A moderate nationalist who wanted to lift his country out of extreme poverty

Gerard Viratelle, Le Monde (June 01, 1981)

Only 46 years old, but in power since November 1975, General Ziaur Rahman, familiarly known in his country by the diminutive of Zia, was a moderate nationalist and a man of authority. Always calm, neatly dressed and with eyes often hidden behind tinted glasses, his “coldness” contrasted with the warm exuberance of many Bangalais.

If Mujibur Rahman – Mujib, – head of state from 1972 to 1975 and later assassinated, was considered the “father of independence”, because he had begun his struggle, Zia was the man who had proclaimed on March 27, 1971, on the antennas of Radio-Chittagong, the independence of Bangladesh, which was then a part of East Pakistan. In doing so, he precipitated the popular uprising against the Pakistani military regime.

Born in Calcutta to a family from the Bogra district in northern Bangladesh, he joined the Pakistani army in 1953, like many middle-class children, and had been trained in Federal Germany and Great Britain. He was a lieutenant colonel in 1971, when history thrust him into the limelight. His temperament apparently did not carry him to outbursts. However, he had shown that he had the caliber of a national leader. Mujib, moreover, was not unaware of this: he worked to prevent Zia from gaining too much ascendancy

Moreover, he was not appointed chief of staff of the armed forces until after the death of the “father of the nation” in August 1975, and the accession to power by his former colleague Mr. Moshtaque Ahmed, a conservative belonging to the Islamic and pro-right group. He however, was removed on November 3 by a coup led by an officer considered progressive and pro-Indian, General Mosharaff, who was also overthrown in turn on November 7 by young nationalist officers and “radicals”. They placed General Ziaur Rahman at their head, but he pushed them aside in order to avoid a shift to the left of the new martial law regime and consolidated power.

He became president in April 1977, when the President Sayem gave way to him “in the name of national interest”, a position which was confirmed in June 1978, after having been elected by universal suffrage with 98% of the vote.


%d bloggers like this: