Zia That I Knew: A Flashback

  • May 27, 2009 at 12:30 AM

By Abu Obaid Chowdhury from New York, USA

Following my defection from Pakistan Army in 1971 and after being cleared by the Indian and Mujibnagar authorities, I was posted to ‘Z Force’ of Lt Col Ziaur Rahman in the eastern theater of Bangladesh liberation war. The nearly 20-day journey took me from Lahore to Khemkaran to Ferozepur to Delhi to Kolkata to Agartala and finally to Masimpur, the 4 sector headquarters of Lt Col C R Dutta (later Major General).
As I reached my temporary accommodation, I heard a familiar voice next room. He was talking to Col Dutta. I went to check and found a gentleman in uniform, somewhat tired, half lying on the bamboo made platform, used as bed. It was dark and I could not see the face clearly. I wished him and introduced myself. He sat down and said, “So you are the Captain who came to raise my artillery unit. Sit down.”
I still could not make out who the person was, though looked familiar. 2/Lt Sajjad Ali Zahir (later Lt Col), another defectee from West Pakistan and posted to my unit, joined me at Agartala. He followed me to the room. As I introduced Sajjad to the man, almost instantly the name flashed across my mind.
“He is Col Ziaur Rahman”, I said to Sajjad. Earlier, then Major Ziaur Rahman was an instructor in the military academy when I was a cadet and his solid, deep voice was well known to me.On his query, I had to tell Col Zia my defection story—how I crossed the Lahore-Khemkaran border in a military jeep, how I survived after falling with the jeep in the Kasur River, who I reported to at India’s Rajoke cantonment etc. He seemed to know the route and area pretty well. Somewhat surprised, I asked how he knew the names of those villages, tracks, BRB canal, barriers etc. “I was fighting the Indians there in 1965 with 1 E Bengal Regiment”, Zia said.
After dinner, Zia left for his headquarters at Kailashahar. Before leaving he told me to take stock of my unit at Kukital and report to him in a day or two to find out what I needed to make the unit battle worthy within the shortest possible time. Capt Oli Ahmed (later Col and BNP Minister) and my Sialkot time friend Capt M A Halim (later Maj Gen), Brigade Major and Quartermaster respectively at Z Force, were very helpful in providing me with the material support I needed.

Time Magazine on Zia Assassination


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. Late last week there was another voice on the radio from Chittagong, announcing that Major General Manjur, 40, had taken over the government and abrogated the country’s 1972 friendship treaty with India. The hero of a decade ago, President Ziaur Rahman, only 45, lay dead with two aides and six bodyguards in a government rest house in Chittagong. All were reportedly shot by an assassination squad, led by Manjur, in the early morning hours Saturday.

Manjur’s confident proclamation of a coup seemed premature. The official Bangladesh radio in the capital of Dacca assured the country’s 90 million people that the government was safely in the hands of Vice President Abdus Sattar. The government declared a state of emergency and called upon the rebels to surrender. Moreover, stressed the state radio, all international agreements remained in force.

Bangladesh’s long-troubled relations with India, the country that had helped it win independence, seemed to be at the heart of the assassination. The two nations are divided by bitter issues primarily concerning the lower Ganges River, which meanders through both countries as it flows out into a vast delta. Tensions have built up over rights to the Ganges water, various solutions to the water question and territorial claims to islands formed by silt at the mouth of a boundary river. The sovereignty question is particularly volatile: there are hopes of finding oil under nearby waters. While Zia had pressed India strenuously on the diplomatic front—even sending gunboats to one of the ‘disputed islands last month—he was apparently not aggressive enough for a fiercely anti-Indian element with a strong base in Chittagong. The assassins were apparently linked to these militants.

The slain Zia had been one of South Asia’s most promising leaders, a man who lived modestly while others chose corruption, who searched tirelessly for solutions to his country’s awesome poverty. He was also a fatalist. Once, reflecting on his service for Pakistan in the 1965 war with India over Kashmir, he observed: “There is no scientific explanation for a man to die or live. In front of me many people died, but I got a bonus of life.” He used that bonus well, but last week it ran out.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,922557,00.html#ixzz1145qXRfg

