M. A. G. Osmani

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M. A. G. Osmani
MAG osmani.jpg
Nickname(s) Bongobir (বঙ্গবির)
Born (1918-09-01)1 September 1918
Sylhet, British Raj
Died 16 February 1984(1984-02-16) (aged 65)
London, England
Buried at Shah Jalal Dargah Cemetery
Sylhet, Bangladesh
Allegiance British Empire (1939-1947)
Pakistan (1947-1967)
Bangladesh (1971-1972)
Service/branch British Indian Army
Pakistan Army
Bangladesh Army
Years of service 1939-1972
Rank General
Commands held

General Muhammad Ataul Gani Osmani (Bengali: মুহাম্মদ আতাউল গনি ওসমানী; 1 September 1918 – 16 February 1984), also known as Bongobir (the Hero of Bengal), was a Bengali military officer who was commander-in-chief of the Mukti Bahini during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Osmani's career spanned five decades, beginning with service in the British Indian Army in 1939. He fought in Burma during World War II, and served in the Pakistan Army until 1967. Osmani was appointed head of the Bengali armed resistance in 1971 by the Provisional Government of Bangladesh, and he is regarded as the founder of the Bangladesh Armed Forces.

Osmani entered politics in independent Bangladesh, serving as a member of parliament and cabinet minister in the government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He resigned from the government after he opposed the creation of BAKSAL. Osmani is credited with introducing Kazi Nazrul Islam's "Chol Chol Chol" as Bangladesh's national march.

Early life and education[edit]

Osmani was born to a landowning family in Sunamganj, British India, on 1 September 1918. He was a descendant of Shah Nizamuddin Osmani, a 14th-century associate of Shah Jalal. The Osmani ancestral village is in Dayamir Union, Balaganj Upazila.

Osmani attended the Cotton School in Sylhet, matriculating at the Sylhet Government Pilot School in 1934. He won the Pritoria Prize for excellence in English.[1] Osmani studied geography at Aligarh Muslim University, and graduated in 1938. He enrolled as a cadet at the Indian Military Academy the following year.

Military career[edit]

When he joined the British Indian Army, Osmani was a member of the 4th Urban Infantry from 1939 to 1940.[1] He was commissioned as a second lieutenant artillery officer in October 1940. Osmani was initially attached to the 2nd Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment, which was tasked with a New Delhi depot.[2] After he completed the Short Mechanical Transport Course (November 1940 - February 1941) and Junior Tactical Course (February - April 1941), he was attached to a mechanical transport battalion of the XV Corps and posted in Burma during World War II.[3]

British Indian Army (1941–47)[edit]

Osmani was promoted to temporary captain on 17 February 1941, and received a battlefield promotion to temporary major on 23 May 1942. Between 1941 and 1945, he held the posts of platoon commander, battalion adjutant, company 2IC and battalion commander. From November 1944 to February 1945, Osmani was a grade-two general staff officer at his formation headquarters, completing the Senior Officers Course after the war.[4]

He was attached to British Indian Army HQ Bihar and Orissa Area from May to July 1946 before attending the Senior Officers Course. When Osmani completed the course in February 1947, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.[5] He was posted to British Indian Army GHQ in Simla in the Quartermaster General and Ordnance Branches until August 1947, and from August to October 6, 1947 as GSO-2 at the HQ of Claude Auchinleck in New Delhi. Although Osmani had passed the Indian Civil Service examination, he declined a foreign-service position in 1947 to remain with the Pakistan Army.[5] He witnessed the end of the British Indian Army, representing Pakistan during the division of army assets between India and Pakistan.[6]

Pakistan Army[edit]

After the 1947 birth of India and Pakistan in 1947 following the departure of Lord Mountbatten, Governor-General of British India, Osmani joined the Pakistan Army on 7 October 1947 and was promoted to acting lieutenant colonel on 7 January 1948. He was assigned to general-staff headquarters as GSO-1, Coordination, Planning and Personnel.[4]

Osmani attended the Long Term Staff Course at the Quetta Staff College and served with Yahya Khan, Tikka Khan and A. A. K. Niazi, all of whom led the Pakistan Army against his Bangladesh forces in 1971. After completing the course, Osmani joined the staff of army chief of staff Reginald Hutton in January 1949 and (as chair of a committee tasked by Douglas Gracey to evaluate army enlistment standards) recommended the establishment of cadet colleges in East Pakistan.[5] He later became an assistant adjutant general.


After serving as a staff officer for eight years, Osmani joined the Pakistan Army infantry. With a rank of major and after induction training, he joined the 5/14 Punjab. He was posted as 2IC and company commander of the 5th Punjab Battalion of the 14th Punjab Regiment), part of a brigade commanded by Ayub Khan, in 1950. Osmani became commander of the 105th Brigade Training Team in January 1951 and commander of the 5/14 Punjab in May, followed by a four-month tour of duty in Kashmir and Waziristan.[4][7]

Osmani disagreed with Chief of Army Staff Ayub Khan[8] over the treatment of Ishfakul Majid, the senior Bengali army officer in who was falsely accused in the Rawalpindi conspiracy and forced to resign.[9] In August 1951 Osmany left 5/14 Punjab and was posted as third CO of the 1st East Bengal Regiment, the first Bengali to hold the post, in October.[10]

East Pakistan (1950–1956)[edit]

Osmani became the CO of the 1st East Bengal Regiment, stationed in Jessore as part of the 107th Brigade, on 8 November 1951. He chose Bengali songs for regimental marching and its band ("Chal Chal Chal", "Gram Chara oi ranga matir path" by Rabindranath Tagore and Dhano Dhaney Pushpay Bhora by D.L. Roy), and the Bratachari (introduced by Shodoy Dutt) became the regimental dance.[11] Osmani ordered his NCOs to submit the daily situation report in Bangla.[12] The display of Bengali culture was frowned on by his Punjabi superiors,[13] who disliked the adoption of what they saw as Hindu culture.[14] Osmani was commandant of the East Bengal Regimental Center in Chittagong from February 1953 to January 1955.

