Ziaur Rahman 101

What is Ziaur Rahman’s biggest contribution to Bangladesh?

Ziaur Rahman gave our nation a clear identity. After independence, our national identity was declared as ‘Bangali’ and expectedly this created a lot of confusion. This identity ignored the non-Bangali citizens including the indigenous people of different part of Bangladesh as well as the Urdu speaking citizens. Ziaur Rahman first coined the word ‘Bangladeshi’ as our national identity and successive government since then has maintained this identity. He also presented his vision of Bangladeshi nationalism and sutured together the geographic, historic, religious, cultural and political components of our nationhood. He based his politics on nationalism at a time when nationalism has not yet become a pan-global craze. In this context he can be called the father of Bangladeshi nationalism or father of our current national identity.

What was Zia’s role in our war of independence?
Ziaur Rahman is one of the most prominent, if not the most prominent general of our war of Independence. He was the leader of Z-Force and was the commander of a sector where many of the most fierce battles of 1971 took place. But we will be doing an injustice to history if we try to portray him merely as another sector commander. His contribution was much much greater. His declaration of independence on behalf of the civilian leadership i.e. Bangabandhu is the formal declaration of our war of independence. And this declaration sealed the fate of our nation. His mutiny was echoed in military garrisons all over occupied Bangladesh and Bengali military officers started revolting against the military chain of command and took up arms against Pakistani forces. This massive defection in regular military forces withing 24-48 hours of initiation of an invasion and launching of a full scale guerrilla war within weeks is unprecedented in human history. Similarly this phenomenon ( of this mass mutiny in military ranks) was beyond imagination of the planners of the West Pakistani military campaign and the west Pakistan forces never could recover from this miscalculation. Hence Bangladesh won her independence in a record short nine-month-time.

Wasn’t Zia a military dictator and the killer of democracy and was indirectly involved in Mujib’s killing?

Absolutely bogus. Zia never imposed a martial law in Bangladesh and neither he conducted a coup. At a time when the total chain of command in Bangladesh armed forces was in shambles and there were coups and counter coups in a regular interval, Zia was deemed to be only person of national stature acceptable to all parties concerned to bring back chain of command in Bangladesh armed forces and lead Bangladesh. After 7th November coup by Maoist forces in Bangladesh Army, Zia was released from house arrest and asked to take over the responsibility of bringing the country back from collapse. And when Zia took over, Bangladesh was already under martial law imposed by Khandakar Mostaque and in a one party rule as a result of 4th amendment of the constitution. In sharp contrast to all the allegations regularly labeled against him by the so called progressives, Zia in fact brought multiparty democracy back to Bangladesh and withdrew martial law and get rid of his military uniform ASAP ( less than two years). When Bangabandhu died, Zia was totally powerless Deputy Army Chief. The rank, now obsolete, was totally a clout-less ceremonial position. He did not have the resources to help conduct a coup. Those people who could have made a difference in this coup were the then army chief Gen Shafiullah and then Rakhkhi bahini chief Mr. Tofael Ahmed. But they did not do anything. To be frank, by their inaction, they facilitated Mujib killing. ironically, both of these two are senior Awami League leaders now.

Hasn’t Zia kill secularism and brought Bismillah to the constitution?

Zia initiated changes the second paragraph of the preamble of our constitution. He inserted, “Pledging that the high ideals of absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah, nationalism, democracy and socialism meaning economic and social justice, which inspired our heroic people to dedicate themselves to, and our brave martyrs to sacrifice their lives in the war for national independence, shall be fundamental principles of the Constitution;” He based this on US national motto, In God We Trust. His inclusion of ‘total faith in almighty Allah’ followed Indonesia’s prgmatic constitution. Although, to many (including me), it was backward step away from progressive secularism, this one single step helped Zia seal the largest ever political coalition in Bangladesh. In retrospect, I see this as pragmatism to its best. One example will prove it. Since Zia’s death, no one ever has attempted removing changes brought in By Zia. Awami League is the bastion of left-center left politics in Bangladesh. Even Awami League has never made it a priority. Awami League now has absolute majority in parliament and they easily can scratch out Zia’s inclusion of Bismillah. But I seriously doubt they will go that path. And this will seal Zia’s role as pragmatic political visionary in Bangladesh reality. If Awami League do not scratch Bismillah from constitution, will there be any ideological difference between AL and BNP and more importantly, will AL ever be able look down upon Zia as killer of secularism?

