Name: Abdul Karim
Father’s Name: Abdul Hamid
Vill: Gopinathpur, P.O.: Gopinathpur
Union: Gopinathpur, P.S.: Kosba
Age in 1971: 35 yrs
Occupation in 1971: Service (East Pakistan Rifles)
Present Occupation: Retired
Q. How did you get involved with the liberation war after the attack of the Pakistan army on March 25,1971?
A. I was posted in Sylhet. In those days the Punjab Regiment of Pakistan army was stationed there. I was attached with one of their units. I was taken in by their unit commander as a basket ball coach to teach the game to their men. I used to board with them and had food with them. When the Pak army attacked Dhaka on March 25, they started killing the Bangali soldiers. Sylhet town was going through a very uncertain period. Very frequently the Sylhet town was under curfew. There was an EPR sector-headquarter close to our station. I used to visit them occasionally and tried to get news from them but they hardly disclosed anything to me.
Quite often when I used to be in my bed at night the Pak soldiers would go out of the camp to destinations for long hours about which I had no clue. They would return around 2/2.30 am and I would peep through the mosquito net and had noticed bloodstains on their uniforms. They would wash them with water and soap to clean it up. Their commanders would order the guards to burn the clothes up. Like this when three days 26,27,28 March passed I became scared. I wondered what were they doing night after night. There was an EPR (East Pakistan Rifles) unit near our camp and there was a Subedar Major in this unit who was a Bihari by the name Kabir. He had posted me in my the then duty. I went to his camp and met him. I told him what I had seen and that I was afraid to continue to stay there.
Although he was a Bihari I had confidence in him. After listening to me he said, “Karim, don’t think about it, you just do your duty”. What could I do? I went back to my unit. One night around 2 am I heard gunshots coming from the direction of Sylhet town, thousands of them as if the town had become a battle-field. I was terribly scared. I went to my “unit father”, but he couldn’t tell me anything either. I was terribly afraid and worried, what if they killed me? Then I went out to see if there were any other Bengalis around the place. But I didn’t find any. Then one day at dead of night I dressed lightly and taking a water pot in my hand (as if I was going to toilet) quietly moved out of the camp. This area was known as Khademnagar. I headed for Sylhet town about 6/7 kilometers away. I was walking through villages. I could hear gunshots in thousands and yet I was heading in that direction and reached Sylhet town. There was a Punjabi Subedar-Major by the name Nawab Khan. He was one of those who recruited me and he was very kind to me. I went straight to his residence. He was offering Tahajjut namaz (special late night prayer). I could see light in his room from outside through the windows. It would be around 2:30 in the morning. When I reached his residence, I thought first I should meet his batman, a fellow named Taher from my own village and a neighbor. I called out Taher. Taher came out and said, “What is the matter, who are you?” I answered, ‘I am Karim.’ He then called me in his room. Intense firing was still going on in Sylhet town. I went in and after a couple of minutes the Subedar-Major finished his prayer. He saw me and immediately he put his arms around my neck, and Subedar-Major M.C. Nawab Khan started crying. I then spoke. I said, “Sir, you are like my father, you have taught me how to be a trainer, you were the C.O. of the unit, you took me in and reared me and then you sent me to the Punjab Regiment and now please tell me what should I to do?” He was crying and then said, “Karim, there is nothing I can tell you. You can go anywhere you want, wherever your eyes take you, you can go.” He also told his batman Taher to go with me but Taher did not agree as he had some problem in leaving the unit right at that moment. Then I left the place alone. It was 3.30 in the morning.
I did not know the name of the area in front of the Police Lines. I walked around the Murari Chand College and came near the Surma bridge. I saw a large number of Punjabi soldiers on the bridge. So I detoured along a lane and reached the Topekhana road. I proceeded along this road for a while and reached a house owned by one of my in-laws. His name was Fulmia Choudhury. He hailed from Sayedabad.
