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Mohammad Ataul Ghani Osmany

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Mohammad Ataul Ghani Osmany

General Muhammad Ataul Gani Osmani
File:MAG osmani.jpg
Muhammad Ataul Gani Osmani
Native name মুহাম্মদ আতাউল গনি ওসমানী
Born (1918-09-01)1 September 1918
Osmani Nagar, Sylhet, British India
Died 16 February 1984(1984-02-16) (aged 65)
London, England
Buried at Near the Shrine of Hazrat Shah Jalal (R), Sylhet, Bangladesh
Service/branch Bangladesh Armed Forces
Years of service
Rank General
Commands held

General Muhammad Ataul Gani Osmani (Bengali: মুহাম্মদ আতাউল গনি ওসমানী; 1 September 1918– 16 February 1984), also known as Bangabir M.A.G. Osmani was the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of Bangladesh Forces during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. He equally presided over the significant Bangladesh Sector Commanders Conference 1971 during which the entire Bangladesh Forces were authorized and created. He is popularly referred to as General Osmani, with the honorary title of Bangabir (বঙ্গবীর Bôngobir, "Hero of Bengal").

An officer with the British Indian Army since 1939, he served during World War II in Burma. His unit supported all plans of the Allied services as part of the Army Service Corps, rising to the rank of Major by 1942. He opted to join the Pakistan Army after British departed leaving the two new independent nations of India and Pakistan in 1947 as a Lieutenant Colonel. His career was checkered, he had disagreements with his superiors over issues regarding the unprofessional conduct and rules below norms that were practiced during recruitment and treatment of Bengali personnel during both British rule and to an extent also in Pakistan.

Osmani earned a reputation as a highly principled and honest officer, and retired as a Colonel in 1967 as the DDMO in GHQ Pakistan. A legend among Bengali servicemen for his willingness to stand up against higher command for legitimate concerns, his name carried honour and prestige. After retirement, he was welcomed into politics in his area under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He later joined the Awami League, and was elected MNA in the 1970 Pakistan general elections from Sylhet. During a meeting at Mujib's residence during late afternoon hours on 25 March 1971, Osmani, also one of many, advised Sheikh Mujib regarding the terrible plight that ensued, and to declare independence of Bangladesh through mass media and move to a secure location.

He was elected as C-in-C of Bangladesh Forces in 1971 by all the Bengali officers, who were the principal participants during the early inception of the independence declaration on March 26, 1971. This was ratified by Bangladesh Government in exile on April 10, 1971. In April 1972, General Osmani, the C-in-C, retired as the first full General (four star) of Bangladesh Forces, which was replaced by Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Navy and Bangladesh Air Force. And three separate chiefs were selected on 7 April 1972 along with their Headquarters. Thus 'General M A G Osmani' is the only historical name whose name appears first in the honour boards of the three services as C-in-C between 12 April 1971 to 7 April 1972.

After serving in various government posts during 1972-1975 until his resignation, he was also active in politics during 1977-1984 as the head of Jatiya Janata Party until his death.[1]



Osmani was born in Sunamganj, Sylhet Division on 1 September 1918. He was a descendant of Shah Nizamuddin Osmani of Dayamir, Balaganj, who came to Sylhet with Hazrat Shah Jalal (R) in 1303. Their immediate family members live in the village of Dayamir. Osmani attended Cotton School in Sylhet but passed matriculation from Sylhet Government Pilot School in 1934 under Calcutta University, securing 1st division marks - which was a rare feat in those times. He secured the "Pritoria Prize" for excellent results in English.[2] Like many Muslim Bengali students of the era, He attended Aligarh Muslim University, India from and graduated in 1938. Osmani then registered for M.A. in Geography (secured second class when he graduated) at the same institution.[3] Osmani had taken UOTC training in Aligarh, raising to the rank of Sergeant, had been elected Vice Chairman of the Assam - Bengal Student Union, and served as a Proctor for two years at the University[4] The advent of World War II saw Osmani shelf his civilian career plans for the military. This was probably the only time he went against the wishes of his father.

Military career

In 1939, Osmani started his military career as a Gentleman Cadet during rule under the British Empire in the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun. He was attached to the 4th Urban Infantry from 3 July 1939 to 4 October 1940 while in Dhera Dun.[2] He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the British-Indian Army as an artillery officer in 5 October 1940. He was initially attached to the 2nd Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment, posted in New Delhi in charge of a depot.[5] After completion of Short Mechanical Transport Course (November 1940 - February 1941) and Junior Tactical Course ( February 1941 - April 1941), Lt. Osmani was attached to a Mechanical Transport Battalion, part of the XV Corps (British India) and was posted in Burma during World War II.[6]

British Indian Army 1941 - 1947

Osmani was promoted to the rank of temporary Captain in February 17, 1941 and received a battlefield promotion to temporary Major in 23 May 1942 and at the age of 23, he was the youngest officer to hold that rank in the British Indian Army for some time. Between 1941 and 1945, he successively held the post of Platoon Commander, Battalion Adjutant, Company 2IC and finally Battalion commander of his unit. From November 1944 to February 1945 Major Osmani served as General Staff Officer Grade-2 (GSO-2) in his formation HQ and completed the Senior Officers Course after the War ended.[7]

Major Osmany was attached to British Indian Army HQ Bihar and Orissa Area as DAG-GSO-2 from May 1946 to July 1946 before he was sent to attend the Special Senior Officer's course, passing out in February 1947 and was selected as a candidate for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel.[8] His next posting was at Simla and New Delhi in the British Indian Army GHQ in Simla in the Quarter Master General Branch and Ordnance Branch until August 1947 as GSO-2 (General Staff Office, Second Grade). From August to October 6, 1947 as GSO-2 in the HQ of Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck in New Delhi. Osmany had taken the Indian Civil Service examination as per his father's wishes and passed, but turned down an opportunity for serving in the Indian Foreign service in 1947, opting to stay in the Pakistan Army.[8]

As the British Empire dissolved with the birth of two nations of India and Pakistan in 1947, Osmany witnessed the end of the British Indian army as an active organization. He represented Pakistan during the division of British Indian Army assets between the two emerging countries - India & Pakistan.[9]

Career in the Pakistani Army

After the birth of India and Pakistan in 1947 following the departure of the Lord Mountbatten, Governor General of British India, Osmany joined the newly formed Pakistan Army on 7 October 1947 and was soon promoted to the rank of acting Lieutenant Colonel. Being a career experienced officer and having served in World War II, he was immediately assigned to the General Staff Headquarters as GSO-1, Coordination, Planning and Personnel.[7]

Osmai obtained the rank of temporary Lt. Col. on January 7, 1948 and attended the Long Term Staff Course at the Quetta Staff College. He served alongside (then) Major Yahya Khan, Major Tikka Khan, and Major A. A. K. Niazi, all of whom ironically were destined to lead the Pakistan army against the Bangladesh Forces commanded by Osmany in 1971. After completing his P.S.C. Degree Osmain joined the staff of Maj. General Reginald Hutton (Chief of Staff, Pakistan Army 1947 -51) as GSO-1 in January 1949, and as a Committee Chairman tasked by General Douglas Gracey to evaluate the basic standard for Army enlistment, recommended the establishment of Cadet Colleges in East Pakistan.[8] Osmany later took on the responsibility of Assistant Adjutant General as well.

Joining the Infantry Arm

After serving as a staff officer for eight years, Osmany decided to join the infantry arm of the army. He took a reversion to the rank of Major and after induction training, joined the 5/14 Punjab He was posted as 2IC and Company commander (5th Punjab Battalion of 14th Punjab Regiment), which was then part of a brigade commanded by Brigadier Ayub Khan, in 1950. He became commander of 105th Brigade Training Team in January 1951, and became the OC or 5/14 Punjab in May 1951, after which he did a tour of duty in Kashmir and Waziristan for four months.[7][10]

Lt. Col. Osmany had a heated argument with the Commander Chief of the Pakistan army, Gen. Ayub Khan,[11] over the treatment of Maj. Gen. Ishfakul Majid, the seniormost Bengali officer in Pakistan Army who had been falsely implicated in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy and forced to resign.[12] This incident may have impacted his career. In August 1951 Osmany left 5/14 Punjab, and was posted as the third CO of 1st East Bengal Regiment (first Bengali to hold this post) in October 1951.[13]

Tour of duty in East Pakistan (1950–1956)

Lt Col Osmany arrived in East Pakistan by sea and joined as CO of 1st East Bengal Regiment, then stationed in Jessore as partof the 107th Brigade, on 8 November 1951. Osmany was a hard taskmaster as CO of 1 EBR, setting up a tough training regime for the battalion, aiming to get the soldiers in top physical shape and the highest level of skill possible. He implemented some fundamental changes that were to have a far-reaching effect on the character of the regiment and on his career path.

He chose Bengali songs as the regimental marching and band songs ("Chal Chal Chal" by Kazi Nazrul Islam, "Gram Chara oi ranga matir path" by Rabindranath Tagore and Dhano Dhaney Pushpay Bhora by D.L. Roy), and introduced the Bratachari dance (introduced by Guru Shodoy Dutt) as the regimental dance.[14] He also ordered the NCOs to submit the daily situation report in Bangla.[15] These obvious displays of Bengali culture did not sit well with the Punjabi top brass,[16] who were irked by this adoption of what was in their view Hindu culture. Osmany characteristically stuck to his guns, and stubbornly carried through the said reforms after the GHQ approved his suggestions. In doing this, he repeatedly clashed with the Punjabi chauvinists, and began gaining reputation as a hard-nosed, stubborn officer with Bengali nationalistic inclinations. In addition, Osmany also served as Commandant of East Bengal Regimental Center in Chittagong from February 1953 to January 1955.

Osmany also commanded the 107th Brigade in Jessore from April 1953 to October 1953, when he received the permanent rank of Major, and rejoined 1 EBR as CO and remained in that post until February 1954. After completion of the GHQ Law course and leaving EBRC, he was temporarily posted as Additional Commandant (Later Deputy Director) of East Pakistan Rifles in March 1955, serving under the Provincial Government of East Bengal.[15] While in the EPR, he played a crucial role in opening up EPR recruitment for non-Bengali minority people (Chakma, Mogh, Tripura peoples, etc.) and stopped the recruitment people from West Pakistan in EPR.[17]

Last post: Staff Officer GHQ Pakistan

Due to Osmany's superior OER (Officer Evaluation Report) the rank of Lieutenant Colonel came sooner than later. From December 1955 to May 1956 as GSO-1 staff officer he worked Senior advisor at CENTO Headquarters in Bagdad as part of the Pakistan Military delegation. Osmany was promoted to Acting Colonel in May 1956 and joined the Pakistan Army GHQ at Rawalpindi in West Pakistan as Deputy Director Military Operations (DDMO).[7] From August 1957to September 1957 he was the Officiating Director of Military Operations as Acting Brigadier, and until May 1966 he served as the DDMO. He received the permanent rank of Colonel in 1961 and attended Advanced Modern Weapons training in the United States in 1964. Colonel Osmany had served under (then) Brigadier Gul Hassan Khan in 1964, when he was the DDMO and Gul Hassan was the DMO. Although Brigadier Hasan was Osmani 's junior, he held the senior post. Hasan had given a good confidential report about Osmany, and felt that Osmany was not given promotion despite having some excellent qualities. Gul Hassan allowed Osmany time to concentrated on issues concerning the Bengal regiments, partly to keep him occupied and partly because the top brass was bypassing Osmany.[18]

By 1958 Osmany held the post of Deputy Director of the general staff and subsequently deputy director of military operations (DDMO) under Major General Yahya Khan and held that post until his retirement eight years later. During the first decade of his career he had reached the rank of Colonel, during the next decade Osmany was not destined to get a single promotion. During his attachment in the General Staff Branch as Deputy Director of Military Operations and Plans, Col. Osmany as additional duty attended the meetings of CENTO SEATO and Air Defense Committee of Pakistan as Pakistan Army advisor.[19]

Bengali soldier recruitment bottleneck

Pakistan was left with 6 infantry divisions and one armored brigade after the division of the British Indian army in 1947, although none of these formations were fully equipped or staffed at that time. The number of Bengali officers and soldiers in the newly formed Pakistan armed forces was small due to the British preference to recruit from so called Martial Races, and because many non Muslim Bengali personnel had opted to join the Indian Army after the British left. Pakistan army had raised only two battalions of East Bengal Regiment during 1947-1950, while a number of Punjab Regiments had been inherited from the British Indian Army. The Azad Kashmir Regiment was created soon after the Indo-Pakistan 1948 war.

When Osmani joined the GHQ in 1956, 3 East Bengal regiments and the East Bengal Regimental Centre (EBRC) had come into existence within the structure of the Pakistan army. During the next 9 years, the number of Punjab Regiments (reorganized in 1956) reached almost 50, the Frontier Force Regiments (created 1957) and Baluch Regiments (created in 1957) were reaching the mid-40s, while the Azad Kashmir regiment was numbering in the 40s. Only 6 East Bengal Regiments had been created during the same time span. The reasons for this situation were:

  • Many senior officers of the Pakistan army still believed in the Martial Race theory, and considered Bengalis to be poor soldier material.[20][21]
  • The Bengali recruits were generally of smaller build than the West Pakistanis, and many failed to meet the then established minimum physical requirement of a recruit, which was set on average West Pakistani physical characteristics.[20]
  • Many Pakistani officers favored creating mixed regiments instead of purely Bengali ones. Some Pakistani officers felt that increasing the number of exclusive Bengali formations was a threat to the unity of the army.[22]

Pakistani officers not swayed by the above facts were skeptical about the adaptability of Bengali soldiers in West Pakistani environment, where the bulk of Pakistani forces were concentrated according to the Pakistani strategy: Defence of East Pakistan lies in the West. The neglect of East Pakistan defence infrastructure was another bone of contention between Osmani and the Pakistani High command. In 1965 the Pakistani Army had 13 infantry and 2 armoured divisions in service, but only 1 under-strength infantry division was based in East Pakistan. Osmany fought with his seniors on these issues and was sidelined as a result.

Role in the 1965 War

Osmany was sidelined Pakiatani Generals despite being the DDMO during the 1965 war. Having almost nothing to do, he dedicated his time issues regarding the East Bengal Regiments. He complained that Pakistan Press not suppressing the contribution of his old unit, 1st Bengal, posted at Kasur during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965,.[23] Successive COs (both Bengali and non-Bengali) of 1 EBR had built on the foundation Osmany had laid, and the battalion, under the command of Lt. Col. A.T.K. Haque (Bengali), won a total of 17 gallantry awards (including two Sitara-i-Jurat and 9 Tamgha-i-Jurat), the highest number of awards won by any Pakistan Armed Force unit engaged in that conflict. Osmany visited the unit and recommended Nishan-i-Haider for a member, and he was reportedly furious when the battalion CO declined to support his recommendation.[24] However, he arranged reunions for Bengal regiments alumni, and took every opportunity to enhance the reputation of Bengali units in the Pakistan army. His hard core principles, his fierce loyalty and integrity, and determination to improve the standards of all Bengali personnel in the Pakistan army and his willingness to take on anyone who differed with him earned him quite a degree of honor and prestige.

After the 1965 he chaired the committee tasked with determining the required Army reserve and logistical requirement in possible future conflicts, and from the last half of 1965 to April 1966 he was the President of Army Sports Control Board. On 16 May 1966 he went on leave prior to retirement (LPR). Osmany's successor as DDMO was (then) Col. Rao Farman Ali - another person destined for infamy in Bangladesh in 1971. Farman was reportedly horrified upon seeing how Osmani was treated in the Pakistan army. His office was totally run down, Osmani was kept out of the loop and purposefully neglected, even the office help treated him with disdain. Osmany had not been promoted because he was a Bengali and was deemed untrustworthy by the high command.[25]

Retirement and continued influence

Col. Osmani retired from Pakistani Armed Forces on 16 February 1967. Although his efforts had failed to increase the number of Bengal regiments, Pakistani High command, upon the recommendation of Lt. General Khwaja Wasiuddin, had put the existing regiments through a battery of exercises in West Pakistan to test their adaptability and combat readiness. Maj. Gen. Shaikh, evaluator of the exercises, had commented that the Bengali units had performed superbly and the proud Bengali soldiers took in representing East Pakistan was one key component of their success. He recommended against disbanding the units and raising mixed regiments.

Pakistani high command did not increase the number of Bengali units until after 1968, when following a pledge by General Yahya Khan, the number of Bengal regiments were increased to 10 and all new units were ordered to ensure at least 25% Bengali representation among the annual new recruits of the army.[26] Osmani, known as Papa Tiger continued to enjoy a positive, revered image among the serving Bengali rank and file in the Pakistan armed forces during his retirement, mainly because of his role in standing up for Bengali soldiers. Although he was not the most senior among Bengali officers (Major General Ishfakul Majid -commissioned after passing out of Sandhurst in 1924 holds this honor) nor did he reach the highest rank in the Pakistani army among Bengalis (Lt. General Khwaja Wasiuddin holds that distinction), Osmani, along with Lt. General Wasiuddin (Colonel Commandant EBR) and Brig. M.H. Mozumdar (Commandant EBRC) were seen as the patron and guide for Bengali troops.[27]

Entry into politics

Col. Osmani was not directly involved in the Agartala Conspirecy Case. The people involved had sought his opinion through (then) Captain Khandker Nazmul Huda (Accused No 27, later Sub Sector Commander in Mutki Bahini in 1971, Colonel in Bangladesh Army in 1975) and Osmani had recommended a political, not armed solution for the discrimination faced by Bengalis in Pakistan.[28] ISI had questioned Osmani in 1958 before the trials began on the issues related to the case.[29] Osmani was neither arrested or implicated although the official charge sheet documented that the accused had contacting him and Osmani had attended a meeting as a "listener".

