Liberation war of Bangladesh

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Date : Thursday, 17 December 2009
Author : Brig Gen Shafaat Ahmad, ndc, psc (Retd)
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The world, in the recent past, has witnessed mass killings with all its brutalities and ruthlessness at Bosnia, Chechnya, Rwanda and many other places poles apart. While all those deserve sincere hatred and condemnation, none could surpass the ugliest genocide that occurred 25 years back here in Bangladesh. Three million people, mostly civilians were killed, about 200,000 women were purposefully raped, the intellectuals were selectively picked up and murdered. All these atrocities within a span of nine months, probably inconceivable even to the Nazis.
Such reign of terror could not stop the voice of the people. Almost in a classical manner, resistance developed and progressed to a full-fledged offensive through an intermediate guerrilla phase. Bangladesh was born amidst violent turbulence and its people got their desired liberation after a bloodbath. New York Times Commented, “If the value of independence is to be paid in blood, Bangladesh has overpaid”.
Independence of India and Pakistan was earned in 1947. Most political scientists of the contemporary world believe that the division of Pakistan and India was a geo-political absurdity. The demarcation was based on religion only. Two parts of Pakistan lay about 2000 kilometers apart geographically, with India in between. People of the two parts of Pakistan spoke different languages, they were culturally and socially different.
From the very beginning, political power of Pakistan centred around its western portion. Major decisions used to be taken by West Pakistan and imposed upon the East, despite the fact that the population was bigger in the latter. The disparity between the per capita income of the two wings of Pakistan went on increasing every year. West Pakistan was given preference while allocating funds for development, amounting in an average to 77% of the total development funds. The location of capital, first at Karachi and subsequently at Rawalpindi and then Islamabad, went to the advantage of West Pakistan, both in promoting industries and trade. East Pakistan remained a backward agricultural area and became a source of raw materials and foreign currency, and a market for the commodities produced in West Pakistan.
Suppression was not confined to economic affairs only. Discrimination against the Bengalees in the matter of initial appointments and promotions to key posts led to 94% of the civil services, 85% of the foreign services and 95% of the armed forces from the West Pakistanis. Amidst growing discontent among the people of the then East Pakistan, Mr Zinnah added fuel in 1948 on the issue of state language. On his visit to East Pakistan he firmly said “Urdu and Urdu shall be the state language of Pakistan”. The language movement started in 1952 claiming Bangla to be the state language, since it was the language of majority of people of the then Pakistan. Mass demonstration on 21st February was fired upon and many Bangalees got killed.
General Ayub Khan proclaimed martial law in October 1958 all over Pakistan following a prolonged period of political and constitutional instability. In addition to being the Chief Administrator of the martial law, General Ayub Khan also secured for himself the office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Defence and the Ministry for Kashmir Affairs. Soon afterwards, he became the President of Pakistan and proclaimed his own concept of “basic democracies” and a new constitution. The new constitution shattered all hopes of East Pakistanis for installation of a national assembly based on direct elections. Although Ayub won in the 1962 elections, sporadic anti Ayub agitations erupted in the eastern wing. The Indo-Pak War 1965 resulted in further politico-economic retardation of Pakistan giving boost to the movement for autonomy of the eastern wing.
In March 1966, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on behalf of his Awami League which spearheaded the movement for provincial autonomy, announced his six-point programme. The formula clearly aimed at securing control of the country from the Central Government :
a. Constitutional provision for a federated Pakistan on the basis of Lahore Resolution and for a Parliamentary form of Government recognising the supremacy of a duly elected legislature based on universal adult franchise. b. The dealing by the Federal Government with only two subjects, Defence and Foreign Affairs. All other subjects to be vested in the federating states. c. Prevention of flow of capital between the two wings by arranging two separate, freely convertible currencies or a single currency with two separate reserve banks. d. Power of taxation and revenue collection to be left to the federating units. Central Government will receive a required portion of it to meet its financial obligations. e. A series of economic, fiscal and legal reforms to eliminate disparities between the two wings. f. Creation of a militia or para-military force for the defence of East Pakistan.