জিয়াউর রহমানকে মনে করা এবং ঐতিহ্য

আতাউস সামাদ

আজ প্রেসিডেন্ট জিয়াউর রহমানের ত্রিশতম মৃত্যুবার্ষিকী। তিনি বীর মুক্তিযোদ্ধা, সেনাশাসক, হৃত গণতন্ত্র পুনঃপ্রতিষ্ঠাকারী, নির্বাচিত রাষ্ট্রপতি ও সরকারপ্রধান, সংস্কারক, উন্নয়নকর্মী ও কূটনীতিবিদ এসব পরিচয়ে বিভিন্ন সময়ে পরিচিত হয়েছেন এবং প্রতিটি চরিত্রেই তাঁর পক্ষে ও বিপক্ষে আজও প্রায়ই তর্কের ঝড় ওঠে। ২০০৮ সালের ডিসেম্বরে দুই বছর অযাচিত বিরতি দিয়ে অনুষ্ঠিত জাতীয় সংসদ নির্বাচনের মাধ্যমে ক্ষমতায় আসার পর থেকে আওয়ামী লীগ ও তার মহাজোটের নেতারা মরহুম জিয়াউর রহমানকে কড়া ভাষায় সমালোচনা করে আসছেন। আর সংবিধানের পঞ্চম সংশোধনী সুপ্রিমকোর্টের রায়ে বাতিল হওয়ার পর থেকে ওই সমালোচনা অধিকতর উচ্চমাত্রা পেয়েছে। তবুও আজ প্রেসিডেন্ট জিয়াউর রহমানের মৃত্যুবার্ষিকী উপলক্ষে যদি শুধুই তাঁর কিছু ভালো কাজ ও সাফল্যের কথা উল্লেখ করি আশা করি তাহলে সদয় পাঠক নিজ মূল্যবোধের গুণে আমাকে ক্ষমা করে দেবেন। এখানে বলে রাখি সাংবাদিক হিসেবে জেনারেল জিয়াউর রহমানের সঙ্গে আমার বার-দুয়েক দেখা হয়েছে। সেই সাক্ষাত্, পরিচয়ের পর্যায়ে যায়নি। আর ৭ নভেম্বর ১৯৭৫ তারিখে গভীর সঙ্কটে পতিত বাংলাদেশের দায়িত্ব যখন তাঁর কাঁধে ভর করে তখনও আমি বিদেশে কর্মরত। সেজন্য কেবল একজন সাধারণ বাংলাদেশী হিসেবেই তাঁর বেশির ভাগ কাজকর্ম অবলোকন বা পর্যবেক্ষণ করেছি আমি।

শহীদ জিয়াউর রহমান বাংলাদেশীদের কাছে চিরকাল অবিস্মরণীয় হয়ে থাকবেন ‘আমি মেজর জিয়া’ হিসেবে। ১৯৭১ সালের ২৭ মার্চ বাংলাদেশজুড়ে যখন নৃশংস দখলদার পাকিস্তানি সেনারা নির্বিচারে বাংলাভাষীদের হত্যা করছে, সেই সময় স্বাধীন বাংলা বেতার কেন্দ্র থেকে অচেনা অশ্রুতপূর্ব এক মেজর জিয়ার কণ্ঠে মুক্তিযুদ্ধ শুরু হওয়ার ঘোষণা বারবার প্রচারিত হয়েছিল; তা দেশের বহু মানুষ শুনতে পান এবং তাদের মুখে মুখে এই ঘোষণার কথা দেশময় ছড়িয়ে পড়ে। এর ফলে আমরা জানতে পারি যে পাকিস্তান সেনাবাহিনীর বাঙালি অফিসার ও সৈন্যরা বিদ্রোহ করে মুক্তিযুদ্ধে যোগ দিয়েছেন। এর আগে আমরা নানাভাবে জেনেছি পুলিশ ও ইপিআরের বাঙালি সদস্যরা হানাদার পাকিস্তানিদের মোকাবিলা করেছেন। মেজর জিয়ার ঘোষণা শুনে আমরা বিশ্বাস করতে শুরু করি যে মুক্তিযুদ্ধ চলছে এবং এতে পেশাদার সৈনিকরা যোগ দিয়েছেন। অতি অসহায় অবস্থায় অবরুদ্ধ থাকা সত্ত্বেও এ খবর আমাদের মনে নতুন সাহস ও প্রত্যয় এনে দেয়। এ ঘটনা বাংলাদেশের ইতিহাসে লেখা থাকবেই আর সেই সঙ্গে থাকবে বিপ্লবী বাংলাদেশ বেতার কেন্দ্রের কর্মী ও শব্দ সৈনিকের কথা।
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By KASTURI RANGAN, Special to the New York Times
Published: May 31, 1981

NEW DELHI, May 30— President Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh was shot and killed in the port city of Chittagong early today and a broadcast by the Dacca radio said a little-known opposition group was responsible for the assassination.

A state of emergency was declared by Vice President Abdus Sattar, who assumed the duties of Acting President. Rebels announced over the radio from Chittagong that they were taking over the Government, but officials in Dacca said that they were still in control.

The 45-year-old President Zia, two aides and several bodyguards reportedly were killed as they were sleeping in a guest house in Chittagong, a district capital of 890,000 people.