House to house searching by the enemies had not started by then. The Punjabis were shooting randomly killing every one within their sight. People were afraid of leaving their homes. The schools and colleges were closed down and the students were confined within the four walls of their homes. I started beating on the doors but no one was opening the door. They were afraid of the army. It was then 4:00 in the morning. I started howling and finally the door opened and I quickly slipped in. They were surprised and shocked to see me. I told them that I had abandoned my camp. I told them that I was attached to a new unit as a trainer and I would like to go back to my unit in Dhaka. My in-law asked me how could I go to Dhaka in a dreadful situation like this. He said I could be killed on the way. Then I talked to one of my brothers-in-law named Mazharul Huq who was an officer serving in the PIA (Pakistan International Airlines). He was a bit of a politician. Then after a short discussion he agreed to accompany me. Both of us started walking through villages and reached the Sylhet border. It was 5.00 in the morning. We could not cross over the Surma bridge. We took a small boat and crossed the river. I started walking towards Latu which was my company headquarters. On the way I learnt that those of us who were near the border did not know what was happening inside the country or in the towns. We had one Capt. Mohiuddin who was shot and killed by the Punjabi soldiers in broad day light. After this all the Bengali men of the unit deserted the camp. Those who didn’t were arrested by their Pakistani comrades. I didn’t see this happen. I heard it on the way when I reached the border. Somehow I managed to reach Latu, which was my Company Headquarters. Sylhet was my Wing Headquarters.
Q. What did you do then?
A. I couldn’t go to Latu. When I was half the way towards Latu people told me that the way to Latu was very hazardous. Latu camp was full of Punjabi troops; 11 of them against 2 Bengalis.. They were in grave difficulties. If I went there my life would be in danger. They advised me to go anywhere but Latu. So after a bit of thinking I decided to go to another border outpost Sarupa about two and a half miles away from Latu. There was one Naik by the name Bashar who was from Brahmanbaria.. He wanted to know whatever I could tell him. The Punjabis and Pathans also wanted to know whatever I knew. They also wanted to know how I could reach Sarupa. I tried to hide as much as I could from the Punjabis and Pathans. There was a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) and a Border Outpost (BOP) Commander. Both were Bengalis. One Lance Naik and three Sepoys were non-Bengalis. They asked me how I could leave my camp. I told them that I was asked to come to Sarupa. The Bengalis asked me how I could come from the town. I told them that I could only tell them whatever I knew. On the way I heard that Mohiuddin sahib had been killed. I said, “You are sitting here and doing your duties while the Sylhet town has become a battle-field; the Punjabis and Pathans are on one side and Bengalis on the other”. Then Bashar told me that they were helpless because there was no one to give them orders and without orders they couldn’t act. I told them that those days were gone, there would be no one to give orders, we would have to issue our own orders and act. The Punjabis had killed almost every Bengali soldier stationed in the town (Sylhet) and arrested the rest of them. It was no longer possible to serve along with the Punjabis. I told them not to disclose what I had told them about the Punjabis. “Let me talk to others,” I said. Then Bashar talked to Nayeb Subedar Farid. Bashar told Farid that the Punjabis were exterminating the Bengalis while we were sitting idle. I understand Farid remarked that what I had disclosed to him constituted an act of rebellion against the country. “Arrest him”, he said. He advised me not to talk anything more about it because the Platoon Commander did not like what I had said to him. I kept quiet. One day passed. The next day we were listening to the radio news around 4:00 in the afternoon sitting on the playground. A Punjabi sepoy, a lance naik and a Pathan sepoy were also there. I said that all over the world power transfers are taking place, then why a person who is wanted by the entire country is being harassed like this? He may be allowed to go where he wants to. Then the Lance Naik Sabir Khan became very angry and told me, you Bengali, you do politics. He went to the Bengali officer who was posted there and complained that a quarrel had broken out between Karim and Sabir. What to do now? If these two remain in the camp to-night then there will be murderous fight. Then I was arrested and sent to another camp called Kanglihat about 3 or 3.5 miles away. I was very angry. I did not take my supper. Three men escorted me to that camp. People asked me why I was sent there. I found Naik Taher of Nabinagar in this camp. There were six sepoys with him, all Bengalis. They asked me that I had gone to Sarupa and now I came to this camp. What was the matter? I told them that Kalighat camp was not far from Sylhet town, about 8/9 miles. The special camp was located in the market place. Naik Taher was BOP commander. I told Taher, “Ostad, a dog’s life was better than our kind of existence. Public don’t want us. Tell me what we should do”. Taher told me that I was right, they had seen with their own eyes what was going on around us. Very frequently people were coming from Sylhet town and they had also heard a lot on the radio. “Why the hell we should tolerate the Puanjabis in this camp? We shall not let them go free”, he said. And then he said to me, our company had 108 men including the junior officers, and then we had other workers like cooks, helpers etc. There were 50-55 Punjabis and Pathans included in this number. We cannot go anywhere taking them with us. So wherever we went we would have to kill them before we left this camp. We thought seriously and arrived at the conclusion that we would have to kill them. Then I wrote a secret letter to the platoon commander and the company commander. Mr. Mujibur Rahman was the company commander who hailed from Chouddagram village under Comilla. In my letter I wrote that I had come from Sylhet. Capt. Alauddin and all the Bengalis of the unit were killed. Those who survived abandoned the camp and the rest were dead. Mr. Abdul Huq, a company commander, had also escaped and another platoon commander, a Punjabi, had also run away to an unknown place. So we had nothing more to hope for.