In 1968, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 28 other Bengalee civil and military persons were implicated for an alleged conspiracy of planning cessation of East Pakistan with Indian help. This case popularly known as Agartala Conspiracy is a landmark in the history of liberation of Bangladesh. Sheikh Mujib’s position as a major player was established and mass discontent among Bengalee people eventually led to the downfall of Gen Ayub Khan in 1969. Gen Yahya Khan came to the helm of affairs in Pakistan and promised the first general election based on universal adult franchise.
The election was held in December 1970. Awami League bagged 167 seats while ten other parties combined gathered 146 seats in the parliament. With this absolute majority, the Awami League could form government and implement their six-point programme, which would mean the end of military rule in Pakistan. Pressure was mounting on Mujib to dilute his demands, which were defied. As tensions mounted, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the leader of Pakistan Peoples Party, which was strong in the west, announced his party’s intention of boycotting the upcoming assembly. Amidst chaos and non compromising attitudes of the leaders of the two wings, Yahya postponed the assembly indefinitely on 01 March. Political situation, especially in the east got volatile as Bengalee people took this as a breach of faith and an act of treachery. On 06 March Gen Yahya addressed the nation on radio announcing the new date for assembly to be 25 March.
By then it was too late. Bangalees had lost total confidence in the western wing. On 07 March, Sheikh Mujib gave a historical speech calling for mass resistance. Yahya arrived Dhaka along with Bhutto for a compromise, but all attempts failed. Finally, under growing pressure from the military junta and Bhutto to suppress the escalating Bengalee defiance, Yahya flew out of Dhaka on the midnight of 25 March 71, instructing General Tikka Khan, the newly appointed Martial Law Administrator, to “Fully restore the authority of his government”. On the same night, Mujib was arrested. Gen Tikka in his bid to restore the authority of his government, initiated the ugliest genocide of the modern history. It was characterised by mass slaughter, utter destruction, organised looting and rape.

More than 10 million terrified East Pakistanis, Muslims and Hindus alike crossed into the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya and Bihar and became refugees. Despite Indian Government’s sincere efforts, the load was too great for India’s economy to bear. Food, water, hygiene, health and every other facility was below the level of human acceptance. Their sufferings were unthinkable and beyond description. As Time Magazine of 21 June 1971 describes, “They could be called models for disaster of war… most huddle under trees or bushes trying to avoid rains…around them is always the stench of garbage, polluted water, sickness and death.”
RESISTANCE: March – May 1971
At the time of the military crackdown, the Pakistan Army had 12 West Pakistani infantry battalions, in addition to artillery units and one mixed armoured regiment in the eastern wing. There were six battalions of The East Bengal Regiments (EB) with the East Bengal Regimental Centre (EBRC) commanded by Brigadier Majumdar. There were also about 13,000 personnel of The East Pakistan Rifles (EPR), the border security organisation which consisted mostly of Bengalees except for the officers, Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) and Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs). In addition to these, there were about 50,000 policemen in the province.
After 25th March, the West Pakistanis resorted to disarm the EB and EPR units. Although the Bengalee elements in the military and paramilitary forces were not prepared for a violent struggle, the process of disarming them caused them to take extreme steps. The men of EPR killed their West Pakistani officers and took control; at that stage, some Bengalee officers decided to fight the Pakistanis and revolted. Major Ziaur Rahman, the Second in Command (2IC) of 8 EB, who would later become the President of Bangladesh, declared Independence from Kalurgat Radio Station at Chittagong. EPR battalion commander Major Rafiqul Islam joined him and with their combined efforts, supported by people from all walks of life, the Pakistanis were driven to the cantonment and Patenga Airport areas, making Chittagong a free city. Some important incidents of this phase are described below :
a. Chittagong Area.
(1) Battle of Kumira: A strong defensive position was developed at Kumira, about 15 miles north of Chittagong on Chittagong-Comilla axis. Pakistani 24 Frontier Force (FF) Regiment supported by heavy mortar battery was moved on this axis from 53 Brigade located at Comilla Cantonment. 24 FF contacted the Kumira defence on 27 April 71 and fierce battle begun. Commanding Officer (CO), 24 FF was killed in this action, and Pakistanis suffered heavy casualties. However, the defence had to withdraw due to shortage of ammunition after a persistent resistance.