He also commanded the 107th Brigade in Jessore from April to October 1953 (when he was promoted to major), rejoining 1 EBR as CO until February 1954. After Osmani completed the GHQ law course and left the EBRC, he became an additional commandant (later deputy director) of the East Pakistan Rifles under the provincial government of East Bengal in March 1955.[12] In the EPR, he expanded the recruitment of non-Bengali minority groups and ended recruiting from West Pakistan.[15]

GHQ Pakistan[edit]

Osmani, now a lieutenant colonel, was a senior advisor at CENTO headquarters in Baghdad as part of the Pakistan military delegation from December 1955 to May 1956. He was promoted to acting colonel in May 1956, joining the Pakistan Army GHQ at Rawalpindi as deputy director for military operations (DDMO).[4] In August and September 1957 he was an acting brigadier, serving as DDMO until May 1966. Osmani received the permanent rank of colonel in 1961, and received advanced modern weapons training in the United States three years later. He served under Gul Hassan Khan in 1964, and Khan felt that Osmani was being passed over for promotion. Khan allowed him to focus on the Bengal regiments.[16]

By 1958 Osmani was deputy director of the general staff and then deputy director of military operations under Yahya Khan, a position he held until his retirement eight years later. Although he reached the rank of colonel in the first decade of his career, during the next decade he did not receive a promotion. During Osmani's tenure as DDMO in the General Staff Branch, he was a Pakistan Army advisor at CENTO, SEATO and Air Defense Committee of Pakistan meetings.[17]

Bengali recruitment bottleneck[edit]

Pakistan was left with six infantry divisions and one armored brigade after the division of the British Indian army in 1947, and these formations were not fully equipped or staffed. The number of Bengali officers and soldiers in the Pakistan armed forces was small, due to the British preference for recruiting from the martial races and the departure of many non-Muslim Bengali personnel for the Indian Army. The Pakistan Army raised two battalions of the East Bengal Regiment from 1947 to 1950, and a number of Punjab regiments were inherited from the British Indian Army. The Azad Kashmir Regiment was created soon after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947.

When Osmani joined GHQ in 1956, three East Bengal regiments and the East Bengal Regimental Centre (EBRC) were part of the Pakistan Army. Over the next nine years the number of Punjab regiments (reorganized in 1956) reached almost 50, the Frontier Force and Baluch Regiments (both created in 1957) were reaching the mid-40s and the Azad Kashmir regiment was in the 40s. Six East Bengal Regiments were created during this period. Many senior army officers still believed in the martial-race theory, and considered Bengalis to poor military material.[18][19] Bengali recruits, generally smaller in stature than West Pakistanis, often failed to meet the minimum physical requirements (which were based on average West Pakistani physical characteristics).[18] Many Pakistani officers favored mixed regiments over Bengali ones, and some officers felt that increasing the number of Bengali formations threatened the army's unity.[20]

Role in 1965 war[edit]

Osmani was sidelined by the Pakistani generals, despite his service as DDMO during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, and he devoted himself to the East Bengal regiments. He complained that the Pakistani press suppressed the contributions of his 1st Bengal unit, which was posted in Kasur during the war.[21] Successive Bengali and non-Bengali COs of the 1 EBR built on Osmani's foundation, and under the command of A. T. K. Haque its battalion received 17 awards for gallantry (including two Sitara-e-Jurats and nine Tamgha-i-Jurats)—the largest number of awards of any Pakistan Armed Forces unit in the war. When Osmani visited the unit and recommended a Nishan-e-Haider for a member, he was reportedly furious when the battalion CO declined his recommendation.[22] He organized Bengal regimental reunions, seizing every opportunity to enhance the reputation of Bengali units in the Pakistan Army.

After the war, Osmani chaired the committee tasked with determining future army-reserve and logistical requirements and was president of the Army Sports Control Board from July 1965 to April 1966. On 16 May 1966, he went on leave prior to retirement (LPR). Osmani's successor as DDMO was Rao Farman Ali, who played a controversial role in 1971 Bangladesh. Ali was reportedly horrified at Osmani's treatment by the army; his office was run-down, Osmani was kept out of the loop and office employees treated him with disdain. According to Ali, Osmani was not promoted because he was Bengali and deemed untrustworthy by the high command.[23]

Retirement and continued influence[edit]

Osmani retired from the Pakistan Armed Forces on 16 February 1967. Although he had failed to increase the number of Bengal regiments, the Pakistani high command (at the recommendation of Khwaja Wasiuddin) put the existing regiments through a battery of exercises in West Pakistan to test their adaptability and combat readiness. The evaluator of the exercises said the Bengali units performed well, their pride in representing East Pakistan a component of their success, and opposed their replacement with mixed regiments.

The Pakistani high command did not increase the number of Bengali units until 1969, when (after a pledge by Yahya Khan) the number of Bengal regiments were increased to 10 and all new units were ordered to ensure a minimum 25-percent annual Bengali representation among their recruits.[24] Osmani, known as "Papa Tiger", was revered by the Bengali troops because of his efforts on their behalf. Although he was not the senior Bengali officer (Ishfakul Majid, commissioned out of Sandhurst in 1924, was older) and did not reach the highest Bengali rank in the Pakistani army (as did Lt. General Khwaja Wasiuddin), Osmani, Wasiuddin and M. H. Mozumdar were patrons of the Bengali troops.[25]

Political activity[edit]

Osmani was not directly involved in the Agartala Conspiracy Case. Those involved sought his opinion through Khandker Nazmul Huda (Accused No. 27, sub-sector commander of the BDF in 1971 and a Bangladesh Army colonel in 1975), and Osmani recommended a political solution for the discrimination faced by Bengalis in Pakistan.[26] He had been questioned in 1958, before the trials began, on issues related to the case.[27]

Awami League candidate[edit]

After his retirement Osmani entered East Pakistani politics, joining Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's All Pakistan Awami Muslim League in 1970. As an Awami League candidate, he was elected to the national assembly from the Balaganj-Fenchuganj Upazila area of Sylhet. Osmani did not serve as a Pakistani MNA, because after the beginning of the Bangladesh War of Independence he joined its provisional government.

Bangladesh Liberation War[edit]

Military map of Bangladesh
Pakistani and Bengali units on 25 March 1971, during Operation Searchlight; some unit locations are not shown.

Osmani and Ishfakul Majid formed part of the military advisory team for the Awami League leadership in 1971. As the political crisis deepened in March, many Bengali officers of the Pakistan Armed Forces looked to Bengali politicians for guidance and Osmani coordinated the clandestine meetings. Bengali military officers, alarmed by the buildup of Pakistani forces and concerned about their own safety,[28][29][30] maintained contact with Rahman;[31] some maintained contact with Awami League leaders through Osmani, who reportedly agreed to coordinate the activities of Bengali units.[32] Toeing the party line, he advised the officers (including M. R. Mazunder, Chittagong martial-law administrator and Rezaul Jalil, CO of the 1st EBR) against "rash" actions.[30]

Operation Searchlight[edit]

Before the crackdown the student and youth wings of the Awami League set up training camps and trained volunteers with Bengali helpers and student cadets, although the league leadership refrained from declaring independence before 7 March 1971. Bengali ex-servicemen held rallies supporting independence; officers and troops kept abreast of the political situation in East Pakistan, which was becoming uncertain and confrontational. Majid and Osmani reportedly designed a military plan of action:[33] capture the Dhaka airport and Chittagong seaport, sealing off the province. The EPR and police would capture Dhaka, aided by Awami League volunteers, and cantonments would be neutralized by Bengali soldiers. Bengali officers advised sabotaging the fuel dumps at Narayanganj and Chittagong to ground Pakistani air power and cripple armed-force mobility.

The Awami League leadership, attempting a political solution,[33] did not endorse action or preparation for conflict by Bengali soldiers before the crackdown. Warnings by Bengali officers that the Pakistan Army was preparing to strike were ignored, and junior Bengali officers were told by their superiors to be prudent and avoid political issues.

The Pakistan Army caught the Bengali political leadership and soldiers by surprise. Resistance to Operation Searchlight was spontaneous and disorganized, and nearly all the Awami League leadership fled to Calcutta. Bengali soldiers were largely unaware of the larger situation; many units performed routine duties as late as March 31, rebelling only under Pakistani attack. A general amnesty for Bengali troops suggested by Pakistani generals on 31 March was ignored.[34] Ziaur Rahman was warned of Yahia Khan's departure and Pakistani troop movements, and his 26 March declaration of independence was largely unnoticed.[35] No countrywide communication reached Bengali soldiers to begin the uprising; they rebelled when they were attacked or heard news of the Pakistani attack.

Osmani was at the home of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman when Bengali officers informed Awami League leaders of Yahia Khan's departure and the army movements.[36] After Rahman refused to go into hiding, Osmani hid in Dhaka until 29 March, shaved off his mustache (he was known as "the man attached to a mustache")[37] and headed for the Indian border. He went to Jingira, then by boat to Daudkandi (where suspicious residents detained him before the brother of the local member of parliament helped free him).[38] Osmani walked and crossed the Gomoti by boat )with the help of a Bengali army signal corps officer),[39] reaching India by 2 April 1971.

Meetings at Teliapara[edit]

Osmani arrived at Teliapara, where the 2nd and 4th East Bengal Regiments (EBR) established a temporary base with a member of the BSF on 2 April 1971. He held a meeting of Bengali officers on 4 April, attended by M. A. Rab, 2 EBR CO K. M. Shafiullah, 4 EBR CO Khaled Musharraf, 8 EBR CO Ziaur Rahman, Salahuddin Reza, Qazi Nurujjaman and Shafat Jamil. Osmani proposed that the 2nd and 4th EBR occupy Comilla, and asked Jaman to formulate a fireplan. After objections by other officers that the battalions would incur crippling losses, the proposal was dropped.[40] Zia proposed that all available forces surround Chittagong, to hold the area as long as possible; this idea was also dropped as impractical.[41] The commanders agreed to send two companies (one each from 2 and 4 EBR) to aid the 8th EBR under Ziaur Rahman.