Awami League Candidate

After his retirement, Osmani entered politics of East Pakistan. He joined the Sheikh Mujib-led Awami League in 1970. As a candidate from Awami League, he contested the election from the Balagaung-Fenchugaung area in Sylhet and he was elected as a member of the national assembly of the country. Osmani was not destined to serve as a MNA in the Pakistan assembly because after the commencement of Bangladesh Liberation War, he became a member of the Bangladesh provisional government-in-exile.

Leadership during Bangladesh Liberation War

Col. (ret.) Osmani and Maj. Gen. (ret.) Majid formed part of the team that advised the Awami League leadership on military issues during 1971. As the political crisis deepened in March, many serving Bengali officers of the Pakistan Armed Forces began looking to Bengali politicians for guidance, and Col. Osmani was selected as the coordinator of these clandestine meetings. Bengali Military officers (both retired and serving), alarmed by the buildup of Pakistani forces apprehensive about their own fates,[30][31][32] and maintained contact with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman[33] and some contacted Col. Osmany for advice and guidance and to maintain a link with Awami League leaders. Osmany reportedly agreed to coordinate the activities of various Bengali units[34] but toeing the party line, advised all officers against taking any "rash" actions.[32] Brig. M.R. Mazunder (Martiaal Law Administrator Chittagong area), Lt. Col Rezaul Jalil (CO 1st EBR), Group Captain A.K. Khandker (21C Dacca PAF Base) were all given the same message. Awami League pursued the course of non cooperation, preferring a political solution, and refused to sanction a preemptive strike. Sheikh Mujib had planned to declare full independence only after the Pakistani attack started and Osmany, as a party member, was following the course laid out by the party.

Possible Bengali Preemptive Strike?

In the days prior to the crackdown student and youth wings of Awami League had set up training camps countrywide and trained volunteers with the aid of Bengali Ansars/Mujahids and student cadets. Talk of “independence” was in full flow, despite the fact that Awami League leadership had refrained from declaring independence on March 7, 1971. Bengali ex-servicemen of Pakistan Armed forces had also held rallies to declare their support for Awami League. Serving Bengali officers and troops also kept in touch with the politicians, seeking advice and guidance during 1971 when the political situation was becoming uncertain and confrontational. Maj. Gen (retired) Ishfakul Majid and Col (ret.) M.A.G Osmany allegedly designed a military plan of action, which broadly was:[35]

  • Capture Dhaka airport and Chittagong seaport to seal off the province.
  • EPR and Police to capture Dhaka city aided by Awami League volunteers.
  • Cantonments were to be neutralized by Bengali soldiers.

Bengali officers had advised the sabotage of fuel dumps at Narayanganj and Chittagong to ground Pakistani air power and cripple armed force mobility.

Awami League leadership opted to try for the political solution[35] and did not endorse any action or preparation for conflict by Bengali soldiers prior to the start of the crackdown. Warnings by Bengali officers that the Pakistan army was preparing to strike were ignored, junior Bengali officers were told by their seniors not to act rashly and keep out of political issues.

Despite all the political filibustering, public fanfare and alleged preparation for armed struggle, Pakistani army caught the Bengali political leadership and Bengali soldiers flatfooted. The resistance Pakistanis encountered country wide once Operation Searchlight was launched was spontaneous and disorganized, not a preplanned coordinated military response under a central command structure. In most cases Bengali soldiers were unaware of the situation around the country, many units continued to perform routine duties as late as March 31 and rebelled only after they came under Pakistani attack. Some Pakistani generals suggested declaring a general amnesty for Bengali troops upon observing the situation as early as March 31 (it was ignored).[36] Although warned of the departure of Yahia Khan and the movement of Pakistani troops, the declaration of independence by Mujibur Rahman on March 26 was given after the attack had commenced and was largely unnoticed (ironically Pakistanis picked it up).[37] No countrywide communication reached Bengali soldiers to start the uprising, Bengali troops and officers took the initiative to rebel upon being attacked or hearing the news of the Pakistani attack.

Role in Bangladesh Liberation War

Col. Osmany was present at the house of Sheikh Mujib when Bengali officers informed Awami League leaders of the departure of Yahia Khan and army movement.[38] After failing to persuade Sheikh Mujib to go into hiding, Osmani himself hid in Dhaka until March 29, shaved off his famous mustache (he was often called the man attached to a mustache)[39] then made for the Indian border. Osmani first went to Jingira, then to Daudkandi via boat. He was detained by local people in Daudkandi, who were suspicious of him, before the brother of the local member of parliament helped him to get free.[40] He then walked, took boat and crossed the Gomoti with the help of another Bengali officer who was with Army Signal Corps[41] to reach India by 2 April 1971.

Meetings at Teliapara

Col. Osmani arrived at Teliapara, where 2nd and 4th East Bengal Regiments (EBR) had established a temporary base accompanied by Brig. Panday of BSF on April 2, 1971. A meeting of Bengali Officers took place on April 4, which was attended by (then) Lt. Col (ret.) M.A Rab, Maj. K.M. Shafiullah (CO 2 EBR), Maj. Khaled Musharraf (CO - 4 EBR), Ziaur Rahman (CO - 8 EBR), Lt. Col Salahuddin Reza, Major (ret) Qazi Nurujjaman, Major Shafat Jamil and other officers. Chaired by Col. Osmani, The following was discussed:

  • Col. Osmani proposed that 2nd and 4th EBR attack and occupy Comilla, and asked Major Jaman to formulate a fireplan. This was opposed by other officers on the ground that the battalions would probably suffer crippling losses, and was ultimately dropped.[42]
  • Major Zia proposed that all available forces should be assembled around Chittagong to hold the area as long as possible. This was also discussed and dropped as this was not a practical suggestion.[43]
  • At the suggestion of Brig. Panday, the commanders agreed to send 2 companies (one from 2 EBR and one from 4 EBR) to help the battered 8th EBR under Ziaur Rahman.

Col Osmani designated 4 Sector Commanders: Maj. Ziaur Rahman (Chittagong area), Maj. Khaled Musharraf (Comilla), Maj. K M Shafiullah (Sylhet) and Maj. Abu Osman Chowdhury (Kushtia-Jessore).. He also appointed Lt. Col. Salahuddin Reza as the Sector Commander for Mymensingh Area,[44] and on April 7 instructed Major Q.N. Jaman to oversee operations in Sylhet.[45] The officers agreed a government in exile should be formed from political leaders and the Bengali forces should be placed under its authority. Col Osmani visited Mukti Bahini positions in Sylhet, on April 9 he visited Captain Aziz with 2 EBR Charlie Company near Sylhet.[46] On the same day another conference took place, this time attended by Brig. Panday and Director General Rustomji of BSF, in addition to Bengali officers. The issues discussed included:

  • Col. Osmani was elected as the commander of Bengali forces.[47]
  • Agreement was reached with India officers on logistical assistance for Bengali forces
  • The need to form a Government in exile was agreed on, as was the fact that this should be formed by the political leadership. This was crucial for international reorganization and would prevent coining the struggle as a military revolt.[43] The conference abruptly broke up when Col. Osmani left after hearing that 5 PAF jets were inbound.[48][49] The following day 3 more sector commanders were chosen: Maj. Nazmul Huq (Rajshahi-Pabna), Captain Nawajish (Rangpur-Dinajpur) and Captain Jalil (Barisal).[50] Pakistan Army appointed Lt. Gen. A.A.K Niazi GOC East Pakistan on the same day. On April 12, Bengali Government in Exile at Agartola formlly appointed Col. Osmani Commander of Bangladesh Forces. With the formation of Bangladesh government on 17 April 1971, retired Colonel Osmani was reinstated to active duty under the authority of Bangladesh government and appointed as Commander-in-Chief of all Bangladesh Forces.