(2) Dewanhat Ambush: Pakistani troops entered Chittagong City on 30th March. Resistance put up was very stiff. In an ambush in the built up areas of Dewanhat, an entire company of 3 Special Services Group (SSG) Battalion was wiped out.
(3) Bombarding The City: On 01 April, Pakistan Naval Ship BABAR continuously bombarded the city to break the will of the forces of Major Zia and Major Rafique. Meanwhile, Pakistani reinforcement started coming by air at Patenga Airport.
(4) Kalurgat Battle: The elements of 8 EB under Lieutenant Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury and Kaptai Wing of EPR under Captain Harun Ahmed Chowdhury developed a formidable defence on Kalurghat Bridge. Pakistanis attacked this defence on 07 April and could capture it after 3 days of intense fighting and suffering heavy casualties. Both the Bangalee officers were badly wounded, Captain Harun could be evacuated but Lieutenant Shamsher was taken as a Prisoner of War(PW).
(5) Burighat Action: Burighat is about 20 miles north east of Kalurghat in Mahalchari. Pakistanis attacked Burighat area on 08 April. The elements of 3 SSG battalion advanced with 7 speed boats and 2 launches. Under heavy enemy firing, Lance Naik Munshi Abdur Rouf of 8 EB kept himself in position firing back his machine gun till all 7 speed boats were sunk. At the end Rouf died and was awarded “Bir Shresto” posthumously.
b. Comilla Area: Before 25 March, 4 EB was moved out of Comilla Cantonment and sent to Brahmanbaria for Internal Security duties. On 27 March, the Bengalee officers of 4 EB arrested their Pakistani Commanding Officer and Major Khaled Mosharrof, the Second in Command assumed command of the unit. They blocked all approaches to Brahmanbaria. Captain Ainuddin was given the task of defending Brahmanbaria while Major Shafat Jamil moved with a company to raid the Comilla airfield to stop Pakistani reinforcement. In April end, Pakistanis launched a major ground and air offensive on the Mukti Bahini held areas and after fierce battle, the Mukti Bahini was forced to withdraw towards borders by 15 May.
c. Dhaka Area.
(1) 2 EB located at Joydebpur broke away under the leadership of Major K M Shafiullah, defying the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Raquib who though a Bengalee refused to join the war. The battalion moved to Mymensingh where it was reinforced by Bengali EPR troops and many volunteer freedom fighters. Major Shafiullah decided to launch an offensive on Dhaka. However, this did not work out very well since Pakistanis gave a stiff resistance at Narsingdi and their advance was halted. The next battle was fought at Ashuganj under the leadership of Captain Nasim. Pakistanis captured Ashuganj on 17 April with the support of naval gun boats and heliborne troops. 2 EB withdrew to the tea gardens of Teliapara demolishing the Shabazpur bridge.
(2) Peelkhana was the HQ of the EPR, mostly officered by West Pakistanis. All the Bengalee officers of Peelkhana were arrested at 11:30 hours on 25 March. The EPR soldiers under the leadership of Subedar Ghani and Subedar Hashmatullah gave valiant resistance to the Pakistani forces at the cost of hundreds of lives. Towards the afternoon of 26 March, Pakistan Army brought in tanks against the EPR troops. Subedar Hashmatullah died while Subedar Ghani withdrew across river Buriganga.
d. North Bengal Area.
(1) 8, 9 and 10 EPR Wings led by Captain Nazrul and Captain Nawazesh inflicted heavy casualties on the Pakistani 26 FF Regiment which was on Internal Security duties in Thakurgaon and Dinajpur.
(2) 3 EB at Saidpur came under Pakistani attack and shelling on the night of 30 March. It broke away and concentrated at Phulbari under the leadership of Captain Anwar Hossain.
(3) Major Rashid, adjutant of Rajshahi Cadet College, organized volunteers, Police and EPR. They ambushed company of 25 Panjab at Gopalpur. About 40 Pakistanis were killed including two officers.
e. South Western Area.
(1) Major Abu Osman Chowdhury organised the forces mainly with elements of 4 Wing EPR. His forces reinforced with police, Ansars and students attacked 27 Baluch at Chuadanga and Kushtia and eliminated almost 2 companies.
(2) 1 EB at Jessore Cantonment was attacked and shelled by Pakistanis on 30 March. The battalion fought their way out of the cantonment under the leadership of Maj Hafiz.