Five sector commanders were appointed by Osmani: Ziaur Rahman (Chittagong area), Khaled Musharraf (Comilla), K M Shafiullah (Sylhet), Abu Osman Chowdhury (Kushtia-Jessore) and Salahuddin Reza (Mymensingh area).[42] On April 7, he instructed Q. N. Jaman to oversee operations in Sylhet.[43] The officers agreed that a government in exile should be formed, with the Bengali forces under its authority.

Osmani toured Mukti Bahini positions in Sylhet, and on 9 April he visited Aziz with 2 EBR Charlie Company near Sylhet.[44] That day another conference took place, attended by Director General Rustomji of the BSF and Bengali officers. At the meeting Osmani was elected commander of the Bengali forces,[45] and an agreement was reached with Indian officers on logistical assistance for Bengali forces. The need to form a Government in exile was agreed, to prevent the struggle from being viewed as a military revolt.[41] The conference abruptly adjourned when Osmani left after he heard that five PAF jets were inbound.[46][47] The following day, three more sector commanders were appointed: Nazmul Huq (Rajshahi-Pabna) and captains for Rangpur-Dinajpur and Barisal.[48] The Pakistan Army appointed A. A. K. Niazi GOC for East Pakistan the same day. On 12 April, the Bengali government in exile at Agartola appointed Osmani commander of the Mukti Bahini. With the formation of the Bangladesh government on 17 April 1971, he was reinstated to active duty and appointed commander-in-chief.

Early activities as commander-in-chief[edit]

Operation Searchlight: Pakistan army operation 10 April  - 19 June. Not to scale; some troop movements and locations are indicative only.

Osmani took command of the Mukhti Bahini after 17 April 1971. Since the Bengali forces were geographically isolated and lacked command staffs and a communications network, real-time command of the formations was impossible. Osmani allowed the sector commanders to fight as they saw fit, while he toured the sectors and met with Indian officials in New Delhi and Kolkata concerning weapons and communications. Although India was unable to offer material aid, it helped design Mukhti Bahini structure and expressed the possibility of future Indian intervention.

The Bengalis put up an unexpectedly-stiff resistance, derailing the initial Pakistani estimate of pacifying East Pakistan by 10 April. Their initial success was unsustainable, and they began experiencing a lack of trained men, officers, coordination, a central command structure and supplies (despite some aid from the BSF) although most of the country was still free of Pakistani control. The Pakistani Army airlifted its 9th and 16th Infantry Divisions to Bangladesh by 10 April, and was poised to seize the initiative. Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, after a briefing by the departing East Pakistan GOC, implemented a strategy[49] to clear all large cities of insurgents and secure Chittagong; to control and open all river, road and rail networks; to drive the insurgents away from the country's interior, and to launch combing operations across Bangladesh to wipe out the insurgency network.

Bengali field commanders adopted a strategy of "holding as much area for as long as possible".[50] The Bengali political leadership hoped to keep the Pakistanis confined to the cities, while the government in exile sought diplomatic recognition and the resistance prepared for guerrilla warfare[51] and awaited expected Indian military intervention.[52]

Indian involvement[edit]

The Pakistan opposed military action against civilians in East Pakistan out of concern for an Indian attack,[53] which the Pakistan Army was unprepared to meet in March 1971. After the crackdown, Tajuddin Ahmed met with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 3 April and requested additional aid;[54] by that time, the Indian government had opened the East Pakistan border and the BSF was offering limited aid to the Bengali resistance. The issue of direct military intervention was discussed by the Indian military and political leadership in April 1971.[55] The case for intervention was based on the fact that until 10 April, most of Bangladesh was outside Pakistani control; troops were confined to a few cities and faced stiff resistance.[56][57] The eastern Indian naval contingent (one aircraft carrier and several warships)[58] was stronger than Pakistan's, and could have blockaded Bangladesh. Pakistani forces, flying in reinforcements from West Pakistan from 26 March to 2 May,[59] depended on supply depots in Dhaka, Chittagong and Narayanganj for fuel and ammunition. Several questions existed:[60] the Indian army's adequacy and suitability,[61] logistics, the possibility of a war lasting into monsoon season[62] and India's international appearance as an aggressor.

Although some of the Bengali leadership and Indian officers expected prompt Indian military intervention,[63] Sam Manekshaw explained to the Indian cabinet that the army's Eastern Command would not be ready until 15 November at the earliest.[55][64] The Indian government chose involvement over intervention; Eastern Command took over East Pakistan operations on 29 April, and on 15 May it launched Operation Jackpot to arm, train, equip, supply and advise the Mukti Bahini. An Indian diplomat told Osmani that an expectation of Indian armed intervention in April was unrealistic.[63]

Rebuilding the Mukti Bahini[edit]

Kaiser Jeep wagon used by Osmani to visit the front during the war

From April to June Osmani toured a number of areas to boost morale and gather information, meeting with his Indian counterparts and setting up the Bangladeshi command structure. The Indian Army launched Operation Jackpot; by mid-June Bengali soldiers were driven into India, developing the infrastructure for a sustained, coordinated guerrilla campaign. Although the Bengali high command had begun to rebuild and redeploy Mukti Bahini units since mid-May,[65] in June and July, Mukti Bahini activity slacked off and the insurgency weakened.[66] Running the war was difficult because of the shortage of trained officers in the Bengali forces. From 17,000 active-duty Bengali soldiers (Army and EPR) who faced Pakistan on 25 March 1971, about 4,000 were taken prisoner[67]

