History of Bangladesh Army

Early history

A painting of Irregular cavalry of the Bengal Army, 1817.

The martial tradition of Bengal has its roots in the Bengal Army during mughal rule since the early 18th century, when three successive Persian Muslim dynasties, namely the Nasiri, Afshar and Najafi, ruled Bengal. During the Colonial Rule of the British, Bengal was principally a bulwark of British power and trade in the South Asian region. The British under robert clive defeated a 50,000 strong Bengal Army of Nawab Siraj-ud-daullah in the Polashey in 1757 and later the forces of Nawab Mir Qasim at the Battle of Burax in 1764. The Army of Bengal was formed which later became part of the British Indian Army over the period of 1757 - 1947. The eastern part of the region, was a prominent place for military and police recruitment, with entire horse-mounted cavalry and lancer units being recruited there prior to the Bengal Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Post-mutiny, units with the epithet "Bengal" in their name, such as Bengal Sappers and Bengal Cavalry, were largely recruited from non-Bengali races from Bihar, Varanasi and Uttar Pradesh which was technically still part of Bengal Presidency at that time. After the creation of the nation of Pakistan, recruitment from erstwhile East Pakistan began in 1948 into the East Bengal Regiment, newly created with all Bengali personnel, part of the Pakistan Army till 1971.

Formation during Bangladesh Liberation War 1971

Army operations were formally launched after the Sector Commanders Conference was held and organized during July 11–17, 1971 three months following the oath of the Bangladesh Government at Meherpur, Kushtia during Bangladesh Liberation War that was fought between Bangladesh(East Pakistan until March 25, 1971) and West Pakistan in 1971.

During this conference the structure and formation of the Bangladeshi forces was determined. It was of considerable historical significance and tactical consequence, as it determined the command structure of the Bangladeshi forces throughout the conflict, as well as resolving issues surrounding the organization of the various sectors, strategy and reinforcements.

This conference was presided over by the Bangladesh interim government in exile, mainly by Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed and General M A G Osmani. General Osmani was thereby appointed Commander-in-Chief of all Bangladesh Forces.[1] Lt.Col Rab was appointed as Chief of Army Staff, Squadron Leader M. Hamidullah Khan was assigned to the largest guerilla training camp of the liberation war at Chakulia, Bihar, as the Chief Military Representative of the Bangladesh government in exile and Wing Commander A.K. Khandker, and later on Nov 21st promoted to Group Captain and was appointed as the Deputy Chief of Armed Forces. The preliminary preparation for the creation of the Bangladesh Air Force was also initiated with Khandker to be its first chief.

As a result of this meeting, Bangladesh was divided into eleven sectors. These sectors were placed under the control of Sector Commanders, who would direct the guerilla war against Pakistani forces. For better efficiency in military operations each of the sectors were also divided into a number of sub-sectors. As a point of note, the 10th Sector was directly placed under the Commander-in-Chief and included the Naval Commando Unit as a C-in-C’s special force.

Following this a period of prolonged guerilla warfare was launched by Bangladesh Forces, which continued for a number of months. A further restructuring was undertaken, and the Bangladesh Armed Forces were organized into three brigades.

Then, on November 21, 1971, the Bangladesh Forces handed over the full command and authority of its operations to the Indian armed forces to command during the war. On December 3, 1971, (West) Pakistan launched a pre-emptive attack on the western border of India, which marked the commencement of the Indo-Pak border conflict. Finally, on December 16, 1971, after the Pakistan Army surrendered to the Joint Bangladeshi Indian forces, the independent nation of Bangladesh emerged.

Post 1971: The emergence of the Bangladesh Army

Bangladesh Army has expanded considerably albeit erratically since its formation on November 21, 1971. During the sensitive and formative years after the end of the war, many of men of the Mukti Bahini, the local Bharat supported Awami League politico militia were absorbed into different branches of Bangladesh Army. Against the stern advice of many Bangladesh Army officers, the Awami League government did not heed, and the Mujib Administration authorised this action. Furthermore, between 1973 and 1975, the army absorbed many of the 28,000 personnel who had been detained in Pakistani jails and went into hiding in Pakistan for the duration of the Bangladesh Liberation War. Mujib's Awami League government created further disenchanment among army personnel when his party formed and operated separate militia groups around the nation run locally by his party men at the command of his son Sheikh Kamal, funded by the state. These policies and actions laid the foundation and formed the bedrock of disputes among army officers and men with state policies and low morale amongst military personnel, creating lasting rival groups. Misconceptions, misunderstandings, lack of communication and trust created serious divisions at the roots of army units and headquarters.

