Mukti Bahini

Mukti Bahini
মুক্তিবাহিনী (Freedom Fighters)
Participant in Bangladesh Liberation War

The de facto symbols of the Mukti Bahini: Emblem (top) and flag (bottom).
Active March – December 1971
Ideology Bengali nationalism
Resistance to the 1971 Bangladesh genocide[1]

Bangladesh Army
 K Force
 S Force
 Z Force
Bangladesh Navy
Bangladesh Air Force
Bangladesh Rifles
Bangladesh Ansar
Bangladesh Police

Special Guerrilla Forces
 Gono Bahini
 Mujib Bahini
 Kader Bahini
 Hemayet Bahini
 Afsar Bahini
Crack Platoon
Leaders M. A. G. Osmani, Commander-in-Chief
M. A. Rab, Chief of Staff
A K Khandker, Deputy Chief of Staff
Area of operations East Pakistan
Strength 150,000
Part of Provisional Government of Bangladesh[2]
Allies  India
Opponents  Pakistan
Battles and wars Battle of Gazipur, Battle of Goalhati, Battle of Garibpur, Battle of Dhalai, Battle of Rangamati, Battle of Kushtia, Battle of Daruin, Operation Barisal, Operation Jackpot

The Mukti Bahini (Bengali: মুক্তি বাহিনী[3] translates as Freedom Fighters, or Liberation Forces;[4] also known as the Bangladesh Forces) is a popular Bengali term which refers to the guerrilla resistance movement formed by the Bangladeshi military, paramilitary and civilians during the War of Liberation that transformed East Pakistan into Bangladesh in 1971.[5] An earlier name Mukti Fauj was also used.[6]

On 25 March 1971 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman issued a call to the people of East Pakistan to prepare themselves for an all-out struggle.[7] Later that evening resistance demonstrations began, and the military began full-scale retaliation with Operation Searchlight, which continued through May 1971.[7]

A formal military leadership of the resistance was created in April 1971 under the Provisional Government of Bangladesh. The military council was headed by General M. A. G. Osmani [8] and eleven sector commanders.[9] The Bangladesh Armed Forces were established on 4 April 1971. In addition to regular units, such as the East Bengal Regiment and the East Pakistan Rifles, the Mukti Bahini also consisted of the civilian Gonobahini (People's Force).[10] The most prominent divisions of the Mukti Bahini were the Z Force led by Major Ziaur Rahman, the K Force led by Major Khaled Mosharraf and the S Force led by Major K M Shafiullah. Awami League student leaders formed militia units, including the Mujib Bahini, the Kader Bahini and Hemayet Bahini.[9] The Communist Party of Bangladesh, led by Comrade Moni Singh, and activists from the National Awami Party also operated several guerrilla battalions.[11]

The Mukti Bahini has been compared with the French Resistance[12] as both fought for liberation of their countries and the Viet Cong[13] as a popular resistance movement. Using guerrilla warfare tactics, it secured control over large parts of the Bengali countryside. It conducted successful "ambush and sabotage" campaigns,[14] and included the nascent Bangladesh Air Force and the Bangladesh Navy. The Mukti Bahini received training and weapons from India,[15] where people in the eastern and northeastern states share a common Bengali ethnic and linguistic heritage with East Pakistan.[16]

During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the Mukti Bahini became part of the Bangladesh-India Allied Forces.[17] It was instrumental in securing the Surrender of Pakistan and the liberation of Dacca and other cities in December 1971.[17][18]


The "Mukti Bahini" was divided into two groups; the "Niomito Bahini" or "regular forces" who came from the paramilitary, military and police forces of East Pakistan, and the Gonnobahini or "people's forces" who were civilians. These names were given and defined by the Government of Bangladesh. The Indians referred to the Niomito Bahini as "Mukti Fauj", and the Gonnobahini were called "freedom fighters".[19][20]


