Review of ‘1971: Resistance, Resilience and Redemption’
History tends to become tainted with emotion, especially when it holds both national and cultural significance for a people. In particular, the Liberation War of Bangladesh is a sensitive, somber topic that evokes a great sense of trauma and loss, especially in the generation that has stood witness to ’71. 1971 is a fresh wound, and Bangladesh is still undergoing a collective healing process. Most of our recorded history and literature of war has therefore remained limited to rather personal, evocative accounts and memoirs. Even though there has been extensive research on individual topics, there have been very few instances of a compiled account of the Liberation War. In his extensively researched book, Major General Md. Sarwar Hossain has taken up the mammoth task of creating a comprehensive resource for those who wish to study 1971 under an objective lens. 1971: Resistance, Resilience and Redemption is a bold venture that aims to give the reader a full picture of the event that has shaped world history, and has given us such a definitive national identity.
The fact that the book is such a comprehensive historical account makes it a one-of-a-kind study. For all intents and purposes, the book is a work of scholarly research which both compiles and documents all available knowledge on the Liberation War itself. Though the book undertakes the voyage of tracing history to its core, the background of the war is simply that—the background. The opening chapter takes the reader to the very genesis: to Jinnah’s Two Nation Theory, to the Partition of 1947, and the human exodus faced by the two new countries just conceived. There is also rich, objective content on how the Bengali population in the Eastern Wing of erstwhile Pakistan were deprived of the privileges enjoyed by the Western Wing, and how an entire people was kept subdued under an oppressive regime. Along with historical context, the author also provides information on the geographical realities, facts that had separated the two wings of the then Pakistan, and how the initial military disposition was in East Pakistan. The facts that follow this brief historical narrative lead up to the outbreak of war, the result of the autocratic attitudes of the Pakistani regime.
1971: Resistance, Resilience and Redemption is essentially a work of military history. A unique feature of the book is the incorporation of strategic information on each significant act of resistance, full frontal combat situations, and conflicts with the use of well-illustrated maps. While the second chapter focuses mainly on geography and geopolitics of the pre-war period, the third promptly moves on to the initial resistance of the Bengali servicemen with the aid of people from all walks of life. The maps provide valuable visual detail on the actual situation of the battles, and the region-by-region breakdown of the wartime incidents helps the reader to have a better grasp of the overall event. One cannot but be in awe of the Major General’s dedication and research when reading the accounts of each of the smaller battles, their outcome, and their strategic implications to the smallest of detail. Each chapter contains some much needed analysis of the historical fact, without which no historical work is ever complete.
As a military tactician and specialist, the author truly proves his expertise by providing information and in-depth analysis of the organization of Bangladesh forces. Along with the regular armed forces and operational sectors in which the country was divided, equal attention has been given to the irregular forces that have had significant contribution to the cause of the war. In fact, a separate chapter has been assigned to the irregular forces, featuring famous names such as Kaderia Bahini and Mujib Bahini, as well as the lesser known Gafur, Kuddus and Baten Bahinis. Each of these irregular forces have been delved into, along with their allegiances and differences, their areas of operation and the reasons behind their formation. Utilizing the advantage of their smaller build, these irregular forces took on the task of conducting guerilla warfare and assisted the major liberation forces of the Mukti Bahini.
Perhaps some of the most comprehensive chapters of the book have been dedicated to the strategy of war itself. The author sheds light on the composite nature of the Liberation War, a war that blended in both conventional and unconventional forms of warfare. As a strategist, the author has analyzed the rationale, historical perspectives, concepts, and prerequisites of such forms of warfare, focusing on how this unique strategy was applied in the various regions of Bangladesh. The book also takes on an analytical role, scrutinizing the performance of the Mukti Bahini both from the casualty and strategy aspect. When the Indian forces finally entered the scene, the tactics of the allied forces were strengthened. The book brings to us both the Indian and the Pakistani plans for offensive, and in-depth insight on them.
1971: Resistance, Resilience and Redemption is a work of immense historical and strategic value for any reader who would like to read beyond the nuances of history, and see themselves delving into the world of military strategy. The penultimate chapter gives the reader a specific directive as to what to take away from the Liberation War, the implications of the war as well as the results of outside support for our cause. The book is a true testimony of history and a rather valuable resource for readers.
Qazi Mustabeen Noor works with Arts & Letters, Dhaka Tribune