|Participant in the Bangladesh Liberation War|
Revolutionary Flag of Bangladesh in 1971
|Active||March – December, 1971|
∟ K Force
∟ S Force
∟ Z Force
Bangladesh Air Force
Special Guerrilla Forces
∟ Mujib Bahini
∟ Kader Bahini
∟ Hemayet Bahini
∟ Afsar Bahini
Dhaka Crack Platoon
|Leaders||M. A. G. Osmani, Commander-in-Chief
M. A. Rab, Chief of Staff
A K Khandker, Deputy Chief of Staff
|Area of operations||East Pakistan/Bangladesh during the 1971 Bangladesh genocide|
|Battles and wars||Battle of Gazipur, Battle of Goalhati, Battle of Garibpur, Battle of Dhalai, Battle of Rangamati, Battle of Kushtia, Battle of Daruin, Operation Barisal, Operation Jackpot (partial list)|
The Mukti Bahini (Bengali: মুক্তি বাহিনী meaning Freedom Fighters or Liberation Forces; also known as the Bangladesh Forces) is a popular Bengali term which refers to the guerrilla resistance movement formed by Bangladeshi military, paramilitary and civilians during the country's War of Liberation in 1971. Following the start of Operation Searchlight and the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide by the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan, Bengali military and paramilitary units revolted across the territory. They were joined by thousands of Bengali civilians from a wide strata of society, including villages and elite urban areas. The Bangladeshi Declaration of Independence was proclaimed from Chittagong by members of the Mukti Bahini on behalf of Prime Minister-elect Sheikh Mujibur Rahman- who was detained by the military junta in West Pakistan.
A formal military leadership took shape in April 1971 under the Provisional Government of Bangladesh. The military council was headed by General M. A. G. Osmani and eleven sector commanders. The Bangladesh Armed Forces were established on 4 April 1971. Aside from regular units like the East Bengal Regiment and the East Pakistan Rifles, the Mukti Bahini also consisted of the civilian Gonobahini (People's Force). The most prominent divisions of the Mukti Bahini were the Z Force led by Major Ziaur Rahman, the K Force led by Major Khaled Mosharraf and the S Force led by Major K M Shafiullah. Awami League student leaders formed militia units like the Mujib Bahini, the Kader Bahini and Hemayet Bahini. Communists led by Comrade Moni Singh and activists from the National Awami Party also operated several guerrilla battalions.
The Mukti Bahini has been compared with the French Resistance, the Yugoslav Partisans and the Viet Cong for its tactics and effectiveness. With guerrilla warfare, it secured control over large parts of the Bengali countryside. It conducted successful ambush and sabotage campaigns, and included the nascent Bangladesh Air Force and the Bangladesh Navy. The Mukti Bahini received support from India, where people in its eastern and northeastern states shared a common Bengali ethnic and linguistic heritage with East Pakistan.
During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the Mukti Bahini became part of the Bangladesh-India Allied Forces. It was instrumental in securing the Surrender of Pakistan and the liberation of Dacca and other cities in December 1971.
When the Pakistan Army started the military crackdown on the Bengali population, they did not expect prolonged resistance. Five battalions of the East Bengal Regiment mutinied and initiated the Bangladesh War of Liberation. The East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) and the East Pakistan Police suffered heavy casualties while challenging the Pakistan Army in Dhaka, where West Pakistani forces began the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide with the Dhaka University massacre. Civilians took control of arms depots in various cities. They began resisting Pakistani forces with the local weapons supply. Chittagong witnessed heavy fighting between rebel Bengali military units and Pakistani forces. The Bangladeshi Declaration of Independence was broadcast from Kalurghat Radio Station in Chittagong by Major Ziaur Rahman.
Bengali forces took control numerous districts in the initial months of the war, including Brahmanbaria, Faridpur, Barisal, Mymensingh, Comilla and Kushtia among others. With the support of the local population, many towns remained under the control of Bengali forces until April and May 1971. Notable engagements during this period included the Battle of Kamalpur, the Battle of Daruin and the Battle of Rangamati-Mahalchari waterway in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Pakistan Army retook control of most district capitals by the beginning of the monsoon, after air strikes by the Pakistan Air Force on major Bengali towns; and the arrival of reinforcements across the rivers of Bengal. Pakistani forces pursued the mass murder of pro-independence citizens, students, intelligentsia and activists to subdue the Bengali population and self-determination movement. War rape, enforced disappearances, electric shock torture, deportation and persecution of minority Hindus were perpetrated by the Pakistani military against the liberation movement.