East Pakistan campaigned against the usage of Urdu as the sole official language of Pakistan. The Awami League had won the majority in the 1970 Pakistan election. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, as the leader of the Awami League, was prevented from forming a government.[21] Bengali was the only language in Pakistan not written in the Persian-Arabic script. The administrative change that merged the administrative provinces of West Pakistan into one "unit" caused great suspicion in East Pakistan.[22] Pakistan's unwillingness to give autonomy to East Bengal and Bengali nationalism are both cited as reasons for the separation.[23] The 1970 Bhola Cyclone had caused the death of 500,000 people while the infrastructure, transport and other services were severely damaged.The central government of Pakistan was blamed for the slow response and misuse of funds.[24] It created resentment in the population of East Pakistan.[25] The resentment allowed Awami League to win 160 of the 162 parliamentary seats allocated to East Pakistan which made Awami League the majority party in the 300 seat parliament of Pakistan.[26][27] After 1971 elections, Yahya Khan hoped for a power sharing agreement between Mujib and Bhutto, though talks between them did not result in a solution. Mujib wanted full autonomy, Bhutto advised Yahya to break off talks. In March, General Yahya Khan suspended the National Assembly of Pakistan.[28]

On March 7, 1971, Sheikh Mujib made his now famous speech in Ramna Race course (Suhrawardy Udyan) where he declared “The struggle this time is for our freedom. The struggle this time is for our independence”.[29] East Pakistan television broadcasters started broadcasting Rabindranath songs, a taboo in Pakistan, while reducing the air-time of shows from West Pakistan. Civilian interaction decreased with the Pakistan Army and they were increasingly seen as an occupying force, while local contractors stopped providing supplies to the Pakistan Army.[30] The Pakistan Army also tried to disarm and dismiss personnel of Bengali origin in the East Pakistan Rifles, the police and the regular army. The Bengali officers mutinied against the Pakistan Army, and attacked officers from West Pakistan.[31] The Pakistan Army's crackdown on the civilian population had contributed to the revolt of East Pakistani soldiers. The East Pakistani soldiers moved to India and formed the main body of Mukti Bahini.[32] Sheikh Mujib on 26 March 1971 declared the independence of Bangladesh, while Pakistan's president Yahya Khan declared Mujib a traitor during a national broadcast on the same day.[33][34] The Pakistan Army moved infantry and armored units to East Pakistan in preparation for the coming conflicts.[35]

Early resistance

Location of West Pakistani (marked green) and rebel Bangladeshi (marked red) military units in March 1971

On March 25, martial law was declared, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested and Operation Searchlight started in East Pakistan. Foreign journalists were expelled and the Awami League was banned. Members of the Awami league, the East Pakistan Rifles, the East Bengal Regiment and others thought to be disloyal to Pakistan were attacked by the Pakistan army. The survivors of the attack would form the backbone of the Mukti Bahini.[36] When the Pakistan Army started the military crackdown on the Bengali population, they did not expect prolonged resistance.[37] Five battalions of the East Bengal Regiment mutinied and initiated the war for liberation of Bangladesh.[38]

On March 27, Major Ziaur Rahman declared Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan and fought his way out of Chittagong City with his unit of Bengali soldiers.[30] The East Pakistan Rifles and the East Pakistan Police suffered heavy casualties while challenging the Pakistan Army in Dhaka, where West Pakistani forces began the 1971 Bangladesh genocide with the massacre at Dhaka University. Civilians took control of arms depots in various cities and began resisting Pakistani forces with the acquired weapons supply. Chittagong experienced heavy fighting between rebel Bengali military units and Pakistani forces. The Bangladeshi Declaration of Independence was broadcast from Kalurghat Radio Station in Chittagong by Major Rahman on behalf of Sheikh Rahman.[36]

