Ziaur Rahman and the ‘Force’

The force was never with late president Ziaur Rahman.

DUCSU was then under BNP’s student wing Chhatra Dal (JCD) control, so was majority of the dorms of DU. JCD was overwhelmingly single largest students’ party at DU campus. At that time, when two new dorms were built at DU, they were named Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Hall and Muktijoddha Ziaur Rahman Hall.

Today, Prothom-Alo gave single column 3 inches bottom of first page treatment to Zia’s death anniversary and the news item started this way, “Ex-President, Sector commander and Z force leader Ziaur Rahman’s…”.

With these exceptional nice treatments, the very powerful journalist-intellectual-academia Force of Bangladesh, in addition to a big chunk of the general population, carry and promote a very predictable deeply rooted image of Zia.

To this half of the country,

1. Zia, an army general and military dictator is the killer of democracy in Bangladesh.
2. Zia allowed re-establish Jamaat in Bangladesh.
3. Zia killed many freedom fighter army officers including Col Taher, Khaled Mosharraf etc.
4. Zia was a ruthless in suppression of press freedom.

The force, passion behind this accusation is so intense that the supporters of Zia were gratified when Zia was generously donated the title of a freedom fighter by the same force which promoted the above mentioned allegations against Zia.

On the face of intense passionate propaganda against Zia, a mere recognition of him as a freedom fighter was enough for Zia sympathizers and silent supporters.
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President Ziaur Rahman (1936-1981): In Memoriam

I hear… of your recent saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Only those generals who gain success can set up military dictatorships. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.”

– Abraham Lincoln, message to General Joseph Hooker, Army of the Potomac

May 30 is the 28th anniversary of President Ziaur Rahman’s death. It came approximately 10 years and 2 months after he gave a radio announcement, from Chittagong, declaring the Independence of Bangladesh on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, then in the custody of the Pakistani Army.

During our Independence War, he was Sector Commander over much of today’s Chittagong Division, and commander of Bangladesh Army’s ‘Z” brigade. At the end of the war, with Pakistani forces crumbling before the assault of joint Indo-Bangladeshi forces and surrendering on 16 December 1971, he was awarded the Bir Uttom.

At the onset of independence, Zia became one of the senior-most officers of the Bangladesh Army. His performance during the nine-month war and his radio announcement at the onset of the war marked him as different from his fellow officers. He was made Brigade Commander of Comilla, close to where his force had done most of the fighting during the war.
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Remembering Major Zia

“The greater number is generally composed of men of sluggish tempers, slow to act . . . they are unwilling to take early and vigorous measures for their defense, and they are almost always caught unprepared. . . .A smaller number, more expedite, awakened, active, vigorous and courageous, make amends for what they want in weight by their superabundance of velocity.’” — Edmund Burke

May 30 will be the 30th anniversary of the death of Ziaur Rahman. In March 1971, he had been one of the many junior Bengali officers in the Pakistani Army, junior to individuals like Brigadier Majumdar and Lt. Col. M. R. Chowdhury. Four years later, in November 1975, he was the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Bangladeshi Army, held in house-arrest as jets flew over Bangabhaban and Khaled Musharraf and Abu Taher played out their deadly game of thrones. In six more years, on the eve of his death, he was the President of Bangladesh.

In contrast to the lilliputs in uniform who followed him and aspired to be him, Zia never tried to overthrow a civilian government. The political party he founded, BNP, is alive and well, itself a minor miracle. Three times, BNP has formed a government by election; three times, it has had to face a coup by some parts of the military and civilian bureaucracy aimed at ejecting it from power. It is again winning elections, even after being subjected to the most intense program of repression that we have seen in post-1990 Bangladesh.
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About the verdict on Colonel Taher trial

While giving the verdict on the legality of the punishment of Colonel Taher, the high-court bench of Justices Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Zakir Hossain declared that the whole trial process was illegal and it was in fact a cold blooded murder of Taher by Late president Ziaur Rahman.

