Zia That I Knew: A Flashback

  • May 27, 2009 at 12:30 AM

By Abu Obaid Chowdhury from New York, USA

Following my defection from Pakistan Army in 1971 and after being cleared by the Indian and Mujibnagar authorities, I was posted to ‘Z Force’ of Lt Col Ziaur Rahman in the eastern theater of Bangladesh liberation war. The nearly 20-day journey took me from Lahore to Khemkaran to Ferozepur to Delhi to Kolkata to Agartala and finally to Masimpur, the 4 sector headquarters of Lt Col C R Dutta (later Major General).
As I reached my temporary accommodation, I heard a familiar voice next room. He was talking to Col Dutta. I went to check and found a gentleman in uniform, somewhat tired, half lying on the bamboo made platform, used as bed. It was dark and I could not see the face clearly. I wished him and introduced myself. He sat down and said, “So you are the Captain who came to raise my artillery unit. Sit down.”
I still could not make out who the person was, though looked familiar. 2/Lt Sajjad Ali Zahir (later Lt Col), another defectee from West Pakistan and posted to my unit, joined me at Agartala. He followed me to the room. As I introduced Sajjad to the man, almost instantly the name flashed across my mind.
“He is Col Ziaur Rahman”, I said to Sajjad. Earlier, then Major Ziaur Rahman was an instructor in the military academy when I was a cadet and his solid, deep voice was well known to me.On his query, I had to tell Col Zia my defection story—how I crossed the Lahore-Khemkaran border in a military jeep, how I survived after falling with the jeep in the Kasur River, who I reported to at India’s Rajoke cantonment etc. He seemed to know the route and area pretty well. Somewhat surprised, I asked how he knew the names of those villages, tracks, BRB canal, barriers etc. “I was fighting the Indians there in 1965 with 1 E Bengal Regiment”, Zia said.
After dinner, Zia left for his headquarters at Kailashahar. Before leaving he told me to take stock of my unit at Kukital and report to him in a day or two to find out what I needed to make the unit battle worthy within the shortest possible time. Capt Oli Ahmed (later Col and BNP Minister) and my Sialkot time friend Capt M A Halim (later Maj Gen), Brigade Major and Quartermaster respectively at Z Force, were very helpful in providing me with the material support I needed.

Time Magazine on Zia Assassination

 

Ten years ago this spring, young Major Ziaur Rahman broadcast an electrifying message from a clandestine radio in the East Pakistan city of Chittagong, proclaiming a rebellion against West Pakistan that ultimately created the nation of Bangladesh. Late last week there was another voice on the radio from Chittagong, announcing that Major General Manjur, 40, had taken over the government and abrogated the country’s 1972 friendship treaty with India. The hero of a decade ago, President Ziaur Rahman, only 45, lay dead with two aides and six bodyguards in a government rest house in Chittagong. All were reportedly shot by an assassination squad, led by Manjur, in the early morning hours Saturday.

Manjur’s confident proclamation of a coup seemed premature. The official Bangladesh radio in the capital of Dacca assured the country’s 90 million people that the government was safely in the hands of Vice President Abdus Sattar. The government declared a state of emergency and called upon the rebels to surrender. Moreover, stressed the state radio, all international agreements remained in force.

Bangladesh’s long-troubled relations with India, the country that had helped it win independence, seemed to be at the heart of the assassination. The two nations are divided by bitter issues primarily concerning the lower Ganges River, which meanders through both countries as it flows out into a vast delta. Tensions have built up over rights to the Ganges water, various solutions to the water question and territorial claims to islands formed by silt at the mouth of a boundary river. The sovereignty question is particularly volatile: there are hopes of finding oil under nearby waters. While Zia had pressed India strenuously on the diplomatic front—even sending gunboats to one of the ‘disputed islands last month—he was apparently not aggressive enough for a fiercely anti-Indian element with a strong base in Chittagong. The assassins were apparently linked to these militants.

The slain Zia had been one of South Asia’s most promising leaders, a man who lived modestly while others chose corruption, who searched tirelessly for solutions to his country’s awesome poverty. He was also a fatalist. Once, reflecting on his service for Pakistan in the 1965 war with India over Kashmir, he observed: “There is no scientific explanation for a man to die or live. In front of me many people died, but I got a bonus of life.” He used that bonus well, but last week it ran out.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,922557,00.html#ixzz1145qXRfg