A sector coordinators' conference, chaired by Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad, was held at the headquarters of the government in exile from 10 to 15 July. Osmani was absent from the first day of the conference, since he had resigned as commander-in-chief the previous day.[68] A group of Bengali officers had discussed the creation of a war council, headed by Ziaur Rahman with the sector commanders as members, and Osmani was expected to be the defence minister. The plan, presented by Q. N. Zaman[69] and supported by Ziaur Rahman, was for a separate operational wing to run the war and lessen the burden on Osmani. Osmani, possibly misinterpreting its intent, resigned[68] but returned to his post the following day. At the conference the operational area, strength, command structure and role of the Mukti Bahini were defined. Osmani remained commander-in-chief with M. A. Rab chief of staff and A. K. Khandker deputy chief of staff. Bangladesh was divided into 11 combat sectors, with commanders selected (or reconfirmed) for each. Of the eleven proposed sectors eight were organized and active by July, with sectors five and eleven becoming active in August. Sector 10 (east of Teknaf and Khagrachari) was never activated, [70] and it was incorporated into sector one.

The Mukti Bahini was divided into regular forces and freedom fighters. The regular forces consisted of defecting Bengali soldiers and retired Pakistan Army and EPR personnel. They were organised into three battalions, later known as Z, K and S Force. The shortage of trained regular troops meant that most of the forces were former EPR troops or new recruits. Trained army, EPR and police personnel were formed into sector troops: lightly-armed conventional units commanded by army officers.[71] The freedom fighters were primarily deployed within Bangladesh.


Although Osmani made strategy decisions and liaised with Indian officers from July to December 1971, he did not organize an operation like the Tet Offensive or lead a battle similar to Dien Bien Phu during his time as commander-in-chief. His strategy (a product of his military career and the demands of the situation on the ground) influenced his leadership style, and he relied on his background in the Southeast Asian sector during World War II.

On 15 May the Indian Army began to help build the liberation force, and an Indian officer was appointed as a liaison between the Bangladesh government in exile and the Indian Army. Khaled Musharraf and Osmani met at Teliapara in Sylhet District and prepared a paper on strategy for the war.[72] Osmani's differed with the Indian Army on the size of the Mukti Bahini; the Bangladesh government had hoped to raise a regular force of 30,000 soldiers and 100,000 guerrillas in 1971, which the Indians thought unrealistic.[73]

July–September 1971[edit]

Osmani was a conventional soldier with orthodox views, and his initial strategy reflected his background. Uncertainty over the timing, scope and scale of Indian military intervention was another factor influencing his decision. Osmani decided to raise a conventional force of regular battalions and use them to free an area around Sylhet, organizing countrywide guerrilla activity as a secondary effort.[73][74] The Bangladesh government in exile asked Osmani to use the one abundant resource available (manpower), and he did not object to the plan of sending thousands of guerrillas into Bangladesh with minimal training. It was hoped that some of the guerrillas would attain expertise through experience.[75]

The Indian planners were concerned that a hastily-raised force would lack the trained leadership needed for an effective campaign.[76] They had envisioned a force of about 8,000 with at least three to four months of training, led by EBR and EPR personnel,[77] to begin small-cell operations in Bangladesh by August 1971.[78]

Osmani's stubbornness irritated the Indians, who considered deputy chief of staff A. K. Khandkar easier to work with.[79] Although they raised three additional battalions and three artillery batteries, they insisted that the guerrillas be given due attention and Osmani did not object. He disagreed with the Indians on the location of the free area; they suggested Mymensingh, but Osmani opted for Sylhet and got his way. While the EBR battalions prepared, in July the Mukti Bahini began deploying 2,000-5,000 guerrillas in Bangladesh each month. At the sector commanders' meeting, the Mukti Bahini agreed to increase raids and ambushes and destroy power stations, railway lines, storage depots, communications systems, bridges and culverts, fuel depots, trains and watercraft to thin out Pakistani forces and increase their vulnerability.[80]

Action and reaction (June-September)[edit]

Military map of East Pakistan in May 1971
Pakistani deployment in May 1971, after reorganization of Eastern Command forces following Operation Searchlight (some unit locations not shown)

The Pakistan army, after expelling the Mukti Bahini from Bangladesh by May 1971, experienced relative peace in June and July. Mukti Bahini activity had lessened during the months of preparation, although the Indian army began shelling border outposts (about half of the 370 outposts were destroyed by the end of July)[81] to facilitate infiltration into occupied territories. Bengali regular forces were not ready for operation until mid-July. With the conflict largely centred around the India-East Pakistan border region, the Pakistani Eastern Command began reorganizing their forces to consolidate control of the province.[82] An East Pakistan Civil Armed Force,[83] with 17 operational wings,[84]) was raised from West Pakistani and Bihari volunteers, Razakars (50,000), Al-Badr and Al Shams (5,000 from each unit).[85] Five thousand police were flown in from West Pakistan.[86]

Pakistani authorities continued their campaign,[87] rejecting calls for political compromise and a general amnesty and indifferent to the occupied Bengali population.[86] The army deployed in the towns, and the paramilitary units were deployed in the countryside. The EPCAF took over the border-control and internal-security duties of the defunct EPR. Pakistani forces occupied 90 crucial border outposts.[81] Ad hoc units were often created by adding EPCAF troops and Razakars to a skeleton army formation for deployment in forward areas.[88]

Monsoon Offensive[edit]

Military map of Bangladesh in November 1971
Partial representation of Pakistani and Mukti Bahini forces in November 1971; some location are approximate.

