‘independent pro-people East Bengal’ should be established through an armed struggle.
In 1970, I was involved in the East Bengal Coordination Committee of the Communist Revolutionaries, top leaders of which were Kazi Zafar, Rashed Khan Menon, Haider Akbar Ali Khan Rano, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Mustafa Zamal Haider.
In February that year, we, the Menon group of the Chhatra Union, at a public meeting in Paltan Maidan declared a resolution to establish an independent democratic republic of East Bengal and leaflets explaining the goal were distributed for which the Pakistani military rulers issued warrants for arrest of several top leaders of the student organisation.
In 1971, under the leadership of the East Bengal Coordination Committee of the Communist Revolutionaries, we built up 14 armed guerrilla bases including one at Shibpur in Narsingdi, where I fought battles throughout the war.
Shibpur became the headquarters of the coordination committee and we maintained contact with all bases from there, giving them political directions and organising the liberation war against Pakistan.
A strong armed liberation force was built in the area under the leadership of Mannan Bhuiyan, a coordination committee leader.
New Age: At what point of political development in Dhaka, did you or your party resolve to start liberation war against the occupation forces of Pakistan?
Haider Anwar Khan Juno: Yahya’s refusal to hand over state power to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who secured majority in the 1970 elections, immediately gave a final shape to the struggle for our independence. Sheikh Mujib would have been the prime minister of Pakistan if Pakistan’s political leadership, including Bhutto, had accepted him as the prime minister of Pakistan. But we realised that the war had already broken out and East Pakistan could not be liberated without force. Pakistan launched a crackdown on the people of East Pakistan leading to the beginning of war. But before that, there had been a long history of East Pakistan’s struggle against deprivation and oppression by West Pakistan, which was exposed at different times, through different incidents and movements such as the ones in 1962, 1964 and 1969. At the Kagmari Conference of the Awami League in 1957, Bhashani said ‘assalamu alaikum’ (good bye) to the West Pakistani authorities. It was not only the Awami League that had a role in these movements. So, immediately after the March 25 military crackdown, we built up resistance against the Pakistani army.
New Age: There are allegations that the government-in-exile of Tajuddin Ahmad and the Indian authorities refused to provide training and weapons for the leftwing political activists? Why? How was the issue eventually resolved?
Haider Anwar Khan Juno: First of all, Indira Gandhi was a capitalist politician and the Awami League League too was aspiring to build up capitalism in Bangladesh. That is why they had close relations. On the other hand, Indira did not have good relations with left parties. Whenever our boys went to the Melagar camp in India for training, they were denied. If some boys went there secretly and their identity was exposed later, they were sent back immediately. Shahidullah Khan Badal, a leader in the Melagar camp, was asked to leave the camp for helping the leftists to receive training in the camp. In India, two groups used to conduct military training — one is Freedom Fighters and the other is the Mujib Bahini. Mujib Bahini was formed with only activists of the Awami league and its student wing Chhatra League. The pro-Moscow communists also received training. But the pro-Chinese communists were not allowed to receive training. We did not get any help from India. We built our own military force in Shibpur. We were in contact with Captain Mahmud who trained around 40 boys secretly. Captain Mahmud trained our boys on his own going against the policy of India. We used to loot local police stations to build up our arms collection. We also collected arms and weapons of Pakistani forces after defeating them. We fought staying inside the country. We did not cross the border although our location was only about 30 kilometres off the border.
New Age: It is common knowledge that Awami League leader Khondaker Mushtaque Ahmed wanted to compromise with the Pakistani authorities during our liberation war. Was any other leader or faction of the Awami League supporting Mushtaque’s move? How was the suicidal move thwarted?
Haider Anwar Khan Juno: Throughout the entire period of the liberation war, I stayed inside the country. I had no direct information on the matter. I heard of it. I heard that the Indian government also had such information and that some Awami League leaders were kept in confinement after Yahya Khan had declared a general amnesty so that the Awami League MPs cannot compromise with Yahya’s military junta. But it was not possible at that time for Khondaker Mushtaque to make such a move successful as the entire nation was at war against Pakistan.
