“No Independent country wants living guerillas, they want martyrs.” Those are the words of a great son of the soil – Major General Khaled Musharrof — my father, who was assassinated on this day, 7th November, 45 years ago.
Being his daughter, I take the pride that Bangladesh regards him as one of the finest commanders of its 1971 Liberation War – endowed with extraordinary bravery and brilliant natural leadership quality.
His fellow freedom fighters say that the then Major Khaled Musharrof had a unique technique of transferring his own motivation into them by using the soil of Bangladesh as the war for independence was underway.
“Khaled used to bring soil from (liberated parts of) Bangladesh to his camp. Before sending the guerrillas inside occupied territory he used to give the soil on their hand and would say — “this sacred soil is not enough for me. I need the soil of whole Bangladesh,” wrote retired major Quamrul Islam Bhuiyan, one of his deputies. Then Khaled would administer the oath of office to the freedom fighters heading towards the enemy lines.
It took him only moments to make his decision to desert the Pakistan army after they launched barbaric assaults on unarmed Bengalis on March 25, 1971 black night. On the evening of 26 March, he announced before the troops under his command as he was sent to a remote area in Sylhet — “From this moment on, I pledge allegiance to sovereign Bangla. From this day, we have no loyalties to Pakistan. Raise the flags of independent Bangla”.
Khaled was initially entrusted with the charge of Liberation Wartime Sector Two and later with elevated responsibility of commanding the K Force. He was popularly known more for his visible role in successfully conducting of guerrilla warfare at the heart of Pakistani command in Dhaka with the brilliant supports of his second in command major, later colonel, A TM Haider, who also was assassinated along with him along with 71 veteran colonel Nazmul Huda on 7th November 1975. This specialised unit earned the repute of being the famous Crack Platoon as it carried out a number of hit and run operations in enemy-occupied Dhaka city, drawing massive global media attention and changing the course of the war.
Dr Nurun Nabi in his “Bullets of 1971″ wrote after his revolt Khaled was stationed at Sylhet where he mobilised the Bengali soldiers under his command. In an initial operation, he ambushed a Pakistani convoy going to Chittagong. Khaled’s troops destroyed the enemy convoy. The damage to the enemy was very high. In retaliation Pakistani command sent a larger contingent led by a major general to capture Khaled dead or alive. Khaled fought fearlessly with his limited resources and, once again, the Pakistani army suffered heavy damages and was forced to retreat.
The Pakistani army could not defeat fearless Khaled Musharrof. No wonder the Pakistan High Command acknowledged his bravery and admitted that they have trained Khaled so well that even a major general wasn’t enough to defeat him.
Within days after the Pakistani crackdown in March, Khaled contacted leading economist and freedom fighter Professor Rehman Sobhan to convince the political leadership to form a Government with immediate effect and to formally commission Mukti Bahini as the Army of Independent Bangladesh. Khaled correctly felt that without a Government and commission, Mukti Bahini would be considered “illegitimate rebels or terrorists” in the eyes of the law and Pakistan Government could take advantage of that situation. Khaled’s request had been duly acknowledged in the declaration by the wartime government’s Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed.
UK’s Granada TV made a documentary on Khaled’s war tactics which was widely acknowledged in the western world. Replying to a question from the documentary’s director, Major Khaled calmly said: “We are fighting a war of attrition, in that we kill killkill . . . in self-defence, as long as they are going to come and fight with us”. He was led by a very, very strong conviction and commitment. In that interview, he highlighted the cause of the nation that largely negated the Pakistanis propaganda.
On October 23, 1971, during a military operation, Khaled was wounded on his forehead by a splinter. He was immediately rushed to an Indian military hospital Lucknow, where he underwent a critical and lengthy surgery. The Indian military doctors succeeded in their effort in treating the wound. On his return to liberated Bangladesh as a war hero, he was decorated with gallantry Bir Uttam award for his extraordinary bravery and war tactics.
At the dawn of August 15, 1975 amid gunshots and loud artillery explosions, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s 32 Dhanmondi residence woke up startled residents of Dhaka.
On the radio, they heard the shocking announcement of Bangabandhu’s killing along with his family members in a brutal coup staged by a section of wayward military offices. A chaotic situation changed the political landscape of Bangladesh. The killer military officers installed Khondoker Moshataq Ahmed as the President and continued to stay beside him at Bangabhaban from where they virtually ran the country. The army chain of command broke down.
This situation outraged Khaled, who at that point was the chief of army staff (CGS), decided to expose to justice the Bangabandhu killers. Most of the officers who fought valiantly in the Liberation War and played the key-role in raising the army joined hands with Khaled and staged a counter insurrection that overthrew Moshataq. Justice Abu Sadaat Mohammad Sayem was appointed as the new President.
Ahead of that Nov 3, 1975 coup, a 1971 veteran and commander of Dhaka-based 46th infantry brigade colonel Shafayet Jamil requested the then army chief Major General Ziaur Rahman to take actions against the August 15 culprits to bring back the military chain of command. Zia verbally agreed to act but his continued inaction made it clear about his weakness for the killers. He had reasons to be soft to Moshtaq as well as he appointed him as the army chief days after Bangabandhu’s murder.
The scenario prompted the Nov 3 coup leaders led by Khaled to detain Zia at his official house while they were consolidating their position to restore discipline in the army.
At that stage retired colonel, Abu Taher emerged at the scene after Zia reportedly contacted him by telephone and sought his assistance.
On November 5, 1975, a group of unruly ordinary soldiers under left-leaning Taher’s stewardship staged a so-called “sepoy-janata revolution,” actually discarding the “janata” or people under the banner of Biplobi Sainik Sangstha, which later appeared to be a splinter grouping of some soldiers, mostly belonging to non-combatant military units.
August 15, 1975, rightwing coup plotters managed to leave the country soon after the Nov 3 putsch, leaving behind the soldiers and few officers of their rebel units — Bengal Lancer (tank regiment) and 2 Field Artillery. These abandoned soldiers, being led by their sense of insecurity, quickly joined hands with Taher’s Biplobi Sainik Sangstha. They launched a malicious campaign against Khaled and his comrades distributing leaflets in their effort to label him as an Indian agent to mislead the fellow ordinary soldiers in different units. They also spread rumours that numerous ordinary soldiers were killed by the Nov 3 coup leaders in several units.
Khaled along with his two compatriots colonel Khondkar Najmul Huda (Bir Bikrom) and lt. colonel A .T .M Haider ( Bir Uttam ) decided to take refuge at the makeshift abode of 10th East Bengal Regiment at under construction Sangsad Bhaban at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar.
By that time Zia was freed by Taher’s men and the remnants August 15 carnage plotters. They also reached the 10 Bengal and instigated fellow soldiers there while two unruly officers — major Jalil and major Assad — guned down the three valiant patriotic sons of the soils. Their hunger for blood did not stop there — within hours they killed many other officers and their family members.
Khaled Musharrof could have made a difference but his life was cut short before he could sketch his dreams for a country he fought for. But yet he lives in the heart of the guerrillas and freedom fighters as their Guardian Angel.