Coups, Uprisings and Assassinations

The year 1975 was a turning point year in the history of Bangladesh as a nation. On August 15, 1975 few disgruntled members of the Bangladesh Armed Forces have been involved in two assassinations and coups albeit not with the knowledge or participation of the entire Bangladesh Armed Forces. In 1975 a few sacked, disgruntled junior officers and NCOs secretly formed together and assassinated the entire immediate family of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at his personal residence in Dhanmondi, Dhaka, with the exception of his two daughters who were abroad. Some of those responsible officers were finally brought to justice in January 2010. Some are still at large. A new government led by Khandkar Mushtaq Ahmed and almost the entire (Mujibur Rahman's cabinet) cabinet members was set in place. Three months later on November 3, 1975, several senior officers and NCO's led by Brig. Gen. Khaled Musharraf and Colonel Shafaat Jamil led their own forces to untangle another internal conspiracy and removed Khandakar Mushtaq's government and took power from him whom they believed was an unlawful government in the first place. That same day the same group of disgruntled army personnel who assassinated Sheikh Mujib and his family took action that resulted in the assassination and jailing of several senior Army officers and noted civilians who were involved in the nations war of independence. Those jailed and later assassinated inside the jail premises were Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, M Mansur Ali and AHM Qamaruzzaman. Major General Ziaur Rahman, then the Army Chief of Staff, was placed under house arrest. On November 7, 1975, a short but highly organized and spirited uprising concentrated only in Dhaka, formed by members of the Jatiya Samajtantric Dal (National Socialist Party) and members of lower-ranking army personnel led by Lt. Col.(Retd.) Abu Taher also resulted in the killing of several army and air force officers and men including Brigadier General Khaled Musharraf, Major ATM Haider to name just a few. Colonel Shafaat Jamil was arrested and forcibly retired. Major General Ziaur Rahman was released and took the opportunity to bring order and discipline in the country as well as in the armed forces under temporary martial law. Zia took promotion to Lieutenant General and was appointed Chief of Army Staff and Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrator. Later, in 1977 under a public referendum of a yes no vote took the helm as President. In May 30, 1981 President Ziaur Rahman was assassinated in the Chittagong Circuit House in a military coup organized by the then Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Hussein Muhammad Ershad with tacit support of his senior staff. Less than a year later, Ershad in 1981 March 24 took power in a silent coup at dawn, suspended the constitution and imposed martial law. He remained in power until December 6, 1990.

Subsequent growth

Following the 1975, additional personnel were absorbed into the regular army when the martial law government abolished the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini. Under Zia's rule, Bangladesh was divided into five military regions. When Ershad assumed power in 1982, army strength had stabilized at about 70,000 troops. Starting in 1985, the army had experienced another spurt in growth. As of mid-1988, it had about 90,000 troops (although some observers believed the number was closer to 80,000), triple the 1975 figure.

The Bangladesh Army structure is similar to the armies of the Commonwealth Nations. However, major changes have taken place following the adoption of U.S. Army tactical planning procedures, training management techniques and noncommissioned officer educational systems. In times of war and national emergency, the Bangladesh Army can also be reinforced by the Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Ansars, Village Defence Parties (VDP), and other paramilitary organizations numbering about one million trained personnel.

Bangladesh Army has specialized its peacekeeping operations capabilities around the world through participation in numerous peacekeeping and nation building operations. It has created BIPSOT (Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operation Training) which specializes in the training of peacekeepers for employment in all types of UNPSO (UN Peace Support Operations). This institute fulfills the requirement of UNDPKO as per General Assembly resolution which outlines ‘the necessity and responsibility of every nation to train their armed forces before any deployment. The U.S. Military has taken a keen interest and currently participating in this area.

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