Civilian Rights Are Suspended

The news of the killing and a proclamation of an emergency were broadcast over Dacca radio this morning. Acting President Sattar signed emergency legislation suspending the rights of citizens in the country of 87 million.

The Acting President ordered a curfew in Dacca, the capital, Chittagong and other major cities and called for a 40-day period of mourning for the President. President Zia, an army general who took over the Government in November 1975, was reported to have been shot during his visit to Chittagong near the border with Burma. Many opponents of the Government have been active in the area.

Dacca radio said ”miscreants” were responsible for the killings, but it gave no details. Another broadcast quoted the Government as saying that a group called Biplabi Parishad was responsible for the assassination and it called on a Maj. Gen. Manzur Ahmed to surrender. The organization was said to include rebels from the armed forces, and Major General Ahmed was believed to be its leader. Army Reportedly Remains Loyal

Later radio reports said the rebels were led by Maj. Gen. Abul Manzur, The Associated Press reported. The rebels claimed to have taken control of the Government.

Lieut. Gen. H.M. Arshad, the army chief of staff, was quoted as saying that a revolutionary council headed by General Manzur had taken control of Chittagong radio station. But General Arshad said other members of the armed forces were remaining loyal to the Government.

Reports carried by Bangladesh radio and quoted by the Press Trust of India, a news agency, said President Zia and several aides and bodyguards were killed as they were sleeping in a district guest house in Chittagong at about 3:30 A.M. (5 P.M. Friday, New York time).

Dacca radio announced the news seven hours later along with an appeal to the armed forces ”not to be guided by provocations from outside.” The first reports of President Zia’s death suggested only that he had died in an accident.

According to information reaching New Delhi, the group that seized Chittagong radio also appeared to be in control of the Chittagong area. Among the radio announcements was one declaring that a treaty of friendship between Indian and Bangladesh signed in 1972 was abrogated. Communications Are Interrupted

Chittagong radio went dead at about 2 P.M. Communications between India and Bangladesh also ended as telecommunication lines were cut. Acting President Sattar, a 76-year-old lawyer who had been in key positions of the Government since 1975, said in his broadcast that there would be no change in foreign policy and that agreements with foreign countries would be honored.

President Zia had been in firm control of the Government since he seized power five years ago in the last of a series of army coups following the assassination of President Mujibur Rahman, an immensely popular figure who led Bangladesh to independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Some Bangladeshis use their first names as the surname. Ziaur Rahman becomes Zia, instead of Ziaur, in subsequent references because the last two letters of his surname form an article that is used with the second name. Similarly, the name of Mujibur Rahman becomes Mujib on second reference.

President Zia, designating himself as the martial law administrator, kept the country under strict controls for awhile. But he appeared to have consolidated his position after he put down a series of revolts by low-ranking servicemen in northern Bangladesh, including an abortive coup by air force rebels in 1977. An Overwhelming Election Victory

He was confirmed in the office in a national referendum that showed overwhelming support for his Government. President Zia lifted martial law and began to push a popular concept of revolution aimed at making Bangladesh self-sufficient in food.

National harvests usually fall about 20 percent short of fulfilling Bangladesh’s needs, and the country has remained largely dependent on international aid. Western countries have contributed $10 billion in food and other aid since 1971.

President Zia was generally regarded as a benevolent dictator as he strived to change the image of his country as one of the world’s most backward. Huge irrigation projects and vigorous campaigns for birth control appeared to be making headway.

President Zia was also pursuing a plan for regional cooperation among Southeast Asian countries that found a ready response in several countries of the region, including India.

However, political problems resurfaced suddenly. Daughter Returns From Exile

Sheik Mujib’s Awami League elected his 33-year-old daughter, Hasina Wazed, as president of the party. Sent into exile in India after the death of her father, she returned to Dacca this month to a tumultuous welcome even as the Government-controlled media unleashed a propaganda barrage against her, saying she was an Indian agent.

Disputes over an Indian-built dike that diverted some water from the Ganges to the Indian side and sovereignty over a new island that emerged near the coasts of India and Bangladesh have soured relations between the two countries.

As Dacca appeared to be adopting a policy of confrontation with India, New Delhi attributed the belligerence to growing internal tension threatening the stability of President Zia’s Government.

In a message today, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India expressed ”deep concern” over the development in a ”friendly” neighboring country and renewed a pledge of cooperation and friendship with Bangladesh.

Zia Assassination Reverberates through South Asia

By WILLIAM BORDERS, Special to the New York Times
Published: June 8, 1981

DACCA, Bangladesh, June 7— Beyond its far-reaching consequences in Bangladesh, the assassination of President Ziaur Rahman has had considerable repercussions all over South Asia.

