Military as an organisation for defence and aggression was in existence from ancient times. But forms of the military in terms of weapon, modes of war, vehicles, hardware and civil supply, recruitment and training, etc has been an ever changing affair. The size and complexity of the military was contingent on the size of the state.
Ancient times Reference to an organised army during the ancient times can be had from different sources. The Senapati or Mahasenapati was the highest military officer of the state, the Commander-in-Chief of the King's army. Separate officers under the supervision of Mahasenapati managed the various divisions of the army viz., infantry, cavalry, elephants and war-boats. Horses had to be procured from distant lands in the north-west and north-east. The phrase Gauda-Malava-Khasha-Huna-Kulika-Karnata-Lata, which occurs in most of the inscriptions of the Palas, can be interpreted to refer to the fact that different tribal people and people from different areas of India were absorbed in the service of the state. Also, there are references in the inscriptions to some special officers such as Kottapala, in charge of forts, and Prantapala, the Warden of the Marches. The list of officials available in the Pala records, however, shows many other names as well. But in view of the absence of sufficient clarity regarding their meaning, their functions cannot be properly ascertained.
The inscriptions of the Chandras, the Varmans and the Senas show a great similarity with those of the Palas in respect of the portions referring to the administrative machinery. In some places these records, however, unfold few new developments. Two new names like the Mahavyuhapati (the chief military officer) and the Mahapilupati (officer-in-charge of the elephant force) appeared respectively in the Chandra, Varman and Sena copperplates and the Varman and Sena inscriptions. [Chitta Ranjan Misra]
Sultani rule Since the very existence of the medieval rule in Bengal, as in elsewhere in India, depended heavily on the military strength, the sultans had well-organised army. The establishment of authority over the subjugated but not too submissive population, and the threat of expansionist policy of the Delhi sultans necessitated the maintenance of strong armed forces composed of cavalry, artillery, infantry and elephants and navy, of which the sultan himself was the chief.
Because of the geo-physical and climatic conditions, it was not feasible to use cavalry through out the year in Bengal. The cavalry was probably the weakest component of the Bengal army. Good quality horses were not available in this part and the sultans had to depend on the supply of horses from foreign countries. The sar-i-khail was the chief of the cavalry.
The artillery was an important section and the Mughal ruler babur characterised it as a very effective part of the Bengal army. De Barros opined that the military supremacy of the Bengal army over that of Arakan and Tippera was largely due to the efficiency of the artillery. The artillery used cannons and guns of various sizes.
The paiks formed the vital part of the Bengal infantry during this period. There were occasions when the paiks also tackled political situations. The special battle array of the foot-soldiers who used bows, arrows and guns, attracted the attention of Babur.
Elephants seemed to have played an important part in the Bengal army. Apart from carrying war materials, elephants were also used for the movement of the armed personnel. In riverine Bengal the usefulness of elephants, though very slow, could not be minimised.
The navy was of prime necessity in riverine Bengal. In fact, the cavalry could ensure the hold over this country for a period of six months whereas the boats backed by the paiks could command supremacy over the other half of the year. Since the time of iwaz khalji who first organised a naval force in Bengal, the war boats had been playing an important role in the political affairs of the country. The chief of the admiralty, mir bahr had multifarious responsibilities. His duties seemed (a) to build boats of all kinds for river transport; (b) to fit out strong boats for transporting war elephants; (c) to recruit efficient seamen; (d) to supervise the rivers and (e) to collect tolls at the ferry ghats. Though an indispensable part of the military department, the efficiency of the navy eroded towards the end of the Husain Shahi period.
Apart from the maintenance of well-trained armed forces, the sultans depended heavily for their defence on the forts. The impregnable fortresses like ekdala and Basankot played important roles in protecting the sovereignty of the Bengal kingdom from the repeated onslaughts of the Delhi emperors. The hurriedly built mud-walled fort was a common defence stratagem in Bengal. The soldiers were paid salary, and meals were provided. The paymaster was called ariz-i-laskar.
Mughal rule The provincial mir bahr, the chief of the nawarah (flotilla), had to maintain the river and sea ports in good condition, to guard and supervise river communications and to keep the flotilla in good order. In riverine Bengal where the utility of the nawara was immense, the mir bahr was often required to assist the subahdar and the bakshi by providing naval fleet.
Each sarkar was placed in charge of a faujdar (military governor). Appointed by the emperor on the advice of the wazir, the faujdar was responsible for the maintenance of peace and proper implementation of the imperial edicts. Working under the close supervision of the subahdar, the faujdar was to assist the revenue officials in collecting dues from the recalcitrant zamindars and raiyats (peasants). The great majority of the population, the Hindus, were engaged in the armed forces.
The bakshi, the counterpart of the mir bakhshi (central bakshi) in the province, was responsible for the proper administration of the military department. He used to supervise the training, efficiency and discipline of the armed forces maintained by the mansabdars and it was on the basis of his certification, the salary was disbursed by the diwan. He also advised the subahdar on military affairs and if necessary, made arrangement for expeditions. The bakshi was to transmit the reports of the waqianavis to the central government. [Shirin Akhtar]
Colonial period The origins of modern military has no pedigree. In fact, it began from the 'factories' or warehouses of the east india company. With a farman (1634) from the emperor shahjahan, the company recruited a small number of sepoys and Europeans to guard their factories in Patna, Dhaka and Calcutta. The fort william was constructed in 1696. The fort was fortified in European style in 1698. The acquisition of the Calcutta zamindari, increase in the volume of business investment and hostile attitude of some neighbouring princes led the Company to think of building a regular army headed by European officers. Formerly Indians commanded the 'factory' guards who were required to arm themselves at their own expense. Similar factory-based army was raised in other presidencies. Slowly they grew in number and strength and gradually metamorphosed into regular troops headed by regular European military men. By 1717 each of the presidencies had its own military force. In 1748, the post of Commander-in-Chief of all the Company's forces in India was instituted with Major Stringer Lawrence as the first Commander-in-Chief. Till 1754 the armies of India had Company's troops only-European and Indian mixed.
The Anglo-French rivalry in Europe and its extension to India led to the dispatch of the Royal troops from England who joined the Indian Sepoy Army in 1754. But the two armies remained separate in organisation and command. Royal troops, Company's European troops and the Company's sepoy troops maintained their separate existence under separate command. During war time the Company's native and European armies used to come under the command of the Royal Army.
The first Indian battalion in Bengal was organised by robert clive shortly before the battle of palashi and the battalion thus organised was nicknamed the Lal Paltan. 'Platoon' is an English word. It is derived from the French word 'peloton' and both or either may be considered to be the origin of the Indian word 'paltan'. The establishment of the British rule following the battle of Palashi, necessitated the corresponding expansion of the Indian Army. The army was reorganised in 1796 when the number of British officers greatly increased. The Indian infantry regiments were formed by linking the existing battalions, which necessitated for the first time the renumbering of units. The period between 1796 and the sepoy revolt of 1857 witnessed great acquisitions to the Company's territories and consequently the three Presidency armies also grew 'to such an extent as to lead eventually to the abolition of these armies'.
The effect of the revolt upon the military service was little short of a revolution. A Royal Commission was set up in 1858 to investigate and report on the subject. The Commission had submitted its report in March 1859, and on the basis of its recommendation the Indian Army was thoroughly organised. The distinction between 'Royal troops' and the 'Company's European troops' disappeared, they all became British regiments of the Line. The Bengal Army was also reorganised. Before the revolt, there had been two descriptions of Indian soldiers, the regular and the irregular. Under the former system, a regiment of Indian Cavalry had 23 European officers and 13 Indian commissioned officers. The Indian infantry in Bengal consisted of 26 European officers and 20 Indian commissioned officers. The number of other ranks varied in the three Presidencies. Under the irregular system, a regiment had but three to five European officers, generally a Commandant, a Second in Command, and an Adjutant.
During the revolt of 1857, almost the whole of the Bengal Army, except only a few regiments, deserted their camps through uncertainty and reprisal. The Bengal Army was disbanded and reorganised in 1861. The Royal Commission of 1858 recommended that the army should be composed of different nationalities and castes, and as a general rule, be mixed promiscuously through each regiment. The Indian regiments were thus constituted under four different systems ie, general mixture, class company mixture, regimental mixture, and the village system.