Initial Activities as the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C)

General Osmani did not assume personal command of the Bangladesh Forces until after April 17, 1971. The existing Bengali fighting formations were located far away from each other, and lacking a proper command staff and more importantly a fully integrated communication network, exercising real-time command over the widely spread formations was impossible. Osmani instead chose to allow the designated sector commanders to fight on as they saw fit, while he toured the designated sectors, and met with Indian officials in New Delhi and Kolkata. He conferred Tajiuddin and along with spoke to Indian authorities on two points only. The two principle points were weapons and communications. Supplying weapons, ammunition and adequate communications gear was and remains the most expensive trade in any military. To the poorly equipped Indian army in 1971, such a notion was hardly affordable. The Indian officials with its meager resources had to deny any requests for weapons or communications. Furthermore communication supplies resulting in unaccounted for status would result in a serious problem. Indian army planners had very little idea or training on tough terrains of Bangladesh, which was just devastated by a severe cyclone. General Osmani along with most of his senior command staff was very knowledgeable and well trained obviously having served in East Pakistan. The Indian army inquired about Osmani's plans, understood the outlined the situation in Bangladesh, had assisted to organize the Bangladesh Forces structure and sounded out the possibility of open Indian intervention the ripe moment.

The Bengali resistance had put up an unexpected stiff resistance and had managed to derail the initial Pakistani estimate of pacifying East Pakistan by April 10. However, the initial successes were not sustainable as the Bengali forces began to suffer from lack of trained men, officers, coordination among scattered troops and the lack of central command structure, proper supplies (despite limited aid from BSF), although majority of the country was still outside Pakistani control. Pakistani army had airlifted the 9th and 16th infantry division to Bangladesh by April 10 and was poised to seize the initiative. Gen. Niazi, obtaining a brief from Gen. Raza (the departing GOC East Pakistan), implemented the following strategy:[51]

  • Clear all the big cities of insurgents and secure Chittagong.
  • Take control and open all river, highway and rail communication network.
  • Drive the insurgents away from the interior of the country
  • Launch combing operations across Bangladesh to wipe out the insurgent netweok.

Against this strategy Bengali field commanders opted to go with holding as much area for as long as possible,[52] The Bengali political leadership hoped to keep he Pakistanis confined into the cities, while the government in exile sought diplomatic recognition and the resistance prepared for guerrilla warfare[53] and awaited the expected of Indian military intervention.[54] Lacking everything except unskilled volunteers, Mukti Bahini fought a conventional battle against an enemy enjoying superiority in number of trained men, firepower, and complete air superiority and played to the strength of Pakistanis. Choosing to attack Bengali forces all over Bangladesh simultaneously, Gen. Niazi concentrated battalion and brigade size forces on company and battalion size defense positions repeatedly, used air strikes and artillery barrages disregarding civilian safety, employed Heli-borne troops to outflank positions and hammered through to reach chosen objectives. Pakistani troop convoys were repeatedly ambushed, but these only delayed the Pakistani advance temporarily. By Mid May, Pakistani forces had regained control of most of the province, and by mid June, the battered remnants of the Bengali forces had been driven across the border into India.

India: silent bystander or active antagonist?

The main reason Generals Farman and Yakub had opposed any military action against civilians in East Pakistan was the fear of an Indian attack,[55] which the Pakistan army was woefully unprepared to meet in March 1971. After the crackdown, Tajuddin Ahmed met with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on April 3, 1971 and asked for all possible aid,[56] by which time the Indian government had already opened East Pakistan border and the BSF was offering limited aid to the Bengali resistance. The issue of direct military intervention was discussed between the Indian military and political leadership in April 1971.[57] The case for intervention was based on the following:

  • Until April 10, most of Bangladesh was outside Pakistani control, and the troops were bottled up in a few cities and was facing fierce resistance.[58][59] It is likely the Indian army, with proper air support, could have quickly taken control of most of the province by aiding the Mukti Bahini.
  • Indian Eastern Naval contingent (1 aircraft carrier and several warships)[60] could have imposed a blockade of the province and cut off supplies from the sea, as the Pakistan Naval arm in the east only contained 1 destroyer and 4 gunboats.
  • Pakistani forces were flying in crucial reinforcements from West Pakistan during March 26 – May 2[61] and were dependent of the supply depots located in Dhaka, Chittagong, and Narayanganj for fuel and ammunitions. Most Pakistani garrisons were cut off from each other and reliant on supplies through airlifts. The Indian Air Force, vastly outnumbering the Pakistan Air Force Eastern contingent, could have cutoff the air-links and destroyed the supply depots (as it did in December 1971).

Against this, the military leadership had to consider the following:[62]

  • Indian army a suitable force available for action in April 1971, and had to assemble one from forces deployed in other areas for such an operation.[63] Could an adequate force be put in place without jeopardizing the security of the northern and western borders of India in time to make a difference in East Pakistan?
  • Could a logistical network be established around East Pakistan to support the combat force before Pakistani army took over the province?
  • Should the Indians fail to gain a quick victory, was the army and the government ready (logistically and otherwise) for a long war, especially during the monsoon season in Bangladesh?[64]
  • Intervening in East Pakistan would make India the aggressor in International circles. Was India ready to diplomatically meet the international reaction and had India ensured the cooperation of a superpower as a diplomatic ally and arms supplier, crucial for running a long war?

Although some of the Bengali leadership hoped for and expected an Indian military operation at the earliest,[65] a view also shared by some Indian officers, Indian army eastern command decided in the present condition such a move was unadvisable, and a full attack could only take place after November 15 at the earliest, after deliberate and extensive preparations,[57] which was further elaborated to the Indian cabinet by Gen. Sam Manekshaw.[66] Indian leadership decided not to directly ‘’intervene’’, but chose to get ‘’involved’’: Eastern command took over responsibility for East Pakistan operations on April 29, and on May 15 launched Operation Jackpot, a full fledged operation to arm, train, equip, supply and advice the Mukti Bahihi fighters engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Pakistan armed forces. As an Indian diplomat commented to General Osmani, expecting direct Indian armed intervention in April was not practical.[65]

Rebuilding the Bangladesh Force (BDF)

During the period of April–June, General Osmani was busy with touring the various areas in an effort to boost morale and gather information, meeting with his Indian counterparts and setting up the Bangladesh forces command structure. The Indian army had taken over supplying the Mukti Bahini since May 15 and launched Operation Jackpot to equip, train, supply and advise Mukti Bahini. By mid June, Bengali fighters had been driven into India and was in the process of setting up infrastructure to run a sustained, coordinated guerrilla campaign. Bengali high command had begun to rebuilt and redeploy Mukti Bahini units since mid May,[67] and now began to tackle the task in earnest. During June –July, Mukti Bahini activity slacked off and the quality and effect of the insurgency was timid and poor.[68]

The task of planning and running the war was enormous, much more so because of the acute shortage of trained officers in the surviving Bengali forces. Of the 17,000 active duty Bengali soldiers (Army and EPR) who faced the Pakistani onslaught on March 25, 1971, about 4000 became prisoners,[69] and casualties had reduced the number of available trained personnel even further. Retired servicemen and new trainees had boosted that ranks somewhat, but further training and recruiting was needed to achieve the maximum possible results. Having lost the initial conventional war, but having secured Indian support and set up an infrastructure to run the war, the next step for the Mukti Bahini commanders was to come up with a comprehensive strategy with clearly defined roles and goals - something that also involved creating a substantial guerrilla force from scratch.

The July 10–15 sector commanders conference was to provide much needed guidance in this regard. The conference was chaired by Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed and coordinated by Gen. Osmani, and took place at 8, Theater Road, HQ of the Bangladesh Government in exile.

The Conference: Osmany Resigns

Col. Osmani was not present during the first day of the conference -he had resigned as CIC Bangladesh forces the previous day.[70] A group of Bengali officers had discussed an idea about creating a War Council, with Maj. Ziaur Rahman as its head and all the sector commanders as members to run the war effort - Osmani was to be the Defence Minister. Presented by Major Q.N. Zaman[71] and supported by Maj. Ziaur Rahman during a discussion session of all sector commanders, the officers feared that given the distance between sector headquarters and Kolkata and the poor state of communication, it might be better to have a separate operational wing to run the war effort to lessen the burden on Osmani. The facts were later probably misrepresented to Col. Osmani, who resigned as this proposal was not complementary to his leadership abilities or to his post as CIC.[70] The following day Osmani resumed his post as CIC after all sector commanders requested him to resume his post. The meeting went on without a glitch and decisions on strategy and organization was taken - all of which were vital for the War. The major decisions were:

  • Designating the operational area, strength, command structure and role of the Mukti Bahini. General Osmani was to remain C-in-C, with Lt. Col. MA Rab (posted at Agartola with no combat duties) as the Chief of Staff (COS), Group Captain A.K Khandker was made the Deputy Chief of Staff (DCOS). Bangladesh was divided into 11 combat sectors, and individual sector commanders were selected or reconfirmed for each sector. Out of the 11 proposed sectors, 8 became organized and active by July, with sectors no 5 and 11 becoming active in August. Sector no 10 (encompassing all areas east of Teknaf and Khagrachari) was never activated.[72] and the proposed area of operation for this sector was incorporated in sector no 1. Later the naval commando unit activities were designated as 'Sector 10' and commanded by Osmani himself. Indian Army posted Brig. Ujjal Gupta with a small staff to assist Bangladesh Forces HQ.
  • Mukti Bahini personnel were divided into 2 broad subdivisions: Regular Forces, and Freedom Fighters.

