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BSF played key role in formation of B’desh: Book
Published on 2 Dec. 2009 11:45 PM IST
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“Do what you like, but don’t get caught.” This was then prime minister Indira Gandhi’s laconic fiat authorizing the Border Security Force (BSF) to take on Pakistani troops several months before the India-Bangladesh war actually erupted on Dec 3, 1971 - exactly 38 years ago. So says K.F. Rustamji, a legendary police officer who founded the BSF in 1965 and who was its head when civil war erupted in the then East Pakistan leading to its secession and its birth as independent Bangladesh. In a highly readable book, “The British, The Bandits and The Bordermen” (Wisdom Tree), Rustamji reveals that the Indian Army chief issued orders March 29, 1971, providing limited assistance to Bengali guerrillas pitted against Pakistani troops. After quoting what Indira Gandhi told him, Rustamji says: “Nothing more was spelt out as nothing could be foreseen of the rapid developments that would follow. The direction gave me the liberty to take steps which ultimately produced results. “Thus the BSF entered the scene in the midst of a surcharged atmosphere and rising expectations. The Force consisted of a few officers and about 100 men well versed in commando raids, demolition, etc. “The Force was organised to carry out tasks in support of the freedom struggle by the people of East Pakistan. The aim was to provide aid to the freedom fighters to carry out their assignment successfully.” It was not long before the BSF made contact with the most senior leaders of the Awami League party who had survived the massacres of the Pakistani forces - Tajuddin Ahmad and Amirul Islam. When BSF’s Golok Majumdar met them for the first time, they “were barefooted, haggard and disheveled and were wearing a lungi and a singlet. They had walked across from Dacca (Dhaka)”. According to the book, edited by P.V. Rajgopal, the BSF played a key role in the formation of the Bangladesh provisional government, in framing its constitution and in selecting a national flag and national anthem. The BSF also contributed to the defection of Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata - the first instance of its kind as Bengali officers in the diplomatic service gave up their allegiance to Islamabad. “According to the plan, all over the (India-Bangladesh) border, the BSF and Mukti Bahini established a compact which made history. What impressed me was the identity of interest.” Rustmaji says Indira Gandhi wanted the Indian Army to go into action in East Pakistan in May 1971 but the army chief, General ‘Sam’ Mankeshaw, refused to oblige. “The chief was clear in his mind that he would go into battle only when he was sure of victory and was also confident of having enough men and material on the Sino-Indian border to guard against a thrust from that side.” The book says that even after the army got involved in Bangladesh, it leaned on the BSF for coordination with Mukti Bahini and local knowledge. “The BSF boys started assisting the Mukti Fauj (later Bahini) in causing subversion and sabotage deep inside East Pakistan and even in district headquarter towns, where cash and weapons were looted and made over to the government of Bangladesh.” The book says that at the height of the unrest in East Pakistan, the Soviet and American intelligence agencies tried to infiltrate the ranks of the freedom fighters. “The US intelligence agency men were in regular touch with some Awami League leaders and more so with Khondakar Mushtaq Ahmed.” In September 1971, Indira Gandhi said she might give the green signal for the Indian military thrust into East Pakistan in the third week of November. The war broke out on Dec 3, 1971, leading within a fortnight to the mass surrender of Pakistani troops and the birth of Bangladesh as an independent nation.

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