The General Mixture system consisted of different races and castes throughout the companies of regiments, ie, each company or troop consisted of a variety of races and castes. The Class Company Mixture was the one in which each company of a regiment consisted of different race or caste. The Regimental Mixture consisted of a particular caste or race in a regiment. The Village System consisted of inhabitants of a particular village or district in a regiment. In short, the government's policy had been for divide et impera. The maintenance of equilibrium between different regions and classes and the careful prevention of preponderance of any particular class had been the chief consideration in the composition of Indian regiments. The policy adopted was essentially based upon mistrust of the Indian troops that had influenced the British military policy almost during the whole period of their rule in India. The Indians had been carefully excluded from the artillery and from all branches of the military service that required any scientific knowledge and confidentiality.
In 1895, the three Presidency Armies were integrated into an Indian Army which was divided into four commands: Punjab, Bengal, Madras (including Burma) and Bombay (including Sind, Quetta and Aden). Each of these was placed under the command of a Lieutenant General. The new set up brought all the Command Forces under centralised control of the Commander-in-Chief of British India.
Before 1918 Indians were not eligible to hold the King's Commissions which were exclusively British preserves. Between the European Commissioned Officers and the Indian rank and file, there was an intermediate class known as the Viceroy's Commissioned Officers. In an Indian infantry battalion, he occupied the position of a platoon commander while a British subaltern with the King's Commission acted as his superior officer.
However, in recognition of the faithful services rendered by the Indian troops abroad during the war of 1914-18, and also to meet the demand of nationalist political parties, Indians were declared eligible to hold the King's Commission. Ten places a year were allotted to them at Sandhurst. A Cadet School was opened at Indore for 50 cadets in October 1918. The Prince of Wales Royal Military College was opened at Dehra Dun in March 1922 with a capacity of 70 cadets. In addition, a number of King's Commissions were also given to select non-commissioned personnel. A few commissions were also given to graduates of the Indore Cadet College.
In 1923, the method of Indianisation was altered to a special form under what is known as the eight units scheme. Under the new system, Indian officers with the King's Commission were to be posted exclusively to selected units. Eight units were set aside for Indianisation, two of cavalry, one of 'Pioneers' and 5 of infantry. In 1927, the Indians were made eligible to technical branches of the Indian Army such as Mountain Artillery and Sappers and Miners. It was also decided to set on foot the creation of a separate Indian Air Force to be officered exclusively by Indians except perhaps for a few volunteers from the Royal Air Force in the earlier stages.
It was also resolved in 1927 to establish an Indian Military College in India, and the 'Indian Sandhurst' was established in 1933. Intake into the new college had been fixed at 60 a year. The age of entry was fixed between 18 and 20. The college would provide a three years' course of which the first year was to be devoted mainly to general studies and the other two mainly to military training. The competitive examination was to be conducted by the Public Service Commission in India.
Before the outbreak of the Second World War, 60 Indians and 120 British officers were commissioned in the Indian Army every year. The regular entry was stopped during the war and only Emergency Commissions were granted to suitable gentlemen after a six months' training. In October 1939, out of a total of over 4000 officers there had been only 400 Indian officers, while in October 1945 there were 8340 Emergency Commissioned Indian officers out of the grand total of 42,930.
The division of the British-Indian Army into two national armies accompanied the partition of British India into two independent states of India and Pakistan in 1947. The division of the Indian Armed Forces was agreed upon at a meeting of the Partition Council on 30 June 1947 with the Viceroy in the chair. Lord Ismay, Chief of Staff to the Viceroy and Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, the Commander-in-Chief in India provided its framework. The division had to be made on a communal basis and movable stores, equipment and other assets had to be divided between the two Dominions in the same proportions according to the strength of the two armies. The figures were fixed for the two armies in the following way: India 64% and Pakistan 36%. [Atful Hye Shibly]
Pakistan period The Pakistan Army was formed of the Muslim troops of the British-Indian Army. The old Northern Army Headquarters was being hurriedly filled up as a temporary army headquarters to be moved eventually to Karachi and the only new command was the East Pakistan Sub-Area formed to command and control the units in that wing. The new Sub-Area Head Quarter had to be formed in Dhaka to control the troops in East Pakistan. mohammad ayub khan, the first General Officer Commanding in East Pakistan had narrated vividly the situation prevalent in the province: 'there was no army. All we had in East Pakistan were two infantry battalions; we had very poor accommodation at Headquarters; there was no table, no chair, no stationery, we had virtually nothing at all; not even any maps of East Pakistan'.
