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2 lakh civilians killed in first fortnight

By Asraful Huq and Mahmudul Hasan Raju

DHAKA, March 18, 2016 (BSS) - As many as two lakh civilians were killed in the first fortnight atrocities by the Pakistani occupation forces during the War of Liberation in 1971.

"Fierce fighting raged last week in East Pakistan as Bengali towns people and peasants resisted the 'occupation army" of 80,000 West Pakistani soldiers. Reports have indicated that as many as 200, 000 civilians have been killed by the heavily armed West Pakistani troopers," said a Time Magazine report titled "The Battle of Kushtia" published on April 19, 1971.

Time correspondent Dan Coggins in his report was able to an account of brutality and bravery that took place in Kushtia after visiting embattled town of Kushtia and extensive interviews with town's people.

In his report, he said, "Kushtia, a quiet town in the rice-growing district near the broad Ganges, fell into a restless sleep on the night of March 25. Without warning, 13 jeeps and trucks came to a halt, outside Kushtia's police station. It was 10:30 on the night the war broke out. Delta Company of the 27th Baluch Regiment had arrived from its base at Jessore cantonment 60 miles to the south ."

"The 147 men of the company quickly disarmed some 500 Bengali policemen without meeting any resistance and then occupied four additional key points: the district police headquarters, the government office building, the VHF radio transmitter and Zilla school for boys."

Talking about the Bengalees move to resist the Pakistani occupation forces, he wrote, "At 4.30am on March 31, a force of some 5,000 peasants and policemen launched a campaign. Thousands of people thronged the streets shouting "Joi Bangla" (Victory to Bengal) ! The soldiers apparently panicked at the thought of being engulfed by so many thousands of furious Bengalees."

Quoting a Pakistani soldier Naik Subedar (senior sergeant) Mohammad Ayub, he said, "We were very surprised, we thought the Bengalee force were about a size of one company like ourselves. We didn't know everybody was against us."

An eyewitness account of the situation in the western section of East Pakistan, written by the economist and the mission member, Hendrik van der Heijden, described the town of Kushtia as looking "like a world war-II German town having undergone strategic bombing attacks" as a result of 12 days of "punitive action" undertaken by the West Pakistani army.

Headed by a Briton, I.P.M. Cargill, director of the World Bank's South Asia department, a special World Bank mission, visited the then East Pakistan between May 30 and June 11 to assess the effects of the central Government's repression on the Bengalees.

The New York Times on July 13, 1971 carried out news items titled "World Bank Unit Says Pakistan Aid Is Pointless Now" written by Tad Szulc on the basis of the report. Describing the situation of Kushtia town, Mr van der Heijden reported that "90 per cent of the houses, shops, banks, and other buildings were totally destroyed" and that the population was down from 40,000 to 5,000."