Regular Forces: This contained the defecting Bengali soldiers and retired members of the Pakistan army and EPR troops. Organised into battalions, these later became known as Z Force, K Force and S Force brigades. Lack of trained regular troops meant majority of recruits were either ex EPR servicemen or newly trained recruits. Those trained men from regular army, EPR, police, Ansar/Mujahids not included in the regular formations were formed into sector troops - which were more lightly armed but operated as conventional force units. Army officers were in command of these detachments. Sector troops were not armed like the regular battalions, but received monthly salaries like their comrades.[73] The regular force personnel initially operated in the border areas.

Freedom Fighters: Also known as Gonobahini, the newly trained guerrillas were part of this organization. They were lightly armed, received no monthly pay and were deployed mostly inside Bangladesh upon completion of training.

  • Political and civil organization for each sector as well as war objectives were also discussed and decided upon. Use of Guerrillas to hit the Pakistani armed forces, their collaborators, economic and logistical infrastructure was given priority.

Strategy for the Campaign

General Osmani decided on the strategy for Bangladesh forces to follow and liased with the Indian brass to keep them appraised of such decisions during July - December 1971, but he was not destined to organize an operation like the Tet Offensive or lead in a battle similar to Dien Bien Phu during his sting as C-in-C of Bangladesh forces. His leadership and strategy was a product of his professional career and the demands of the situation on the ground, which also influenced his leadership style to a large extent. He relied on his background of active participation in the South-East Asian sector during the Second World War. From May 15 the Indian army began to help build the liberation force. Major-General Sarker of the Indian Army was appointed as the Liaison Officer between Bangladesh Government-in-exile and the Indian Army. In the meantime Major Safiullah, Major Khaled Musharraf and Colonel Osmani met at Teliapara, a place in Sylhet district and prepared a basic paper on the strategy of the liberation war.[74] His differences with the Indian brass was to start with the selection of his initial battle strategy. Bangladesh government had hoped to raise a regular force of 30,000 soldiers and 100,000 guerrillas during 1971 - something which the Indians thought unrealistic.[75] There were also issues concerning the training, deployment and objectives of these forces where opinions between Bangladeshi and Indian leadership differed.

The initial Strategy (July - September 1971)

General Osmani was a conventional soldier with orthodox views and his initial strategy reflects his background. The uncertainty over the timing, scope and scale of direct Indian military intervention was another factor that influenced his decision. Osmani decided to raise a conventional force of regular battalions and use them to free an area around Sylhet, while organizing countrywide guerrilla activity as the secondary effort.[75][76] Bangladesh government in exile requested Osmani to make use of the one resource available in abundance: 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 the level of expertise needed through experience.[77]

Two ways to skin a cat

The Indian planners were concerned with the quality and effectiveness of a force raised in haste. They were concerned that such a force would lack the trained junior leaders needed to run an effective campaign.[78] They had envisioned a force of perhaps 8,000 personnel with at least 3/4 months training (leaders receiving longer training), led by the surviving officer/men of the EBR/EPR[79] to commence operations in small cells inside Bangladesh by August 1971.[80] The raising of additional battalions only drained away potential leadership candidates away from the guerrilla forces -undesirable for the Indian outlook.

General Osmani was stubbornly insistent, and his stubbornness did not sit well with the Indians - who thought deputy chief of staff A.K Khandkar was easier to work with.[81] However, Indians provided support in raising 3 additional battalions and 3 artillery batteries, but also insisted that the raising guerrillas be given due attention, to which Osmani raised no objection. Indians and Osmani differed on the location of the Free area - Indians suggested Mymensingh, but Osmani opted for Sylhet. General Osmani got his way again. Thus while the EBR battalions made ready, Mukti Bahini began sending 2,000 - 5,000 guerrillas inside Bangladesh each month from July onwards. Mukti Bahini commanders had agreed to the following objectives for the guerrillas during the sector commanders meeting:[82]

  • Increase Pakistani casualties through raids and ambushed by sending the maximum possible number of guerrillas in the minimum possible time inside Bangladesh.
  • Cripple economic activity by destroying power stations, railway lines, storage depots and communication systems.
  • Destroy Pakistani force mobility by blowing up bridges/culverts, fuel depots, trains and river crafts.
  • The objective is to make the Pakistanis to spread their forces inside the province, so attacks can be made on isolated Pakistani detachments.

General Osmani, however, supported the Indian initiative for training Naval commandos, who were an elite unit trained as per the Indian doctrine, and achieved spectacular results during 1971, demonstrating that he was pragmatic enough to accept Indian suggestions. He took exception to the creation of Bangladesh Liberation Force, a stance supported by sector commanders and the Bangladesh government in exile.

Action and Reaction: June - September 1971

Pakistan army, after expelling the Mukti Bahini from Bangladesh by May 1971, enjoyed a relatively peaceful time between June and July 1971. Mukti Bahini activities had slacked off during the months of preparation, and although the Indian army had begun shelling border outposts (about 50% of the existing 370 were destroyed by the end of July)[83] to ensure easier infiltration into occupied territories. Bengali regular forces were not ready for operation until mid July. With the conflict largely polarized around the India-East Pakistan border region, Pakistan Eastern command began reorganizing their forces to consolidate their control of the province. The following strategic and tactical steps were taken:[84]

  • Pakistan Army deployed the 9th Division (CO Maj. Gen. Shaukat Riza, HQ Jessore, containing the 57th and 107th brigades, which were part of the 14th division prior to March 25) to operate in the area south of the Padma and West of the Meghna Rivers. The 16th Division (CO Maj. Gen. Nazar Hussain Shah, containing the 23rd (formally of the 14th division), 34th and 205th brigades) was responsible for the area north of the Padma and west the Jamuna rivers. The 14th Division (CO: Maj. Gen. Rahim. Khan, HQ: Dacca, containing the 27th, 303rd and 117th brigades, formally of the 9th division, and the 53rd brigade) looked after the rest of the province.
  • The E.P.C.A.F (East Pakistan Civil Armed Force – 23,000 troops[85] with 17 operational wings[86]) was raised from West Pakistani and Bihari volunteers. Razakars (50,000), Al-Badr and Al Shams (5,000 members from each unit)[87] were organized from collaborating Bengali people. Many of the imprisoned EPR and Army troops were screened and absorbed into the Razakar organization.
  • Shanti Committees were formed rally public support and provide leadership to Bengalis collaborating with the Pakistani authorities. The police force was reorganized, 5000 police was flown in from West Pakistan[88] and several civilian bureaucrats were posted to run the civil administration.

This vast organization was employed to control the province with an iron fist. Pakistani authorities decided to continue the terror campaign,[89] and rejected all call for political compromise and general amnesty, and did nothing to assuage the feeling of the Bengali population suffering under the army occupation.[88] Strategically, the army deployed in all the sensitive towns, while the other para military units were deployed around the country. The EPCAF took over the duties of the defunct EPR – border and internal security. Pakistani forces occupied 90 Border Out Posts (BOPs) that were deemed crucial, out of 390, half of which had been destroyed by Indian shellfire by July end.[83] Often ad hoc units were created by mixing EPCAF and Razakars around a skeliton army formation for deployment in forward areas.[90] Pakistan army probably enjoyed their most peaceful period during the occupation of Bangladesh in 1971 between Late May and mid July, when Mukti Bahini was reorganizing and the Indian army was implementing Operation Jackpot in their support. From their bases the army conducted sweep and clearing operations in the neighboring areas to root out insurgents and their supporters. In absence of a fully fledged logistical system, the troops were ordered to live off the land – abuse of which led to widespread looting and arson. With the insurgency in its infancy – Pakistani army was most active during April - June 1971.

Mukti Bahini Response: The Monsoon Offensive

Mukti Bahini commanders had agreed to the following objectives during the sector commanders meeting :[91]

  • Increase Pakistani casualties through raids and ambushed by sending the maximum possible number of guerrillas in the minimum possible time inside Bangladesh.
  • Cripple economic activity by hitting power stations, railway lines, storage depots and communication systems.
  • Destroy Pakistani mobility by blowing up bridges/culverts, fuel depots, trains and river crafts.
  • The objective is to make the Pakistanis to spread their forces inside the province, so attacks can be made on isolated Pakistani detachments.