What high-court did to come to this conclusion? They interviewed one shoddy journalist character Lawrence lifshultz, who is a political follower of Taher’s communist doctrine. Other interviewed are also 1. Political opponents of Ziaur Rahman’s political platform 2. Supporters of ruling party who took it as their prime job to destroy Zia’s image 3. Political followers of Colonel Taher. Even the judges who delivered the justice, are publicly known nemesis of Ziaur Rahman’s ideology and are former leaders of socialist political platform based on Taher’s doctrine. And this is probably the first court proceeding in Bangladesh history where an witness could simply deliver his opinion via e mail to a third person. There was no ‘balai’ of oath taking, cross examination etc.

Before we go further into what these two judges did and what their judgment means, lets see what Taher in fact did back in early 70s.
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Can AL finish what BNP started?

If one asks BNP activists to say a few things about Ziaur Rahman, it will be difficult to find many who know more than two words, “Swadhinotar Ghoshok”. Since Zia’s death, his own political platform has been in power longer than any other political party. Yet there has been a miserable failure in projecting the late president and his contributions to the post-Zia generations.

Since his death, Zia has been among the most divisive figures in Bangladesh. Until very recently, one’s opinion about Zia could be used reliably as the indicator of one’s political orientation. Those with largely positive views about Zia’s contribution voted consistently against Awami League candidates, while it used to be rare to find an Awami League voter who would have a positive perception of Zia. Hence in electoral politics, BNP used to get easy votes riding on the late president’s high personal popularity.

However, the 2008 election was a rude awakening for BNP as it found that the easy free lunch of votes on Zia image has either disappeared or emotion for Zia is no longer strong enough to ensure automatic vote for BNP.
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Ziaur Rahman: the kind of statesman we need now

Today is the 30th death anniversary of President Ziaur Rahman. This anniversary comes at a time when Zia, his image, contribution and his philosophy are under fiercest attack ever.

After decades of relentless attack on Zia, the war hero and Zia the statesman, after abysmal failure of Zia’s party to portray him appropriately and effectively, it is no surprise if much of new generation Bangladeshis carry a faulty perception of Ziaur Rahman.

These days we talk a lot about bringing forward-looking youthfulness in our politics. And we also talk a lot about coming out of the slippery slope of hatred and vengeance and create a politics of reconciliation. We keep on hoping, hopelessly, for political leaders with courage and honesty.
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The Birth of Our Nation — Ziaur Rahman

Earlier we posted articles by Shafiullah and Khaled Mosharraf. Over the fold is the article by Ziaur Rahman. This first appeared on the Dainik Bangla 26 March 1972, and was reprinted in Bichitra on 26 March 1974. Regardless of their actions in 1975 and afterwards, and our political views based on today’s vantage points, Zia-Khaled-Shafiullah were our heroes in 1971. Lest we forget.

Independence Day greetings.

(Acknowledgement: Arif bhai for the original article, Tacit for translating the Zia piece).

Right after the birth of Pakistan, when Mr. Jinnah announced in our historic Dhaka city that Urdu and only Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan, it felt as if Bengali nationalism became firmly fixed in my heart, and in the heart of all Bengalis. The contours of the Bengali nation took shape in us. The founder of the Pakistani state himself guaranteed the destruction of his unnatural creation – right here in Dhaka. Standing here in this historic city, Mr. Jinnah trampled on the birthright of our population. As a result, it is in Dhaka that his Pakistan was torn asunder. Dhaka had the last laugh on Mr. Jinnah and his followers. Dhaka was always a place of humanist values and free thought. It is appropriate that it acted as the font of our freedom. It now represents the hopes and aspirations of our long-repressed populace.

The people of Dhaka struggled heroically to free our beloved motherland. They resisted the invaders with bravery and courage. Thus the barbarian Pakistani military was forced to surrender right here at Dhaka. I stepped into Dhaka’s holy soil only a few days after the surrender of our enemies. My first thought was to offer my unconditional respect to the fighting people of Dhaka.