As the Mukti Bahini began increasing their numbers and activity in Bangladesh in June, the Pakistan Army deployed Razakars and the EPCAF. Unable to match the Indians shell for shell, they relied on barrages in selected areas and developed an intelligence network.[89][90] Denied permission to launch preemptive cross-border strikes, artillery ambushes were laid for Mukti Bahini infiltrators and demining operations conducted.[66] Bengali regular forces had attacked BOPs in Mymensingh Comilla and Sylhet with mixed results, and Pakistani authorities concluded that they had contained the Monsoon Offensive.[91][92]

The sector commanders reviewed Mukti Bahini activities from June to August, and Osmani made an overall assessment in September. The findings were disappointing; their network had not taken root, with many guerrillas withdrawing under Pakistani pressure. [93] Amid Mukti Bahini supply problems,[94] Bangladesh was losing ground in the international arena.[95] Although regular Bengali regular troops attacked the BoPs with spirit, more training, better communication and coordination with the Indian Army were needed for a successful conventional campaign.[96][97] The attack on Kamalpur by the 1st EBR was repulsed, but the 3rd EBR attack on Bahadurabad was successful; attacks by the 2nd, 11th and 4th EBR had mixed results.[98]

The failure of the Monsoon Offensive required the Bangladeshi high command to rethink their strategy. Osmani initially considered dismantling the Z, K and S Forces, sending platoons from the forces to aid the Mukti Bahini. Although his associates prevailed against this, he deployed the Z Force battalions to aid the Mukti Bahini around Sylhet.

Leadership style[edit]

Osmani did not micro-manage, delegating considerable responsibility to the shorthanded sector commanders;[68][71] the distance between Kolkata and the sector HQs and the absence of direct links (communications were channeled through the Indian Army) gave him little choice. The absence of an integrated command structure made it impossible to quickly implement strategy, an unsolved weakness.[99] Osmani lived a Spartan life, wore simple clothes, ate soldiers' food and used camp furniture in Kolkata during the war, setting up an example for his subordinates. A gourmet, he appreciated the meals served by Indian officers during their meetings but never insisted on them.[100][101]

However, he insisted on protocol when dealing with his Indian counterparts. As commander-in-chief of the Bangladesh forces, Osmani's position equaled that of Sam Manekshaw; to the Indians, his stubbornness in dealing with the lieutenant generals made him difficult to work with.[102] He was pragmatic enough not to allow protocol to impede the war effort, and did not see Indians working through deputy chief of staff A. K. Khandker[103] as circumventing his authority.

With a brusque manner and volatile temper, Osmani sometimes criticised subordinates in public. He also discussed the framework of the future Bangladesh army and other issues unrelated to the war while touring the front, to the bemusement and irritation of fellow officers. Osmani opposed politicising the Bangladesh forces (with the full support of Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed),[104] appointing officers on merit. Although only Awami League members were initially recruited for the Mukti Bahini for security reasons, in September Osmani opened recruitment to all willing to fight for Bangladesh (again with the prime minister's support). Although sector commanders had previously recruited Awami League nonmembers, Osmani turned a blind eye.[105]

He used his image and place in the Bangladesh forces to his advantage. Osmani's problem-solving ability was limited to the aganda of India and the Bangladesh government in exile. He would often break a deadlock by threatening to resign. Osmani's bluff was called only once; when Bangladesh forces were placed under the joint command headed by J. S. Aurora, Ahmed agreed to accept a written resignation and Osmani dropped the issue.[106]


Mujib Bahini[edit]

Although Osmani was commander-in-chief of all Bangladesh forces, a number of units were beyond the control of HQ. Bengali fighters raised several bands to fight the Pakistanis in several areas of Bangladesh (the Kaderia Bahini, led by Tiger Siqqiqi of Tangail is the best-known),[citation needed] and they operated independently. Although Osmani was unconcerned, the Mujib Bahini worried the Bangladesh government in exile. The Mujib Bahini leadership, initially allowed by Osmani to recruit students and other youths for the war, had an organized, well-armed, trained force with a primary allegiance to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and their commanders rather than the Bangladesh government.

No one doubted the skill of the Mujib Bahini or their commitment to Bangladesh. Trained by Sujan Singh Uban, an Indian Army insurgency expert, they operated under the direction of the R&AW and outside the Bangladesh chain of command. Mujib Bahini members were better trained[69] and armed than their Mukti Bahini counterparts.[107] The Bangladeshi government and military leadership were concerned because most Mujib Bahini recruits were former Mukti Bahini members.[108][109] Mujib Bahini activities often hindered Mukti Bahini operations, creating misunderstanding and distrust in the field. Clashes occurred between the groups, and the Indian Army and other organizations supporting the Bengali resistance were dissatisfied with Mujib Bahini activity outside the chain of command.[110]

The government in exile unsuccessfully attempted to bring the Mujib Bahini under Osmani by diplomatic means, approaching R&AW director Ramnath Kao.[111] By August it was clear that their independence was detrimental to the war effort, and Osmani threatened to resign unless they were brought within the chain of command.[112] A meeting with Durga Prasad Dhar on 29 August produced an agreement that Mujib Bahini would inform sector commanders before beginning operations. After another meeting with Ramnath Kao on September 18, R&AW did not relinquish their control of the Mujib Bahini.