Q. In this situation what did you do?
A. We were seven Bengalis in Kalighat camp. We discussed amongst ourselves and decided to kill all the Punjabis in the night. Taher agreed with me. We kept one of us to guard the camp and six of us left to do our job of killing the Punjabis. When we reached the road one of the Sepoys of Barisal named Motlub came running and said,” I can’t do it, I am afraid, my heart is breaking down”. We left him and five of us reached the camp. It was 11 or 11.30 around mid mid-night. We had also one havildar (sergeant) with us named Fazar Ali who was from Chandpur. We decided to kill the four Punjabis who were in the camp. Fazar said that if we attempted to kill the Punjabis, Platoon Commander Farid Sahib would resist us. He was in his room. It was then 1.00 a.m. I said, “We would take care of him. Don’t get panicky. You will do what we will do”. We entered the camp and found a Punjabi sentry. I told them that we had come from BOP. He then shook hands with us and made some tea for us. The Platoon Commander was still lying on his cot. He was awake but he did not get out of his room. He asked who had come. The sentry told him Naik Taher and Lance Naik Karim had come. He said, it’s ok. We had tea and then we attacked the sentry and three others who were sleeping on their bed.
Outside it was raining heavily. We started beating them hard and took them to the river bank and dug a whole and buried them and then returned. Before we returned we snapped the telephone line between the camp and the Company Headquarters, threw the line into the river and went to Kanglighat. I wrote a letter to the subedar who was responsible for the killing of the four Punjabi soldiers if he would be able to kill the rest thirteen Pathans and Puanjabis. I also informed him that we lost all links with Sylhet. He replied saying that they were only five Bengalis and there was no way they could finish the Pathans and Punjabis. If they made any move they may themselves get killed. There was no way we could cross over to India.
Then one day around mid-day Major C.R. Dutta arrived by car at the Kanglighat bazaar and asked us if there were any EPR camps around. He was informed by the local people that there was a camp with seven people all together. He sent one of the fellows for me. When I reached the spot and introduced myself he introduced himself to me and asked me how we were managing there all by ourselves. I told him, “Sir, everybody ran away, only five of us Bengalis are around against 13/14 Punjabis and Pathans in the area and if we tried to kill them we would be killed.” He said, “Mia, if you behave so cowardly you cannot free the country. I want you to finish them.” I asked him, “Sir, what will we do then?” He said, “All right, I shall send you a transport around 5 p.m. and all of you will come to my centre with everyone of your company.” After he left I returned to my company and told the other six about the orders I had just received from Major sahib. After some discussion we decided, come what may, we would attack the Pathans and Punjabis even if it would cost our lives. Accordingly taking some local people with us we surrounded their camp and they fired heavy shells at us. Somehow or the other with the blessing of Allah we had managed to kill all of them. We dug graves and buried the dead bodies.
