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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Colonel Taher: A Hero or A Villain?

This was written for Uttorshuri in two installments on Taher Day during July 2006. I am re-posting this on the eve of November 7. This post is not intended to demonize veteran Freedom fighter and ambitious patriotic leader Colonel Abu Taher. No one argues that Col Taher was a patriot and he wanted to prosper Bangladesh in a way he believed to be right way.

Every year late freedom fighter Colonel Taher’s death anniversary is observed with discussions about his life, his dreams, visions, achievements and his valor. Newspapers publish memoirs, detail articles and columns demanding justice for Taher Killing.

The events of this year included an additional element; speeches and interviews by American journalist Lawrence Lifschultz leading a campaign for Taher’s retrial.

Lawrence Lifschultz, in his speeches, urges the concerned authorities for ensuring a fair re-trial of

1. Jail killing of four national leaders
2. Taher death sentence
3. The freedom fighters killed during coups against Zia rule
4. General Manzur’s Killing
5. Death sentence and execution of freedom fighter officers convicted of murdering Zia.

Some of these demands are quite logical and to set the records straight, all these killings definitely need a neutral and fair reevaluation. However it is also interesting to see some deliberate omission from Lifschultz’s list.

The significant omissions are the killing of two sector commanders of our liberation war. They are major general Khaled Mosharraf and Colonel A T M Haider.

Khaled Mosharraf was arguably the most valiant of the military leaders duringmour war of independence in 1971. He almost died in the war with a bullet hittingmhis forehead. After his injury, then Captain ATM Haider took over the command ofmthe sector. He was also another valiant freedom fighter who representedmBangladesh during Pak surrender on 16th December.

More than thirty years later, our nation still doesn’t know much about their killing. It is not exactly clear how they were killed, exactly who killed these brave souls, who ordered the killing, in what situation they died, whether they were executed or they died in gunfight.

It also another big mystery why these two sector Commanders deaths are not mourned every year as it happens in case of Colonel Taher. And there is rarely a call demanding justice of these killings. Also a curiosity arises, why Lawrence Lifschultz does not mention Khaled Mosharraf and ATM Haider in his list.
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