Bengali forces took control of numerous districts in the initial months of the war, including Brahmanbaria, Faridpur, Barisal, Mymensingh, Comilla and Kushtia among others. With the support of the local population, many towns remained under the control of Bengali forces until April and May 1971. Notable engagements during this period included the Battle of Kamalpur, the Battle of Daruin and the Battle of Rangamati-Mahalchari waterway in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.[39]

On April 18, Deputy High Commission of Pakistan in Kolkata defected and hoisted the flag of Bangladesh.[40] On April 17, the Mujibnagar Government was formed.[41]

During May, Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto asked General Yahya Khan to hand over power in West Pakistan to his party. Khan refused on the grounds that doing so would support the view of Mukti Bahini and the Provisional Government of Bangladesh that East Pakistan was a colony of West Pakistan. Tensions were raised when Bhutto told his followers that "by November [he] would either be in power or in jail".[42]

On June 9, Mukti Bahini members hijacked a car and launched a grenade attack on Dhaka Intercontinental Hotel, office of Pro-Junta Morning Post and the house of Golam Azam.[43]



Italian howitzers used by the Mujib Battery;[44] now preserved at the Bangladesh Military Museum

The Mukti Bahini divided the war zone into eleven sectors. The war strategy included a huge guerrilla force operating inside Bangladesh that targeted Pakistani installations through raids, ambushes and sabotaging West Pakistani-controlled shipping ports, power plants, industries, railways and warehouses. The wide dispersion of West Pakistani forces allowed Bengali guerrillas to target smaller groups of enemy soldiers. Groups ranging in size from five to ten guerrillas were assigned specific missions. Bridges, culverts, fuel depots and ships were destroyed to decrease the mobility of the Pakistan Army.[45] However, the Mukti Bahini failed in its Monsoon Offensive after Pakistani reinforcements successfully countered Bengali engagements. Attacks on border outposts in Sylhet, Comilla and Mymensingh had limited success. The training period slowed the momentum of the Bangladesh Forces, which began to pick up after August.[46] After the monsoon, the Mukti Bahini became more effective while the Indian army created a number of bases inside East Pakistan for the Mukti Bahini.[47] The railways in East Pakistan were almost completely shut down due to the Mukti Bahini's sabotage. The provincial capital, Dhaka, had become a ghost town with gun-fire and explosions heard throughout the day.[48]


After a visit to East Pakistan refugee camps in India in August 1971, Ted Kennedy believed that Pakistan was committing a genocide.[49] Golam Azam called for Pakistan to attack India and to annex Assam in retaliation for India providing help to the Mukti Bahini. Azam accused India of shelling East Pakistani border areas on a daily basis. Oxfam predicted the deaths of over one hundred thousand children in refugee camps and that more could die from food shortages in East Pakistan because of the conflict.[49]


Regular Mukti Bahini battalions were formed in September 1971,[50] increasing the effectiveness of the Mukti Bahini. Sabotage and ambush missions continued to be carried out, demoralising the Pakistan army.[51]


In October, conventional Bangladesh Forces mounted various successful offensives, capturing 90 of the 300 border outposts. The Mukti Bahini intensified guerrilla attacks inside Bangladesh while Pakistan increased reprisals on Bengali civilians,[52] though the movement of Mukti Bahini into, out of, and inside East Pakistan became easier and more common.[53]


In November, Indian involvement increased, with the Indian artillery and Indian Air force providing direct cover for the Mukti Bahini in some offensives.[54] Attacks on infrastructure and the increase in the reach of the provisional government weakened the control of the Pakistan government.[55]

Air operations

The Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) was established on 28 September 1971 under the command of Air Commodore A. K. Khandker. It initially operated from a jungle airstrip near Dimapur in Nagaland, India. When taking over liberated territories, the Bangladesh Forces gained control of World War II airstrips in Lalmonirhat, Shalutikar, Sylhet and Comilla in November and December. The BAF launched "Kilo Flights" under the command of Squadron Leader Sultan Mahmud on December 3, 1971. Sorties by Otter DHC-3 aircraft destroyed Pakistani fuel supplies in Narayanganj and Chittagong where targets included the Burmah Oil Refinery, numerous ships and oil depots.[56]