Luckily we were unhurt. We contacted other camps nearby and all the Pathans and Punjabis were killed in ones and twos. The truck arrived around 5 p.m. and packing whatever little belongings we had and taking our arms and ammunition we drove to Juree camp. We spent one night in this camp and next day Maj. Chitta Dutta split us and sent us to different camps. Our company was sent to Teliapara and then to India. Before reaching India we came to know that 4 East Bengal Regiment was camped in the Teliapara Tea Gardens. We were attached with them.
Here we met some officers including Maj. Khaled Mosharraf, Maj. Shafaet Jamil and Capt. Gaffar. Two days later Col. Osmani visited us. He consoled us and briefed us about the war. We spent three more days there and took weapons training. Maj. Khaled Mosharraf organized us in several groups and sent these groups to several locations such as Agartala, Konabanand and Devipur. I was attached along with other members of my company to the East Bengal “C” company. We went to Chairpara and then to Agartala. We spent a day or two and then along with others participated in the Gangasagar operations. From there we went to Devipur and stayed there for some time. Then a demand came from Belonia and then under the command of Capt. Gaffar we went to Belonia. We stayed in Belonia for quite sometime and took part in several actions against the Pakistanis.
Q. Which are the areas where you fought and how?
A. In the beginning when we went to Kasba via Teliapara we spent 2/3 days in Agartala. We spent quite a few days in Kasba. In the beginning we were in bad shape. First, we had left our stations about a month and a half ago and we had no money when we left. We had just a shirt and a pair of trousers and that’s all. We carried only ammunition and arms with us. We were defending ourselves from the enemy attack with those whenever it was necessary. When we reached Kasba which was close to the Indian border near Devipore in the east we got some help from the Indians. They gave us a little shelter on a hillock. We made bunkers there and along with some officers who were with us got ourselves somewhat organized like army men do. We had hardly any meals to take. Quite often we ate jackfruit as substitute for meals. Seldom we had rice and dal (lentils) to eat. We spent quite some time there. When we had been through an extended period of hunger and malnutrition we carried out a couple of heavy operations. We were desperate for food. How could we fight if we had no food? At that time some people of the area gave us hint that in a nearby go-down on the Salda river there was a big stock of food. If we could bring these stocks not only us but also other freedom fighters like us would be benefitted, they told us. Then our officers and us became interested about this proposal. One day our CO information came to know through public source that a platoon of Pak army was coming from Kasba to Salda to inspect this go-down. The inspection team was to return to Kasba. We were then stationed inside Indian territory. We were then ordered to ambush them. Led by our Subedar 20/22 of us carried out this ambush near a spot, which was in the north of Mandabhag railway station. They had left a trolley on the railway track loaded with some articles and had walked to the go-down for inspection. When this team was returning and came very close to us we ambushed them. 7/8 of them died on the spot and others ran away with some injuries. We then left the spot. The dead bodies were left there. Later on the Pak army engaged the public for removing the dead bodies. Then they started bombing on us from the house of Mr. T. Ali (a Muslim League leader). It took place very close to the Indian border while we were near the spot at a place called Konabari. The Pakistais shelled the area heavily for two days and we couldn’t do anything more. On the third day two of our companies entered the go-down. It was a blessing of Allah that it rained very heavily at night. If it hadn’t rained it would not be possible for us to enter the go-down. Due to the heavy rains the river became navigable and the local public were keen to help us with boats to transport the bags of food rations to our camp. It took us three days to empty the go-down and transport the stock within Indian territory. We sent food to various other Muktifouz camps. We also had our regular meals after a bad spell. After we came to Saldanadi this was our first operation. A few days later we carried out another operation in Mayeenpur. There is also a river here. Three or four officers of the Pak army were cruising down the river in a speed boat. Under our leader Subedar Wahab 12/13 of us conducted an operation. In this operation also we were successful. We didn’t bring the dead bodies back. We burnt down the boat and brought some little bits and pieces of the dead bodies. The next operation was near the Kalamura bridge. In this spot we laid a trap. Three enemy vehicles, one Bedford and three Pickup vans of the Engineering Corps were coming down the road. They fell into our trap. We fired on them from nearby jute field when they came near the bridge. They were nine of them, 5 were killed and we captured 2 of whom one, a Pathan, belonged to the Engineering Corps and the other, a Punjabi, was a Lance Naik. We brought them alive to Konaban. All our actions were conducted more or less in the same area just before the end of the war. Our defense line was in Mandabhag and our headquarters was within Indian border. The bazaar near the Salda river was the headquarters of the Pak army units stationed there. The villages on our side of the bazaar were under our control during the entire period. The 4 East Bengal Regiment used to give us artillery cover whenever we needed. We were always under the defensive cover given by our Artillery Regiment.