M. A. G. Osmani, a Bengali veteran of British Raj forces in World War II, established the Bangladesh Armed Forces on 4 April 1971. The Provisional Government of Bangladesh placed all Bangladeshi forces under the command of Osmani, who was appointed defense minister with the ranks of Commander-in-Chief and a four star general. Osmani designated the composition of the Mukti Bahini into several divisions. It included the regular armed forces which covered the army, navy and air force; as well as special brigades like the Z Force. Paramilitary forces, including the East Pakistan Rifles and police, were designated as the Niyomito Bahini (Regular Forces). They were divided between forward battalions and sector troops. A further civilian force was raised and known as the Gonobahini (People's Forces). While the majority of the Gonobahini were lightly trained civilian brigades under military command; it also consisted of battalions set up by political activists from the pro-Western Awami League, the pro-Chinese socialist National Awami Party led by Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani and the pro-Soviet Communist Party of East Pakistan.
The guerrilla movement was composed of three wings: well-armed Action Groups which took part in frontal attacks; military intelligence units; and guerrilla bases. The first conference of sector commanders was held in the week of 11–17 July 1971. Prominent sector commanders included defecting officers from the Pakistan Armed Forces, including Major Ziaur Rahman, Major Khaled Mosharraf, Major K M Shafiullah, Captain A. N. M. Nuruzzaman, Major Chitta Ranjan Dutta, Wing Commander M Khademul Bashar, Major Nazmul Huq, Major Quazi Nooruzzaman, Major Abu Osman Chowdhury, Major Abul Manzoor, Major M. A. Jalil, Major Abu Taher and Squadron Leader M. Hamidullah Khan. The Mujib Bahini was led by Awami League youth leaders Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni, Tofael Ahmed and Abdur Razzak. The Australian war veteran William A. S. Ouderland organized guerrilla warfare in Dacca and provided vital intelligence to the Bangladesh Forces. Left-wing politicians Kader Siddique, Hemayet Uddin and Moni Singh raised several guerrilla units.
The Independent Bangladesh Radio Station was one of the cultural wings of the Mukti Bahini. The Bangladesh liberation movement released five prominent propaganda posters which promoted the independence struggle irrespective of religion and gender. One of them famously portrayed Pakistan's military ruler Yahya Khan as a demon.
The genocide by Pakistani forces led to the outflow of 10 million Bengali refugees into neighbouring India, where the regions of West Bengal, Tripura and the Barak Valley shared strong ethnic, linguistic and cultural links with East Pakistan. These regions were already hotbeds of communist militants (see Naxalism); and the Indian government feared that a prolonged conflict would fuel separatism among Indian Bengalis. The war sparked an unprecedented level of unity in the Bengali-speaking world.
Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi authorized diplomatic, economic and military support to the Bangladesh Forces in April 1971. The Provisional Government of Bangladesh established its secretariat in exile in Calcutta. The Indian Armed Forces provided substantial training and the use of its bases for the Bangladesh Forces. The Bangladesh liberation guerrillas operated training camps in the Indian states of Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal.
The Mukti Bahini benefited from the early control of Pakistani arms depots, which were overtaken by Bengali forces in March and April 1971. It purchased large quantities of military equipment through the flourishing arms market in Calcutta, including Italian howitzers, Allouette helicopters, Dakota DC-3 aircraft and Otter DHC-3 fighter planes. It received a limited arms supply from the Indian military, as New Delhi allowed the Bangladesh Forces to operate an independent weapons supply through Calcutta Port.
The Mukti Bahini divided the war zone into eleven sectors. The war strategy included a huge guerrilla force operating inside Bangladesh. They targeted Pakistani installations through raids, ambush and sabotage- paralyzing West Pakistani-controlled shipping, power plants, industries, railways and warehouses. The wide dispersion of Pakistani forces allowed Bengali guerrillas to target smaller groups of enemy soldiers. Groups of five to ten guerrillas were assigned with specific missions. Bridges, culverts, fuel depots and ships were destroyed to cripple the mobility of the Pakistan Army.
The Mukti Bahini failed in its Monsoon Offensive. Pakistani reinforcements successfully countered Bengali engagements in July. Attacks on border outposts in Sylhet, Comilla and Mymensingh met with limited success. The training period slackened the momentum of the Bangladesh Forces, which began to pick up after August.
From October, conventional Bangladesh Forces mounted various successful offensives. They captured 90 out of 300 border outposts. The Mukti Bahini intensified guerrilla attacks inside Bangladesh; while Pakistan increased reprisals on Bengali civilians.
The Bangladesh naval forces took shape in July. Operation Jackpot was launched by the Bangladesh Forces on 15 August 1971. Bengali naval commandos drowned 26 vessels of the Pakistan Navy in Mongla, Chittagong, Chandpur and Narayanganj. The operation was a major propaganda success for Bangladeshi forces, as it exposed to the international community the fragile hold of the West Pakistani occupation. The nascent Bangladesh Navy commandos targeted patrol craft and ships carrying ammunition and commodities. It extensively mined the Passur River in the Sundarbans, which crippled the ability of Pakistani forces to operate from the Port of Mongla.