On 21 October Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed met with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who ordered Dhar to resolve the issue. He told B. N. Sarkar to meet with Mujib Bahini leaders and take the necessary steps. Although the leaders did not attend the meeting, the Mujib Bahini halted their disruptive activities. They and the Special Frontier Force under Uban liberated Rangamati in December and helped the Indians dismantle the insurgent Mizo network.

Absence from surrender ceremony[edit]

Osmani was not in Dhaka for the surrender ceremony on 16 December 1971. His helicopter, flying from Sylhet, was hit in midair by gunfire and crash-landed in a field.[113] After the crash, the injured Osmani and his crew were rescued by an Indian surveillance jeep. Out of touch with Indian and Bangladeshi HQ, he could not reach Dhaka in time for the ceremony.[114]


The Bangladeshi government issued four medals of valor to the freedom fighters: the Bir Sreshtho, Bir Uttom, Bir Bikrom and Bir Protik. The list of recipients was made by Osmani and several sector commanders at the beginning of 1972.[115] When it was published, it was criticised and initially cancelled before it was reinstated; Osmani was accused of bias for supporting the list.[115][116][117]

Bangladesh Army general[edit]

After the was ended with the surrender of the Pakistan armed forces to the joint command of India and Bangladesh on 16 December 1971, Osmani arrived in Dhaka on 22 December and set up his HQ (probably in the Log Area HQ Building in the Dhaka cantonment).[118] On 9 January 1972, he arranged an honor guard to greet Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on his return to Tezgaon Airport the following day.[119] The Bangladeshi government promoted him to four-star general (the first in Bangladeshi history) on 7 April 1972, effective retroactively on 16 December 1971.[3]

Sector commander conference (2–11 January 1972)[edit]

Osmani and the Mukti Bahini senior sector commanders met in Dhaka from 2 to 11 January 1972 to discuss the future of the Bangladesh armed forces and other issues. Wounded sector-eleven commander Abu Taher and the commander of the closed sector nine were not present. A committee was set up to form a national militia from the Mukti Bahini and members of the former East Pakistan Rifles. Sector-three commander A. N. M. Nuruzzaman was chosen to command the militia.

The armed forces were reorganized, with army, navy, air force and police personnel ordered to join their respective organizations[120] and former EPR members joining the new National Militia. Regular Bangladesh Army and Mukti Bahini formations were initially positioned as follows: Mukti Bahini Sector 1 and K Force in Chittagong; Mukti Bahini Sectors 2 and 3 in Comilla; Z Force and Sectors 4 and 5 in Sylhet; Sector 6 in Dinajpur; Sector 7 in Rangpur; Sectors 8 and 9 in Jessore, and Sector 11 and S force in Dhaka.[121]

Disturbance at Pilkhana[edit]

On 16 February 1972, tension between Mukti Bahini members and former EPR members who had not fought in the war erupted into a shootout in Pilkhana. Although Osmani was informed of the incident, he was unable to enter Pilkhana due to the ongoing gunfire. The firing stopped at the arrival of President Mujibur Rahman, and Osmani and Rahman defused the situation. It was decided to keep the EPR intact as the Bangladesh Rifles and create another force, Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini, from the Mukti Bahini members.[122] In April 1972 the Bangladeshi government abolished the post of commander-in-chief, replacing it with a Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff and Chief of Naval Staff to separate the services' command structures.[123]

Cabinet minister[edit]

The newly formed Bangladesh Army had shortage of trained personnel; no Mukti Bahini officers were trained or experienced in administration, and (at most) had commanded a battalion. Eleven hundred Bengali officers and 23,000 soldiers were interned in West Pakistan, awaiting repatriation to Bangladesh. The officers included generals and brigadiers with training and experience to impart to the Bangladeshi forces. Although Osmani may have hoped to become defense minister,[124] when the government abolished the post of commander-in-chief he retired from the army on 7 April and was appointed Minister for Air and Inland Water Transport five days later (armed-forces personnel may not hold political office).

Osmani resigned from the cabinet in May 1975, after the introduction of a one-party government in accordance with the fourth amendment to the constitution. He and Mainul Hosein resigned from the Awami League in protest of the abolition of democracy in Bangladesh by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Osmani briefly was an advisor to the president on 29 August 1975, after Rahman's assassination.