Q. Tell me something about the battles of Mandabhag and Saldanadi.
A. During the full nine months of our war the most memorable one was fought by our 4 East Bengal Regiment in Mandabhag bazaar. A little distance away there was a Pakistan army camp composed of the Pathans and Punjabis. We used to carry out regular attacks on them. These raids were to harass them. Once every one or two days we attacked them and then returned to our base camp. Roughly we wasted 100/200 pieces of ammunition during these attacks. In return they used to fire no less than a thousand pieces. They responded often by heavy bombing on us when we would withdraw. Thus we kept them confined within their camps. We had really no strength at all to draw them into an open confrontation. Later on we got information from the members of the public of Mandabhag that they had finally withdrawn.
Then we got orders from capt. Gaffar to set up our camp at Mandabhag Bazaar. He gave us additional force equipped with machine guns. Our plan was to confront the Pakistani units returning from the Chalna port by that route. The Pakistanis came to know that we had taken position there and they fired shells on us from Chalna port area. And then we came to know from the public that the Pakistanis had finally withdrawn from Chalna area. We informed our C.O. Capt. Gaffar about it. A straight and broken road ran all the way to Chalna. The Pakistanis had taken this route for withdrawal from this area to Chalna. Then Capt. Gaffar gave us orders to set up our camp in the Mandabhag Bazaar area. Capt. Gaffar had his headquarters at Konaban. We apprised him of that we had inadequate weapons and it would be too risky for us to set up our camp at the Mandabhag Bazaar. Then he sent us some of his men with machine-guns to strengthen our fire power. It was then rainy season but we somehow managed to stay on. Our purpose was to prevent any Pakistani unit to come that way from Chalna, and if we could find some opportunities we would attack them. The Pakistanis came to know that we had taken position at the Mandabhag Bazaar. So they refrained from coming that way but they did bombing on our camp. Fortunately it didn’t do any damage to us.
One day Capt. Gaffar called us and told us that there was no point for us to stay there any longer and asked us to move to Mandabhag Railway Station. It happened just about a month before the war ended. The day we were to leave this camp some of us were on a boat ride right in front of our bunker in a stagnant puddle of water collected during the recent rains. In the mean time two Razakars came to collect information on us. We saw them and shouted ‘hands up’. The two men, although armed with rifles, raised their rifles above their heads and in fear stood still. We sent two men who swam across the pool and just before they reached the other side of the pool the two men threw off their rifles and ran away for fear of their lives. It was about 2.00 pm then. We picked up the rifles. These two men reported to their Chalna headquarters abut our presence in the area. We were to leave the camp the same evening. We informed our commander about the incident. In the evening we had our supper and listened to radio news. Mr. Wahab asked us to wait a while so that he could listen to the BBC news broadcast at 10 pm. It was too late to move out then. Some of our boys were already asleep. So Wahab Sahib told us to stay there for the night. At night one of my comrades Hedayetullah Patwari and I, while we were smoking cigarette sitting in the dark, saw the shadow of about 400/500 men coming toward us, and then they opened machine-gun fire on us. Hedayet received bullet wound on his arm. On seeing the men we shouted ‘Punjabis are here’ and our machine-gun men, Sarwar and Latif, pulled their triggers and within two seconds 5 hundred bullets left the barrels of the machine-guns and we covered the road.
The hail of bullets fired from our weapons, machine-guns and rifles, caused a massacre on the enemy and there were dead bodies all around. Those, who could, ran away. There were too many dead bodies in the puddle. It was early morning and the sky was becoming clear.