New Age: There are allegations that youth leaders of the Mujib Bahini, formed and specially trained by the Indian authorities, did not properly cooperate with the government of Tajuddin Ahmad during the liberation war. Why was, in your view, the Mujib Bahini formed in the first place and how did it affect the process of our liberation war?
Haider Anwar Khan Juno: The Mujib Bahini was formed aiming at keeping full command over the country once Bangladesh became independent. After a good number of leftwing students had joined the war, a kind of fear gripped a section of Awami League leaders that leftist ideology could have a significant influence on an independent Bangladesh. They [the Mujib Bahini] did not take part in the war; they, rather, were busy making preparations to control the independent Bangladesh. There was no Awami League man in Shibpur during the war. All the Awami League men left for India while we were engaged in fighting against Pakistani occupation forces. We tried to persuade them to stay with us for we genuinely wanted our force to be an all-party affair. But a rumour ran high in India that time, particularly in Tripura and the Melagar camp, that we were killing all Awami League men in Shibpur. It was also rumoured that we had established a communist reign in the area after killing all Awami League men. Later in October, a huge contingent of the Mujib Bahini was sent from India to disarm us. It is ridiculous that they tried to disarm the people who were fighting against Pakistan for independence. However, all the confusion was dispelled when they came to know of our strength, activities and contact with the mass people. Although no confrontation took place between freedom fighters and the Mujib Bahini in Shipbur, some misunderstanding was reported from different places. The Mujib Bahini was a privileged force but it hardly fought the war.
New Age: Different sections of people of Bangladesh took part in the liberation war. Did all sections of people have the same expectations from an independent Bangladesh? What were the aspirations of the poor masses who had made the greatest sacrifice?
Haider Anwar Khan Juno: All the people, even all the freedom fighters, did not have similar expectations or understanding during the war. The people of the area where I fought the war had expectations that they would get rid of poverty and inequality as the West Pakistanis were repressing them while many of them were unaware of the territorial independence. People thought that this region would emerge as a paradise if Pakistanis left the region. The wealthier section of people thought that they would get more facilities for their businesses and become even wealthier once East Pakistan was liberated from West Pakistan. Expectations of different quarters were also different. Many wanted to bring an end to the repression, deprivation, inequality and the influence of foreign countries and forces on them.
New Age: What are the impediments towards meeting the aspirations of people at large that were generated out of a successful war of independence in 1971?
Haider Anwar Khan Juno: If the war had dragged on for long, ordinary people and freedom fighters would have established their stronghold in their localities. The influence of the masses was rapidly growing with their participation in the war. But the war ended suddenly. No country in the world became independent in such a short time of nine months. We were, however, claiming that our countrymen brought independence in only nine months. It would have taken at least five years to liberate our country if the Indian army had not entered ours and engaged in a war with the Pakistani occupation forces. India also realised that the influence of leftists was increasing day by day and that was why it immediately engaged its army in freeing the country from Pakistan’s occupation and handed over power to the Awami League. India handed over state power of Bangladesh to the Awami League, not to people of an independent Bangladesh.
New Age: There is some documentation, inadequate though, about the sacrifice of women in the liberation war but their sacrifice is not yet discussed in public forums. How should the problem be addressed?
Haider Anwar Khan Juno: Our society is primarily male chauvinistic which was reflected in the documentation regarding women’s role in the liberation war. We have undermined the sacrifice of the women. Successive governments have ignored the issue from the very beginning. It is true that women’s participation in frontline war was limited but they helped freedom fighters through various means. They ensured food supply for freedom fighters and provided them with information on Pakistani soldiers. Even my wife cooked food for freedom fighters in Shibpur.
New Age: There is still controversy at home and abroad over the actual number of martyrs in our liberation war. What is the scientific way to put an end to the controversy?
Haider Anwar Khan Juno: First of all, we want to know the methodology that was used to calculate the number. Like my fellow countrymen, I also want to know which researcher has come to a decision on the number of deaths during the liberation war. It was the government’s responsibility to prepare a list of the martyrs and deaths in the war. It is really difficult but not impossible to prepare a list now. With time rolling on, it would be more difficult to prepare such a list. It is high time that the government started preparing the list objectively as soon as possible.

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