CIA involved in 1975 Bangla military coup

CIA involved in 1975 Bangla military coup

Lawrence Lifschultz’s findings about assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman are being published in Dhaka’s Daily Star and Prothom Alo newspapers.

An American journalist’s disclosure that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was involved in the 1975 military coup and the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s founding father, has added a new dimension to the shameful episode that many here recall with dismay, disgust and hatred.

Lawrence Lifschultz, who was present here during the coup, as a correspondent for Hong Kong’s Far Eastern Economic Review, has investigated the events for the last 30 years. Dhaka’s Daily Star and Prothom Alo newspapers are serialising his findings.

“What (the) USA started during the Liberation War in 1971 with attempt to split the Awami League using Khandaker Moshtaque and his accomplices continued after the independence following a direct US instigation, resulting in the carnage on August 15, 1975,” the Daily Star writes in an introductory note to Lifschultz’s pieces.

An impression was given to the people that the coup and the murders were the result of a conspiracy by a few hostile leaders within the Awami League party who joined hands with disgruntled military officers. Some believed that there was a foreign hand involved. None was sure about the role of any country in particular.

“In India, Indira Gandhi, speaking of the tragedy of Mujib’s death, spoke of the sure hand of foreign involvement,” Lifschultz writes. “As usual, Mrs Gandhi was graphically lacking in details or specifics. However, the pro-Moscow Communist party of India (CPI) were more explicit: “the CIA,” said the CPI, “was behind the coup.”

“I dismissed this as propaganda based on no specific evidence.” Sheikh Hasina, Mujib’s one of the two surviving daughters, who became Bangladesh’s prime minister in 1996, also believed that her father fell victim to an international conspiracy. Lifschultz’s findings have confirmed their beliefs.

US Secretary of State

Former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger also figures prominently in Lifschultz’s writings. In his opinion, along with Salvador Allende of Chile and Taiyoo of Vietnam, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was in Kissinger’s political vendetta. Newly born Bangladesh could not save itself from Kissinger’s wrath.

The US government is yet to comment on CIA’s involvement in the 1975 coup and the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 15 others. A spokesman of the US Embassy in Dhaka said, “No comment,” to the UNB news agency after the first installment of the articles appeared on Monday. According to Lifschultz, Eugene Booster, then US Ambassador to Bangladesh repeatedly objected to the conspiracy and even issued written instruction in this regard, but then CIA Station Chief, Philip Cherry would not listen to him.

Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmad, a minister in Mujib’s Cabinet, played the leading role. Coup leaders made him the country’s president, but a counter-coup overthrew him three months later.

‘Execute case verdict’

Lifschultz’s writings are being published at a time when there is a nation-wide demand for the execution of the Mujib Murder Case verdict and bring home seven convicted killers who are absconding abroad.

After the High Court confirmed death sentences of 12 people and acquitted three others, the case is now pending in the appellate division of the Supreme Court.

The hearing is being delayed due to shortage of judges. Lawyers say if no new judges are appointed, the case would not come up for hearing before 2007. Of the 12 convicted killers, four are already in jail here.

Incidentally, the Opposition Awami League observed August 15 as the national mourning day, describing it as the ‘blackest day’ in Bangladesh’s national life. The nation paid rich tributes to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the 30th anniversary of his death on Monday, though governing BNP cancelled the government holiday and celebrated Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s 61st birthday.

Whether the CIA was involved or not in the 1975 coup is a debatable question. The writings have certainly evoked mixed reactions. The US Government’s admission or denial will not matter much to those who are aware of CIA’s global activities. They will probably believe what Lifschultz has said.

There is another section which will give a benefit of doubt. A third group that is opposed to Awami League and is critical of the Mujib era (1972-1975) will give a damn.

One thing is, however, clear that those managing statecraft-— present and future — will be more cautious in their dealings with the United States. Whether the government agrees with Lifschultz or not is not important. Its immediate task is to ensure speedy hearing of the case by appointing more judges. By doing so, it can prove its neutrality.

Or else, the proverb ‘justice delayed, justice denied’ may come true. At the same time, efforts should also be made to bring the convicted absconders to Bangladesh.

Deccan Herald » National » Detailed Story

‘CIA involved in 1975 Bangla military coup’

From Hassan Shahriar DH News Service Dhaka

The past is never dead-The long shadow of the August 1975 coup

Was the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members on August 15, 1975 merely the result of personal malice and an act out of sudden fury of some army officers?

Long investigation by veteran US journalist Lawrence Lifschultz has made it clear that there was a deep-rooted conspiracy behind the dark episode of August 15.

Lifschultz in a number of investigative reports published in newspapers made it clear that Khandaker Moshtaque and a quarter of US embassy officials in Dhaka were closely involved with the small section of army officers in the August 15 coup.

At long last, Lifschultz disclosed the name of his “very reliable source”, the then US ambassador in Dhaka Eugene Booster with whom he has maintained close communication for the 30 years.

Booster repeatedly objected to the conspiracy leading to the August 15 assassination, even issued written instruction in this regard, but failed to prevent the then station chief Philip Cherry of US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Dhaka office from doing the conspiracy.

Lifschultz’s plan to publish an interview of Eugene Booster in this regard remained unfulfilled as Booster passed away on July 7 last.

The new-born Bangladesh could not save herself from the wrath of then foreign secretary Henry Kissinger who could never forget that Bangladesh was born in opposition to his suggestion.

Along with Salvador Allende of Chile and Taiyoo of Vietnam, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was in Kissinger’s political vendetta.

What USA started during the Liberation War in 1971 with attempt to split the Awami League using Khandaker Moshtaque and his accomplices continued after the independence following a direct US instigation, resulting in the carnage on August 15, 1975.

On basis of his 30 years’ investigation that included interviews with the US sources, Moshtaque and others concerned, Lifschultz has written a series of that tale.

The first part of his four reports is published today.

The 30th anniversary of the August 15th military coup in Bangladesh powerfully illustrates the dictum of William Faulkner that the past is never dead, it is not even past. For those of us who lived through the years of Bangladesh’s ‘War of Independence’ and the decade of the 1970s, we remember these dates as milestones of an era. They are markers on a road we traveled to a destination many did not reach.

After thirty years Bangladesh still lives with the legacy of the violent night of August 15th. Just over four years from that dark March night in 1971 when Pakistani Army troops rolled their tanks and armoured vehicles through the streets of Dhaka slaughtering their fellow countrymen instead of accepting the outcome of national elections they had agreed to accept, a small unit of the new Bangladesh Army invoking the sordid tradition of Pakistan Army staged a traditional military putsch.

Within hours, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, symbol for many of an ideal of liberation, was dead in a military coup d’etat that had run amok in a frenzy of killing. Mujib and almost his entire family were slaughtered including his wife and sons, the youngest only twelve. On that deadly night groups of soldiers broke into squads and traveled around the city killing relatives of Mujib’s family.

The pregnant wife of one relation who attempted to intercede to save her husband’s life was herself killed for her efforts. Mujib’s two daughters were abroad and they survived with Sheikh Hasina years later becoming Prime Minister. Yet, only a year ago, she too was nearly assassinated in broad daylight by a hit squad that still “eludes” capture, demonstrating yet again Faulkner’s insightthe past is not even past. It is very much present.

The political configuration that exists today is a direct descendant of August 15, 1975. The current Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, was the wife of the late General Ziaur Rahman, the Deputy Chief of Army Staff in 1975, who played a crucial behind scenes role in the plotting that preceded the coup and in the events which followed.

At the American Embassy that night political and intelligence officers tried to monitor the unfolding events. But, there was one figure at the Embassy in the days that followed the coup who was particularly unsettled. A small knot had settled in his stomach. The events were an echo of what he had feared might happen months earlier and which he had made strenuous efforts to prevent.

I would meet this man in Washington three years later. He became a critical source for me and clearly hoped the information that he provided would one day lead to uncomfortable truths being revealed and those responsible being held accountable. For the first time in nearly thirty years I can identify this individual. I have been freed from a restraint of confidentiality that I have adhered to for almost three decades. But, be patient, with me a bit longer while I explain how and why I came to meet this individual.