We informed our C.O. about this very unexpected battle. Frightened by the firing all around many people of the area ran away to look for safety. We had to engage some men of the locality to remove the dead bodies.
Q. Had you ever been attacked by the Pak bahini?
A. Yes. We were attacked from air one day at around noontime. We had never apprehended such an attack. The freedom fighters that were attached with us had never seen a fighter plane before. We shouted at them to stay still wherever they were because any moving object becomes the target of the pilots. Even if some one lies down, he must not make any movement. For 40/45 minutes they kept on pounding but through the grace of God none was hurt. We became worried. Should we continue to stay in the camp or leave the place? Then Capt. Gaffar said that we should wait for some time because the local public were bringing some dead bodies and we should wait and see. Again at around 3 pm one full squadron of Pakistani fighters consisting of 6 aircraft returned and continued to bomb us for around 40/45 minutes. Again through the mercy of God we got away unhurt. We stayed there for the night and next day early in the morning we left the camp with lock, stock and barrel and camped near Naittar Bazar. Two or three days later emergency was declared. We were about 8/9 men in our group with some very experienced havildars. These men had carried out some sort of operation and were halting in a house at Mayeenpur village. While they were sleeping the news was passed on to the nearby Pakistani camp and some commandos came and attacked the house killing all the men who were resting in the house. We thought it was the act of some Razakars.
Q. Could you give some names of the Razakars who were attached with the Punjabis?
A. Between Salda Nadi and upto Gangasagar three Razakars gave us a lot of trouble. There was some one named Shaheed from Taltala and another fellow also named Shaheed was from Araibari. I forgot the name of the other fellow. But I know it was the work of Razakars. We tried very hard to catch them.
Q. After the country was liberated could you catch any of them?
A. Let me explain to you something. We were members of the regular armed force. Although we were part of the Muktibahini we had no freedom to act according to our desire. When India declared emergency we proceeded straight to Chittagong. We had no knowledge about who were Razakars and how many of them were caught.
Q. O.K. Can you tell me something about the boy who used to maintain a diary?
A. Before I can say something about him I have to tell you that our full unit stayed in Chittagong for quite some time. Capt. Gaffar told us that he had brought a book from Agartala. Advance means we had to advance to Chittagong attacking every target on the way and nobody knows who would die and who would be alive till reaching Chittagong. However very luckily we reached Chittagong via Hathazari. We camped at the Chittagong University campus where Capt. Zafar Imam was also camping with his unit Then we received orders to move to Dhaka.
Now, let me give you some information about that boy. He belonged to the 4 East Bengal Regiment. I feel very sad about the boy. He was a freedom fighter. He hailed from Comilla district. His home was in Deviduar thana but I don’t know the name of his village. An order was received from the Head Quarters that all those freedom fighters who would like to go home they should be allowed to go home and if anyone decided to stay in the army he should be allowed to do so no matter how bad was his physical condition.Many had returned home but this boy decided to remain in the army. The boy was with me. He was the only son of his mother. He told me that he wanted to go on leave to go to his village. He said, since the war started he never saw his father and mother. Just before the Eid many people went home on leave but this boy was not granted leave. The day before the Eid day he died in a battle at Mirpur. When I got the news of his death I was terribly shocked and sad. I then challenged the Havildar. I said, ‘Sir, I had requested you to give this boy some leave. For nine months he had not seen his father and mother, he had not been given any leave. The Havildar said, ‘I had given him leave but he did not go.’ I didn’t believe him. In fact the Havildar intentionally refused him leave. When I packed his bag and other belongings to be sent to his home along with his coffin I found his diary. He kept note of every little detail of what had happened around him from the very first day he crossed over to India. He wrote about people who had been kind to him, who were not; how he joined the liberation forces, what he had eaten, where he had spent his days¾ everything in detail. When I read his diary I wept. I had shown his diary to Capt. Gaffar. He was also in tears to see such a painful end of a hapless boy who wanted very little from the society in which he was born.
Interviewer: Jahirul Islam Swapan
Date of Interview: November 26, 1996
Translator: Dr. Faruq Aziz Khan.