‘It was never a war of a single party, person’

Mushtaque Ahmed’s plot was to form a confederation with Pakistan and stop fighting the liberation war. To realise his plan, he contacted Pakistan and the United States. Some Awami League leaders, cabinet members and bureaucrats were part of Mushtaque Ahmed’s plot, Manzurul Ahsan Khan — now an adviser to the Communist Party of Bangladesh who, along with the police, took part in the first resistance against the crackdown by the Pakistan occupation forces at the Rajarbagh Police Lines at night on March 25, 1971 — tells Moloy Saha and Mohiuddin Alamgir in an interview with New Age

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?

Manzurul Ahsan Khan

Manzurul Ahsan Khan

Manzurul Ahsan Khan: It is true that both the Awami League and the BNP have distorted the history of the liberation war of 1971. To me, the BNP has distorted history more than the Awami League has done.
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 Awami League often claims to be the sole champion of the country’s war of liberation. What role did your party, or other political parties for that matter, play in the Liberation War?
Manzurul Ahsan Khan: Tajuddin led the liberation war in the name of the people. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been in jail in Pakistan for the whole period but he was the undisputed leader of the liberation war.
The Communist Party of Bangladesh, the National Awami Party, [CPB leader] comrade Moni Singh, [NAP leader] Professor Mozaffar Ahmed and others played the leading role during the war. The NAP, the CPB and Chhatra Union formed joint guerrilla forces and took part in the armed struggle.
The NAP and the CPB tried to form unity and coordination during the struggle for our liberation. These two parties stood against opportunists among the government-in-exile of Bangladesh, the Awami League and different political forces of India. They played a significant role in persuading different democratic, progressive, communist and socialist countries, the Soviet Union, and trade unions to be in favour of the war of independence of Bangladesh. Liberation war was never a war for a single man or party. It was, rather, a united war of all the people of the country.
New Age: At what point in the political development in Dhaka, did you or your party resolve to start the liberation war against the occupation forces of Pakistan?
Manzurul Ahsan Khan: Immediately after the creation of the Pakistan state based on the two-nation theory, then Communist Party said that this artificial state would not sustain. From the beginning, the Communist Party fought over the issue of self-rule and autonomy for people of East Bengal and other Pakistani nationalities. On the other hand, the Awami Muslim League accepted the creation of Pakistan and worked on reforms in the then democratic system.
Moreover, when Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy became prime minister, they dropped their demand of autonomy and lent support to military pacts of imperialist forces like the United States, ignoring freedom-loving people.
When Yahya Khan [president of Pakistan from 1969 to 1971] postponed the session of National Assembly after the elections of 1970, the Communist Party realised that there was no alternative to an armed struggle.
Although Sheikh Mujib on his own was holding meetings with Yahya Khan and confusion and uncertainty crept in, the Communist Party continued with its preparation for a war.
The Communist Party instructed all party workers as well as the masses to make preparations for a war and they began holding arms training and parades.
As soon as the Pakistani army began its crackdown at midnight of March 25, 1971 in different places in Dhaka, workers of the party, along with the people of the country, tried to resist the occupation forces.
On the fateful night, the Pakistani military launched Operation Search Light, in which the Rajarbagh police lines, which was near my house at Chamelibagh, was first attacked. I also joined the police personnel who tried to resist the brutal attack.
After the bloody battle, we took many police personnel to hospital. We also sent the arms which obtained earlier during battle to adjacent villages. After regrouping workers and people, at the party’s instruction, we joined the liberation war.
New Age: There are allegations that the government-in-exile of Tajuddin Ahmad and the Indian authorities refused to provide training and weapons for leftwing political activists? Why? How was the issue eventually resolved?
Manzurul Ahsan Khan: It is true that many Awami League leaders and MPs refused to provide training and weapons for the leftwing political activists and in some cases, even, opposed leftwing activists joining the war.
Some cabinet members of the government-in-exile, the Awami League and youth leaders had anti-communist or anti-leftist sentiments.
But in some cases, a section of left-centric Awami League leaders recruited left activists only after they had hidden their political identities. One more thing that I want to add is that Tajuddin personally did not have any negative attitude towards recruiting left-leaning activists for the war. Many sector commanders were against the refusal against left activist recruitment.
During the liberation war, Communist Party leaders had contracts with Tajuddin and MAG Osmani [commander-in-chief of Bangladesh Forces during the war].
Indian authorities had mistrusts and doubts about the role of the pro-Peking leftists. But I do not think that they had a negative attitude towards all leftists.
Because of the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency at that time in India, fear for the role of pro-Peking leftists inside Bangladesh, anti-leftist sentiment in the Awami League and the anti-communist propaganda of the United States, India took a cautious position during the war.
Some Awami League, student and youth leaders opposed Tajuddin and the formation of the government-in-exile and no clear announcement from Sheikh Mujib about Tajuddin’s leadership created some tension amongst the Indians.
The Awami League, Indian authorities and the US government had a common fear that that if the liberation war was prolonged, the leftists would rise up to play a leading role. If leftists had taken the leader, China might have changed its position and would have supported the liberation war.
