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

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: The leader of a nation

The leader of a nation

Bangladesh won victory on December 16, 1971 as a sovereign country through a bloody civil war in which millions died, 10 million became refugee in India to escape torture, and 30 million were uprooted from their homes. Every household in then East Pakistan suffered due to military atrocities. The leader behind their independence struggle was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a tall man with a bushy moustache. Like Nelson Mandela, he spent most of his prime lifetime in jail as he demanded justice, fair share and democracy for his people. During 1966 when he launched his six-point program for regional autonomy for all provinces of Pakistan, he was arrested 14 times in a 2-year period. He was even sentenced to death and was forced to dig his own graveyard but Almighty Allah had a different plan for him. Instead of being hanged by then Pakistan’s Military ruler, General Yahya Khan, he was released as a national hero and on return to his homeland, became the Prime Minister of independent Bangladesh, a truncated country on January 12, 1972. The man who was chosen overwhelmingly to be the Prime Minister of ‘united Pakistan’ in 1970 was sentenced to death. However, he escaped death in Pakistan and ended up as the ‘father of a new nation’. Like Nelson Mendela or Mahatma Gandhi of India, he endured suffering and imprisonment to achieve emancipation for his countrymen. His countrymen out of love and for his sacrifice honored him with the title of “Bangabandhu”, meaning ‘friend of Bangladesh’ in Bengali. The Time Magazine in its cover story referred him as “Poet of Politics”. He was a rare man of courage with strong determination and political acumen. He was born on March 17, 1920 and at age 12, he had to leave school for 3 years as his eyes were to be operated upon.

In 1944 he graduated from the Islamia College of Calcutta and became a ‘voice for the Muslim cause’. He worked hard for the creation of Pakistan, then ‘dream homeland’ for Muslims of India. When Pakistan was created, he found his dream shattered and subjugation was let loose on Bengalis. As a student of the Law Department and as an eloquent speaker in three languages of then Pakistan, Urdu, Bengali and English, he protested the imposition of Urdu as the ‘only state language of Pakistan’ and therefore, he was arrested and was expelled from the Dhaka University in 1948. After 24 years, the Dhaka University rescinded its expulsion order when he became Prime Minister and it accorded him life membership in 1972. As a Muslim activist, he fought against Hindu domination and with the same spirit, he fought against the Pakistani subjugation. At age 34, he got elected as a Member of Parliament and became a Minister of then East Pakistan in 1954 defeating pro-Urdu party of Pakistan, the Muslim League. But within 14 days of assumption of power, the elected government was dismissed by then Pakistan’s Federal government headed by a former bureaucrat, Gulam Mohammed, then Pakistan’s Governor General. Soon he appointed his colleague, a former Indian Intelligence Officer, General Iskandar Mirza as East Pakistan’s Governor. However, when political activities resumed, Sheikh Mujib again got elected and became the Minister of Commerce and Industry in 1956. After 14 months when General Ayub Khan imposed Martial Law in October 1957, he was jailed again and he basically remained in jail until 1969. In 1969 mass movement throughout Pakistan forced President Ayub to release him and drop the infamous Agarthala Conspiracy case against him. President Ayub invited him to a Round Table Conference (RTC) in Rawalpindi on February 1969 and as Ayub Khan refused to compromise on his ‘6-point autonomy demand’, he walked out of the RTC on March 13, 1969. Following this, Gen. Yahya ousted Ayub on March 23, 1969. He held all-Pakistan national election for the first time in December 1970 in which Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League got the majority seats– 167 out 169 in East Pakistan and his allied parties got another 35 in West Pakistan totaling 202 in Pakistan’s 300-seat National Assembly. Pakistan’s Zulfiker Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) got a total of 80 seats. Therefore, Bhutto demanded that power be shared and be handed over to “two majority parties” of East and West Pakistan’. Otherwise, he would not allow the session to resume. At his threat, Gen. Yahya abruptly postponed the resumption of the National Assembly and on March 25, 1971, he imprisoned Bangabandhu and let loose a ‘genocide’ in then East Pakistan in which 3 million died. Finding no other alternative, Bangladeshis, rank and file, fought valiantly and they defeated the occupation army. Pakistan’s 97,000 well-trained soldiers surrendered on December 16, 1971 to the Joint Forces of Bangladesh and India.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib was in power from January 12, 1972 to August 15, 1975, a total of 3 and half years. The man who sacrificed his entire life for ‘justice and fair share for his people, the man who fought to establish democracy and economic well being of his country’ was assassinated on August 15, 1975 along with his wife, three sons, two daughters-in-laws, brother, brother-in-law and his daughters, son and grandson, his nephew and nephew’s wife including his security officer totaling 16 members. Luckily two of his daughters, Sheikh Hasina (former Prime Minister of Bangladesh) and Sheikh Rehana escaped death as they were abroad at the time. An ‘Indemnity Ordinance’ protecting the murderers was incorporated in the constitution by the new government under General Ziaur Rahman and the self-confessed killers were rewarded with business and lucrative diplomatic jobs abroad. Because of the towering personality of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Indian forces had to leave Bangladesh soil on March 17, 1972 and the country received world recognition at rapid speed including a seat at the UN, the IMF and the World Bank.

Bangabandhu became the head of government in a war ravaged country in which roads, bridges, schools, colleges, communication network, industries, in fact, the whole infrastructure were heavily damaged or destroyed, millions were uprooted and the nation had no experience of running a national government. Its ferries, trucks and buses were destroyed and its railway lines were uprooted. The nation had not a single aircraft, nor there was any seagoing vessel. There was no foreign exchange reserve in the country and the nation’s food godowns were not only empty, the agricultural cropland remained uncultivated due to war. The defeating and departing army either destroyed schools and infrastructure or set them afire. Moreover, the police force and the civil administration were totally collapsed, and in addition, large amount of arms and ammunition left to anti-liberation forces made the law and order situation all the more difficult. Naturally, it was a daunting task for any leadership. In spite of such hardship, the new government moved quickly to restore normal lifeit set up new administration, collected arms and ammunitions, repatriated and rehabilitated 10 million refugees from India, rehabilitated another 400,000 stranded Bangladeshis from Pakistan, ensured 44,000 cusecs of water from the Ganges-Jamuna tributaries, adopted a constitution, opened 11,000 primary schools, employed 50,000 new teachers and nationalized 580 industrial units left by Pakistani owners including banks and insurance companies. His government banned all anti-Islamic and anti-social activities like gambling, horse race, drinking of liquor, and it established Islamic Foundation and reorganized Madrassa education and supplied free books to all students upto class V and at subsidized rate upto class VIII. To encourage agricultural crop, it waved tax up to 25 bighas, distributed khas land to landless farmers and installed 46,000 power pumps in 1973. Besides, certificate cases against 1 million farmers were lifted and it distributed 16,125 tons of high-yielding rice seeds, 454 tons of jute seeds and 1,037 tons of wheat seeds. Soon the country faced few serious external problems such as the four-fold increase of gasoline price following the Middle East war of 1973, the world wide shortage of food production causing doubling of food price and subsequent cut in US Food Aid plus the devastating flood of 1974. These environmental factors combined with domestic under production due to war and abandonment of industries and unavailability of spare parts and raw materials created shortage of essentials in the country and inflation jumped to a record high of 56 per cent. Owing to the enormity of problems, administrative inexperience and corrupt associates, his administration failed to meet people’s expectation. But that is a different story.

Bangabandhu restored Bangladesh’s relationship with Pakistan in 1974 and pardoned collaborators against the advice of many as he was a ‘peace maker’. He invited Muslim Heads of governments including President Bhutto to visit Bangladesh. He accorded him a rousing reception and pardoned few hundred war criminals at his request. They were even allowed to accompany Bhutto to Pakistan. However, Pakistani leadership failed to reciprocate such goodwill gesture in resolving the outstanding issues including the repatriation of Pakistani nationals, the Biharis who faithfully supported the Pakistan occupation army in identifying and killing the Bangladesh supporters. Their faith in Pakistan is now being shattered.

Bangabandhu said, “those who cannot maintain law and order cannot expect to be a great nation… political freedom comes to naught if it fails to ensure economic freedom…we must extricate corruption from the soil of Bangladesh”. Unfortunately, law and order problems, economic deprivation and corruption are still rampant. Therefore, the greatest task he has left behind is to create a “golden Bangladesh” where the people will be law-abiding and the society corruption free. This article was published in DailyStar of Bangladesh. Author Dr. Abdul Momen is a Professor of Economics and Management in Boston and currently working in Saudi Arabia.

Author :  Dr. Abdul Momen

Historic verdict in Bangladesh

The assassins of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman have been brought to justice 23 years after he was murdered and his government was overthrown in a military coup. A historic wrong has thus been set right.