The infantry was composed of men exclusively from West Pakistan. It was thus imperative to raise a regiment in East Pakistan and accordingly on 15 February 1948, the 1st Battalion (Senior Tigers), East Bengal Regiment was raised from the two Bengal Muslim Pioneer Companies (1256 and 1407) from the Bihar Regiment. These two Pioneer Companies were mainly composed of the Bangali Muslims who fought bravely in the Burma sector during the Second World War and as such had been retained by the British Government with the mainstream of the British-Indian Army. Dhaka became known as the Army Headquarters of the new East Pakistan Sub-Area.
The 2nd Battalion was raised in December 1948. The East Bengal Regiment was born and flourished under the direct supervision of Major abdul gani and Colonel mohammad ataul ghani osmany, the two illustrious military stalwarts who had made great contribution towards the gradual development of the Regiment. The Regiment was extended from eight to twelve battalions during the Bangladesh war of liberation, 1971. [Atful Hye Shibly]
Bangladesh period Bangladesh Army emerged through the war of liberation that continued from March 1971 to December 1971, while its history dates back to the days of British rule in India. During the British era, there had been some sporadic intakes of Bengali troops in British Indian Army. During the World War II, the two pioneer companies predominantly manned by Bangali Muslims, made a mark by fighting gallantly in the Burma front. Later in 1947, these two companies were inducted in Pakistan Army. A Bangali officer of Pakistan Army, Major Abdul Ghani took the initiative to organise these two companies into a battalion group. Thus on 15 February 1948, the East Bengal Regiment was raised at Kurmitola, Dhaka. From February 1948 to March 1971, eight infantry units were raised. On 25 March 1971, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 8th East Bengal Regiments were located at Jessore, Joydevpur, Rangpur, Comilla and Chittagong cantonments respectively while 5th, 6th and 7th East Bengal Regiments remained stranded in West Pakistan.
Formation of Bangladesh Army On the night of 25 March 1971, the Pakistan Army cracked down on unarmed Bangalis of the then East Pakistan, and the five East Bengal Regiments located in East Pakistan revolted and initiated an armed struggle that continued till the victory was achieved on 16 December 1971. The government of Bangladesh was formed in exile on 10 April 1971, and it appointed Colonel MAG Osmany, a member of the National Assembly and a retired officer of Pakistan Army, the Commander-in-Chief of the Bangladesh Liberation Forces. The revolting members of the East Bengal Regiments constituted the core of the newly formed Liberation Forces popularly known as 'Mukti Bahini' while its other elements were composed of the members of para military forces and the people of all walks of life.
The Liberation Forces was operationally organised into eleven sectors commanded by the leading senior Bangali military officers of the Pakistan Army. Sector-1 was commanded by Major ziaur rahman, Sector-2 by Major khaled mosharraf, Sector-3 by Major K M Safiullah, Sector-4 by Major C R Datta, Sector-5 by Major Mir Shawkat Ali, Sectro-6 by Wing Commander m khademul bashar, Sector-7 by Major Kazi Nuruzzaman, Sector-8 by Major Abu Osman Chowdhury, Sector-9 by Major MA Jalil. Sector-10 was demarcated for naval commando operations, and the ports of Chittagong, Narayanganj, Mongla including coastal areas of Bangladesh were within the operational responsibility of this sector. Sector-11 was commanded by Major Abu Taher.
As the war progressed, the requirement of developing a national army came to the fore and accordingly three brigades were raised comprising the regular units of the East Bengal Regiment. Thus first brigade was raised as 'Z' force on 17 July 1971 with 1st, 3rd and 8th East Bengal Regiments under Lieutenant Colonel Ziaur Rahman. The second brigade was raised as 'K' force in September 1971 with 4th, 9th and 10th East Bengal Regiments under Lieutenant Colonel Khaled Mosharraf. The third brigade was raised in September 1971 as 'S' force with 2nd and 11th East Bengal Regiments under Lieutenant Colonel KM Safiullah. Later, two artillery batteries were also raised and placed' under 'Z' Force.
