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.

Now if we look back into history, we will see a lot of anomaly in our perception of history.

It was a failure of the then army chief Maj Gen Shafiullah and Rakhkhi bahini Chief Tofayel Ahmed that they allowed Bangabandhu killing without any resistance. As the information surfaced over the months following August 75 about CIA and Pakistan involvement in the killing, it was a very natural response from patriotic freedom fighters like Khaled Mosharraf to step in andmtake up arms. Colonel ATM Haider, the trusted deputy of Khaled, who incidentally was visiting his father in Dhaka from CHT, also got involved in this apparent second war of independence.

The coup they lead on 3rd November 1975, as we look back in the history, was probably the least bloody coup in the history of Bangladesh. They killed nobody, not even Mostaque.

For one more reason this most misunderstood coup will occupy a special place in our history. The anti-India sentiment, “India card” was used most successfully against this coup. The whole nation was given the idea, by shrewd propaganda campaign, that these two military leaders are giving the control of the country to India. The fact is that, according to a later interview by then Indian ambassador Samar Sen, India decided to maintain a low profile observer role in the post 15th August chaos. They were, by no means, involved in Khaled’s coup. However on the eve of 7th November, a counter coup was staged under the leadership of Colonel Taher, both Khaled and Haider were killed and Zia was released from house arrest. At Taher’s insistence martial law was declared, Justice Sayem remained president and became chief martial Law Administrator (CMLA). Despite Taher’s instructions, rather becoming the CMLA, Zia opted to remain one of the three Deputy Chief martial Law Administrators (DCMLA). Other two were the navy and air force chief. [Reference of this chronology is Taher’s statement at the martial law court trying Taher and others. This statement is available at Taher Shangshad web site.]

Now if we try to connect the dots of events it will be very clear that Colonel Taher is responsible for the killing of Khaled Mosharraf and other officers. In his statement, Taher himself took the responsibility of overthrowing Khaled Mosharraf. As per Taher’s statement, Zia was trembling in fear of death until Taher rescued him from house arrest. So Zia could not be responsible for Khaled and Haider killing. Taher in his statement mentioned Khaled as a traitor, over ambitious villain and Indian agent on several occasions. Taher also mentioned of some army officers, who, before being killed, were begging on his foot for
saving their lives.

With this information, all taken from Taher’s own wards, published in Taher Shangshad website, Taher is no doubt the self confessed killer of Khaled Mosharraf.

It is also clear that Taher played very prudently with anti-India sentiment in spearheading the misinformation campaign against the motives of the 3rd November coup. He again used it several times during his trial proceedings terming Khaled as India’s agent.

When Zia, as the army chief, tried to reestablish the chain of command and discipline in Bangladesh Armed forces, he found Taher to be a stumbling block to his job. Taher openly professed against conventional army and proposed creating a people’s army.

It is a different discussion whether a conventional Army or a so called people’s army was better for Bangladesh. It is also a futile debate whether Zia should not have tried Taher for his crimes only because Taher saved Zia’s life.

Zia apparently needed to get Taher out of his way to reestablish Bangladesh armed forces as a conventional force like that of India and Pakistan. Zia probably didn’t have any option but to hang Taher. With Taher living, Zia’s thought his control and leadership would have been seriously undermined.

However in the retrospect, Zia apparently created a hero out of Colonel Taher by hanging him. This is very clearly evident by looking at the fate of Taher’s comrades. Following were the leading revolutionary comrades of Colonel Taher. Despite clear evidence of murders, they were spared death sentence and here is how they ended up:

Major Jalil: Released from jail after several years of imprisonment and became an Islamic leader.
Sirajul Alam Khan Dada: Gone into oblivion, became insignificant.
ASM Rab: later became a national laughing stock as the domesticated opposition of Ershad regime.
Mahmudur Rahman Manna and some others joined AL.
Hasanul Haq Inu, SN Ambia, Dr Akhlaqur Rahman etc have become politicians with no popular support.


Lawrence Lifschultz is touring the country lecturing the nation about the unfair treatment to Colonel Taher. Not going into legal details, applying simple logic, when the real crime is killing of two national leaders like Khaled Mosharraf and ATM Haider, conspiracy to destroy the countries conventional defense forces; the punishment given to Jalil, Sirajul Alam Khan, Rab etc were quite light for a military court perspective.

It is also not clear whether the court also considered the deaths of seven Awami League lawmakers and thousands of innocent people killed by Ganabahini under leadership of Taher-Jalil. During the period between 1972 and 1975, one reason behind the perceived failure of Bangabandhu government was the activities of the leftists, the so called ” Peking left”. The armed wing, “Ganabahini” has been implicated in thousands of murders including those 7 MPs. There has not been any concerted effort to bring those involved in this mass murder to justice yet.

An interesting question will come, if, at Lifschultz’s request, Taher’s hanging is retried, whether these ganabahini killings will be included or not.

Now a days, our progressive media, intellectuals are quite loud in demanding justice to Taher killing.

One may wonder whether all these emotion surrounding Col Taher is out of love for Taher or out of hate for Gen Zia, who may be blamed for Taher’s death.

Our country’s history would have been written differently if Colonel Taher has not killed Khaled Mosharraf and foiled the coup. Zia is blamed for everything surrounding 3rd to 7th November, but it is not clear what other options he had in front of him other than doing what he did.

It is really a shame on our nation that even 30 years later there is no serious effort to try the killing of our founding war leaders like Khaled Mosharraf or ATM Haider. It is even more surprising to see the absence of even a demand to investigate their death.

May be Khaled’s three daughters do not want to get further involved into the dirt of Bangladesh politics. At this point their only demand remains limited to let the wife of late Khaled Mosharraf stay in her government allotted home.

Similarly Colonel ATM Haider’s sister, another wounded war hero, Doctor Captain Sitara Ahmed Bir Pratik, don’t see any hope demanding justice for her brothers death. They have lost what they had, now they don’t want to loose further by getting involved in dirty Bangladesh politics.

But even if Mrs Mosharraf and family or Captain Sitara Bir Pratik want to maintain a low profile, our nation should not let the death of these two war heroes go without justice.

As per Lawrence Lifschultz’s demand, Colonel Taher’s trial needs a reevaluation. One would hope that this time crimes of Ganabahini, Khaled, Haider killing will be included in the trial.

Colonel Taher, no doubt, was also a great war hero, a patriot and a visionary. But his philosophy of scientific socialism was a wrong concept. One of these days, all the proponents of so called scientific socialism must be held liable for their actions.

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