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Victory Day: The last battle before Dhaka fell

  • Published at 12:35 am December 16th, 2020
freedom fighters-1971-war
File Photo of freedom fighters in 1971 Courtesy of Anwar Hossain Foundation

The occupation army laid down their arms and hoisted the white flag hours before the Pakistani commander made the surrender official

After driving the Pakistani occupation army out of district after district, freedom fighters and allied Indian forces took position on the banks of the Shitalakshya and Balu Rivers, east of Dhaka, on December 14, 1971. Just one more battle stood between the liberators and the Bangladesh capital.

The final stretch was not easy. Freedom fighters exchanged fire with the heavily armed Pakistan forces for three days until the latter surrendered on Victory Day, December 16.

The occupation army laid down their arms and hoisted the white flag hours before Pakistan Army Eastern Commander Lt General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi made the surrender official before the joint commanders of the liberation forces in a ceremony at Dhaka Ramna Racecourse. Freedom fighters saw the white flags while crossing the rivers on boats.

When the freedom fighters arrived on the Dhaka side, the Pakistani forces lined up and surrendered their arms and ammunition on Demra road. Mokhlesur Rahman was one of the freedom fighters who escorted the surrendering soldiers to Dhaka Stadium from Demra.

Mokhlesur was a section commander of the 2nd East Bengal Regiment at the time and fought under then Major KM Shafiullah, commander of Sector-3 during the Liberation War. Mokhlesur retired from the Army as a Warrant Officer in the ’80s.

“From Narsingdi, around 300 freedom fighters of two companies started marching towards Dhaka on December 12 morning. Our company took a position with other freedom fighters at Porabari village of Sonargaon on December 14,” Mokhlesur said.

“The whole battalion was there and took a position at the east bank to cross the river to the west bank, to Demra. We were just a battle away from the capital,” he recalled.

They exchanged fire with the Pakistani Army on the Balu and Shitalakhya riverbanks till the morning of December 16.

“We suddenly saw that the Pakistani soldiers on the west bank had stopped firing and withdrawn from their position at around 12pm. We then decided to cross the river and asked for help from the locals to arrange boats,” the freedom fighter said.

Mokhlesur Rahman | Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka TribuneA team of around 150 freedom fighters crossed the river first. They reached the Demra side, took a position, and opened fire. Shortly afterward, Pakistani soldiers stopped firing and hoisted the white flag to surrender at around 12:30pm. 

“Teams of freedom fighters were crossing the river in hundreds when the white flag was hoisted,” Mokhlesur added

Mokhlesur Rahman himself crossed the river with some other freedom fighters around 1:30pm. Commanding Officer KM Shafiullah contacted the Pakistani commanding officer via wireless and asked them to fall in line on Demra road to surrender. 

“This process took more than two hours. Two battalions of Pakistan army’s Baloch and Panjab Regiments, including 52 or 54 officers, surrendered,” according to Mokhlesur.

“The surrendered arms were loaded on two trucks and sent to Dhaka before we started marching forward. The freedom fighters escorted the captives on foot and reached Tikatuli around 5pm. The Pakistani soldiers were held at Dhaka Stadium,” he said.

After some time, one platoon from the stadium was asked to move to the then Dhaka branch of the State Bank of Pakistan, now Bangladesh Bank. “Our high command sent us there as Pakistani soldiers had set fire to the bank before they left the area. Later, some people were trying to loot the bank instead of dousing the fire.”

The freedom fighters rushed to the bank, fired blanks to disperse the crowd, and took part in efforts to douse the flames.

By the evening, hundreds of freedom fighters who had been fighting in areas near Dhaka entered the capital. “Dhaka turned into a city of joy after Niazi put his signature on the surrender document in the afternoon. People came out from home, greeted freedom fighters and the Indian army. Many came with food and water.”

In the night, the commanding officers asked a team of freedom fighters to go to Dhaka Central jail to rescue captive Bangladeshis. Mokhlesur and his team rushed there and found that all of the prison guards had escaped, and the jail was locked. 

“We sent a message to command at Ramna Racecourse for further direction. They asked us to break open the gate. We opened fire and broke the locks,” the freedom fighter said.

Thousands of prisoners ran out of jail when the locks were broken. “We rescued 17 Bengali officers from there—three were army officers, and others were police and magistrates. The Pakistani army had confined them there.”

All the rescued prisoners were taken to Ramna Racecourse and handed over to the commanding officers of the freedom fighters. Mokhlesur’s team then went back to Bangladesh Bank to guard it.

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