Naval Operations

The Bangladesh naval forces took shape in July. Operation Jackpot was launched by the Bangladesh Forces on August 15, 1971. Bangladesh Navy commandos sunk vessels of the Pakistan Navy in Mongla, Chittagong, Chandpur and Narayanganj.[57][58][59][60] The operation was a major propaganda success for Bangladeshi forces, as it exposed to the international community the fragile hold of the West Pakistani occupation.[61] The Bangladesh Navy commandos targeted patrol craft and ships carrying ammunition and commodities. With Indian aid, the Mukti Bahini acquired two vessels, the Padma and Palash, which were retrofitted into gunboats with mine-laying capabilities. The boat crews extensively mined the Passur River in the Sundarbans, reducing the ability of Pakistani forces to operate from the Port of Mongla but were mistakenly bombed by Indian Air Force troops that resulted in the loss of both vessels and some of the lives of the Mukti Bahini and Indian personnel on board.[62] The developing Bangladesh Navy carried out attacks on ships and used sea mines to prevent supply ships from docking in East Pakistani ports. Frogmen were deployed to damage and sabotage ships.[63]


Mukti Bahini propaganda posters
A Bangladeshi propaganda poster depicting Pakistani military ruler General Yahya Khan, created by Quamrul Hassan.[64]

M. A. G. Osmani, a Bengali veteran of British Raj forces in World War II and Pakistan army, established the Bangladesh Armed Forces on April 4, 1971. The Provisional Government of Bangladesh placed all Bangladeshi forces under the command of Osmani, who was appointed as the defense minister with the rank of Commander-in-Chief as a four star general. Osmani designated the composition of the Mukti Bahini into several divisions. It included the regular armed forces which covered the Army, Navy and Air Forces; as well as special brigades including the Z Force. Paramilitary forces, including the East Pakistan Rifles and police, were designated as the Niyomito Bahini (Regular Forces). They were divided between forward battalions and sector troops. Another civilian force was raised and known as the Gonobahini (People's Forces) consisting of lightly trained civilian brigades under military command; the Gonobahini also consisted of battalions created by political activists from the pro-Western Awami League, the pro-Chinese and socialist National Awami Party, led by Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, and the pro-Soviet Communist Party of East Pakistan.[45]

The guerrilla movement was composed of three wings: well-armed Action Groups which took part in frontal attacks; military intelligence units; and guerrilla bases. The first conference of sector commanders was held during July 1971, starting on July 11 and ending July 17. Prominent sector commanders included defector officers from the Pakistan Armed Forces, including Major Ziaur Rahman, Major Khaled Mosharraf, Major K M Shafiullah, Captain A. N. M. Nuruzzaman, Major Chitta Ranjan Dutta, Wing Commander M Khademul Bashar, Major Nazmul Huq, Major Quazi Nuruzzaman, Major Abu Osman Chowdhury, Major Abul Manzoor, Major M. A. Jalil, Major Abu Taher and Squadron Leader M. Hamidullah Khan.[65] The Mujib Bahini was led by Awami League youth leaders Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni, Tofael Ahmed and Abdur Razzak. An Australian war veteran, William A. S. Ouderland, organized guerrilla warfare in Dacca and provided vital intelligence to the Bangladesh Forces. He was awarded the Bir Protik for his actions by the government of Bangladesh.[66][67] Left-wing politicians Kader Siddique, Hemayet Uddin and Moni Singh created several guerrilla units. Kader Siddique operated in the Tangail District.[68] Hemayet was a former soldier in East Pakistan and his Bahini was raised almost entirely on local supplies.[69] Moni Singh was a communist leader in East Pakistan.[70]