Army chief of staff[edit]

M. A. Rab, the first Chief of Staff of the Bangladesh Army (12 April 1971 - 7 April 1972), was promoted to major general and retired on 7 April 1972. Osmani, reportedly consulted about his successor, recommended K. M. Shafiullah to President Sheikh Mujib Rahman.[125] The four serving senior army officers who joined Mukti Bahini in March 1971 from the Pakistan Army were Salahuddin Mohammad Reza, C. R. Dutta, Ziaur Rahman and Shafiullah.[126]

Ziaur Rahman joined the war on 25 March 1971, and Shafiullah joined three days later.[126] Although they were commissioned in the Pakistan Army on the same day (completing the 12th PMA Long Course on 18 September 1955), Rahman was above Shafiullah in the final rankings.[125] Osmani disliked Rahman, and wanted to discharge him after the battle of Kamalpur. However, Osmani may not have made a recommendation and Shafiullah's appointment may have been a political decision.[3][127]

Cadet college crisis[edit]

In 1972, the Bangladeshi government issued a presidential decree in 1972 changing the cadet colleges to government colleges. A delegation of former cadets visited Ziaur Rahman, who helped them obtain an appointment with Osmani. Osmani discussed the issue with President Mujib Rahman, and the decree was withdrawn.[128]

Khwaja Wasiuddin[edit]

Wasiuddin was the senior Bengali in the Pakistan Army[129] after the forced retirement of Ishfaqul Majid in 1961.[130] Wasiuddin, commanding the Pakistan Army II Corps in 1971 (then based in Multan), planned to defect but was unable to do so when he was posted to Rawalpindi Army HQ as master general ordnance.[131] After Pakistan's defeat, he opted for Bangladesh and was interned in his home. Wasiuddin went to London in October 1972 before coming to Bangladesh. Osmani and Wasiuddin served together in 1959 at the Rawalpindi GHQ, and they had a cordial relationship.[132]

Osmani met Wasiuddin at the airport, and introduced him to Awami League leaders. At age 54, Wasiuddin's experience would have benefited the Bangladesh Army. It was rumoured that Osmani would recommend him to the government as Army Chief of Staff, but some Mukti Bahini members of the army staff threatened to resign. Although Osmani was reportedly hurt by the turn of events,[133] Wasiuddin received an ambassadorship. When Shafiullah (who replaced Rab as Chief of Staff in April) asked Rahman about the rumours, the president reportedly said that only a tested patriot would be a chief of staff.[134]

Presidential defense advisor[edit]

Osmani did not support the 15 August 1975 assassinations, and did not tolerate undue criticism of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.[135][136] He accepted a post as defense advisor (the equivalent of a cabinet minister) to Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad, who took over as president after the 15 August coup and may have been involved. Osmani, who ignored advice to avoid the Mushtaq government,[137] was appointed to the post after Ziaur Rahman was appointed Army Chief of Staff on 24 August 1975 and Khalilur Rahman became Chief of Staff in the Defense Ministry.[138][139] Although it was a cabinet post, Osmani did not draw a salary for his service.[140] He visited several army formations, stressing the need for discipline and morale, and may have hoped to prevent further bloodshed with his influence on the armed forces.[141][142] As defense advisor, he did not oppose the promotion of the 15 August coup leaders or the reinstatement of retired army officers[138] involved in the coup. The coup leaders had installed themselves in Bangabhaban, disregarding the army chain of command,[143] and Osmani accepted the situation. He tried to implement the decision to disband the Jatya Rakshi Bahini, placing its members in police and anser organizations, before Ziaur Rahman received approval to integrate Rakshi Bahini formations into the army in October 1975. The coup leaders maintained control of the 1st Bengal Lancer and 2nd Field Artillery units[144][145] (involved in the 15 August coup) and deployed outside the army chain of command. Their actions, demonstrating the weakness of the chain of command, created a de facto parallel command structure.[146][147]

When Khaled Musharraf learned of the killing of four political leaders in Dhaka Central Jail, he and some staff went to Bangabhaban to negotiate a peaceful transfer of power. Khandker Mushtaq and Osmani spent the day negotiating, and Shaffat Jamil came to Bangabhaban to meet Khalad Musharraf. As he and his soldiers entered the meeting room, he heard Khudker Mushtaq browbeating Khaled Musharraf: "I have seen many brigadiers and general of [the] Pakistan Army! Don't try to teach me." This angered the CO of the 1st Bengal Company, who drew his gun and said: "And now you will see majors of [the] Bangladesh Army." Mushtaq dropped to the floor, Osmani stood between him and the officer and asked Shaffat Jamil to restore order. After Mushtaq resigned and a new government was formed, Osmani resigned his post.[148]


Monument to Osmani
Epitaph of Osmani at the Sylhet Shah Jalal Mazar

In 1983, at age 65, Osmani was diagnosed with cancer at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Dhaka and was flown to London for treatment at St Bartholomew's Hospital at government expense. Most of his time in the UK was spent at the home of his nephew and niece, Mashahid Ali and Sabequa Chowdhury, where he received a number of visitors.

Although Osmani responded to treatment, in early February he deteriorated unexpectedly; according to the hospital, he had received the wrong blood type at the CMH and developed an infection. He died on 16 February 1984 in London, at age 66. Osmani's body was flown to Bangladesh, and he was buried with full military honours adjacent to his mother's grave in Darga, Sylhet.


Front of Osmani International Airport terminal
The airport in Osmani's hometown, Sylhet, has been named in his honour.

Osmani, nicknamed bongabir (brave man), had a major role in organising the Bangladesh armed forces. The international airport in his hometown, Sylhet, has been named Osmani Antorjatik Biman Bondor (Osmani International Airport) for him. MAG Osmani Medical College and the city's state-run hospital also commemorate him. Osmani Memorial Auditorium in Dhaka, Osmani Primary School is in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.[149] The Osmani Museum is in Sylhet.

See also[edit]


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