As Bengali guerrillas began to increase their numbers and activities inside Bangladesh from June onwards, sending 2000 – 5000 guerrillas across the border and began to become more active in the border areas, Pakistani army also began to adapt to the situation. Razakars and EPCAF were employed to deal with the internal security matters. Pakistan forces, unable to match the Indians shell for shell, declined to take up the challenge, relying on sudden barrages at selected areas. Choosing not to defend all the border outposts, Pakistani forces occupied and fortified 90 strategically located BOPs, while over half of 390 BOPs were eventually destroyed by Indian shellfire by July end to make Mukti Bahini infiltration easier. Pakistanis also build up an intelligence networks to collect information on Mukti Bahini activity and sent informers across the border to give early warning of Mukti Bahini activity.[92][93] Denied permission to launch cross border preemptive strikes, ambushes were laid for Mukti Bahini infiltrators and artillery was used to interdict movement whenever possible. Time consuming efforts were made to defuse mines, a favorite Mukti Bahini weapon. The Mukti Bahini activity was viewed as timid and the main achievements were blowing up of culverts, minimg abandoned railway tracks, and harassment of Pakistani collaborators.[68] Bengali regular forces had attacked BOPs in Mymensingh Comilla and Sylhet, but the results were mixed. Pakistani authorities concluded that they had successfully contained the Monsoon Offensive, and they were not far from the truth.[94][95]

Silver Linings among dark clouds

The sector commanders reviewed the results of the Mukti Bahini activities during June – August 1971, and General Osmani also conducted an overall assessment in September 1971. The findings were not encouraging; Mukti Bahini had failed to meet the expectations. The reasons for this were numerous and had to be properly handled to get the war effort on course. The main reasons identified were:

  • The guerrilla network was being built and had not taken firm root in Bangladesh. Guerrillas, with only 3/4 weeks of training, lacked the experience and numbers to compensate their lack of skills. In many cases, they drifted back towards the border after a few days of operations or when under pressure from Pakistani forces.[96]
  • Razakar and Shanti Committees were effective in countering the Mukti Bahini activity. About 22,000 better armed Razakars had become such a threat that in some areas Mukti Bahini ceased operating, and in other areas they were forced to operate against the Razakars, which suited the Pakistanis as it kept their forces from harm.
  • Uncertainty over re-supply and maintenance had caused many of the Guerrillas cautious, they were unwilling to use up their scanty ammunition, which also hampered operations.[97]
  • Until the ‘’Crack Platoon’’ members hit targets in Dhaka and the naval commandos simultaneously mined ships in Chittagong, Chandpur, Narayanganj and Mongla on August 15, the slow pace of operations inside Bangladesh was demoralizing for all involved – the Bangladesh issue was losing ground in the international arena[98]
  • Bengali regular troops had attacked the BoPs with spirit, but more training, better communication and coordination with Indian army support elements were needed for launching a successful conventional campaign. The attack on Kamalpur by 1st EBR was a bloody repulse, 3rd EBR attack on Bahadurabad was a success. Likewise, attacks by 2nd, 11th and 4th EBR yielded mixed results that only confirmed the conclusion.[99]
  • Coordination between Indian forces and Bangladesh forces were poor, there were several incident of misunderstanding and the supply situation needed major improvement. In some areas relationship between Bengali and Indian commanders had degraded to the point of finger pointing[100] and in many cases conflicting messages had come to Indian and Bengali formations regarding the same operation.[101] These issues had further eroded the combat capacity of the Bengali forces on the ground during June - August 1971.

The one two punch

The failure of the so called monsoon offensive caused Bangladesh forces high command to rethink their strategy. Since the Bengali brigades (Z,K and S forces) were not ready to liberate and hold a ‘’lodgement area’’ on their own, and there were several issues to with the ongoing guerrilla campaign. It was clear a long struggle awaited the Bangladeshi resistance, which could be cut short with a direct Indian military intervention – which was still uncertain. Several factors changed prior to Bangladesh High Command implementing the next strategy.

  • The uncertainty over Indian involvement changed – after a meeting between Indian and Bangladesh Prime ministers in October it became clear India was likely to intervene sometime between December 1971 and April 1972.
  • The Indian –Soviet Friendship pack assures India of superpower support – and enhanced Indian capability to supply the Mukti bahini as Russia began to send their WWII vintage surplus weapons to India.
  • The Indian Army Eastern Command began to improve their logistical network from October 1971, which also enabled getting supplies to the Mukti Bahini easier. Major General B.N. Sarkar began coordinating the war objectives for Mukti Bahini after consulting with Indian and Bengali officers on the ground and Bangladesh Forces HQ, and distribute the same set of objectives monthly to all concerned. This eliminated the misunderstandings and coordination problems between the Mukti Bahini and the Indian army.
  • At the beginning of the war Indian authorities officially endorsed only Awami League affiliated volunteer training, after the Soviet-Indian friendship pact for security reasons as India had security issues with some of their domestic left parties activities. After the Soviet-Indian pact, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed opened up recruitment to all comers.

Initially, General Osmani thought about dismantling the regular battalions operating under Z, K and S forces and sending platoons from these forces to aid the guerrillas. His associates adviced against this and he ultimately let them be, but deployed the Z force battalions separately to aid guerrilla actions around Sylhet. It was decided to senr at least 20,000 trained guerrillas into Bangladesh from September onwards. If even 1/3 of the force succeeded in it’ objective, the effect on the Pakistani forces would be devastating.

Effectiveness and Importance

Despite the limitations and challenges rising from the state of the Indian transport system (training camps were located inside India), remoteness of the guerrilla bases, unavailability and inadequacy of proper supplies,[102] and the decision of Bangladesh High Command to put the maximum number of guerrillas into battle in the minimum time possible (often after 4 to 6 weeks of training, sometimes resulting in only 50% of the personnel receiving firearms initially),[103] the operation was effective enough to support the 30,000 regular soldiers (8 infantry battalions, and sector troops) and 100,000 guerrillas that Bangladesh eventually fielded in 1971, and help run a Mukti Bahini campaign that destroyed or damaged at least 231 bridges, 122 railway lines and 90 power stations,[104] while killing 237 officers, 136 JCOs/NCOs and 3,559 soldiers,[105] of the Pakistan army and an unspecified nunber of EPCAF and police and an estimated 5,000 Razakar personnel[106] during the period of April–November 1971. The Mukti Bahini efforts also demoralised the Pakistani Army to the extent that, by November, they left their bases only if the need arose.[104] The Pakistani high command decided not to yield any territory and deploy their forces along the whole border. The grouping and regrouping of forces to secure the border and deal with the Mukti Bahini inside Bangladesh led to a loss of cohesion among Pakistani units, especially among the infantry, artillery and mortar regiments. The loss of maneuverability exposed them to a one dimensional battle.[107] This stretched them thin without any effective reserves, and they became vulnerable to selective Indian and Bengali strikes when the Undeclared War started from mid November. The prolonged exposure and steady casualties also sapped morale and reduced the effeciveness of the troops considerably

Bengali Naval commandos managed to sink or damage 126 ships/coasters/ferries during that time span, while one source confirms at least 65 vessels of various types (15 Pakistani ships, 11 coasters, 7 gunboats, 11 barges, 2 tankers and 19 river craft by November 1971).[108] had been sunk between August–November 1971. At least 100,000 tons of shipping was sunk or crippled, jetties and wharves were disabled and channels blocked, and the commandos kept East Pakistan in a state of siege without having a single vessel[109] The operational capability of Pakistan Navy was reduced as a result and the contribution of the Mukti Bahini to the eventual defeat of Pakistan was enormous,[110] which would not have been as effective without the aid of Operation Jackpot.