Did Zia rehabilitate Anti-Liberation Forces?

Zia opened up politics and resumed multi-party democracy. Under this program, all political parties including Awami League, NAP, Communist Party, Muslim League, Nezam e Islami party etc got reestablished and registered. Jamaat although tried to utilized the same pathway was not permitted by Zia to open its shop in Bangladesh. Jamaat got registration in Bangladesh much later, under Ershad era, when Jamaat and Awami League joined hands with Ershad to do election in 1986. It is true that some Jamaat politicians started doing politics with Nezam e Islami under the banner of Islamic Democratic League, but state could not prevent that from happening. Did Awami League disband Jamaat in 10 years it ruled Bangladesh since 1996? And politically, after the 72-75 rule, in 1976, there was little appetite as well as pressure for action against collaborators. The national consensus at that time was for a forward-looking national reunification.
In the military, those officers who could join the war got 2 years of seniority plus at least two promotions. Additionally, they were getting all postings in infantry or other vital sectors. Officers, most were really efficient and patriotic, who were stranded in Pakistan and could not flee, found themselves way down in their careers. It created an environment not conducive to a professional army. Zia, although a freedom fighter himself, tried to unify the forces into a professional force. He did that ultimately, although at the cost of his own life.
Yes, Zia worked with some razakars in his cabinet. Shah Azizur Rahman was a prime example. But Shah Aziz was not Zia’s choice as the Prime Minister. After Zia’s first choice Moshiur Rahman Jadu Mia died, Zia really wanted Professor B Chowdhury to be the Prime Minister and Parliament leader. But Shah Aziz being a shrewd Parliamentary politician, managed more votes from MPs to become the parliamentary leader and the PM. It is also true that he brought all of them with special purpose. Shah Aziz was picked to handle the parliament and tackle experienced opposition parliamentary leaders. Maulana Mannan was included to keep a close watch-control over Madrassas. This was a sign of extreme foresight. In post HUJI- JMB- Hezajot period, we now know how vital/wise move it was on Zia’s part to keep a close eye on Madrassas. And if working with Razakars is a crime, then how Mr. A K Khondokar become the leader pro-liberation values? For years, Mr Khondokar sat beside Maolana Mannan and Salahuddin Kader Chowdhury as minister of Ershad.

As a leader and ruler of Bangladesh, how did Zia do?

If one respects objectivity, nobody should have any problem with the statement that, since Independence the five years of Zia’s rule is the best period in Bangladesh history. In terms of works done, A far distant second place may go to the 1996-2001 Awami League government. Lets bullet some highlights of Zia rule,

Zia involved rural Bangladesh into his developmental politics. While Bangladesh political culture meant arranging public meetings spending crores of taka, Zia successfully changed that culture. He involved people from all walks of life in voluntary canal digging and political rallies turned into festive canal digging programs. No politician understood the importance rural Bangladesh better than Zia. He spent most of his tenure as ruler of Bangladesh walking from village to village.

……..To Be Continued.

[ Late President Ziaur Rahman is the most important thing that happened to our politics since independence. Yet Zia is the most misunderstood man in this country. There has been a serious lack of understanding of Zia’s policies. As a result of a pathetic failure to explain Zia by two BNP governments, abject failure of Khaleda Zia and Zia’s sons to live up to Zia’s ideals and a constant barrage of negative campaign against Ziaur Rahman by a very powerful progressive force, Young Bangladeshis of today do not know anything good about Zia. This is my humble effort to start telling the story of Ziaur Rahman. I start this on 73rd birthday of Zia when Zia’s legacy is in its worst shape in history. I promise to continue telling this story, infrequently, irregularly, but honestly and passionately. ]


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