I was one among many foreign correspondents covering the coup. Yet, I was the only journalist reporting these events for a major publication who had actually lived in Bangladesh as a journalist. I was the Dhaka correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong) in 1974. The following year I moved to New Delhi and took up a new position as South Asia Correspondent for the Review. The violent death of Mujib would draw me into an inquiry that I could never have anticipated would, again and again, hold me in its sway at different stages of my life.

My unusual source who worked at the American Embassy that night would encourage me forward by his own honesty and quality of integrity. He was one of those unusual individuals one occasionally finds inhabiting an official bureaucracy. He was deeply distressed about the coup and the subsequent killings. He was a man with a conscience. Unlike the rest of us he knew something others did not and that knowledge tore at his conscience. It was this sense of ethical responsibility that brought us face-to-face in one of the more memorable encounters I had as young reporter.

After the coup against Mujib the official story put about by the successor regime and its minions in the Bangladesh press disturbed me. It didn’t hold together. Moreover, the cracks began to reveal rather curious links and antecedents.

The version of events which emerged at the time was that six junior officers, with three hundred men under their command, had acted exclusively on their own in overthrowing Mujib. The motives for the coup were attributed to a combination of personal grudges held by certain of the officers against Mujib and his associates, together with a general mood of frustration at the widespread corruption that had come to characterize certain elements of Mujib’s regime. In short, according to this view of events the coup was an ad hoc affair not a thought out plan a year or more in the making.

The morning Mujib and his family were killed, the figure installed by the young majors as President was Khandakar Mustaque Ahmed, generally considered to be the representative of a rightist faction within Mujib’s own party, the Awami League. After the putsch, Mustaque remained impeccably reticent about any part he personally might have played in Mujib’s downfall. He neither confirmed nor denied his prior involvement. He simply avoided any public discussion of the question and desperately attempted to stabilize his regime.

A year following the coup, after he had himself been toppled from power and before his own arrest on corruption charges, Mustaque denied to me in an interview at his home in the “Old City” of Dhaka that he had any prior knowledge of the coup plan or piror meetings with the army majors, who carried out the action. However, the majors who staged the military part of the coup and were forced into exile within four months by upheavals within the Bangladesh Army began to tell a different tale.

In interviews with journalists in Bangkok and elsewhere, bitter at their abandonment by their erstwhile sponsors and allies, the majors began to talk out of school. They confirmed prior meetings with Mustaque and his associates. A story began to emerge that Mustaque and his political friends had been involved for more than a year in a web of secret planning that would lead to the overthrow and death of Mujib.

A few months after the coup, a mid-level official at the U.S. Embassy told me that he was aware of serious tensions within the U.S. Embassy over what had happened in August. He said that there were stories circulating inside the Embassy that the CIA’s Station Chief, Philip Cherry, had somehow been involved in the coup and that there was specific tension between Cherry and Eugene Boster, the American Ambassador. He had no specific details about the nature of this “tension” only that there were problems. “I understand,” he said, “something happened that should not have happened.” He urged me to dig further.

American involvement in the coup didn’t make sense to me. In the United States, two Congressional Committees were gearing up to investigate illegal covert actions of the Central Intelligence Agency. The so-called Church and Pike Committee hearings in Washington on CIA assassinations of foreign leaders had begun. The committee hearings were having their own impact within the American diplomatic and intelligence bureaucracies creating great nervousness and anxiety. The American press was openly speculating that senior American intelligence officials might face imprisonment for illegal clandestine action in Chile and elsewhere.

It was the summer when citizens of the United States first heard acronyms like MONGOOSE, COINTELPRO, AM/LASH and elaborate details of assassination plots against Lumumba in the Congo, Castro in Cuba and Allende in Chile. The covert hand of American power had touched far and wide. Now the tip of the iceberg was publicly emerging so that for the first time Americans could take a clear look. Yet, all that was happening far away in Washington, in a muggy heat as sultry as any South Asian monsoon.

In India, Indira Gandhi, speaking of the tragedy of Mujib’s death, spoke of the sure hand of foreign involvement. As usual, Mrs. Gandhi was graphically lacking in details or specifics. However, her avid supporters during those first nuptial days of India’s Emergency, the pro-Moscow Communist Party of India (C.P.I.) were more explicit: the CIA said the CPI was behind the coup. I dismissed this as propaganda based on no specific evidence.

Yet, how had the coup happened? There were still huge gaps in my knowledge of how specific actors had traveled through the various mazes they had constructed to disguise their movements yet which ultimately led to August 15th. I was living in England nearly three years after the coup when I decided to make a trip to Washington to visit a colleague of mine, Kai Bird, who was then an editor with The Nation magazine, published from New York. Today he is a prominent American author.

Lawrence Lifschultz was South Asia Correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong). He has written extensively on European and Asian affairs for The Guardian (London), Le Monde Diplomatique, The Nation (New York), and the BBC among numerous other journals and publications. Lifschultz is editor and author of several books including Why Bosnia? (with Rabia Ali) and Hiroshima’s Shadow: Writings on the Denial of History & The Smithsonian Controversy (with Kai Bird). He is currently at work on a book concerning Kashmir.

AUTHOR – Lawrence Lifschultz


In an assessment on Bangladesh disseminated in January, 1997, this writer had observed as follows: ” There are individual officers in the Bangladesh intelligence community and in its security forces, who feel positively towards Sheikh Hasina (Prime Minister) and her father, but one cannot say the same thing of these organisations as institutions. Institutionally, they may not share with her the same enthusiasm for closer relations with India and for assisting it in dealing with the insurgency (in the North-East).  It would take her and her party considerable time to understand and assess the intricacies of their working and the labyrinthine relationships which they have built up with their Pakistani counterparts during the last 21 years.  She, therefore, has to move with caution.”
The savage manner in which 15 members of India’s Border Security Force (BSF) were reportedly abducted, tortured, killed and their bodies mutilated beyond recognition last week shows that even after almost five years in power, Sheikh Hasina is apparently not in total command of her military and intelligence establishment, which like its counterpart in Pakistan, has been infected by the fundamentalist virus of Afghan vintage and is probably developing an agenda of its own vis-à-vis India.
Last week’s savage incident uncomfortably brings to mind three other incidents of the past:
* The brutal massacre of Bengali intellectuals by the Al Badr, the militant wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) of the united Pakistan in 1971.
* The savagery to which some captured Indian soldiers in the Kargil sector in 1999 were subjected by the Al Badr of the present Pakistan and the Al Qaeda ,also known as the Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HUJ), of Osma bin Laden, before their bodies were returned by the Pakistan Army in a similarly mutilated condition.
* The attack on the Indian army in the Siachen sector launched in the early 1990s by Maj-Gen. Zahir-ul-Islam Abbasi, the station chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan in New Delhi in the late 1980s, along with some other fundamentalist officers without the authorisation of the GHQ and the then Government of Mr. Nawaz Sharif. The attack was repulsed by the Indian Army after inflicting heavy casualties on the rogue elements in the Pakistan Army.  The late Gen. Asif Nawaz Janjua, the then Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), removed Abbasi and other officers and punished them.  Subsequently, in 1995, they joined hands with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), which was declared by the US as an international terrorist organisation in October,1997, and plotted to have Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, the then Prime Minister, and Gen. Abdul Wahid Kakkar, the then COAS, assassinated and to proclaim the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Pakistan.  Lt.Gen. Jehangir Karamat, the then Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO), detected the plot in time and crushed it.  The dramatis personae were court-martialled and jailed.
Ever since Sheikh Hasina came to power in 1996, independent analysts and women’s rights organisations in Bangladesh (BD) had been drawing attention to her inability or to the difficulties faced by her in reversing the process of Islamisation of the society and the administrative and security infrastructure under the two military dictatorships which followed the assassination of her father in 1975 and to counter the increasing activities of Islamic fundamentalist organisations such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) of the pre-1971 vintage, the Islamic Oikya Jote (IOJ- the Islamic United Front)) and the followers of bin Laden’s HUJ (Al Qaeda).  They were also drawing attention to the spread of the fundamentalist virus in the BD diaspora, particularly in the UK.
Chakma human rights groups had been highlighting the pre-1996 nexus between the JEI and the Bangladesh Army and documenting instances of their joint attacks on and destruction of Buddhist places of worship and Buddha statues in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), which, according to the Chakma groups, had continued till the middle of 1996.
In a paper on the “State of Minorities in Bangladesh: From Secular to Islamic Hegemony”, Mr. Saleem Samad, an analyst of the BD scene, points out how the trend towards the Islamisation of the civil society and the State apparatus in Bangladesh started even under the late Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first President of Bangladesh.
Shiekh Mujibur Rahman revived the Islamic Academy (which was banned in 1972) and upgraded it to a Foundation in March 1975 and increasingly attended Islamic gatherings. He also banned sale and consumption of liquor, though production of liquor continued and betting in horse-race.  He sought membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in February 1974, attended the OIC conference at Lahore the same year, established diplomatic ties with Pakistan after granting unconditional pardon of the occupational forces of Pakistan involved in war crimes on innocent people, especially women, and allowed their subsequent safe repatriation, and secured the founder membership of the Islamic Development Bank in 1975.
Towards the end of his rule, Mujib made frequent references to Islam in his speeches and public utterances by using terms and idioms which were peculiar mainly to the Islam-oriented Bangladeshi – like Allah (the Almighty God),Insha Allah (God willing), Bismillah (in the name of God), Tawaba (Penitence) and Imam (religious leader).  He even dropped his symbolic valedictory expression Joy Bangla (Glory to Bengal) and ended his speeches with Khuda Hafez (May God protect you), the traditional Indo-Islamic phrase for bidding farewell.  In his later day speeches, he also highlighted his efforts to establish cordial relations with the Muslim countries in the Middle East.
According to Mr.Saleem Samad, the process of using Islam for leadership legitimisation purposes gathered momentum during the military regimes of General Ziaur Rahman (1975-1981) and General H.M. Ershad (1982-1990).  During the regime of Zia, the Constitution was amended to delete secularism as one of the four state principles and insert “Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim” (in the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful).  The principle of secularism was replaced by the words, “Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah shall be the basis of all action.”
“Islamiyat” was introduced as compulsory from classes I to VIII in schools with the option for minority students to take similar religious courses of their own.
Between 1982 and 1990, Ershad made systematic efforts to continue the policy of Zia, rehabilitating anti-liberation elements and the parallel Islamisation culminating in the Eighth amendment to the Constitution declaring “Islam” as a state religion. Earlier, the short-lived government of Mustaque Ahmed (August 1975 – November 1975) brought to power at the behest of young military officers, had declared the People’s Republic of Bangladesh as the”Islamic Republic of Bangladesh” over the state radio.
Mr.Samad points out that the subsequent regimes of Khaleda Zia and Shiekh Hasina, which came to power through popular mandate through a free and fair election process under two consecutive neutral governments (in 1991 and 1996), too continued the Islamic policies of the previous governments.  They did not try to reverse the Islamisation measures taken by Ershad. The Constitution of Bangladesh, despite the Awami League being in power today, remains an Islamic one.
In mid -1993, the Khaleda Zia Government, under pressure from Islamic fundamentalist elements, asked the commercial banks to disallow the withdrawal of substantial cash money by Hindu account holders and to stop the disbursement of business loans to Hindus living in the districts adjoining the India-Bangladesh border.
None of these Governments took action to restore to the Hindus their properties seized by the Ayub Government in 1965 under the Enemy Property (Custody and Registration) Order under the “Defence of Pakistan Rules Ordinance” which has since been replaced by the Vested Property Act.
In a study titled “Resistance to Fundamentalism in Bangladesh and Britain”, an organisation called Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF) has pointed out as follows:
“In 1971,there was widespread collaboration (with the Pakistani rulers) by government officers at local and national level.  Unable to visualise a Bengali victory, they wished to protect their jobs and sided with the rulers who they expected to be the victors.
“More ideologically based was the enthusiastic collaboration of the Islamic party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, and its student wing who formed the active service units of the Al-Badr to defend Pakistan and wipe out Bengali intellectuals.  These ‘razakars’ (collaborators) are held responsible for perpetrating thousands of rapes and massacres in the name of Islam and for guiding the Pakistani army to the resistance bases.
“In the middle of the war, the Pakistani rulers established national and regional ‘Peace Committees’ whose task, in their own words, was to ‘seek out miscreants and Indian agents and to assist the armed forces in destroying them’.  A leading member of the national Peace Committee was Professor Golam Azam who repeatedly exhorted the razakars to rid the country of anti-Pakistani dissidents.
“After the Liberation, there was an expectation of war crimes trials.  A Collaborators’ Ordinance was passed but it was used patchily and apparently more as an excuse to pay off old scores than to put on trial the leading collaborators and murderers although their identity was very well known.  The civil servants who had collaborated were very soon rehabilitated to serve the new government and in 1973, in a changing political climate, a General Pardon was declared (for collaborators other than murderers and rapists).  The extent of this politically motivated rehabilitation was demonstrated by the appointment of a former regional Peace Committee chairman as the President of Bangladesh.
“Most of the leading collaborators went abroad to work against Bangladesh in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the West.  A leading figure among them was Golam Azam who along with other former collaborators played a key role in the expansion of Jamaat-e-Islami and its establishment in Britain.  In 1978,Golam Azam returned to Bangladesh, ostensibly to visit his sick mother.  Despite his having no citizenship and being widely held to have been a major collaborator, he has lived there ever since with the protection of successive governments and his own ‘Islamic Guards’.
“In 1991, Golam Azam was declared the Amir (leader) of the Jamaat, now an active and increasingly successful political party working to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh. Their argument in Bangladesh, as in Egypt and Algeria, is that democracy is un-Islamic because laws can only come from Islam.  Nationalism is also regarded as un-Islamic and Bangladesh ‘s whole existence and secession from Pakistan is therefore disapproved of. Jamaat is believed to have political links with Iran and financial support from Saudi Arabia.  The student wing of Jamaat has gained control of the campus of the Chittagong University, through a combination of ideology and guns, and has near control over other campuses.  Fights and shootings take place very frequently in the universities, many students and teachers have been killed and teaching and examinations disrupted or suspended.
“The Jamaat’s activities have been tolerated and encouraged to a greater or lesser extent by successive ruling regimes and governments in Bangladesh who have relied on their support.  Islamisation has come a long way in Bangladesh with Islam now the official religion and agitation led by the Jamaat for an Islamic Republic.
“The Islamic movement has prospered for a number of reasons.  Many people have a nostalgic attachment to Pakistan and a mistrust of India.  In the depth of the economic and social problems of Bangladesh, and disillusionment with both the capitalist and communist nations which are seen as having failed to support the country, the promise of a renaissance through internationalist Islam seems attractive not only to the very religious rural poor but also to educated young people who can see no other positive future.  The extent of corruption and the general lack of confidence in the government and bureaucracy makes the concept of a ‘pure’ corruption-free society ruled by Islam an appealing option to many people.”
Alarmed by the return and rehabilitation of Golam Azam, the secular forces in Bangladesh started a number of movements to identify the collaborators of Pakistan and the Al Badr in the 1971 massacres and to have them tried.  In a report released in March, 1994, a People’s Enquiry Commission, consisting of prominent personalities,identified, in addition to Golam Azam, eight others as the collaborators of the Al Badr in the massacres–Abbas Ali Khan, Maulana Matiur Rehman Nizami, Mohammed Kamruzzaman, Maulana Dilawar Hussain Sayeedi, Maulana Abdul Mannan, Abdul Kader Molla and Abdul Alim.
Abbas Ali Khan held the No.2 position in the Jamaat and members of the Razakar force (who were given short courses in military training) were, under his leadership, given powers equal to those of the regular armed forces, and they allegedly carried out widespread killings, rapes and looting in villages.
Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami, who was the Secretary- General of the JEI, used to exhort them to “carry out [their] national duty to eliminate those who are engaged in war against Pakistan and Islam,” and to finish off Awami League supporters.  After one such meeting, Al-Badr forces, in cooperation with the Razakars, surrounded the village of Brishlika and burnt it to the ground.  He has since taken over as the Amir of the JEI in December last and has not suffered any penal consequences.  On the contrary, he is now an important political ally of Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP).
Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, the Assistant Secretary-General of the JEI, was in charge of recruiting members for and organising the Al-Badr in Mymensingh.
A member of the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Majlis-e -Shoora, Maulana Dilawar Hussain Sayeedi took active part in the organisation of the Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams forces.  He was also accused of involvement along with Pakistani army troops in the killing of sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) Faizur Rahman,father of Humayun Ahmad, a renowned writer and professor of chemistry at the University of Dacca.
Maulana Abdul Mannan, the president of the Jamiat-e-Mudarresin, an organisation of teachers of madrassas and the owner of the daily “Dainik Inquilab,” the country’s second-highest circulated newspaper, was one of the key collaborators of the Yahya regime during 1971.  A Minister under General Ziaur Rahman after 1976 and subsequently in President H M Ershad’s cabinet, Mannan was also associated with the killing of intellectuals, specifically eminent physician Alim Chowdhury.
Abdul Kader Molla, the publicity secretary of the JEI, was known as a ‘butcher’ in the Dacca suburb of Mirpur, mainly populated by non-Bengali Muslim migrants in 1971.  An eyewitness to Molla’s criminal activities in 1971 told the commission that Razakar men, under the command of Kader Molla, brutally murdered the poet Meherunnessa .
According to the commission’s report, Abdul Alim himself carried out executions of Bengalis by lining them up and shooting them dead.
Despite their involvement in the massacres carried out by the JEI of united Pakistan and its Al Badr, many of these personalities of the JEI are today in the forefront of the fundamentalist, pro-Pakistan and anti-India forces in BD and privileged allies of the BNP.
A Special Rapporteur (SR) of the UN Human Rights Commission, Geneva, who visited Bangladesh from May 15 to 24,2000, reported to the Commission as follows: “The 1972 Constitution (articles 39 and 41) guarantees freedom of religion and conscience and their manifestations, while defining certain limits e.g. in the interest of the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.  The principle of non-discrimination is also guaranteed.  The Constitution accords a special role to Islam, which is defined as the state religion; the Amendment of 1977 defines the Muslim faith as one of the nation’s guiding principles.  The sharia does not constitute the basis of the country’s legislation.
“Most of the officials with whom the SR met stated that the government was in favour of secularism.  Non-governmental representatives and independent experts said that state policies generally respected freedom of religion and belief, in the strictest sense of those terms, and also respected their manifestations, within the framework of the limitations provided by the law.  However, religious communities – more particularly minorities and ethnic groups, but also Muslims – encounter serious problems.  These problems arise in two main contexts: (a) relations between the state and religious communities (e.g. restricted access for non-Muslims to public-sector employment) and between the state and ethnic communities (e.g. the delays in the implementation of the peace accord concerning the CHT); and (b) relations between the state and non-ethnic communities, particularly extremist religious parties.
“There is a real and effective threat of religious extremism, stemming largely from such religious parties as Jamat-e-Islami, which are very active in their efforts to train Muslims by infiltrating mosques and madrasas and engaging in political action.  This extremism is notably responsible for the climate of insecurity among non-Muslim minorities, as well as among the Ahmadi Muslim minority community, among ethnic groups and among women, regardless of their religious confession.
“There have been looting and destruction of (Buddhist) temples, as well as harassment of Buddhist monks and other Buddhists by Muslim extremist groups; Buddhists have suffered discrimination with respect to public sector jobs.
“There is discrimination against Christians with respect to access to public sector employment, including access to police and army jobs; there are stereotypes representing Christians as anti-Muslim (because of the Crusades); there is an absence of any real interchange between the Christian and Muslim communities, especially in urban environments.  The authorities do not, in practice, recruit Christian teachers, even though there are enough Christian students to justify such recruitment; extremist Muslim groups often oppose the use of bells and loudspeakers for hymns in places of worship; there is a strong current of anti-Christian activism and the police largely remain passive when incidents occur; legal decisions in favour of the Catholic Church, concerning the use of their property, have not been applied because extremist Muslims have opposed their application on a variety of grounds.
“There is no interference by the authorities in the religious activities of Hindus; there is a feeling of insecurity, however, due partly to the Vested Property Act; Hindu women are often victims of harassment and rape carried out by criminal elements of society. ”
The electoral support enjoyed by the JEI in BD is more than that of its counterpart in Pakistan, but still not substantial.  It won only 18 seats in the 1996 elections, but it has built up considerable street power and has important allies in the IOJ and the HUJ. They have carefully retained and nursed the nexus which the JEI had built up in the military and intelligence establishment before 1991, but available evidence does not permit a quantification of the support enjoyed by them in the establishment .
During the 1980s, many cadres of the JEI had participated in the fight against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan and, in the process, established a networking relationship with different Afghan Mujahideen groups, with Pakistani jehadi organisations and with the HUJ (Al Qaeda) of bin Laden.  They had also played an active role in assisting and training the Rohingya Muslims of the Arakan State of Myanmar.  The BD military-intelligence establishment had allowed the HUM of Pakistan to run training camps for Rohingya Muslims in BD territory.
In recent months, a Bangladeshi version of the HUJ has made its appearance and has been operating independently.  Though the BD authorities claim that the HUJ came into being in 1992 when Begum Khaleda Zia was the Prime Minister, reports of its activities have come to the fore only during the last two years.  It has been projected as an organisation owing its inspiration to bin Laden and the Taliban of Afghanistan.  Their slogan reportedly is: “Amra Sobai Hobo Taliban. Bangla Hobe Afghanistan'(We all will become Taliban and Bangla will become Afghanistan).
After the arrest and interrogation of a South African citizen of Indian origin Ahmed Sadeq Ahmed,a Pakistani citizen Mohammad Sajed and two Bangladeshis- Maulana Nazrul Islam and Sardar Bokhtiar– in 1999, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the BD Police projected them as members of bin Laden’s organisation and gave the following details of the HUJ as gathered by them during the interrogation:
* Bin Laden had sanctioned taka 20 million (US $ 0.40 million) for recruiting and training cadres and organising terrorist and subversive activities in Bangladesh.  He had handed over the money to Mohammad Sajed, who is the coordinator of the pro-bin Laden militants working in Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh.
* Mohammad Sajed told the investigators that he had handed over the money to Sardar Bokhtiar.
* Bokhtiar confessed to having received this amount and said that he had distributed it to 421 madrasas which were helping the HUJ in recruiting and training its cadres.
* Maulana Nazrul Islam, who was arrested in Sirajganj district, is said to be the Amir of the HUJ in BD.
These claims of the CID were strongly refuted by the JEI of BD and its counterpart in South Africa.  Despite this, the US Secret Service took them seriously enough to advise President Clinton to cancel a visit to a village outside Dacca during his visit to BD in March,2000.
The BD authorities also blamed the HUJ for two alleged attempts to kill Sheikh Hasina in July 2000, when explosive devices were recovered at or near the places to be visited by her during a routine security check.
Since the beginning of this year, there has been a number of violent incidents in which the involvement of the Islamic extremist elements was suspected by the BD Police.  The more important of these incidents were:
* On January 20, 2001, six persons were killed and 50 others injured in two separate bomb blasts in Dhaka.  Home Minister Mohammad Nasism held the JEI and its affiliates responsible for the attack.  Water Resources Minister Abdur Razzak accused Pakistan’s ISI of having instigated the incidents.
* On February 6, seven persons were killed and 100 injured in a clash between Islamic fundamentalists and the security forces at Brahanbaria, bordering the Indian State of Tripura.  These incidents were a sequel to the arrests of two top leaders of the IOJ for having threatened two judges who had banned the issue of fatwas by clerics and killed a police constable.
* On April 14,a bomb exploded at an open-air concert in Dacca, killing at least nine people and wounding nearly 50. The concert was part of celebrations marking the Bengali new year.  Sheikh Hasina blamed the blasts on “forces who opposed Bangladesh’s independence (from Pakistan) and want to destroy Bengali culture”.  The JEI had been campaigning against the celebration of the Bengali new year on the ground that it was unIslamic.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also been targeted by these groups as ‘un-Islamic’.  The hundreds of NGOs working to raise living standards and the lot of women in one of the world’s poorest nations, have been accused of destroying Islamic culture.
With reference to the attack on the BSF personnel, the BD Press has quoted the BD Foreign Secretary, Syed Muazzem Ali, as telling journalists at Dacca on April 20,2001, as follows: “The border force has standing responsibility of protecting the frontier from any external attacks.  BDR are there to repulse any attack on the country’s frontier. There are some situations when decisions are taken instantly.  It does not require to send file to Dhaka, get order and then start firing.  It is the charter duty of BDR to protect our frontier from any attack on our border.  If question of war comes, then the orders from top level may come.”
He thus tried to justify any action by the BDR without the orders of Dacca.
Sheikh Hasina’s election victory in 1996 was greeted in India with lots of hope and expectation that her tenure would mark more cordial and closer relations between the two countries.  The atmosphere has since then definitely improved.  There are warmer vibrations between the political leaderships of the two countries than before 1996.  Her words and gestures have been more sensitive to the concerns of India than those of her predecessors, but what has been wanting is meaningful action on the ground.
She has been unable to order or persuade the military-intelligence establishment to stop its involvement with Indian insurgent groups operating from BD territory and to expel them.  Even if she has done so, they have disregarded her orders.  She has not been able to rid sections of her security bureaucracy of their hostile mindset towards India as seen from the recent incidents.  She has resisted requests from India and pressure from the US to sell the BD’s surplus gas to India, lest there be protests from the anti-India elements.
This gap between words and actions does not appear to be due to any insincerity on her part.  It is more due to her failure, even after five years in power, to get a true measure of her military and intelligence establishment and to put herself in the driving position in relation to them.  It would take her or even Begum Khaleda Zia, if she comes back to power in the elections due shortly, considerable political skills and time to tame the security bureaucracy and make it carry out the bidding of the political leadership.
At present, India has no other option but to be patient and watchful. It is in India’s national interest that the democratic experiment succeeds in BD, that the political leadership there, of whatever persuasion, establishes effective control over the security bureaucracy, that lurking/budding Abbassis and Musharrafs in the BD security forces are detected and removed in time and that the creeping fundamentalisation of the society and the State structure is halted and reversed .