Osmani as C-in-C: Leadership style

General Osmani was not a micro-manager who liked to run the day by day operations and delve on details of every plan being hatched by the sector commanders. He delegated much to the sector commanders, which gave them broad freedom of action but also increased their workload - often stretching their shorthanded sector staff beyond their limits.[70][73] On the other hand, given the distance between Kolkata and the sector Hqs and the absence of any direct links (communications had to be channeled through Indian army comm. system), General Osmani had little choice but to delegate. However, the absence of an integrated command structure made it impossible to implement a full fledged strategy timely -which was a weakness that remain unsolved.[111]

  • General Osmani was not a micro manager obsessed with detail and control. He preferred the sector commanders to implement the broadly agreed on strategy as they saw fit. This gave them freedom of action but sometimes the lack of guidance from Bangladesh forces HQ, especially for resolving differences of opinion with the Indian sector officers, created unwanted tensions and delays.[112]
  • A thoroughly professional soldier, Osmani lived a Spartan life, wore simple clothes, ate normal food and used camp furniture despite living in Kolkata during the war, setting up an example for his subordinates. A man of refined culinary tastes, he appreciated the meals served by Indian officers during their meetings but ever the gentleman, never insisted on this.[113] His style of living was exemplary for his subordinates in this regard[114]
  • He did insist on maintain proper protocol while dealing with his Indian counterparts. As C-in-C Bangladesh Forces his position was equivalent to that of Sam Manekshaw, and his dealings with Lt. Gen. Jacob and Lt. Gen Aurora was according to this view and combined with his stubborn nature, made him a hard man to work with in Indian eyes.[115]
  • Osmani was pragmatic enough to not to allow his insistence on protocol impede the war effort. He did not view Indians working through Group Captain A.K. Khandker, the deputy Chief-of-Staff (whom the Indians viewed as a pragmatic, polished officer with a practical approach[116] and clear grasp of strategy), as circumventing his authority.
  • Having a brusque manner and a volatile temper, he was not above dressing down his subordinates in public – something that was resented by his subordinates. He also had a habit of discussing the legal frame of the future Bangladesh army or other issues not related to the war while touring the front – much to the bemusement and irritation of his fellow officers.
  • He was against politicizing the Bangladesh forces and in this he had the full support of Tajuddin Ahmed, the prime minister.[117] He appointed officers on merit and not political affiliation. Although for security reasons only Awami league members were recruited initially for the Mukti Bahini, Osmani opened up the recruitment to all willing to fight for Bangladesh in September with the Prime Ministers approval and support. Sector commanders had recruited non Awami league member prior to this, and Osmani had turned a blind eye despite some of the commanders being branded as leftists and insubordinate by some political leaders.[118]
  • Osmani was aware of his image and place in the Bangladesh forces and used it to his advantage. His ability and scope to solve the problems was limited by the extent of Indian support and Bangladesh government in exiles agenda. When confronted with a deadlock, he would often threaten to resign, which would almost always result in the others giving in – another reason some of his subordinates took exception to his leadership style. Only once was his bluff called – when he threatened to resign over placing Bangladesh forces under the Joint Command headed by Lt. Gen. J.S. Aurora, Tajuddin Ahmed agreed to accept if a written resignation was submitted. Gen. Osmani dropped the issue.[119]

Controversial Issues

Bangladesh Government had decided to form a joint command, which gave Indian Army Eastern Command, headed by Lt. General J.. Aurora, operational authority over Mukti Bahini forces, while Osmani was on inspection of the front lines in Kurigram during early November 1971. The decision was first taken by Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed in October and later ratified by Bangladesh Government Cabinet and formalised with the Indian government to avoid confusion and increase coordination when between Indian and Bangladesh forces when both started operating in Bangladesh.[120] Gen. Osmani seriously argued that such an action had no justification. He had argued that Indian units could very well serve with and under the leadership of Bangladesh Forces in their struggle. He seriously split with the Bangladesh Government over this issue and threatened to resign. Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed agreed to accept the resignation if a written resignation was submitted. Gen. Osmani dropped the issue.[119]

Issues regarding Mujib Bahini

General Osmani was Commander in Chief of all Bangladesh forces, but a number of units were outside the control of Bangladesh forces HQ. Bengali fighters had raised several bands to fight the Pakistani opposition in various areas of Bangladesh (Kaderia Bahini, led by Tiger Siqqiqi of Tangail is the most famous), and these operated independently of Bangladesh HQ. Osmani spared little thought on them, but the so call Mujib Bahini became a major cause of concern for the Bangladesh government in exile establishment. The Leaders of the Mujib Bahini were initially given permission by General Osmani to recruit student and youth volunteers for the war, but in fact had become leaders of a fully organized, well-armed and -trained force, who allegiance was firstly to Sheikh Mujib and then to their own commanders, not to the Bangladesh government in exile.

No one doubted the skill of the Mujib Bahini or commitment of its members to Bangladesh or their patriotism. Trained by General Uban, an insurgency expert, this force operated under the direction of R&AW outside the Bangladesh forces chain of command and the knowledge of Bangladesh government. Mujib Bahini members were better trained[71] and better armed than their Mukti Bahini counterparts.[121] Bangladeshi government and military leadership were concerned because:

  • Most of recruits of Mujib Bahini had been identified as potential future guerrilla leaders of Mukti Bahini, who had suddenly disappeared from the camps - which was first noticed by Mukti Bahini command in June 1971. Their recruitment into a separate force meant the loss of leadership potential for the Mukti Bahini.[122][123]
  • Operating outside the command structure and knowledge of Bangladesh leadership, their activities, successful or otherwise, often hindered Mukti Bahini operations. They would often strike in areas without Mukti Bahini knowledge, bringing in unexpected Pakistani retaliation and unhinging Mukti Bahini plans for the area.
  • Some of the activities of Mujib Bahini was creating misunderstanding and distrust in the field. Some of their members had tried to influence Mukti Bahini members to switch their allegiance, in cases had tried to disarm the guerrillas and some clashes had taken place between Mukti Bahini and Mujib Bahini members, and in some areas Mukti Bahini sector commanders arrested known Mujib bahini members. The Indian Army and other organizations involved in supporting the Bengali resistance were also dissatisfied with the activities of this independent organization which was operating outside the existing chain of command.[124]

Bangladesh Government in exile took various diplomatic initiatives, including approaching RAW director Ramnath Kao[125] to bring this organization under the control of the government or under General Osmani without success. By August it was clear the independent activities of Mujib Bahini was detrimental for the war effort and Gen Osmani threatened to resign unless they were brought within the command structure of Bangladesh forces.[126] A meeting with D.P Dhar on August 29 produced an assurance that Mujib Bahini would inform of their activities beforehand to the sector commander prior to commencing their operations. Another meeting with Ramnath Kao on September 18 produced nothing about R&AW relinquishing their control over Mujib Bahini.

On October 21, Bangladesh Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed met with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and she ordered D.P Dhar to solve the issue, who in turn informed Lt. Gen. B.N. Sarkar to meet with Mujib Bahini leaders and take necessary steps. Mujib Bahini leaders failed to show up, but sensing which way the wind was blowing, stopped their disruptive activities. Mujib Bahini, along with the Special Frontier Force under the command of Maj. Gen. Uban, went on to liberate Rangamati in December and helped the Indians dismantle the Mizo insurgent network.

Absence in the December 16 Surrender Ceremony

There have been several controversy theories regarding Col. Osmani not being in Dhaka in December 16, 1971. The most verified information remains Osamani's helicopter which was supposed to carry him to Dhaka form Sylhet was damaged in midair by gun fire & it crash landed in an open field despite being cleared of any Pakistani artillery not in existence on the pathway. Controversial absence of Colonel Osmani from the victory ceremony[127] After the crash, where Col. Osmani & his crew have been wounded, were rescued immediately by an Indian surveillance jeep, but remained out of touch with Indian and Bangladesh HQ and could not reach Dhaka in time. Regardless of such suspicious situation both Bangladesh & Indian Government stayed blind eyed & sought no further inquiry on the incident.Whereabouts of the C-in-C on 16 Dec. 1971 [128] Osmani was elevated to the rank of General of the Bangladesh Armed Forces with effect from the date 16 December 1971.

General of Bangladesh Army

After the Bangladesh Liberation War ended with the surrender of Pakistan Armed Forces to the joint command of India and Bangladesh on December 16, 1971, Col. Osmani arrived in Dhaka on December 22 and set up his HQ probably in the "LOG Area HQ Building" in Dhaka cantonment.[129] On January 9, 1972, Gen. Osmani ordered the arrangement of the Bangladesh Armed Forces Honor Guard that received Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on his return on January 10, 1972 at Tezgaon Airport.[130] Bangladesh Government promoted him to Four Star General (the first ever in Bangladesh history) effective from December 16, 1971 on April 7, 1972,[6] after January 10, 1972 to honor his contribution during the liberation war. General Osmani continued to be the commander in chief of Bangladesh forces, which was equivalent to the post of a civilian cabinet minister.

Sector Commander Conference January 2–11, 1972

Col. Osmani and Senior Sector Commanders of Mukti Bahini held a conference in Dhaka from January 2 to January 11, 1972 to discuss the future of Bangladesh Armed Forces among other issues. Lt. Col. Abu Taher (Commander Sector 11 -wounded) and Major Jalil (Commander Sector 9 - Closed) were not present in the meeting. In line with the Six Point Programme and Bangladesh Government Cabinet decision to form a National Militia, the conference set up a committee to oversee the formation of this organization. This Militia was to be formed with members of Mukti Bahini and the members of the former East Pakistan Rifles. Major A.N.M Nuruzzaman (Commander Sector 3) was selected to command the militia.

