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OP-ED: Reaching for a destiny beyond the sky

  • Published at 05:24 am April 19th, 2021
badrul alam

Remembering the courage and valour of Freedom Fighter and Air Force Officer Badrul Alam

The War of Liberation has been a defining moment for every young man in this country, especially those who were serving in the then armed forces of Pakistan, including army, navy, air force, EPR, police, etc.

The onslaught of the Pakistan army on unarmed Bangalis on the dreadful night of March 25, 1971, drew a Rubicon line for the Bangali armed forces personnel to either cross it to an uncertain future and fight, even at the cost of their own lives, for the freedom of their country and for their dignity, or not cross it and live under Pakistani subjugation leading an illusory comfortable yet servitude life.

There were some who took the predictable risk and joined the war and there were many who chose the latter option.

One such legendary hero -- Bir Uttam and a recipient of the Independence medal for his monumental contribution towards the independence of the country -- is Badrul Alam. Five decades ago, he had put his brilliant service career as well as his own life on the line for the liberation of Bangladesh. He has since chosen to live a quiet life without bragging about his deeds and the accolades he earned.

Sqn Ldr (Retd) Badrul Alam, Bir Uttam, is a valiant freedom fighter, having earned the highest award (for a living person) of Bir Uttam from the government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Subsequently, for his efforts in contributing to the building of the nascent Air Force in independent Bangladesh, he was also given the Independence Day Medal (Shadhinata Padak).

Early years

Badrul Alam was born on February 13, 1948, and is the eldest son of Late Khandaker Mohammad Badruddoza of Manikganj and Late Hosne Ara Begum of Bauphal, Patuakhali. He studied initially at Holy Cross School from KG I to Class 3, and at Will’s Little Flower School from Class 4 and 5.

He skipped Class 6 and studied at Pakistan Air Force Public School (PAF Public School) Lower Topa, Pakistan from Class 7. He passed his Secondary School Certificate examination from this school and joined the Pakistan Air Force Academy, Risalpur on February 22, 1966.

Badrul Alam was commissioned in the 45th GD(P) on January 28, 1968. In the Pakistan Air Force Academy, 96 Cadets went on from his batch to receive training on flying, out of which 22 were Bangalis. Only 26 Cadets from both wings of Pakistan received their Commission as GD(P) in this batch. Badrul Alam had the distinction of being the sole Bangali that was Commissioned in GD(P).

Pilot Officer Badrul Alam then went for his advanced training on T-33 aircraft in Mauripur and, after successfully passing, went to Peshawar for his fighter training in F-86. After fighter training, Pilot Officer Badrul Alam was posted to Sargodha and sent straight to super-sonic fighter aircraft.

Flying Officer Badrul Alam flew the F-6 supersonic aircraft till February 19, 1971. At his request, Flying Officer Badrul Alam was posted, on compassionate grounds, to Dhaka to fly helicopters. He reached Dhaka on February 28, 1971. Considering the political situation in the country, he was not allowed to fly in Dhaka.

After the infamous Operation Searchlight was initiated by the Pakistan Armed Forces on March 25, 1971, he was posted back to his original squadron. He requested and was granted one month leave during which period he, along with other PAF pilots, planned to defect from PAF and join the Mukti Bahini.

Memorable events

Badrul Alam was first in the Flying Wing while flying a T-37 during training at Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Academy, Risalpur. He was one of the three pilots to be sent directly to supersonic aircraft after fighter training, which was a first in the history of the PAF.

At one point, Badrul Alam held the Air to Ground (gunnery) record in F-6, which he held for nearly a year. He flew a helicopter during the Liberation War of Bangladesh. He is one of the few pilots in the world to be lucky enough to fly all three types of aircraft -- namely fighters, helicopters, and transports. He has flown a total of 15,778 hours in 17 types of aircraft.

He served in three air forces -- BAF, PAF, and the Libyan Air Force. He retired from BAF as Squadron Leader on March 26, 1980, and from Bangladesh Biman on February 13, 2007.

The freedom fighter

Flying Officer Badrul Alam was based in Dhaka on the fateful night of March 25, 1971, when the Pakistan armed forces initiated the genocide of Bangalis under Operation Searchlight. Responding to the call of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in his epoch-making public address o March 7, 1971, as he called upon his people to fight the enemy, Flying Officer Badrul Alam, together with other senior Bangali officers of Pakistan Air Force (PAF), defected to join the Mukti Bahini on May 6, 1971.

This valiant group, who were ready to sacrifice everything for their motherland, included then Group Captain AK Khandaker, Wing Commander Bashar, Squadron Leader Sadruddin, and other Air Force officers.

