I have had the privilege of witnessing some small battles and then the final push for Victory from various locations on the Dhaka Narshingdi road during the nine-month long liberation war. Some families had taken shelter in some remote villages under Araihazar thana and from our hideouts we had watched the first guerrilla attack on Pakistani forces.
In fact, the first guerrilla encounter took place in Bagbari and Palbari near Madhobdi on the highway on April 14 when the Pakistani forces were on way to Narsingdi by road. The local forces and freedom fighters resisted the invading forces, killed some soldiers and destroyed two vehicles. We had witnessed the battle sitting low in a village only 2 kilometer from the battle ground. There was a very large open space between the place where the convoy was attacked and we were sitting. Regarding this battle a newspaper articles says, “After one day, the Pakistani forces again attacked the freedom fighters and in face of heavy bombing, the freedom fighters were compelled to retreat from their position. And as a result, Pakistani forces were able to set up camps in different places on the road. During the nine-month war, the Pakistani forces killed many people in the adjacent villages and dumped the dead bodies in the River Meghna.”
In the middle of July, a team of guerrilla fighters came under cover of darkness and planted dynamites under the bridge near Pachrukhi bazaar, which was located only one kilometer from where we had taken shelter. Around midnight, the deafening sound of explosion had travelled ten square miles all around. Pakistani army came in the morning from Narshingdi base camp and took control of the bazaar. They had arrested some young men from the nearby villages and shot them dead in front of all the village people. Within one month they had installed a baily bridge on the wide canal as the road was the main route between Dhaka and Narshingdi.
In September, something unusual happened on the road. Two Pakistani soldiers had gone to Narshingdi army camp from Pachrukhi bazaar to fetch a heavy machinegun. One group of freedom fighters came to know of the plan. When the Bus carrying the Pakistani soldiers had reached near Purinda bazaar, two Mukti bahini boys brought out two loaded sub-machineguns from under their woolen shawl and shot the soldiers point-blank inside the moving bus. The soldiers could not even move in their seats as they got the bullets. The bus stopped and everyone including the driver fled through the villages on both sides of the road. No one ever heard of the two courageous boys. Pakistani soldiers arrived from Narshingdi and started firing indiscriminately at the houses in the villages. A number of people thus got killed that day.
After the war between India and Pakistan broke out on December 3, Narsingdi army camp was attacked a number of times by the local freedom fighters. The soldiers along with the officers got trapped in the camp as Dhaka could not supply more soldiers. Their food and water supply also started to fall drastically. Many soldiers fled towards Dhaka at night. Finally on December 12, Pakistanis surrendered to the advancing joint forces of Indian soldiers and Mukti bahini.
Since the full-fledged war started in and around Narshingdi, especially on both sides of Meghna river, both sides exchanged numerous mortars and machinegun fires. At one point more heavy artillery weapons were used to subdue one another. As a result, we could smell burnt gunpowder sitting three miles from the battle grounds. With every field-gun firing a shell in the distance, our houses shook like a house of cards. It almost felt as if the shells were exploding in the next village.
Most of the elderly men and women and young girls had fled towards safer places deep inside. Fear of what would happen next made everyone nervous and apprehensive. We all had our eyes glued on the Narsingdi road to keep a check on the movements of the Pakistani troops. Some courageous young men had climbed up tall trees in an attempt to see battles being fought in the distance but the fog came in the way. Some daredevils had gone all the way to the Meghna River and from a safe distance, watched the Indian tanks crossing the river under heavy enemy fire. One could see helicopters strafing Pakistani positions on this side of the bank.
The Pakistani army had been on the retreat from their well-fortified positions in Narsingdi, especially on the bank of the river, since December 12, when the joint forces comprising the Indian army and Mukti Bahini boys destroyed most of the fortifications. Columns of Indian army personnel and Mukti Bahini boys were evading the main battlefields in Narsingdi and marching on foot through the winding roads deep inside the villages, to reach Dhaka through Demra.
On December 12, some Pakistani troops were trying to take their troop carriers loaded with heavy weapons across a hastily installed pontoon over a small canal underneath the collapsed Pachrukhi baily bridge. When Mukti Bahini guerrillas informed some Indian commanders nearby about this plan, they sent a helicopter to bombard the area. They hit the troop carrier and blew it into pieces.
On December 12, with the fall of Narsingdi, Indian helicopters carried parts of big artillery guns to Tarabo river bank about 20 kilometers from Narshingdi. Indian artillery regiments assembled them on site and aimed it towards Dhaka city as they prepared for the much anticipated 'Battle for Dhaka'.
On December 13, the Narsingdi road wore a totally different look. Instead of Pakistani troop carriers and their field guns, dozens and dozens of Indian army vehicles of every denomination were seen rumbling towards Demra with hundreds of soldiers marching on foot. Hundreds of Mukti Bahini boys also marched along, invigorated by the fall of the Pakistan army in Narsingdi and retreat of the army. It was a sight never to be seen again in one's lifetime.
Shahnoor Wahid is Advisory Editor of Bangladesh Post