by B.Raman

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )

Bangladesh Liberation War Mujibnagar Government Documents 1971

Book Review

Oath-taking at Bidyanathtala

Zobaida Nasreen

Bangladesh Liberation War Mujibnagar Government Documents 1971; compiled and edited by Sukumar Biswas; Mowla Brothers; February 2005; Taka 1200; 655 pp.


It is undoubtedly true that the Bangladesh War of Liberation is the most remarkable event in the history of the people of Bangladesh, and it is equally true that the documentation of this struggle is a continuous process. Unfortunately, since the history of the liberation war has become a highly politicized matter, its history, and interpretations of it, have become a contested site. Though the war in 1971 was itself the historical consequence of a long-lasting economic, political and social oppression, it is often treated as an outburst of the oppressed people.


It was as a part and a continuation of this history that the Pakistani army launched a barbarous attack on civilians on the night of March 25, 1971. It was the beginning of a genocide with rare parallels in world history. After the declaration of independence by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 25th March, a provisional, independent government of Bangladesh was formally established on 10 th April, 1971. The oath-taking ceremony of this provisional government took place at Bidyanathtala under Meherpur sub-division of Kushtia district, which was subsequently renamed as Mujibnagar. From then on, this provisional Bangladesh government came to be popularly known as ‘Mujibnagar Government’.


Yet there is a scarcity of reliable documentation about the Mujibnagar Government, which played not only the pivotal role in our struggle for independence, but which is also considered as the first non-institutionalized government of the Bangladeshi people. The provisional government of Mujibnagar had to face tremendous hurdles, but, as the author puts it in his preface, ‘it eventually succeeded in achieving independence through farsightedness, firm mental strength and relentless effort. The Mujibnagar Government was recruiting freedom-fighters for fighting against the Pakistan army, giving them training and making and implementing war-plans, (and) also had to keep in their mind the responsibilities of arrangement of relief of nearly ten million refugees in India, sending emissaries to different countries of the world, making efforts to form world opinion and also maintain overall good relations with India regarding all aspects (of the military and civil struggle).’


The book is arranged in four sections: In the first part are 77 out of 82 press releases issued by the Mujibnagar Government. The second part contains ‘Bangladesh‘ a bulletin published by the Mujibnagar Government. The third part includes news items in the foreign press related to Bangladesh and the freedom movement which started after the crackdown of Pakistan army on March 25. The fourth part contains a number of documents of the Mujibnagar Government and rare photographs of that period. The latter is indeed the great attraction of this book.


Though many books have been published on the liberation war or its background over the last 34 years, few of them have focused on the Mujibnagar Government. In the case of documents pertaining to the liberation war, the most definitive is the official, 14-volume Bangladesher Swadhinata Juddho, Dalilpatra, edited by Hasan Hafizur Rahman, published by the Bangladesh government. While that does include papers and documents relating to the Mujibnagar Government, they are not arranged chronologically. Also, some of the documents in Mujibnagar, as Professor Salahuddin writes in the foreword,’had remained hitherto unknown.’ Given the specific focus of Dr. Biswas’s book, it therefore gives us a truer picture of the Mujibnagar Government. Of special interest is that all 26 volumes of ‘Bangladesh‘– a journal brought out by the then newly formed External Publicity Division of the Mujibnagar Government to fight the crucial publicity and propaganda war–has been published here for the first time.


But here one must note that typos abound: indeed, at the very beginning, the author’s introduction is spelt ‘Indtroduction.’ At times the indexing has been overdone; for example, ‘Gestapo rule,’ and ‘Gestapo’ are indexed separately on pp. 185 and 157. Why? And if that is to be the case, then why leave out ‘Gestapo interrogation’?

But, in conclusion, it must be said that it is a necessary book, one that should be of interest to all Bangladeshis concerned about the history of their freedom struggle. Dr. Sukumar Biswas, a researcher on our liberation war as well as publisher Mowla Brothers, are to be commended for having undertaken to bring out this book.


Zobaida Nasreen is a graduate of the Anthropology Department, Jahangirnagar University.



Documenting a government-in-exile

by Syed Badrul Ahsan


There has generally been a rather woeful dearth of documentation relating to the War of Liberation as well as the period preceding it. The paucity of recorded material stands out in sharp contrast to the materials that have been with us about the partition of India in 1947. If we were now to go into a search for papers dealing with the Rawalpindi Round Table Conference of 1969 or the Mujib-Bhutto-Yahya talks of March 1971, we would come away quite disappointed. That would be because apart from the discrete views made known by the parties involved in such happenings of historic proportions, there is little else to actually work upon.

   It is from such a perspective, or away from it, that Sukumar Biswas’s collection and collation of documents relating to the Mujibnagar government of 1971 assume significance. Documents is in many ways the first time (and do not forget that there is the very authoritative Muldhara ’71 of Maidul Hasan as well to fall back on) a scholar has attempted to put together some documents he feels are important to an understanding of how the Bangladesh government-in-exile conducted itself in the extremely difficult months of the war. Statements put out by Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed and Foreign Minister Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed find prominence in the anthology. There are too the turning points of the war, particularly in relation to the emerging nation’s diplomacy. The defections of Bengali officers of Pakistan’s Foreign Service are noted in great detail by the Mujibnagar authorities. It is these crucial announcements of how a military struggle for freedom is being systematically strengthened in various ways that Biswas now puts on record. Especially intriguing is the move, an abortive one, by the Pakistani authorities to have A.F.M Abul Fateh, a Bengali serving as Pakistan’s ambassador abroad, extradited to Islamabad once he switches allegiance to the Mujibnagar government.