(3) Major Jalil with a group of freedom fighters kept Barisal liberated till mid May 1971 after which they had to withdraw under extreme pressure of the Pakistani forces.
Guerrilla Warfare Phase
On 17 April, the Provisional Government of sovereign Bangladesh was formed at Mujibnagar, Kushtia. Soon afterwards, Colonel MAG Osmani, a retired Bengalee officer, was appointed the Commander in Chief (C in C), Bangladesh Forces. Colonel Osmani established his HQ at Calcutta and appointed Lt Col MA Rob and Group Capt A K Khandaker as his Chiefs of Staff. He also organised the whole country into 11 operational sectors :
a. No 1 Sector: Comprised the districts of Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tracts. Commanded by Major Ziaur Rahman, this sector conducted successful guerrilla operations in Chittagong, Sitakunda and Mirersharai.
b. No 2 Sector: Commanded by Major Khaled Mosharrof, this sector operated the entire districts of Dhaka and Noakhali.
c. No 3 Sector: Commanded by Maj KM Shafiullah, this sector operated in Habiganj, Kishoreganj and a part of Comilla district.
d. No 4 Sector: This sector was responsible for the central part of Sylhet and was commanded by Major CR Dutta.
e. No 5 Sector: Commanded by Major Mir Shawkat Ali, this sector was responsible for the northern part of Sylhet.
f. No 6 Sector: This sector was responsible for the entire Rangpur District and part of Dinajpur. Wing Commander M K Bashar commanded it.
g. No 7 Sector: Comprised the southern part of Dinajpur and entire Rajshahi, Bogra and Pabna districts. Commander of this sector was Major Kazi Nuruzzaman.
h. No 8 Sector: Responsible for Kushtia, Jessore, Faridpur and the northern part of Khulna, this sector was commanded by Major Osman.
j. No 9 Sector: Comprised Barisal, Patuakhali and southern part of Khulna and was commanded by Major MA Jalil.
k. No 10 Sector: This sector was composed of Naval Commandos who were mainly responsible for the sabotage and destruction of coastal vessels in the ports of Bangladesh.
l. No 11 Sector: This sector controlled the areas of Tangail and Mymensingh districts, less Kishoreganj sub-division. Initially it was commanded by Major Abu Taher, but when he lost his leg in a mine accident, Squadron Leader Hamidullah took over from him.
Independent and Local Forces: In addition to the above 11 sectors, a number of independent forces organised themselves to participate in the freedom fight. Abdul Quader Siddique of Tangail organised 16,000 guerrillas comprising students and villagers and formed the “Quaderia Bahini”, who successfully kept that part of ground liberated throughout. Another such group known as “Mujib Bahini” operated independently dividing themselves into 4 sectors.
Formation of the Brigade Forces:
As the war progressed, it was felt that the guerrilla tactics could not substitute conventional tactics since it is not capable of gaining, holding or consolidating ground, the Bangladesh Forces Headquarters decided to raise three infantry brigades from the regular forces of the sectors to enable them to conduct conventional operations.
a. Z Force: Raised on 07 July and under command of Lieutenant Colonel Zia with its HQ at Teldaha. 1, 3 and 8 EB were integrated into this brigade. Some important actions of Z Force are :
(1) On 31 July, 1 EB launched a major attack on Kamalpur BOP, north of Mymensingh. Simultaneously, 3 EB infiltrated 20 miles inside Bangladesh territory and attacked Bahadurabad Ghat on 01 August and captured it. Next day, the attack was extended upto Dewanganj and Pakistani Forces were neutralised.
(2) On 03 August, 8 EB attacked the Naksi BOP and put up a strong fight there.
(3) By October, Z Force moved to Sylhet and on 22 October, 1 EB attacked and destroyed Pakistani position at Dhalai Tea Estate near Srimangal. In this operation, Sepoy Hamidur Rahman was killed and was awarded Bir Srestho posthumously.
b. K Force. The second regular brigade was raised in September at Melaghar near Agartala and named the “K Force”. It was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Khaled Mosharrof and consisted of 4, 9 and 10 EB. Important operations of this force are :
(1) Under the command of the K Force commander, isolated companies of the batallions attacked Saldanadi Railway Station at the end of September. The attack was a partial success. Subsequently, the same place was attacked by 4 EB on 07 October with the objective to capture it by the next morning.
