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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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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