Qayyum Khan, the man who fought alongside Bir Sreshtho Mohiuddin Jahangir
When West Pakistan launched a brutal military crackdown on the then East Pakistan in late March, Abdul Qayyum Khan was just a first-year student of Physics at the University of Dhaka.
Just a few days later, Qayyum was stopped and frisked by the military beside what is now known as the Abahani Playground. The army troop planned to take him to some places where they interrogated the suspects, but thanks to the presence of mind and skill in Urdu, Qayyum walked away unharmed.
But this incident helped him and some of his friends determine their next course of action.
"The first reaction to this was fear. It took a couple of days to come out of the state of deep fear," said Qayyum khan.
After this incident, Qayyum and his friends realised that they were the walking dead. "The Pakistan army could take us from our homes anytime and kill us, even kill as right there at home, or anywhere they wished. Our parents would not be able to save us," Qayyum continued.
That was when Abdul Qayyum Khan and his friends took the decision to die fighting instead.
It took a month to figure out how to get trained and join the fight. A friend first went to Motinagar near Agartala where the 4th East Bengal Regiment opened a training camp. He came back after the visit and informed other friends of the facility.
In the first week of May 1971, Qayyum and six of his friends reached Motinagar.
Having accomplished the training, Qayyum and one of his comrades was sent back to Dhaka. Their first mission was to ensure the safe passage of the families of the Bengali army officers who rebelled.
Not every family could be contacted, nor were all of them willing to take the journey. Qayyum took the wife and two sons of Major Shafaat Jamil (later Colonel, Bir Bikrom) to the other side of the border.
As Major Jamil was tasked with the reformation of 3rd East Bengal Regiment at Balurghat in South Dinajpur, India, Qayyum started working with him.
At this stage, it was realised that the ongoing guerrilla warfare would not sustain in the long run, and preparations for conventional war must be made. The provisional government of Bangladesh then decided to expand military leadership for the forces. From South Dinajpur in the West Bengal, only two fighters were selected, and Qayyum Khan was one of them.
A total of 60 selected candidates were then sent to Jalpaiguri for a 15-week training. On completion of the training, new officers were posted in different sectors. Qayyum Khan was appointed in the subsector 3 under sector 7. The commander of this subsector was Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir.
"Captain Jahangir was the only officer there. There was nobody else to help him. He was the one who recruited and trained soldiers, led them in patrolling, ambush and raids, and at the same time collected ammunition and supplies while disbursing payments to the soldiers," Qayyum described the precarious situation that he found his commander in.
Five second lieutenants were appointed under Captain Jahangir to revitalise the operations.
Recollecting the final days of the liberation war, Qayyum Khan said, "We crossed the border and fought our way towards Chapainawabganj town until 12 December when we reached the north bank of Mahananda River."
Chapainawabganj town was a stronghold of Pakistan Army, Qayyum explained. Two companies of 32 Punjab Regiment and Wing 8 of EPCAF (East Pakistan Civil Armed Force, a force that evolved from EPR) were stationed there.
The exchange of artillery and mortar shells continued for the whole day. The final battle was planned to be fought on 14 December, and 13 December would be used for recce and other preparations.
The five companies under the subsector 3 was divided into three groups. One group, consisting of two companies of soldiers led by Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir and Second Lieutenant Qayyum Khan, would launch the main attack from the west side of the town. Second lieutenants Bazlur Rashid and Rafiqul Islam would create a diversion by engaging with the EPCAF camps located on the east side of the town to keep them busy, and thus preventing reinforcement on the west side. And another company under Second Lieutenant Awal Chowdhury took up position on the north bank of the river.
The offensive began early morning on 14 December.
"It was among the most important operations in the history of our liberation war," the freedom fighter said.
"We did not have the weaponry appropriate for an assault on a town. We only had rifles, submachine guns, light machine guns and grenades," he added.
Nevertheless, Pakistan Army's first line of defence, consisting 0f bunkers, were captured by the freedom fighters very early. And within three to four hours, the fighters entered well inside the town.
Pakistan Army still held some positions on the rooftops with light machine guns and sniper rifles.
As the two companies led by Lt Khan and Captain Jahangir were making advances towards the town centre side by side, an enemy light machine gun post effectively thwarted Captain Jahangir's progress.
After some time, Captain Jahangir left his cover, crawled forward, and lobbed a grenade to neutralise the LMG post. This was when a Pak sniper shot him in the eye, and the valiant fighter died instantly.
"At that tense moment my wireless set came alive with the fateful message: the tiger is dead. The tiger is dead. That is how the martyrdom of Captain Jahangir was announced."
"His death dealt a strong blow to the operation, and it lost momentum," recalled Lt Khan. "But we did not cede the position."
The exchange of shots went on the whole night, but none of the parties lost or gained new positions.
The fighting continued on the next day, 15 December. In the meantime, bodies of the martyrs, including that of Mohiuddin Jahangir, were collected. That night, news on Indian radio was hinting that Pakistan Army could surrender any moment.
On 16 December around 2 o'clock in the morning, fighters could hear outgoing vehicles and realised that the army was leaving Chapainawabganj. The fighters, however, did not chase the army in order to avoid further casualties.
As the new Sun rose in the east, Bangladeshi forces entered the town from all directions. As they were searching the town, the news of Pak Army's surrender came in the afternoon.
The first reaction to the news was two-pronged. "We were, of course, happy that the war was over and Bangladesh was now independent. But we were extremely sad at the same time as more than 32 of our comrades, including our commander, had fallen," the freedom fighter said.
The mixed feeling was reflected in the title of the book that Abdul Qayyum Khan wrote about four decades later – "Bittersweet Victory: A Freedom Fighter's Tale" published by the University Press Ltd.
Recollecting the memory of his getting reunited with his family in Dhaka, Abdul Qayyum Khan mentioned that the roads and bridges were all demolished, and he had a hard time travelling back to Dhaka.
"But I must add that villagers with their spades and baskets came forward to repair the roads so our jeeps could pass. And they did not take a dime for the work," the freedom fighter said with a heavy, but grateful tone.