   Mujibnagar Government Documents 1971 focuses in an important way on the stupendous efforts put in by expatriate Bengalis to propagate the national cause throughout the course of the war. The Bangladesh Association of Japan sends out a congratulatory telegram to M. Hossain Ali for his courageous move of declaring allegiance to Bangladesh in the early phase of the war. In Washington, the Bengal Revolutionary Committee, led by Mian Nawab, appeals to the international community to accord diplomatic recognition to the Bangladesh government. The documents make note of the many steps the Mujibnagar government took to present the Bangladesh cause before the global arena. One notes that Abdus Samad, later to be a minister in both the Mujib and Hasina governments, travelled to Budapest as the representative of the Mujibnagar government at a peace conference in May 1971. A government press note in June urges Bengalis proceeding to London from their occupied country to avoid passing through Karachi airport. Syed Nazrul Islam despatches a telegram in October 1971 to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt on the latter’s coming by the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Overall, Mujibnagar Documents demonstrates the clarity of purpose with which the government-in-exile operated despite the many constraints it was weighed down by. It was a government on which a war had been thrust by the Yahya Khan military junta. And it acquitted itself well. Read the notes and letters reproduced in the concluding section of the anthology.

Bangladesh Liberation War Mujibnagar

Government Documents 1971

Collected, compiled, edited by Sukumar Biswas

Mowla Brothers

ISBN 984 410 434 3







Bangabandhu – The Legend

 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (March 17, 1920 – August 15, 1975) was a Bengali politician and the founding leader of Bangladesh, considered the father of the nation. He headed the Awami League, served as the first President of Bangladesh and later became its Prime Minister. He is popularly referred to as Sheikh Mujib , and with the honorary title of Bangabandhu  (????????? Bôngobondhu , “Friend of Bengal”). His eldest daughter Sheikh Hasina Wajed is the present leader of the Awami League and a former prime minister of Bangladesh.
A student political leader, Mujib rose in East Pakistani politics and within the ranks of the Awami League as a charismatic and forceful orator. An advocate of socialism, Mujib became popular for his leadership against the ethnic and institutional discrimination of Bengalis. He demanded increased provincial autonomy, and became a fierce opponent of the military rule of Ayub Khan. At the heightening of sectional tensions, Mujib outlined a 6-point autonomy plan, which was seen as separatism in West Pakistan. He was tried in 1968 for allegedly conspiring with the Indian government but was not found guilty. Despite leading his party to a major victory in the 1970 elections, Mujib was not invited to form the government.
After talks broke down with President Yahya Khan and West Pakistani politician Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Mujib was arrested and a guerrilla war erupted between government forces and Bengali nationalists aided by India. An all out war between the Pakistan Army and Bangladesh-India Joint Forces led to the establishment of Bangladesh, and after his release Mujib assumed office as a provisional president, and later prime minister. Even as a constitution was adopted, proclaiming socialism and a secular democracy, Mujib struggled to address the challenges of intense poverty and unemployment, coupled with rampant corruption. Amidst rising popular agitation, he banned other political parties and declared himself president for life in 1975. After only seven months, Mujib was assassinated along with his family by a group of army officers.

Early life
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman  was born in Tungipara, a village in Gopalganj District in the province of Bengal, to Sheikh Lutfar Rahman, a serestadar, or officer responsible for record-keeping at the Gopalganj civil court. He was the third child in a family of four daughters and two sons. Mujib was educated at the Gopalganj Public School and later transferred to the Gopalganj Missionary School, from where he completed his matriculation. However, Mujib was withdrawn from school in 1934 to undergo eye surgery, and returned to school only after four years, owing to the severity of the surgery and slow recovery. At the age of eighteen, Mujib married Begum Fazilatnnesa. She gave birth to their two daughters — Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana — and three sons — Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russel.
Mujib became politically active when he joined the All India Muslim Students Federation in 1940. He enrolled at the Islamia College (now Maulana Azad College), a well-respected college affiliated to the University of Calcutta in Kolkata to study law and entered student politics there. He joined the Bengal Muslim League in 1943 and grew close to the faction led by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, a leading Bengali Muslim leader. During this period, Mujib worked actively for the League’s cause of a separate Muslim state of Pakistan and in 1946 he was elected general secretary of the Islamia College Students Union. After obtaining his degree in 1947, Mujib was one of the Muslim politicians working under Suhrawardy during the communal violence that broke out in Calcutta, in 1946, just before the partition of India.
On his return to East Bengal, he enrolled in the University of Dhaka to study law and founded the East Pakistan Muslim Students’ League and became one of the most prominent student political leaders in the province. During these years, Mujib developed an affinity for socialism as the ideal solution to mass poverty, unemployment and poor living conditions. On January 26, 1949 the government announced that Urdu would officially be the state language of Pakistan. Though still in jail, Mujib encouraged fellow activist groups to launch strikes and protests and undertook a hunger strike for 13 days. Following the declaration of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the province chief minister Khwaja Nazimuddin in 1948 that the people of East Pakistan, mainly Bengalis, would have to adopt Urdu as the state language, agitation broke out amongst the population. Mujib led the Muslim Students League in organising strikes and protests, and was arrested along with his colleagues by police on March 11. The outcry of students and political activists led to the immediate release of Mujib and the others. Mujib was expelled from the university and arrested again in 1949 for attempting to organize the menial and clerical staff in an agitation over workers’ rights.

Early political career
Mujib launched his political career, leaving the Muslim League to join Suhrawardy and Maulana Bhashani in the formation of the Awami Muslim League, the predecessor of the Awami League. He was elected joint secretary of its East Pakistan unit in 1949. While Suhrawardy worked to build a larger coalition of East Pakistani and socialist parties, Mujib focused on expanding the grassroots organisation. In 1951, Mujib began organising protests and rallies in response to the killings by police of students who had been protesting against the declaration of Urdu as the sole national language. This period of turmoil, later to be known as the Bengali Language Movement, saw Mujib and many other Bengali politicians arrested. In 1953, he was made the party’s general secretary, and elected to the East Bengal Legislative Assembly on a United Front coalition ticket in 1954. Serving briefly as the minister for agriculture, Mujib was briefly arrested for organizing a protest of the central government’s decision to dismiss the United Front ministry. He was elected to the second Constituent Assembly of Pakistan and served from 1955 to 1958. During a speech in the assembly on the proposed plan to dissolve the provinces in favour of an amalgamated West Pakistan and East Pakistan with a powerful central government, Mujib demanded that the Bengali people’s ethnic identity be respected and that a popular verdict should decide the question:
“Sir [President of the Constituent Assembly], you will see that they want to place the word “East Pakistan” instead of “East Bengal.” We had demanded so many times that you should use Bengal instead of Pakistan. The word “Bengal” has a history, has a tradition of its own. You can change it only after the people have been consulted. So far as the question of one unit is concerned it can come in the constitution. Why do you want it to be taken up just now? What about the state language, Bengali? We will be prepared to consider one-unit with all these things. So I appeal to my friends on that side to allow the people to give their verdict in any way, in the form of referendum or in the form of plebiscite.”
In 1956, Mujib entered a second coalition government as minister of industries, commerce, labour, anti-corruption and village aid, but resigned in 1957 to work full-time for the party organization. When General Ayub Khan suspended the constitution and imposed martial law in 1958, Mujib was arrested for organising resistance and imprisoned till 1961. After his release from prison, Mujib started organising an underground political body called the Swadhin Bangal Biplobi Parishad ( Free Bangla Revolutionary Council ), comprising student leaders in order to oppose the regime of Ayub Khan and to work for increased political power for Bengalis and the independence of East Pakistan. He was briefly arrested again in 1962 for organising protests.

Leader of East Pakistan
Following Suhrawardy’s death in 1963, Mujib came to head the Awami League, which became one of the largest political parties in Pakistan. The party had dropped the word “Muslim” from its name in a shift towards secularism and a broader appeal to non-Muslim communities. Mujib was one of the key leaders to rally opposition to President Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracies  plan, the imposition of martial law and the one-unit scheme, which centralized power and merged the provinces. Working with other political parties, he supported opposition candidate Fatima Jinnah against Ayub Khan in the 1964 election. Mujib was arrested two weeks before the election, charged with sedition and jailed for a year. In these years, there was rising discontent in East Pakistan over the atrocities committed by the military against Bengalis and the neglect of the issues and needs of East Pakistan by the ruling regime. Despite forming a majority of the population, the Bengalis were poorly represented in Pakistan’s civil services, police and military. There were also conflicts between the allocation of revenues and taxation.
Unrest over continuing denial of democracy spread across Pakistan and Mujib intensified his opposition to the disbandment of provinces. In 1966, Mujib proclaimed a 6-point plan titled Our Charter of Survival  at a national conference of opposition political parties at Lahore, in which he demanded self-government and considerable political, economic and defence autonomy for East Pakistan in a Pakistani federation with a weak central government. According to his plan:

1. The constitution should provide for a Federation of Pakistan in its true sense on the Lahore Resolution and the parliamentary form of government with supremacy of a legislature directly elected on the basis of universal adult franchise.

