Remembering Khaled Mosharraf
In a recent piece about accountability, or lack thereof, of the ruling oligarchy in Bangladesh, Afsan Chowdhury notes four distinct groups of military men deciding Bangladesh’s fate in 1975.
The Faruk–Rashid group took over first in August to be dislodged by Khaled Musharraf for a few moments in November to be overtaken by Col. Taher overnight for a few hours and finally ending up with Zia in the morning for a few years after that.
Of these, the first lot are now almost unanimously reviled, while the last man has long been the most polarising figure in Bangladesh. The third in this list is, in my opinion, has done tremendous harm to post-Mujib Bangladesh — but he has his defenders, and he isn’t the focus of this post. This post is about the second person in the list: Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf, Bir Uttam, who was killed in a putsch 35 years ago today.
It’s a sign of the political hypocrisy and intellectual bankruptcy of our public discourse that the current power dispensation and intellectual elite continues to shy away from holding a trial for the murderers of 6-7 November 1975.
Khaled Mosharraf was one of the three brigade commanders during the Liberation War. Of all the commanders of the Mukti Bahini, he most accurately assessed the psychological aspect of the war. He assessed correctly that Pakistanis would have won the war if the majority of Bangladeshis, particularly the urban educated classes, came to believe that the struggle for Bangladesh was lost. He also correctly assessed the importance of the media in the struggle.
Accordingly, he adopted a two-pronged, mutually reinforcing strategy.
Firstly, he raised a special guerrilla force comprised of the youth from Dhaka — students of the city’s major educational institutions, young professionals, and political activists of the city. This group included men like the current Dhaka mayor Sadeq Hossain Khoka, AL leader Mofazzal Chowdhury Maya, former editor of Bichitra Shahadat Chowdhury, actor Raisul Islam Assad, Jahanara Imam’ son Shaheed Rumi etc.
They carried out daring operations inside the occupied city. Bombs were exploded in the Intercontinental Hotel, USIS building, or DIT building. Pakistanis were engaged in firefight in Farm Gate or Dhanmondi. Power stations were blown up. And collaborators like Monem Khan were assassinated. These incidences not only struck terror at the heart of the Pakistani establishment, as the news was relayed throughout the country by the BBC or other foreign broadcasters, ordinary Bangladeshis knew that struggle was continuing.
And not just visible targets inside Dhaka, to hamper the Pakistani supply line, Khaled devised a plan to destroy bridges and culverts across the country. But he was aware that the infrastructure would have to be rebuilt in the newly liberated country. So he asked engineers (both inside the occupied country as well among his men) to identify the structural weaknesses in each bridge such that maximum damage could be done with minimum future repair needs.
Meanwhile, to facilitate the guerrilla operations, Khaled’s forces engaged the Pakistanis in a series of set piece battles across the Sylhet-Comilla-Noakhali-Tripura border. These battles drew out the Pakistani forces, and stretched their supply lines, which made it difficult for them to conduct counterinsurgency measures inside the country. And sometimes, Pakistanis were defeated in these battles. The Battle of Kasba is particularly notable as an epic battle of 1971. Khaled was hit with a shrapnel in his forehead in the battle, but the victory was Mukti Bahini’s.
Khaled was successful on both counts. The full ramifications of the overstretched Pakistani supply line became clear in December, when the Indian army joined the fray and marched on to Dhaka within two weeks. And the guerrilla actions in Dhaka gave Khaled, and his deputy ATM Hyder, legendary status.
Khaled Mosharraf was often described as an ‘intellectual’. He was trained in special operations in the west. And he was well read in the theory and practice of insurgency. In the Liberation War Museum, one can see how he read about urban guerrilla warfare in the Nazi occupied Europe and liberation struggles in Algeria and Indochina even as he planned his moves. It should be noted that his plan of conducting highly visible operations in the occupied Dhaka was very similar in nature to the actions of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and its off shoots against Israel and its backers. A decade later, Ahmad Shah Massoud would adopt his two-pronged tactics against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Khaled contributed to the liberation struggle not just in the battle-field, but also by showing political acumen.
As early as the last week of March, he implored Rehman Sobhan to convey to the political leadership that a government is formed immediately, and the Mukti Bahini is given formal commission. This was important because without a government and commission, Mukti Bahini would be considered illegitimate rebels, mercenaries, or terrorists in the eyes of the law. Note the reference to ‘legally constituted’ in this oath of freedom fighters commanded by Khaled.
In July-August 1971, Khondoker Mushtaq negotiated a ‘deal’ with the Pakistanis through the US (with India’s knowledge) whereby Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would govern Bangladesh, which would continue to be a part of 6-points based Pakistani Confederation — that is, what Mujib formally demanded in March. This deal was vetoed by India because it didn’t allow for the return of Hindu refugees to Bangladesh. The deal also allowed for full amnesty to civilian freedom fighters and political activists, but not the military men who rebelled against Pakistan. This, and actions of Mujib Bahini, created discontent among the professional soldiers who formed the backbone of the Mukti Bahini. Many of them, including Ziaur Rahman and Abul Manzur, wanted a War Council headed by MAG Osmani to replace the Mujibnagar government. Others such as Abu Taher and MA Jalil wanted to raise forces of their own outside the command of Osmani. Khaled played a crucial role in ensuring that civilian political leadership retained command of the Mukti Bahini.
He was also acutely aware of the dependence on India and future political risks this might cause to independent Bangladesh. To reduce the reliance, he had formulated a plan to buy arms and ammunition in the European black market through the Bangladeshi community in Britain. This plan was approved by the Mujibnagar government, but the war was over before it could be enacted.
These days, even people who fought against us in 1971 claim to be defenders of our sovereignty, while the political-intellectual establishment consists of people who claim to be defenders of the spirit of 1971. Isn’t it peculiar that Khaled Mosharraf, who attained legendary status in 1971, is largely forgotten now?
Hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear of correcting historical wrongs, of setting the history right. How come we don’t hear about bringing to justice the murderers of Khaled Mosharraf?
1. Khaled’s own account of the war is here.
2. Jahanara Imam’s Ekatturer Dinguli.
3. ‘Brave of Heart’ by Habibul Alam Bir Pratik.
4. Muldhara Ekattur by Muyeedul Hasan.
5. মুক্তিযুদ্ধে কসবা, edited by Myeedul Hasan.
(Cross-posted in UV).