NOVEMBER 8, 1998 could well be a turning point in Bangladesh’s history. On that day, Kazi Gulam Rasul, a District and Sessions Court judge of Dhaka, sentenced to death by firing squad in public 15 former Army officers, the “self-confessed killers” of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, 23 years after the country’s founding father was assassinated in a military coup that overthrew Bangladesh’s first Government. Mujibur Rahman was brutally murdered along with 26 others, including his wife, three sons (one of them was just 10 years old), two daughters-in-law, brother, close relatives, political associates and security men in a pre-dawn attack on August 15, 1975.

The historic verdict, which was delivered after 17 months of hearings, came at the end of an agonising trial (see chronology). The “Bangabandhu murder case” – as it is called – was filed in October 1996, more than 21 years after the assassination took place and four months after the Awami League Government led by Sheikh Hasina, one of Mujibur Rahman’s two surviving daughters, assumed office.

Following the award of the death sentence to 15 former Army officers who were found guilty of the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975, a march in Dhaka on November 8 remembering the Father of the Nation.

The people of Bangladesh never saw the assassination of Mujibur Rahman, popularly known as “Bangabandhu” (Friend of Bengal), as an isolated incident. Mujibur Rahman was assassinated three and a half years after he led East Pakistan to independence from West Pakistan through a bloody war of liberation, which was in effect a firm rejection of the “Two-Nation Theory” of Mohammad Ali Jinnah (this theory led to the Partition of India in 1947). The act of breaking away from West Pakistan was viewed as a political and social revolution that aimed at opposing the dominant role of the military in politics and at discarding the politics of communalism. In the popular perception, Mujibur Rahman thus represented a secular and progressive Bangladesh. For pro-liberation Bangladesh, the demand to bring to trial his assassins was therefore a moral compulsion.

Secular and progressive Bangladeshis never came to terms with the 1975 massacre although the assassins and their accomplices justified their action on the grounds that Mujibur Rahman had assumed absolute power under the one-party (Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League) system of governance he enforced and suppressed his political opponents. Pro-liberation Bangladesh continued to view the assassination and the coup as a plot hatched to steer the newly-formed country away from its avowed path of socialism, democracy, nationalism and secularism. This belief was lent credence to by successive military and quasi-military governments which dropped secularism from the set of state principles and substituted Bengali nationalism, the guiding spirit of the country’s war of liberation, with the new-found “Bangladeshi-nationalism”, which is based on religion.

Mujibur Rahman’s daughter and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina weeps while answering newspersons’ questions on the historic verdict.

The shame that accompanied the killings was deepened by the proclamation in 1975 of the Indemnity Ordinance by the military government of Khandaker Mostaque Ahmed, who appointed himself President of the country following Mujibur Rahman’s assassination. The infamous Ordinance was incorporated in the Constitution by President Gen. Ziaur Rahman. The Ordinance granted indemnity from prosecution to those who plotted for and participated in the bloody political changeover.

However, the Shiekh Hasina Government, after it assumed office in June 1996, sought the opinion of a panel of judges and legal experts and cleared the hurdles in the way of prosecution of the plotters. In October 1996, cases were filed against 19 persons in connection with the assassination. All but one of the accused were former military personnel.

At the District and Sessions Court, Dhaka, retired Lieutenant-Colonels Mahiuddin Ahmed and Shahriar Rashid Khan, two of those who were sentenced to death.

THE former Army officers who have been sentenced to death are Lt. Col. Syed Farooq Rehman, Lt. Col. Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Lt. Col. Mahiuddin Ahmed, Lt.Col. Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Maj. Bazlul Huda, Lt. Col. Shariful Huq Dalim, Major Sharful Hussain, Lt. Col. A.M. Rashed Chowdhury, Lt. Col. Mahiuddin Ahmed (Lancer), Lt. Col. Noor Chowdhury, Lt. Col. Abdul Aziz Pasha, Capt. Mohammad Kismet Hashem, Capt. Najmul Hossain Ansar, Capt. Abdul Majed and Risalder Molemuddin alias Moslehmuddin. The first three were arrested from Dhaka in August 1996. The others were handed down the sentences after being tried in absentia.