2. The federal government should deal with only two subjects: defence and foreign affairs, and all other residuary subjects shall be vested in the federating states.

3. Two separate, but freely convertible currencies for two wings should be introduced; or if this is not feasible, there should be one currency for the whole country, but effective constitutional provisions should be introduced to stop the flight of capital from East to West Pakistan. Furthermore, a separate banking reserve should be established and separate fiscal and monetary policy be adopted for East Pakistan.

4. The power of taxation and revenue collection shall be vested in the federating units and the federal centre will have no such power. The federation will be entitled to a share in the state taxes to meet its expenditures.

5. There should be two separate accounts for the foreign exchange earnings of the two wings; the foreign exchange requirements of the federal government should be met by the two wings equally or in a ratio to be fixed; indigenous products should move free of duty between the two wings, and the constitution should empower the units to establish trade links with foreign countries.

6. East Pakistan should have a separate militia or paramilitary forces.
Mujib’s points catalysed public support across East Pakistan, launching what some historians have termed the 6 point movement — recognized as the definitive gambit for autonomy and rights of Bengalis in Pakistan. Mujib obtained the broad support of Bengalis, including the Hindu and other religious communities in East Pakistan. However, his demands were considered radical in West Pakistan and interpreted as thinly-veiled separatism. The proposals alienated West Pakistani people and politicians, as well as non-Bengalis and Muslim fundamentalists in East Pakistan.
Mujib was arrested by the army and after two years in jail, an official sedition trial in a military court opened. Widely known as the Agartala Conspiracy Case, Mujib and 34 Bengali military officers were accused by the government of colluding with Indian government agents in a scheme to divide Pakistan and threaten its unity, order and national security. The plot was alleged to have been planned in the city of Agartala, in the Indian state of Tripura. The outcry and unrest over Mujib’s arrest and the charge of sedition against him destabilised East Pakistan amidst large protests and strikes. Various Bengali political and student groups added demands to address the issues of students, workers and the poor, forming a larger “11-point plan.” The government caved to the mounting pressure, dropped the charged and unconditionally released Mujib. He returned to East Pakistan as a public hero.
Joining an all-parties conference convened by Ayub Khan in 1969, Mujib demanded the acceptance of his six points and the demands of other political parties and walked out following its rejection. On December 5, 1969 Mujib made a declaration at a public meeting held to observe the death anniversary of Suhrawardy that henceforth East Pakistan would be called “Bangladesh”:
“There was a time when all efforts were made to erase the word “Bangla” from this land and its map. The existence of the word “Bangla” was found nowhere except in the term Bay of Bengal. I on behalf of Pakistan announce today that this land will be called “Bangladesh” instead of East Pakistan.”
Mujib’s declaration heightened tensions across the country. The West Pakistani politicians and the military began to see him as a separatist leader. His assertion of Bengali cultural and ethnic identity also re-defined the debate over regional autonomy. Many scholars and observers believed the Bengali agitation emphasized the rejection of the Two-Nation Theory — the case upon which Pakistan had been created — by asserting the ethno-cultural identity of Bengalis as a nation. Mujib was able to galvanise support throughout East Pakistan, which was home to a majority of the national population, thus making him one of the most powerful political figures in the Indian subcontinent. It was following his 6-point plan that Mujib was increasingly referred to by his supporters as “Bangabandhu” (literally meaning “Friend of Bengal”  in Bengali).

1970 elections and independence
A major coastal cyclone struck East Pakistan in 1970, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. The subsequent period exposed extreme outrage and unrest over the perceived weak and ineffective response of the central government. Public opinion and political parties in East Pakistan blamed the governing authorities as intentionally negligent. The West Pakistani politicians attacked the Awami League for allegedly using the crisis for political gain. The dissatisfaction led to divisions within the civil services, police and military of Pakistan. In the elections held in December 1970, the Awami League under Mujib’s leadership won a massive majority in the provincial legislature, and all but 2 of East Pakistan’s quota of seats in the new National Assembly, thus forming a clear majority.
The election result revealed a polarisation between the two wings of Pakistan, with the largest and most successful party in the West being the Pakistan Peoples Party of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was completely opposed to Mujib’s demand for greater autonomy. Bhutto threatened to boycott the assembly and oppose the government if Mujib was invited by Yahya Khan (then president of Pakistan) to form the next government, demanding his party’s inclusion. There was also widespread opposition in the Pakistani military and the Islamic political parties to Mujib becoming Pakistan’s prime minister. And even though neither Mujib nor the League had explicitly advocated political independence for East Pakistan, smaller nationalist groups were demanding independence for Bangladesh .
Following political deadlock, Yahya Khan delayed the convening of the assembly — a move seen by Bengalis as a plan to deny Mujib’s party, which formed a majority, from taking charge. It was on March 7, 1971 that Mujib called for independence and asked the people to launch a major campaign of civil disobedience and organised armed resistance at a mass gathering of people held at the Race Course Ground in Dhaka.
“The struggle now is the struggle for our emancipation; the struggle now is the struggle for our independence. Joy Bangla!..Since we have given blood, we will give more blood. God-willing, the people of this country will be liberated…Turn every house into a fort. Face (the enemy) with whatever you have.”
Following a last ditch attempt to foster agreement, Yahya Khan declared martial law, banned the Awami League and ordered the army to arrest Mujib and other Bengali leaders and activists. The army launched Operation Searchlight to curb the political and civil unrest, fighting the nationalist militias that were believed to have received training in India. Speaking on radio even as the army began its crackdown, Mujib declared Bangladesh’s independence at midnight on March 26, 1971:
“This may be my last message; from today Bangladesh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangladesh wherever you might be and with whatever you have, to resist the army of occupation to the last. Your fight must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistan occupation army is expelled from the soil of Bangladesh. Final victory is ours.”
Mujib was arrested and moved to West Pakistan and kept under heavy guard in a jail near Faisalabad (then Lyallpur). Many other League politicians avoided arrest by fleeing to India and other countries. Pakistani general Rahimuddin Khan was appointed to preside over Mujib’s criminal court case. The actual sentence and court proceedings have never been made public.
The Pakistani army’s campaign to restore order soon degenerated into a rampage of terror and bloodshed. With militias known as Razakars, the army targeted Bengali intellectuals, politicians and union leaders, as well as ordinary civilians. It targeted Bengali and non-Bengali Hindus across the region, and throughout the year large numbers of Hindus fled across the border to the neighbouring Indian states of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. The East Bengali army and police regiments soon revolted and League leaders formed a government in exile in Kolkata under Tajuddin Ahmad, a politician close to Mujib. A major insurgency led by the Mukti Bahini ( Freedom Fighters ) arose across East Pakistan. Despite international pressure, the Pakistani government refused to release Mujib and negotiate with him. Most of the Mujib family was kept under house arrest during this period. His son Sheikh Kamal was a key officer in the Mukti Bahini, which was a part of the struggle between the state forces and the nationalist militia during the war that came to be known as the Bangladesh Liberation War. Following Indian intervention in December 1971, the Pakistani army surrendered to the joint force of Bengali Mukti Bahini and Indian Army, and the League leadership created a government in Dhaka. Mujib was released by the Pakistani authorities on January 8, 1972 following the official ending of hostilities. He flew to New Delhi via London and after meeting Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, he publicly expressed his thanks to “the best friends of my people, the people of India. He returned to Bangladesh on January 10, 1972. With Gandhi, he addressed a crowd of approximately half a million people gathered in Dhaka.