Disturbance at Pilkhana

On February 16, 1972 tension between Mukti Bahini members and former EPR members who had not been able to join the Liberation War, erupted in a shooting episode at Pilkhana. Gen Osmani was informed of the incident and arrived at Pilkhana, but was unable to enter due to the ongoing shooting. The firing stopped once President Mujibur Rahman arrived on the scene. General Osmani and Bangabandhu then defused the situation. It was decided to keep the EPR intact as Bangladesh Rifles and create another force called Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini with the Mukti Bahini members.[131] In April 1972 Bangladesh Government decided to abolish the post of Commander in Chief and create the post of Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff and Chief of Naval Staff to separate the command structure of the three services.[132]

Civilian Cabinet Minister

The newly formed Bangladesh army had shortage of trained personnel. None of the Mukti Bahini Officers had the training or experience of running an army (the Senior most officers had been Majors in 1971 and at most had commanded a battalion). Furthermore, there were 1100 Bengali officers and 23,000 soldiers interned in West Pakistan, awaiting repatriation to Bangladesh. These Officers included Generals and several Brigadiers with the training and experience that would be invaluable for the newly formed Bangladesh forces, who had to be integrated in Bangladesh forces after their return. General Osmani may have harbored hopes of becoming the defense minister,[133] so he could continue to stay attached to military affairs, but once Bangladesh Government abolished the post of Commander in Chief, he retired from the army on April 7, 1972 and was appointed as Cabinet Minister with the portfolio of Air and Inland Water Transport Authority on April 12, 1972. Gen. Osmani was an elected member of the parliament and Bangladesh Armed Forces personnel are not allowed to hold political office.

First Army Chief of Staff in Independent Bangladesh

Lt. Col M.A. Rab, the first Chief of Staff of Bangladesh Army (April 12, 1971 - April 7, 1972), was promoted to the rank of Major General and retired on April 7, 1972. It is believed that General Osmani was consulted regarding his successor and he had recommended then) Brigadier. K.M Shafiullah for the post to President Sheikh Mujib.[134] The 4 serving senior most army officers who had joined Mukti Bahini in March 1971 from Pakistan Army were: Lt. Col. Salahuddin Mohammad Reza, Major C.R. Dutta, Major Ziaur Rahman and Major K.M. Shafiullah.[135] Lt. Col Reza was retired as a Colonel in 1972 and C.R Dutta, who was on leave prior to retirement in March 1971 was to become director of Bangladesh Rifles.

Ziaur Rahman had joined the Liberation War on March 25, 1971, K.M Shafiullah joined on March 28, 1971.[135] Furthermore, Zia and Shafiullah were commissioned on the same day in Pakistan Army (12th PMA Long Course, on 18 September 1955), but Zia was senior to Shafiullah in the final rankings.[134] Osmani did not have cordial relationship with Ziaur Rahman. Osmani had wanted to sack (then) Lt. Col. Zia after the battle of Kamalpur. However, it is possible that Osmani made no recommendation and the appointmenk of Shafiullah, superseding Ziaur Rahman was a political decision.[6][136]

Cadet College Crisis

Bangladesh Government had issued a Presidential Decree in 1972 turning the existing Cadet colleges into government colleges. A delegation of ex cadets visited (then) Brigadier Ziaur Rahman, who helped then get an appointment with Minister Osmani. Osmani obtained a meeting with President Mujibur Rahman, and after a discussion with him the decree was withdrawn.[137]

Lt. General Wasiuddin

Lt. General Khwaja Wasiuddin was the senior most Bengali serving in Pakistan Army[138] after the forced retirement of Maj. Gen. Ishfaqul Majid in 1961.[139]

General Wasiuddin had commanded the II Corps of the Pakistan Army in 1971 (then based in Multan) and had planned to defect, but was unable to do so when he was posted in the Army HQ in Rawalpindi as the Master General Ordnance.[140]   After the defeat of Pakistan he opted for Bangladesh and was interned in his home. General Wasiuddin managed to leave for London in October 1972, and then came to Bangladesh. Osmani had served alongside (then) Brigadier Wasiuddin in 1959 at the GHQ in Rawalpindi GHQ, where Wasiuddin was working on the idea of creating Bengal Artillery Regiments and he shared a cordial relationship with Osmani.[141]

General Osmani had received him at the Airport and introduced him to important Awami League leaders. Lt. general Wasiuddin was 54 years old and his experience would have been invaluable for newly formed Bangladesh Army. Rumors spread that Bangladesh Government had intended to make Wasiuddin the Army Chief of Staff at the recommendation of Osmani, which was later overturned because some of the Freedom Fighters in Bangladesh Army staff threatened to resign. Osmani was supposedly hurt by this turn of events[142] General Wasiuddin was posted as an Ambassador. However, when (then) Brigadier Shafiullah, who had replaced Major General M.A. Rab as Chief of Staff in April discreetly enquired about the rumors, Shiekh Mujib reportedly commented that only tested patriots would be the Chief of Staff of Bangladesh Army.[143]

Resignation from Cabinet

He resigned from the cabinet in May 1975 after the introduction of a one-party government system thanks to the fourth amendment to the constitution. Along with Barrister Mainul Hosein, both elected MPs resigned from the Awami League, protesting the total abolition of democracy in Bangladesh by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. M.A.G. Osmani was selected as an Adviser to the President on 29 August 1975. He resigned shortly after the murder of several leaders in the Dhaka Central Jail.

The Jatiya Janata Party

Osmani started a new political party named Jatiya Janata Party in 1976 and he was elected President of the party. He participated in the 1978 presidential elections as a candidate of the Democratic Alliance party. He later participated in the presidential elections in 1981 as a candidate of the Jatiya Nagarik Committee (National Citizens Committee).

Personal life

Osmani lived as a bachelor throughout his life and had no offspring who exist today. His family home is 18 km south from Sylhet City in the village of Dayamir now renamed as Osmaninagar. His home in the Nayarpul locality of the north-eastern city of Sylhet, from where he hails, is currently a museum - Osmany Museum.

Though a bachelor all his life, Osmani was close to his relatives and family throughout his life. Most trips to Sylhet involved making visits to loved ones, and in Dhaka he would regularly welcome nephews and nieces to his residence. Only his Alsatians were generally disliked, and almost universally feared by visiting folk.


In 1983, aged 65, Osmani was diagnosed with cancer at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Dhaka. He was immediately flown to London for treatment, at the Government's expense. He was attended to by specialists at St Bartholomew's Hospital. Most of his time in the UK was spent staying at the family home of his nephew and niece, Mashahid Ali and Sabequa Chowdhury. Both were beloved to him - the late Mashahid (Shahee) had helped Osmani in his later years by funding the establishment of his political party, the Jatiya Janata Party, following Osmani 's exit from the Mujib government. Sabequa spent formative years of her childhood in Osmani 's home in Sylhet, and Osmani gifted his allocated plot in Dhaka to her in the early 1970s. Osmani's days would pass with an almost endless stream of visitors, well wishers and acolytes calling on him to wish him well, to ask his guidance, or just to see him.

Though Osmani was responding favorably to the cancer treatment, in early February he deteriorated unexpectedly. The hospital diagnosed that he had been given the wrong type of blood at the CMH and that this was now infected. His demise followed immediately after, in bed on 16 February 1984 in London, aged 66. Throughout these months of treatment and convalescence, the famous fire in his eyes and the quiver in his bristly moustache stayed with him until the very end.

Following his sudden death, Osmani's body was flown to Bangladesh. The cavalcade of cars to Heathrow was provided with a special police escort which, with full diplomatic protocol, sped the entourage through the streets of London, stopping the traffic along the route. About a days after his death Osmani was buried in Darga, Sylhet with full military honours. His grave lies adjacent to his mother's.


Muhammad Ataul Gani Osmani is regarded in Bangladesh as one of the greatest leaders and heroes of the nation's freedom fighters, and regarded as a brave man (Bonga Bir) never afraid of laying down his life. Under his command, the organisation and conduct of Bangladesh Armed Forces came into being without whom it would have been very difficult. The international airport in his hometown of Sylhet, where he is respected and remembered very much, has been named after him as Osmani International Airport(Osmani Antorjatik Biman Bondor ). Even the state-run hospital in Sylhet is named after him, as Osmani Medical College and Hospital. Every year, Osmani associations gather to hold huge ceremonies and functions, including engaging in televised discussion of General Osmani's contributions. The medical college situated in Sylhet is named after him, M.A.G. Osmani Medical College, Sylhet. In London Borough of Tower Hamlets, a primany school was named as Osmani Primary School.[144]

See also


External links

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