The conspiracy by some members of the Bangladesh government-in-exile to form a confederation with Pakistan, their contacts with US government, confrontations between the government and the Awami Leaguers, Mujib Bahini’s refusal to work under the Tajuddin government then prompted the decision of India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi to provide training for the leftists, especially workers of the Communist Party and the NAP.
The Soviet Union, East European leftist blocs, and the then Communist Party of India chairman SA Dange and general secretary Rajeswara Rao and others, played pivotal roles in organising war training for the leftists. The  Communist Party of India was a political ally of the Indian National Congress, which was in power and figures such as DP Dhar, PN Haskar also played vital roles there. After a heavy Soviet Union lobbying, the government-in-exile set up an all-party advisory committee. The formation of the advisory committee was a significant step towards establishing the point to the outside world that the liberation war of Bangladesh was a war of the whole nation.
After all these, guerillas of NAP-Communist Party and Chhatra Union received military training in the shortest possible time. After the Indo–Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation [signed between India and the Soviet Union in August 1971], the guerillas received arms and took part in the battles.
New Age: It is common knowledge that Awami League leader Khondaker Mushtaque Ahmed wanted to compromise with the Pakistani authorities during the liberation war. Was any other leader or faction of the Awami League supporting Mustaque’s move? How was the suicidal move thwarted?  
Manzurul Ahsan Khan: Mushtaque Ahmed’s plot was to form a confederation with Pakistan and stop fighting the liberation war. To realise his plan, he contacted Pakistan and the United States. Some Awami League leaders, cabinet members and bureaucrats were part of Mushtaque Ahmed’s plot.
Tajuddin and the Indian government stood in the way and cancelled Mushtaque’s visit to the United States. Not only that, Mushtaque and his associates were kept under watch during the remaining days of the war.
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?
Manzurul Ahsan Khan: The Mujib Bahini was formed to establish the sole authority of Sheikh Mujib and Awami League leaders during the liberation war and afterwards. The Indian intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency of United States played a pivotal role in the formation of the Mujib Bahini. One of the main targets was to thwart leftist emergence if the liberation war dragged on. The Mujib Bahini’s other target was to kill communists and people of other ideologies.
From the beginning, the Mujib Bahini was against Tajuddin and his government. Mustaque and his followers were also with the Mujib Bahini.
Similarities between Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni [a Mujib Bahini and Awami League leader] and Mustaque in opposing Tajuddin in the liberated Bangladesh and Sheikh Mujib’s support for them [Moni and Mustaque] raised questions.
The Mujib Bahini did not cooperate with Tajuddin’s government; it, rather, opposed the government. Someone from the Mujib Bahini even tried to kill Tajuddin in Kolkata during the liberation war.
There were many dedicated freedom fighters in the Mujib Bahini but their overall activities weakened and hampered the process of the liberation war.
New Age: Allegations also have it that in order to take control of the war, the Mujib Bahini often engaged itself in clashes with the Mukti Bahini. Did such clashes upset the morale of the freedom fighters on the ground?
Manzurul Ahsan Khan: The Mujib Bahini often engagement in clashes with the Mukti Bahini, NAP-Communist Party-Chhatra Union guerrilla forces. It was a stab in the back for the people fighting the liberation war.
New Age: Different sections of people took part in the liberation war. Did all sections of people have the same expectations form an independent Bangladesh? What were the aspirations of poor masses who made the greatest sacrifice?
Manzurul Ahsan Khan: People from different sections of society might have had different aspirations. Each section of people will give preference to their aspirations and dreams. But during the war, common expectations were an independent, democratic, secular, exploitations free and prosperous country.
New Age: What are the impediments towards meeting aspirations of the people at large that were generated out of a successful war of liberation in 1971?
Manzurul Ahsan Khan: Capitalists in our country are composed of looters and since the country’s independence, they have been in power. By using power, they are engaged in looting, corruption, grabbing land of minorities and the poor, river land grab, extortion, tender manipulation, smuggling and drug trading, in their bid to make fortunes.
On most occasions, imperialist powers help these capitalists. To me, all these are great obstacles towards meeting aspirations of the people.
New Age: There is some documentation, inadequate though, about sacrifices of women in the liberation war but their sacrifices are not yet discussed in public forums. How should the problem be addressed?
Manzurul Ahsan Khan: Women have been denied recognition of their contribution to society as ours is a patriarchal society. So it was normal that their roles in the liberation war came to be neglected.
We need to ensure women’s empowerment in its true sense. Their economic  freedom is a must for their development and the country’s.
New Age: There is still controversy at home and abroad over the actual number of the martyrs in our liberation war. What can we do in a scientific manner to put an end to this controversy?
Manzurul Ahsan Khan: Citing different figures about the number of martyrs in our liberation war was an attempt to play down the Pakistani occupation force’s genocide and its danger.
We should keep in mind that the Pakistan military carried out one of the worst genocides in the history of the world. And there is no space left for mercy.
We could have made a proper list of how many people were martyred in our liberation war immediately after the independence; but it did not happen. I believe that we can still have a list.

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