In a region where stability is often elusive and democracy is fragile, governments and embassies have spent much of the week since President Zia died in a hail of bullets re-evaluating some of their familiar political equations.

”There’s no telling what it will all mean in the long run, of course,” said a worried Asian diplomat. ”But it’s certainly time to look at everything afresh.”

Even to governments, such as India’s, that had difficulty dealing with President Zia and hope for a better deal from his successor, the prospect of instability here is worrisome. And the murder of an elected leader – the second time it has happened in six years in this country -causes apprehension all over.

The country that has the most to gain or lose by what eventually happens here is India, which surrounds Bangladesh on three sides with a border that is often in dispute. The dominant power in the region, India has been intimately involved in the affairs of Bangladesh since the Indian Army won this nation its independence from the rest of Pakistan in 1971.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was close to Sheik Mujibur Rahman, the father of Bangladesh, and she was enraged and frightened when he was assassinated in 1975 and succeeded a few months later by Ziaur Rahman, then an army general.

Relations with India have not been particularly good since then and, as it happens, the weeks immediately preceding President Zia’s assassination by a group of army rebels marked an especially hostile period, at least in the words flowing back and forth between here and New Delhi.

The immediate point of contention is a tiny island formed recently by silt deposits in the mouth of the Ganges, along the common border. Both countries claim the island, and the claim is more important than the island because it also affects sovereignty over a wide region of ocean and seabed to the south. Indians Occupy the Island

Early last month, a Bangladeshi patrol boat discovered two Indian Navy warships at the island and found that Indian troops had set up a flag and a radio station on the brown, muddy shore. Bangladesh was incensed. Angry diplomatic notes flew back and forth, and Prime Minister Gandhi was burned in effigy at protest demonstrations here.

”We’re tired of the way that the Indians are always trying to push us around,” said a Bangladeshi official, promising that the issue would be raised again as soon as the country finished the period of mourning for President Zia.

In Pakistan itself, the Zia assassination is believed to have caused some apprehension within the Government of President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, a general who is ruling by martial law.

Although the Pakistani Army is more disciplined and far less politicized than the one here, ”an army strike anywhere makes restive officers in other countries begin to think about the options,” as a diplomat in New Delhi said.

And anything that might destabilize Pakistan could be of great concern to the United States, which has come to regard Pakistan as its most important ally in the region, especially in the 18 months since the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

The abrupt removal of the Bangladeshi President also dealt a blow to a campaign he had been leading for more regional cooperation in a part of the world where nationalistic suspicion tends to be the rule.

Largely at Mr. Zia’s initiative, the foreign secretaries of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and four smaller nations in the area met in April in a ”South Asian Forum,” to discuss joint economic and technical programs. His death will at least slow its momentum, in the opinion of Bangladeshis involved in the forum.

Illustrations: photo of President Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh, and Gen. Mohammed Abdul Manzur
Correction: June 12, 1981, Friday, Late City Final Edition Because of an error by the Associated Press, a caption in Monday’s paper misidentified a general pictured with the late President of Bangladesh, Ziaur Rahman. He was Maj. Gen. Mir Shawkat Ali.

Everyone Loses In Bangladesh Coup Attempt

Everyone Loses In Bangladesh Coup Attempt
Published: June 7, 1981

If there are worse places than Bangladesh these days, much credit goes to Ziaur Rahman. From his rise to power in 1975 until his assassination last weekend, General Zia instilled new motivation in the New England-sized nation of 92 million people to produce more food and fewer children.

His murder by army rivals raised fears in Dacca of another period of political instability and bloodshed like the one that occurred after the army overthrew Sheik Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s first President, in 1975.

There are no obvious successors to General Zia. One possibility, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Abdul Manzur, led the plot against the President and was himself killed after his arrest. According to the Government, he and two other conspirators died in an exchange of gunfire between their guards and a group of ”agitated armed people” who tried to seize the detainees. Seventeen other officers remained in custody and were to be tried by a military court.

The plot collapsed two days after rebels shot President Zia in a guest house in Chittagong, Bangladesh’s second largest city and main port. General Manzur, the local army commander, appealed to other units to join the uprising but in vain. Like General Zia a hero of Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence, General Manzur chafed at his transfer to Chittagong in 1977 and was apparently even more incensed at the President’s plans to make him head of the army staff college, a noncommand post.

Although President Zia reinstituted elections in 1978, whoever succeeds him will have to be acceptable to the army. Acting President Abdus Sattar, 75, said poor health would keep him from running in elections which are to be held within six months. Hasina Wazed, the daughter of Sheik Mujib and head of the opposition Awami League Party, recently returned to a tumultuous popular welcome after six years in India. But at 32, she is eight years too young to be President.