(2) Two companies of 9 EB launched a two pronged attack from the north and south on a Pakistani company location at Kashba. Khaled Mosharrof was himself leading the attack. Objective was to capture amidst intense enemy shelling, however, Khaled Mosharrof was injured in this battle.
(3) Battle of Belonia. Belonia was attacked on 11 November along with Parshuram simultaneously. Pakistani Forces suffered 80% casualties, and the feature was captured. Subsequently, the Pakistanis were forced to fall back on Bandura.
c. S Force. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel KM Shafiullah, this force was raised at Hejamura opposite to Sylhet border on 01 October. It was composed of two infantry batallions namely 2 and 11 EB. The most significant operation of this force was the attack on Mukundapur BOP on 19 November. One platoon strength of Pakistani forces were defending the BOP. One company of 2 EB launched the attack while other companies were used to block any reinforcements. Pakistanis put up a stiff resistance, however, ultimately the position was captured with 31 prisoners of war.
Naval Commandos:
The untold heroism of 500 Bangladeshi youths played a significant role in the liberation war of Bangladesh. These youths applied special under water tactics to weaken the strength and morale of occupation forces.
The geographical location of East Pakistan and its river communication system forced Pakistani Military authorities to rely heavily on sea lanes and river routes of communication. These strategic factors influenced forming of Naval components of Mukti Bahini. Pakistani military hard wares were brought from the west to sea ports of Chittagong and Mongla. Subsequently those were taken to the major military cantonments in the country through island river ports of Chandpur, Narayangonj, Daudkandi, Barisal, Khulna, Nagarbari and Goalundo Ghat. This tactical link of communication became more vital by mid 1971 when East Pakistan was reinforced by four divisions from the west. Thus, it was essential to disrupt the Pakistani sea lanes and river routes of communication for successful land offensive.
The idea of creation of naval Commando group, popularly known as frogmen, came from Md Rahmat Ullah CPO, the leader of eight Bengali sailors who had deserted the third Pakistani Daphne class submarine MANGRO while under going training in Tolone, France.
These eight valiant sailors escaped from the submarine in France and proceeded to Spain from where they reached New Delhi. After necessary interview for 10 days by intelligence branch, the group was given Initial commando training in New Delhi from 22 April to 9 May 1971. On completion of initial training the team went around various youth camps in Calcutta and initially recruited 120 boys of Bangladesh for commando training. On May 23, a secret training camp code named C2P was commissioned on the bank of the river Bhagirathi at the historic site of Plassey, where the 1st recruited batch started their training. Later on, more young students mostly from Iqbal and Jagannath halls of Dhaka University joined this commando group. These young men were given rigorous training on swimming under various constraints, under water demolition practice and unarmed training. By the end of July 71 the first and 2nd batch of commandos completed their training.
Organizational Structure. The Naval Commandos were organized into four task groups. The sectors of operations of 1st group was in Chittagong, 2nd group in Chandpur, 3rd group in Narayangonj and 4th group in Mongla. All the groups were Commanded by the sailors who had deserted from Pakistani submarine in France. The task group under each sector was in turn allotted with four task units generally comprising personnel from that sector. Each task unit had 10 task element and each task element comprised three naval commandos armed with one neutrally buoyant limpet mine (later increased to two), one grenade, a knife, swimming fins and a wrist compass. In addition a task unit was allotted a loaded rifle. The amount of damage that was inflicted on the enemy by the naval commandos with such little tools deserves admiration and remains as an incredible fact of liberation war.
Objectives. The task of the commandos was to keep the occupation forces unbalanced by striking at vital communication and military installations. The Mukti Bahini Naval Commandos mainly operated in the riverine areas to achieve following objectives:
a. To neutralize the main seaports of East Pakistan to prevent logistic support to occupation forces.
b. To stop the traditional exports of jute, tea, coir, etc, which earned badly needed foreign exchange for Pakistan’s military dictators.
c. To disrupt the inland waterway system the main arteries of communication in estuarine Bangladesh.
d. Finally to force the army to deploy considerable fighting forces for internal security duties in ports and inland waterway system.
Strategy. When the land based freedom fighters continued with hit and run raids on every vital installations, the Mukti Bahini naval commandos, on the other hand planned coordinated attacks every month on the ports, harbours, ferries, pontoons and cargo carrying vessels. The main ingredients of Commando attack was surprise, secrecy, originality, rapidity and deception. The Commandos used to carry minimum arms to merge with the local population, did not have any sophisticated underwater breathing equipments, their dresses were lungies and banians.
The bare minimum items like fins, wrist campass and goggles were used by the Commandos were brought by few Bangalis living abroad. They bought those from sports stores on their own initiative. Mukti Bahini had very effective intelligence network and was able to keep track of and report shipping movement in Bangladesh rivers and ports.
Operations. To achieve maximum success, the first coordinated attack codenamed Operation JACKPOT by 178 naval Commandos was launched on the dark night of 15/16 August 1971 against sea ports of Chittagong, Mongla and the river ports of Narayangonj, Chandpur and Barisal. The Commandos entered into the port in broad daylight with the limpet mines and the fins hidden in baskets of Jackfruit which they carried on their heads like a vender and carried out reconnaissance to identify the target visually. In order to launch coordinated attack final clearance was required from India which was ensured by playing two popular Bangla songs on Akashbani, Calcutta on 13 and 14 August. The Operation was carried out simultaneously in all the ports with great success. In Chittagong, MV OHRMAZD with 9910 tons, MV AL ABBAS with 1041 tons and a barge named ORIENT BARGE NO 6 with 276 tons of military cargo went to the bottom by the limpet mines. Few other coasters, tugs ferries and harbour boats were also badly damaged or sunk. At Mongla, 6 ships and burges including 7000 ton Somalian freighter SS LIGHTNING were sunk or damaged. One collier and three coasters at Chandpur and 3 river steamers, 6 mechanised barges 2 motor launches and 4 pontoons were destroyed at Narayangonj, Khulna and Daudkandi. The Commandos suffered only 2 casualties in Chittagong. The underwater attacks by Mukti Bahini frogmen had serious impact on foreign shipping lines who increased their war – risk insurance from five shillings to one pound sterling as also an additional 20 per cent risk pay for the crew. Further, 1000 dollars per day was paid to each ship which dared to remain in port for a period of more than one week as risk money. The traditional exports from East Pakistan such as jute, tea and coir lay piled up at the Mongla and Chittagong ports.
Bangladesh Naval Force
Formation of Naval Force. The on going success of the Naval Commandos built up sufficient confidence amongst the leaders who were instrumental to naval operation and influenced them to built a naval force comprising gunboat and river boats. Accordingly Bangladesh Naval Force was formed in Nov 91 by concentrating twelve ex-naval and freshly trained naval Commandos. On 9 Nov Bangladesh fleet was inaugurated with 6 river launches captured from Pakistani Junta and two Broke Marine type gunboat named PADMA and PALASH, acquired from India. The captured launches were armed with 40/60 Bofors gun. These crafts provided the harbour mining capabilities to the Mukti Bahini naval forces.
Surface Operations. On 10/11 Nov ’71 these vessels opened fire on the British freighter, ST ALBANS near Akram point, the entrance to Pusur river. The Captain instantly reversed course and returned to Calcutta for repairs. This resulted the British to abandon their plan of evacuation of British citizens by RN aircraft carrier HMS BULWARK. The RN ships turned back from the vicinity of the Maldives. The success of Mukti Bahini naval forces prevented reaching external supplies to the occupation army. However, Greek and Panamanian ships flying the flags of convenience continued to bring in supples as they were attracted by the high war-risk rates.
In order to block the Mongla harbour, the Mukti Bahini naval forces mined the entrance near the fairway buoy on the Pusur river.
The first victim of mining operation was the Greek freighter CHRYSOVALENDU. Subsequently another Greek freighter and Somali vessel BERLIAN were severely damaged which after partly sinking in the channel mouth, completely blocked the navigable route. PNS COMILLA, while proceeding to pick up survivors from the Greek ship also hit a mine and sunk. The major ports of Chittagong and Mongla came to a standstill.
The port Directors closed the ports. Foreign companies put an embargo on their ships entering East Pakistan Ports.

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