Ziaur Rahman Bir Uttam, often introduced by the west as Zia of Bangladesh, will be remembered in the history of Bangladesh as the leader of the crises. It was during the fateful night of March 25 of 1971, when political leaders were on run or went into hiding to save themselves from Pakistani military force, Ziaur Rahman, the second-in-command of the 8 East Bengal Regiment of Chittagong, declared “We revolt” and shoot their way through the cantonment to build resistance against the Pakistani Army along with his fellows and soldiers and later declared independence of Bangladesh.
The Time Magazine in the obituary of President Zia narrated this moment on June 8, 1981, edition:
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.Time Magazine, Bangladesh: Death at Night (June 8, 1981)
Ziaur Rahman was initially appointed as the sector commander of Sector-1 in Chittagong but was later asked to form and lead a regular brigade. He was the first commander to raise a regular brigade in Bangladesh army which is known as the ‘Z force’ and freed a sizeable amount of land from Pakistan Army in Kurigram, Mymensingh and Sylhet. He led the force in some of the most famous battles in Bangladesh liberation war, namely Kamalpur Border Outpost attack, battle at Nakshi, and battle of Atgram which was a decisive victory for Bangladesh.
After the war, Ziaur Rahman, like other military commanders of the Bangladesh liberation force, was sent to the cantonment where he passed a mostly calm life till the November 1975 when he was initially put under house arrest and was later freed by the soldiers of the army. He was extremely popular among the soldiers at that time for his valor during the liberation movement.
What was happening in Bangladesh after the 1974 famine can be compared to the ‘Reign of Terror’ in France after the French Revolution. The famine, caused due to the mismanagement of Sheikh Mujib government along with the rampant corruption of Awami League leaders, claimed around a million lives. Political killing skyrocketed. Most of the police stations were dysfunctional and law and order situation deteriorated. Things got worse in August 1975 when some colleagues of Mujib conspired with junior military officials and killed Sheikh Mujib and his family members to grab power.
The event however was followed by a series of coups and countercoups that eventually brought Ziaur Rahman to the front, and like Napoleon Bonaparte of France in the Eighteenth Brumaire, Zia took control of the state in late 1976, when at one hand the corrupt politicians were quarrelling for their share in power, and on the other hand the defeated forces of 1971 were preparing to return to the power with the support of Air Force Chief MAG Tawab.
Ziaur Rahman’s takeover as the President has been proven to be the turning point for Bangladesh. South Asia specialist William B. Milam in his book wrote, “It is hard to imagine what would have happened to Bangladesh had Ziaur Rahman been assassinated in 1975 instead of 1981. A failed state on the model of Afghanistan or Liberia might well have resulted. Zia saved Bangladesh from that fate.”
He utilized his learning from the past and introduced some of the most pragmatic policies that shaped the future of Bangladesh. Thanks to Zia, Bangladesh in five years cut the food import to half, population growth declined rapidly, food cost went down, and massive industrialization began.
The five-year-long Presidency of Ziaur Rahman deserves to be documented not to glorify his achievements, to learn from the good examples of how to run a country.