Expansion of Bangladesh Army' After the War of Liberation, the Headquarters of Bangladesh Forces was shifted from Calcutta to old Air Headquarters at Dhaka Cantonment. On 15 March 1972, it was again shifted to its present location, the former Headquarters of 14 Infantry Division of Pakistan Army. The Forces Headquarters was then renamed as General Headquarters (GHQ), which began to expand fast in a conventional manner. By January 1972 as many as 11 Infantry units came up while 5th, 6th and 7th East Bengal Regiments remained stranded in Pakistan. Within a very short period of time eight more units were raised.
Keeping in view the requirement of the quick expansion of the army, the GHQ soon ordered the formation of five infantry brigades in the five cantonments of the country. Thus 'Z' Force was moved from Sylhet to Comilla Cantonment to form an Infantry Brigade. 'S' Force, already located in Dhaka, began to function as an Infantry brigade and 'K' Force was moved to Jessore Cantonment from Chittagong to form another Infantry Brigade. Besides, two more Infantry Brigades were also raised at Chittagong and Rangpur Cantonments. In April 1972, the Joint Headquarters of the three Services of Bangladesh Forces was abolished and separate Headquarters for the three Services were established under the Ministry of Defence.
Meanwhile, the Bangali officers and troops who were stranded in Pakistan since 1971 came back and joined the Bangladesh Army in 1973. The Jatiya Rakshi Bahini raised immediately after the Liberation War was disbanded and its members were also inducted in Bangladesh Army in November 1975.
The expansion of Bangladesh Army got a new dimension with the raising of the first Infantry Division at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Dhaka in 1975. Thereafter the Bangladesh Army began to expand at an accelerated pace with the raising of four more Infantry Divisions in 1976, and two more Divisions in 1988 and 1992 respectively. The raising of these Infantry Divisions also resulted in the lateral expansion of other units as essential elements of different arms and services needed to support each Infantry Division.
Organisational pattern Bangladesh army with its seven division strength is organised to unit level like any modern army of the world. The Chief of Army Staff commands the Army from the Army Headquarters, located at Dhaka Cantonment. Four Principal Staff Officers and an Engineer-in-Chief of the rank of Major General aid him. These five Generals head the five main branches (GS, AG, QMG, MGO and E-in-C's branch) of the Army Headquarters and coordinate the operation, training and administration of the whole Army. Again each Infantry Division is commanded by a General Officer Commanding of the rank of a Major General. A division is composed of 2/3 infantry brigades and an artillery brigade along with Engineers, Signals, Services, Ordnance, Medical, EME and other concerned units. On the other hand, an infantry brigade is usually composed of 2/3 infantry units and affiliated by a few elements of other arms and services. A Brigadier General commands a brigade while a unit is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel. An infantry unit is structured with rifle companies and equipped with rifles, light and heavy machine guns, mortars and anti-tank weapons.
Training institutions' Bangladesh Army, in the process of its reorganisation and expansion after the War of Liberation, felt the necessity of establishing institutions to equip the officers and soldiers with better professional knowledge in their respective arms and services. These are:
i. School of Infantry and Tactics (SI and T): The school started functioning in March 1973 at Comilla Cantonment and later was shifted to its present location at Jalalabad Cantonment, Sylhet. The aim of the school is to conduct courses on military tactics, weapon special military operations. Officers of various Arms and Services attend all arms courses in the school. It also runs 'special to arms' courses for infantry.
ii. Bangladesh Military Academy (BMA): The academy started functioning at Comilla Cantonment in 1974 and was shifted to Bhatiary, Chittagong in 1976. The aim of the academy is to 'make leaders of men in the army'. It is organised into one cadet battalion with 4 companies. Some foreign countries also send their cadets to undergo training in the academy.
iii. Armed Forces Medical Institute (AFMI): The institution was established in Dhaka Cantonment in January 1976 with the aim of imparting training to the officers and personnel of Army Medical Corps, Army Dental Corps and Armed Forces Nursing Services.
iv. Defence Services Command and Staff College (DSCSC): Located at Mirpur Cantonment, Dhaka, it started functioning from December 1977. The aim of the DSCSC is to prepare selected officers of the three Services for the assumption of increasing responsibilities, both in command and in the staff. The college is a joint service training institution and concurrently runs three separate courses namely, Army Staff course, Naval Staff Course and Air Staff Course. Many officers from friendly countries are also graduating from this college.
v. National Defence College (NDC): The college was established at Mirpur Cantonment, Dhaka in December 1998. The aim of the National Defence College is to prepare selected senior officers of the Armed Forces and the Civil Services for higher responsibilities in the direction and management of defence and national security. The College is organised into four wings. It runs two major courses, National Defence Course (NDC) and Armed Forces War Course (AFWC). The first NDC and AFWC Course commenced in January 1999 and 2001 respectively.
vi. Military Institute of Science and Technology (MIST): The institute started functioning from April 1998 at Mirpur Cantonment, Dhaka. The aim of the institution is to conduct under-graduate and post-graduate courses in various disciplines of Engineering, Computer Science and Information Technology (CSIT) and masters in Business Administration (MBA) for officers of Armed Forces and civil students of both home and abroad.
vii. Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC): The college was established in Dhaka Cantonment in June 1999. The aim of the institution is to train specially selected candidates for a period of five years to create a cadre of high quality career doctors both for the Armed Forces as well as for the nation.
viii. Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operation Training (BIPSOT): Located at Rajendrapur Cantonment, the institution was raised in June 1999 to prepare and train the officers and troops as individuals and team to perform UN assigned responsibilities smoothly and confidently in multi-national environment. The institution conducts various courses for officers and other ranks of the three services including civil police to develop their skill for UN Peace Support Operation.
ix. Arms/Services Centres and Schools: There are centres and schools located at different cantonments to train the personnel of the respective Arms and Services.
Bangladesh Army in UN Peacekeeping Operations' Bangladesh, at present, is the largest troops contributing country to the UN for maintenance of peace throughout the globe. Bangladesh first sent a 15-member Officers' team to the mission in 1988 known as UN Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIIMOG). The country sent its second UN peacekeeping mission to United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia. The splendid performance and conduct of the Bangladeshi peacekeepers in these first two missions, had been duly recognised and appreciated by the then Secretary General of the United Nations and it paved the way for subsequent intake of a large number of officers and troops in different UN missions. In the process by 2002, Bangladesh Army has participated in as many as twenty six united Nations peacekeeping Operation (UNPKO), namely, UNIIMOG (Iraq), UNTAG (Namibia), UNAMIC and UNTAC (Combodia), UNMLT (Combodia), UNOSOM (Somalia), UNOMUR (Uganda/Rwanda), UNOSOM-II (Somalia), ONUMOZ (Mozambique), UNOAMIR (Rwanda), UNPROFOR (Yugoslavia) UNOMIL (Liberia), UNMIH/MNF (Haiti), UNSMA (Afghanistan), UNTAES (E Slovania), UNPREDEP (Macedonia), INAVEM-III (Angola), UNMOT (Tajakistan), UNIKOM (Kuwait), MINURSO (W Sahara), UNOMIG (Georgia), UNGCI (Iraq), UNAMET/UNTAET (E Timor), UNAMSIL (Sierra Leone), UNMIK (Kosovo), MONUC and UNMEE (Ethiopia/Eritrea).
Celebration of important days' Every year 26 March is celebrated as the Independence Day and a national parade is organised at the capital with the contingents of the three services. Army celebrates 21 November with the sister services as Armed Forces Day since 1982. On this day, the members of the three services made their concerted effort for the first time, during Liberation War, to fight out the occupation forces. Likewise, 16 December is also celebrated every year as Victory Day in a befitting manner.
Recent development in Army' Though the East Bengal Regiment is the oldest establishment of the army, a new Regiment named The Bangladesh Infantry Regiment was inaugurated on 1st January 2001. The flag of this newly raised Regiment was formally hoisted on 21 April 2001. Bangladesh Army has also started recruiting women in officers' rank from the year 2000. [Saleh Uddin Khan and Syed Waheduzzaman]