Bangladesh-India Allied Forces
The launch of Operation Chengiz Khan by West Pakistan on North India finally drew India into the Bangladesh conflict. A joint command was established between Bangladeshi and Indian Forces. Three corps of the Indian Armed Forces were supported by three brigades of the Mukti Bahini and the vast Bengali guerrilla army. They greatly outnumbered the three Pakistani army divisions of East Pakistan. The Battle of Sylhet, the Battle of Garibpur, the Battle of Boyra, the Battle of Hilli and the Battle of Kushtia were major joint engagements of Bangladeshi and Indian forces. The Allied Forces swiftly overran the country by selectively engaging or bypassing heavily defended strongholds. For example, the Meghna Heli Bridge airlifted Bangladeshi and Indian forces from Brahmanbaria to Narsingdi over Pakistani defenses in Ashuganj. The cities of Jessore, Mymensingh, Sylhet, Kushtia, Noakhali and Maulvi Bazar quickly fell to the Allied Forces. In the occupied Bengali capital Dhaka, the Pakistan Army and its supporting militias began the mass murder of Bengali intellectuals and professionals, in a final attempt to eliminate the Bengali intelligentsia. However, the Mukti Bahini liberated most of Dhaka District by the second week of December. They surrounded the capital city. In the western theater, Indian forces advanced deep into Pakistani territory; while the Port of Karachi was subjected to a naval blockade by the Indian Navy. Pakistani generals succumbed to surrendering to the Allied Forces in Dhaka on 16 December 1971.
The Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) was established on 28 September 1971 under the command of Air Commodore A K Khandker. It initially operated from a jungle airstrip near Dimapur in Nagaland. When taking over liberated territories, the Bangladesh Forces gained control of World War II airstrips in Lalmonirhat, Shalutikar, Sylhet and Comilla in November and December. The BAF launched "Kilo Flights" under the command of Squadron Leader Sultan Mahmud on 3 December 1971. Sorties by Otter DHC-3 aircraft destroyed Pakistani fuel supplies in Narayanganj and Chittagong. Targets included the Burmah Oil Refinery, numerous ships and oil depots. Bangladeshi air force raids continued for two weeks and contributed to the achievement of air supremacy by Allied Forces in December.
Cold War politics
The genocide by Pakistani forces caused widespread international outrage against West Pakistan. In the United States, Democratic senator Ted Kennedy led a chorus of strong domestic criticism against the Nixon administration for ignoring the genocide of Bengalis in East Pakistan.
The Mukti Bahini enjoyed significant international public support. The Bangladeshi provisional government considered setting up an "International Brigade" with European and North American students. French Minister of Cultural Affairs Andre Malraux vowed to fight on the battlefield alongside the Bangladesh Forces.
The Nixon administration in the US enjoyed close ties with Pakistani military junta due to its policy of rapprochement with Communist China after the Sino-Soviet split. Pakistan's dictator Yahya Khan acted as a mediator between the US and China. However, Washington knew that the independence of East Pakistan was inevitable. The Soviet Union threw its weight behind the Bangladesh Forces and India after being convinced of Pakistan's unwillingness for a political solution. Separately, US efforts to woo China through Pakistan led to India signing friendship treaty with Moscow in August 1971. For India, the treaty was an important insurance policy against a possible Chinese intervention on the side of Pakistan. China had fought a brief war with India in 1962. Both the US and China, however, ultimately failed to mobilize adequate support for Pakistan.
When India launched a two-front war against Pakistan in support of the Bangladesh Forces, US President Richard Nixon dispatched the USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal as Pakistan's defeat seemed imminent. The White House was concerned over a possible full-scale Indian invasion of West Pakistan and Soviet domination of South Asia; both of which proved to be highly inaccurate. The Soviet Union sent a group of warships armed with nuclear missiles from Vladivostok, which trailed an American naval task force in the Indian Ocean. The Soviets also vetoed US and Chinese backed resolutions in the UN Security Council, calling for ceasefires favoring the Pakistani military.
Bir Sreshtho (The Most Valiant Hero) is the highest military honor in Bangladesh and was awarded to seven Mukti Bahini fighters. They were Ruhul Amin, Mohiuddin Jahangir, Mostafa Kamal, Hamidur Rahman, Munshi Abdur Rouf, Nur Mohammad Sheikh and Matiur Rahman.
Women were at the forefront of the Bangladesh liberation struggle. The Mukti Bahini trained several female battalions for guerrilla warfare. Taramon Bibi is one of the two female wars heroes of the Bangladesh Liberation War. Captain Sitara Begum is noted for setting up field hospitals for injured Mukti Bahini fighters.
The Mukti Bahini was succeeded by the Bangladesh Armed Forces, the Bangladesh Rifles and the Bangladesh Police. Civilian fighters were provided with numerous privileges, including reservations in government jobs and universities. The Bangladesh Freedom Fighters Assembly was formed to represent former guerrillas. The widespread availability of arms created serious law and order concerns for the Bangladesh government after the war. A few militia units are alleged to have taken part in reprisal attacks against the Urdu-speaking population following the Pakistani surrender. All units of the Mukti Bahini were ordered by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to surrender their arms by March 1972.
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