A journalist asked me to write something about those dreary days just a few weeks after the Pakistanis surrendered. I am a soldier. Writing is a gift from the Almighty. We soldiers do not naturally possess this gift. However, that historic moment was so epochal, that I had to set down my feelings.

The unnatural state of Pakistan was born with the partition of India. Our family went to Karachi right afterwards. There I matriculated in 1952 and joined the Pakistan Military Academy as an officer cadet. Ever since then, I worked for the armed forces in various capacities.

The insincere attitude held by Pakistanis towards us used to irk me since my school days. I knew they hated us. While at school, I listened to the discussion of many of my classmates who were merely parroting what their parents said. The youth of Pakistan were always taught to think of us Bengalis as inferior beings. These ideas were constantly drilled into their impressionable minds. It was not in my power to reply back all the time, but I used to do so whenever possible. I used to feel the desire to hit back against the mindset that gave birth to such thoughts. I used to feel the urge to rebel against the very idea of the Pakistani state that allowed such discrimination, and take up arms against the Pakistanis. This desire strengthened within me; waiting for the right place and the right time.
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Zia- the freedom fighter, visionary leader and a failed lagacy

In the pages of Bangladesh interest blogs, where you will be labeled BNP supporter if you dare disagree with even a single policy of Sheikh Hasina and where neutrality is a hated concept, one needs a lot of courage to write a tribute to Late President Ziaur Rahman. And I decide to take the unwise step to show the arrogance of writing a blog on Ziaur Rahman, foreseeing a barrage of attacks and a bleeding myself at the end of the ordeal.

A quarter of a century passed since President Ziaur Rahman was assassinated by a group of ranking army officers. Before being assassinated he could rule Bangladesh for around five years. Here are some of my observations about Zia, his life and death, the people’s love and the legacy.
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Colonel Taher: A Hero or A Villain?

This was written for Uttorshuri in two installments on Taher Day during July 2006. I am re-posting this on the eve of November 7. This post is not intended to demonize veteran Freedom fighter and ambitious patriotic leader Colonel Abu Taher. No one argues that Col Taher was a patriot and he wanted to prosper Bangladesh in a way he believed to be right way.

Every year late freedom fighter Colonel Taher’s death anniversary is observed with discussions about his life, his dreams, visions, achievements and his valor. Newspapers publish memoirs, detail articles and columns demanding justice for Taher Killing.

The events of this year included an additional element; speeches and interviews by American journalist Lawrence Lifschultz leading a campaign for Taher’s retrial.

Lawrence Lifschultz, in his speeches, urges the concerned authorities for ensuring a fair re-trial of

1. Jail killing of four national leaders
2. Taher death sentence
3. The freedom fighters killed during coups against Zia rule
4. General Manzur’s Killing
5. Death sentence and execution of freedom fighter officers convicted of murdering Zia.

Some of these demands are quite logical and to set the records straight, all these killings definitely need a neutral and fair reevaluation. However it is also interesting to see some deliberate omission from Lifschultz’s list.

The significant omissions are the killing of two sector commanders of our liberation war. They are major general Khaled Mosharraf and Colonel A T M Haider.

Khaled Mosharraf was arguably the most valiant of the military leaders duringmour war of independence in 1971. He almost died in the war with a bullet hittingmhis forehead. After his injury, then Captain ATM Haider took over the command ofmthe sector. He was also another valiant freedom fighter who representedmBangladesh during Pak surrender on 16th December.

More than thirty years later, our nation still doesn’t know much about their killing. It is not exactly clear how they were killed, exactly who killed these brave souls, who ordered the killing, in what situation they died, whether they were executed or they died in gunfight.

It also another big mystery why these two sector Commanders deaths are not mourned every year as it happens in case of Colonel Taher. And there is rarely a call demanding justice of these killings. Also a curiosity arises, why Lawrence Lifschultz does not mention Khaled Mosharraf and ATM Haider in his list.
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