The Independent Bangladesh Radio Station was one of the cultural wings of the Mukti Bahini. The Bangladesh liberation movement released five prominent propaganda posters which promoted the independence struggle irrespective of religious affiliations and gender. One of the posters famously portrayed Pakistan's military ruler, Yahya Khan, as a demon. The Mukti Bahini operated field hospitals, wireless stations, training camps and prisons.[71]


The Mukti Bahini benefited from the early control of Pakistani arms depots, which were overtaken by Bengali forces during March and April 1971. The Mukti Bahini purchased large quantities of military-grade equipment through the arms market in Calcutta, including Italian howitzers, Alouette III helicopters, "Dakota" DC-3 aircraft and "Otter" DHC-3 fighter planes. The Mukti Bahini also received a limited supply of equipment from the Indian military, as New Delhi allowed the Bangladeshi forces to operate an independent weapons supply through Calcutta Port.[72] The Mukti Bahini used Sten Guns, Lee–Enfield rifles and Indian-made hand grenades.[73]

Bangladesh-India Allied Forces

Pakistan's Lt. Gen. A. A. K. Niazi signing the Pakistani Instrument of Surrender in Dhaka on December 16, 1971, in the presence of India's Lt. Gen. Aurora. Standing behind them are various officers from India's Army, Navy and Air Force.

The launch of Operation Chengiz Khan by West Pakistan on North India finally drew India into the Bangladesh conflict and a joint command structure was established between the Bangladeshi and Indian forces. Three corps of the Indian Armed Forces were supported by three brigades of the Mukti Bahini and the Bengali guerrilla army. The Mukti Bahini and its supporters guided the Indian army and provided them with information about Pakistani troop movements.[74] The Indian and Mukti Bahini greatly outnumbered the three Pakistani army divisions of East Pakistan. The Battle of Sylhet, the Battle of Garibpur, the Battle of Boyra, the Battle of Hilli and the Battle of Kushtia were major joint engagements for the Bangladeshi and Indian forces, who swiftly captured surrounding land by selectively engaging or bypassing heavily defended strongholds. For example, the Meghna Heli Bridge airlifted Bangladeshi and Indian forces from Brahmanbaria to Narsingdi over Pakistani defenses in Ashuganj. The cities of Jessore, Mymensingh, Sylhet, Kushtia, Noakhali and Maulvi Bazar quickly fell to the Mukti Bahini-Indian joint forces. In Dhaka, the Pakistan Army and its supporting militias began the mass murder of Bengali intellectuals and professionals in a final attempt to eliminate the Bengali intelligentsia. Both the Mukti-Bahini-Indian forces, the Pakistani Army and its allies were accused of looting, rape and violence on the civilian population belonging to their respective opponents.[75] The Mukti Bahini liberated most of the Dhaka District by mid-December. In Western Pakistan, Indian forces advanced deep into Pakistani territory as the Port of Karachi was subjected to a naval blockade by the Indian Navy. Pakistani generals surrendered to the Mukti Bahini-Indian forces in Dhaka on December 16, 1971.[76]

Relations with India

Ten million Bengali refugees fled into neighbouring India because of famine and ravages of Pakistan army,[15] where the regions of West Bengal, Tripura and the Barak Valley shared strong ethnic, linguistic and cultural links with East Pakistan. The war sparked an unprecedented level of unity in the Bengali-speaking world. There was strong support for Bengalis and Mukti Bahini from the Indian media and public.[77] India feared that if the movement for Bangladesh came to be dominated by communists then it would adversely affect its own fight with the left-wing Naxalites. It also did not want the millions of refugees to be permanently stranded in India.[78]

Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, authorized diplomatic, economic and military support to the Bangladesh Forces in April 1971.[39] The Provisional Government of Bangladesh established its secretariat in exile in Calcutta. The Indian Armed Forces provided substantial training and the use of its bases for the Bangladesh Forces. The Bangladesh liberation guerrillas operated training camps in the Indian states of Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal.[79][80] Mukti Bahini were allowed by India to cross the border at will.[81]