Flying Officer Badrul Alam was initially posted as Staff Officer of Bangladesh Forces (BDF) central headquarter, located at 8 Theater Road, Calcutta. In this role, he was actively involved in organizing the Mukti Bahini, which included planning and organizing resources for the valiant freedom fighters.

On September 22, 1971, Flying Officer Badrul Alam was entrusted with the duty to select pilots and technicians to form the nascent Bangladesh Air Force. These valiant freedom fighters assembled at an old Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Dimapur, Nagaland. Included in this group were three ex-PAF pilots and six civilian pilots, as well as 48 airmen.

At the request of the Bangladesh government, India provided a DC-3, an Otter, and an Alouette III Helicopter. These aircrafts were modified with rocket pods and machine guns. On September 28, 1971, the Bangladesh Air Force flag was hoisted in the presence of Air Marshal PC Lal, Chief of Indian Air Force, and Group Captain AK Khandaker, Deputy Chief of Staff of Bangladesh Armed Forces.

The crew of Kilo Flight went through very intensive training in hostile hilly terrain, day and night, to prepare themselves for the ultimate objective of wrestling the independence of Bangladesh from the occupying Pakistani forces.

Kilo Flight has the honour of starting the final phase of the Bangladesh Liberation War. On the night of December 3, 1971, Sqn Ldr Sultan Mahmud and Flt Lt Badrul Alam took off from Kailashahar, Tripura in their Alouette III Helicopter.

They attacked Fatullah oil depot, Narayangang, in the early hours of December 4, 1971, and destroyed six fuel tanks completely using rockets attached to their helicopter. Simultaneously, Flt Lt Shamsul Alam and Capt Akram attacked the fuel depots in Chittagong with their Otter aircraft and destroyed the facilities there.

As a result of these two operations, the fuel supply lifeline of the Pakistan armed forces was severely disrupted. The formal war between the combined forces of Bangladesh and India with Pakistan started with these operations of Kilo Flight.

Subsequently, Flt Lt Badrul Alam took part in attacking the Pakistani troops in support of the Indian Army in Narshingdi, Sylhet, and Kulaura. Flt Lt Badrul Alam carried out 16 ground missions from December 3 to December 15, 1971. The Alouette III Helicopter was extensively pockmarked by bullets from the Pakistan Army.

Post-independence

Sqn Ldr Badrul Alam was fully involved in the formation of the Bangladesh Air Force, particularly its helicopter wing. He also provided ground support to the Bangladesh Army in its operations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Wing Commander Sultan Mahmud, BU, and Sqn Ldr Badrul Alam, BU, were the only VVIP pilots in helicopters, and were responsible for carrying all VVIPs around the country. Sqn Ldr Badrul Alam was entrusted most of the time to fly Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, around Bangladesh.

He was also the first chief flying instructor of the BAF Training Unit and, along with Wing Commander Sultan Mahmud, was responsible for forming the Training Unit of BAF, which later became the Bangladesh Air Force Academy.

As a freedom fighter, a patriot, and a professional soldier, Badrul Alam was deeply saddened by the brutal killing of the father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, along with his entire family save two daughters, on the fateful night of August 15, 1975, by a number of disgruntled army officers, some of whom were freedom fighters too.

He spent many a sleepless night agonising over the cruel, mindless, and heinous act where the killers even didn’t spare the life of a 10-year-old infant and a pregnant woman. He took a vow to exact appropriate revenge on the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

On November 3, 1975, Sqn Ldr Badrul Alam joined hands with Maj Gen Khaled Musharraf, along with other patriotic armed forces personnel, to evict the killer group who were occupying the Bangabhaban from the day the father of the nation was killed.

Although they were successful in their primary objective, the jubilation was short-lived due to a counter coup by a renegade group on November 7, 1975. For his role on November 3, 1975, when he flew sorties with his helicopter against the cavalry unit based at Ramna, Alam and seven other officers of BAF were court martialed; Badrul Alam was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Later, the punishment was reduced to nine years, and he was sent to jail. After nine months, he was released and on 26th March, 1980 his court martial was completely squashed and he was retired, with the entire period from 1975 to 1980 converted into leave without any benefits. 

What a travesty of justice and righteousness, when a legendary hero of the Liberation War is convicted for doing the right thing and is robbed of his dignity and pride for which he took the risk of his life and crossed that Rubicon line mentioned above!

In 1977, Badrul Alam joined Bangladesh Biman but resigned after six months due to political problems. He then joined Libyan Air Force as an Instructor in helicopters. Badrul Alam returned back to Bangladesh at the end of 1980 and joined Bangladesh Biman again in 1981. In Biman, he flew, F-27, ATP, Airbus 310 and DC-10, both as Captain and as First Officer.

Nurul Alam is a retired Executive of the World Bank and former Lecturer of Chittagong University. Badrul Alam is his eldest brother.

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