Governing Bangladesh
Mujibur Rahman briefly assumed the provisional presidency and later took office as the prime minister, heading all organs of government and decision-making. In doing so, he dismissed Tajuddin Ahmad following a controversial intra-party power struggle that had occurred during Mujib’s incarceration. The politicians elected in 1970 formed the provisional parliament of the new state. The Mukti Bahini and other militias amalgamated to form a new Bangladeshi army to which Indian forces transferred control on March 17. Mujib described the fallout of the war as the “biggest human disaster in the world,” claiming the deaths of as many as 3 million people and the rape of more than 200,000 women. The government faced serious challenges, which including the rehabilitation of millions of people displaced in 1971, organising the supply of food, health aids and other necessities. The effects of the 1970 cyclone had not worn off, and the state’s economy had immensely deteriorated by the conflict. There was also violence against non-Bengalis and groups who were believed to have assisted the Pakistani forces. By the end of the year, thousands of Bengalis arrived from Pakistan, and thousands of non-Bengalis migrated to Pakistan; and yet many thousands remained in refugee camps.
After Bangladesh achieved recognition from major countries, Mujib helped Bangladesh enter into the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement. He travelled to the United States, the United Kingdom and other European nations to obtain humanitarian and developmental assistance for the nation. He signed a treaty of friendship with India, which pledged extensive economic and humanitarian assistance and began training Bangladesh’s security forces and government personnel. Mujib forged a close friendship with Indira Gandhi, strongly praising India’s decision to intercede, and professed admiration and friendship for India. The two governments remained in close cooperation during Mujib’s lifetime.
He charged the provisional parliament to write a new constitution, and proclaimed the four fundamental principles of ” nationalism, secularism, democracy and socialism,” which would come to be known as “Mujibism.” Mujib nationalised hundreds of industries and companies as well as abandoned land and capital and initiated land reform aimed at helping millions of poor farmers. Major efforts were launched to rehabilitate an estimated 10 million refugees. The economy began recovering and a famine was prevented. A constitution was proclaimed in 1973 and elections were held, which resulted in Mujib and his party gaining power with an absolute majority. He further outlined state programmes to expand primary education, sanitation, food, healthcare, water and electric supply across the country. A five-year plan released in 1973 focused state investments into agriculture, rural infrastructure and cottage industries.
Although the state was committed to secularism, Mujib soon began moving closer to political Islam through state policies as well as personal conduct. He revived the Islamic Academy (which had been banned in 1972 for suspected collusion with Pakistani forces) and banned the production and sale of alcohol and banned the practice of gambling, which had been one of the major demands of Islamic groups. Mujib sought Bangladesh’s membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Islamic Development Bank and made a significant trip to Lahore in 1974 to attend the OIC summit, which helped repair relations with Pakistan to an extent. In his public appearances and speeches, Mujib made increased usage of Islamic greetings, slogans and references to Islamic ideologies. In his final years, Mujib largely abandoned his trademark “Joy Bangla” salutation for “Khuda Hafez” preferred by religious Muslims.

Mujib’s government soon began encountering increased dissatisfaction and unrest. His programmes of nationalisation and industrial socialism suffered from lack of trained personnel, inefficiency, rampant corruption and poor leadership. Mujib focused almost entirely on national issues and thus neglected local issues and government. The party and central government exercised full control and democracy was weakened, with virtually no elections organised at the grass roots or local levels. Political opposition included communists as well as Islamic fundamentalists, who were angered by the declaration of a secular state. Mujib was criticized for nepotism in appointing family members to important positions. A famine in 1974 further intensified the food crisis, and devastated agriculture — the mainstay of the economy. Intense criticism of Mujib arose over lack of political leadership, a flawed pricing policy, and rising inflation amidst heavy losses suffered by the nationalised industries. Mujib’s ambitious social programmes performed poorly, owing to scarcity of resources, funds and personnel, and caused unrest amongst the masses.
Political unrest gave rise to increasing violence, and in response, Mujib began increasing his powers. On January 25, 1975 Mujib declared a state of emergency and his political supporters approved a constitutional amendment banning all opposition political parties. Mujib was declared “president for life,” and given extraordinary powers. His political supporters amalgamated to form the only legalised political party, the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League, commonly known by its initials — BAKSAL. The party identified itself with the rural masses, farmers and labourers and took control of government machinery. It also launched major socialist programmes. Using government forces and a militia of supporters called the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini, Mujib oversaw the arrest of opposition activists and strict control of political activities across the country. The militia and police were accused of torturing suspects and political killings. While retaining support from many segments of the population, Mujib evoked anger amongst veterans of the liberation war for what was seen as a betrayal of the causes of democracy and civil rights. The underground opposition to Mujib’s political regime intensified under the clout of dissatisfaction and the government’s inability to deal with national challenges and the dissatisfaction within the Bangladeshi army.

On August 15, 1975, a group of junior army officers invaded the presidential residence with tanks and killed Mujib, his family and the personal staff. Only his daughters Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Sheikh Rehana, who were on a visit to West Germany, were left alive. They were banned from returning to Bangladesh. The coup  was planned by disgruntled Awami League colleagues and military officers, which included Mujib’s colleague and former confidanté Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad, who became his immediate successor. There was intense speculation in the media accusing the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency of having instigated the plot. Lawrence Lifschultz has alleged that the CIA was involved in the coup  and assassination, basing his assumption on the then US ambassador in Dhaka Eugene Booster.
Mujib’s death plunged the nation into many years of political turmoil. The coup  leaders were soon overthrown and a series of counter- coups  and political assassinations paralysed the country. Order was largely restored after a coup  in 1977 gave control to the army chief Ziaur Rahman. Declaring himself President in 1978, Ziaur Rahman signed the Indemnity Ordinance, giving immunity from prosecution to the men who plotted Mujib’s assassination and overthrow. Ziaur Rahman and Hossain Mohammad Ershad reversed the state’s commitment to secularism and socialism, as well as most of Mujibur Rahman’s signature policies.
In exile, Sheikh Hasina became the leader of the Awami League. She returned to Bangladesh on May 17, 1981 and led popular opposition to the military regime of President Ershad. In the elections following the restoration of democracy in 1991, Sheikh Hasina became the leader of the opposition and in 1996, she won the elections to become Bangladesh’s prime minister. Revoking the Indemnity Ordinance, an official murder case was lodged and an investigation launched. One of the main coup  leaders, Colonel Syed Faruque Rahman was arrested along with 14 other army officers, while others fled abroad. Sheikh Hasina lost power in the 2001 elections, but remained the opposition leader and one of the most important politicians in Bangladesh.

Criticism and legacy
The Pakistani leadership in 1971 was considered by some observers and governments to be fighting to keep the country united in face of violent secessionist activities led by Mujib. Indian support for the Mukti Bahini dented the credibility of Mujib and the League in the community of nations. Some historians argue that the conflicts and disparities between East and West Pakistan were exaggerated by Mujib and the League and that secession cost Bangladesh valuable industrial and human resources. The governments of Saudi Arabia and China criticised Mujib and many nations did not recognise Bangladesh until after his death.
Several historians regard Mujib as a rabble-rousing, charismatic leader who galvanised the nationalist struggle but proved inept in governing the country. During his tenure as Bangladesh’s leader, Muslim religious leaders and politicians intensely criticized Mujib’s adoption of state secularism. He alienated some segments of nationalists and the military, who feared Bangladesh would come to depend upon India and become a satellite state by taking extensive aid from the Indian government and allying Bangladesh with India on many foreign and regional affairs. Mujib’s imposition of one-party rule and suppression of political opposition alienated large segments of the population and derailed Bangladesh’s experiment with democracy for many decades.
Following his death, succeeding governments offered low-key commemorations of Mujib, and his public image was restored only with the election of an Awami League government led by his daughter Sheikh Hasina in 1996. August 15 is commemorated as “National Mourning Day,” mainly by Awami League supporters. He remains the paramount icon of the Awami League, which continues to profess Mujib’s ideals of socialism. Mujib is widely admired by scholars and in Bengali communities in India and across the world for denouncing the military rule and ethnic discrimination that existed in Pakistan, and for leading the Bengali struggle for rights and liberty.
In a 2004 poll conducted on the worldwide listeners of BBC’s Bengali radio service, Mujib was voted the “Greatest Bengali of All Time” beating out Rabindranath Tagore and others.