Some Mukti Bahini, especially those who served in the security services of Pakistan, were suspicious of Indian involvement and wished to minimise its role. They also resented the formation of the Mujib Bahini by India which was composed of Sheikh Mujib-loyalists but was not under the command of Mukti Bahini or the provisional government of Bangladesh.[82]

On December 6, 1971, India officially recognized Bangladesh as an independent country only hours after Bhutan did the same.[83]

International reactions

The genocide by Pakistani forces caused widespread international outrage against West Pakistan.[84] In the United States, Democratic senator Ted Kennedy led a chorus of strong domestic criticism against the Nixon administration for ignoring the genocide of Bengalis in East Pakistan.[85][86]

The Mukti Bahini enjoyed significant international public support. The Bangladeshi provisional government considered setting up an "International Brigade" with European and North American students.[72] French Minister of Cultural Affairs André Malraux vowed to fight on the battlefield alongside the Bangladesh Forces.[87]

The Soviet Union threw its weight behind the Bangladesh Forces and India after being convinced of Pakistan's unwillingness for a political solution.[72] Separately, US efforts to woo China through Pakistan led to India signing friendship treaty with Moscow in August 1971. India increased support to Mukti Bahini after the signing of the treaty.[88] For India, the treaty was an important insurance policy against a possible Chinese intervention on the side of Pakistan. China had fought a brief war with India in 1962. Both the US and China, however, ultimately failed to mobilize adequate support for Pakistan.[79][80]


Bir Sreshtho (The Most Valiant Hero) is the highest military honor in Bangladesh and was awarded to seven Mukti Bahini fighters. They were Ruhul Amin, Mohiuddin Jahangir, Mostafa Kamal, Hamidur Rahman, Munshi Abdur Rouf, Nur Mohammad Sheikh and Matiur Rahman.[89]

The other three gallantry awards in decreasing order of importance are Bir Uttom, Bir Bikrom and Bir Protik.[90]


Women had served in the Mukti Bahini during Bangladesh liberation war. The Mukti Bahini trained several female battalions for guerrilla warfare. Taramon Bibi is one of the two female wars heroes of the Bangladesh Liberation War. Captain Sitara Begum is noted for setting up field hospitals for injured Mukti Bahini fighters.[91] Professor Nazma Shaheen, University of Dhaka, and her sister were female members in the Mukti Bahini.[92]


Aparajeyo Bangla (Invincible Bengal) was finished on 16 December 1978 by Syed Abdullah Khalid at University of Dhaka Campus, is a Monument to Mukti Bahini.[93]

The Mukti Bahini was succeeded by the Bangladesh Armed Forces, the Bangladesh Rifles and the Bangladesh Police. Civilian fighters were provided with numerous privileges, including reservations in government jobs and universities.[94][95] The Bangladesh Freedom Fighters Assembly was formed to represent former guerrillas. Bangladesh Liberation War ministry is responsible for looking after the welfare of Mukti Bahini memebers.[96] The widespread availability of arms created serious law and order concerns for the Bangladesh government after the war. A few militia units are alleged to have taken part in reprisal attacks against the Urdu-speaking population following the Pakistani surrender.[97]


On 1973, February 28, 1973 the government of Bangladesh enacted the National Liberation Struggle (Indemnity) Order to provide indemnity "to those persons in respect of acts done in connection with the national liberation struggle, the maintenance or restoration of order" which was to be enforced retrospectively from March 26, 1972.[97]


The Mukti Bahini has been accused of killing and raping Bihari citizens of East Pakistan who supported the Pakistan army. After the Liberation War of Bangladesh ended, many people who had been denied repatriation to Pakistan were forcefully relocated to refugee camps, were referred to as Stranded Pakistanis and denied citizenship of Bangladesh.[98]

Cultural legacy

The National Martyrs' Memorial in Bangladesh

The Mukti Bahini has been the subject of numerous artwork, literature, films and television productions.

See also


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Further reading

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