Of the army officers who were tried and sentenced in absentia Maj. Bazlul Huda’s return to the country was ensured by the Government in a dramatic way. All the others are believed to be hiding in various countries, including the United States, Canada, Libya and certain European and Asian countries. Maj. Huda and Lt. Col. Khandaker Abdur Rashid, two key persons behind the coup of 1975, floated the Freedom Party along with Lt. Col. Syed Farooq Rehman in the 1980s after returning from their self-imposed exile. Rashid and Huda fled the country again as soon as Shiekh Hasina was sworn in as the Prime Minister in 1996. Within hours of the pronouncement of the death sentence, Huda was brought to Bangladesh by special aircraft from Bangkok, where he was facing a jail term on charges of shop-lifting. Lt. Col. Syed Farooq Rehman, who returned to Bangladesh 10 years after the assassination, even contested the presidential election against Gen. H.M. Ershad in the late 1980s. (Frontline, in its issue dated November 1-14, 1986, published an interview with him.)

Lt. Col. Syed Farooq Rehman (right), who was found guilty, and Abdul Wahab Joarder, who was acquitted.

Meanwhile, the Sheikh Hasina Government has initiated talks with the countries in which the assassins are believed to be staying to have them deported to Bangladesh. The Bangladesh police has also sought the help of the Interpol to facilitate the return of the assassins.

THE trial and the judgment are seen as constituting a major blow to the trend of frequent military take-overs in Bangladesh. The successful conclusion of the trail has also strengthened the country’s quest for stabililty for its democracy.

In Dhaka on November 12, a march by activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party to protest against the death of seven BNP workers in violence during a three-day, countrywide hartal called by the Opposition party. The BNP and its allies have not publicly supported the leaders of the 1975 coup, but Sheikh Hasina has said that “their aim is to protect the killers”.

While handing down the verdict, Kazi Golam Rasul acquitted four of the accused, giving them the benefit of the doubt. They included one of the prime accused, Taherussin Thakur, former Information Minister and the lone civilian among the accused. The Government is, however, likely to appeal against this acquittal in a higher court. (Another civilian who was among the accused, Zobaida Rashid, wife of Lt. Col. Khandaker Abdur Rashid, had been acquitted of the charges against her by the Supreme Court at an early stage of the case.)

KAZI GOLAM RASUL ensured that the proceedings in the case progressed according to due process of law. For its part, the Government scrupulously adhered to due process of law and provided the accused, including the absconders, opportunities to defend themselves. The Government did this despite the fact that in a case like this it could have formed a special tribunal, which would have tried and sentenced the accused in a much shorter span of time. In fact, the Government even appointed lawyers for the accused persons who were absconding.

The defence lawyers challenged the legality of the trial by the District and Sessions Court on the grounds that such a trial had been barred by the Indemnity Ordinance of 1975. They also challenged the moral and legal propriety of senior advocate Sirajul Haq appearing as Chief Public Prosecutor in the case, for he was an Awami League member of Parliament when Mujibur Rahman was assassinated. Defence lawyers also raised objections relating to the location of the court which was situated in an old building adjacent to the Dhaka Central Jail. Only after the Supreme Court overruled the objections did the trial court begin the hearings.

Shah Moazzem Hossain, leader of a faction of the Jatiya Party, and K.M. Obaidur Rahman, MP, and Nurul Islam Manzoor, both belonging to the BNP, who were arrested in connection with the murder on November 3, 1975 of four leaders of the liberation struggle. All three were at one time influential leaders of the Awami League.

The Judge gave the verdict after 148 days of hearings and cross-examination. Passing the sentence under Section 302/34 of the Bangladesh Penal Code, the Judge said: “It has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that a total of 15 accused killed the then President Bangabandhu, along with his family members, relatives and some others at the 677 Dhanmondi residence of Bangabandhu in furtherance of a pre-planned conspiracy at about 5 a.m. on August 15, 1975.” The judgment said: “After the incident, some of the accused also boasted, identifying themselves as ‘self-confessed killers’ at home and abroad.” “The incident,” it added, “was not only brutal, but also marked the ruthless shooting of two newly married women and a 10-year-old child.”

The judgment was welcomed by almost all sections of Bangladeshi society. Among the leaders to welcome it were Ershad, the leader of the country’s third biggest party, the Jatiya Party, and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) leaders A.S.M. Abdur Rob and Hasanul Huq Inu. Pro-liberation Bangladesh, which had been demanding for a long time that the Bangabandhu’s assassins be punished for their crime, rejoiced at the judgment. Most of the Opposition leaders described it as a landmark judgment since they believed that the sentence passed on the assassins meant a victory not merely for the Awami League, but for the entire pro-liberation Bangladesh.

The leading newspapers of the country described the verdict as a “historic” one. In fact, almost all of them began their reports on the judgment in a similar way: “Twenty-three years, two months and three weeks after the fateful early hours of August 15, 1975, the historic judgment came….”

Six rulers who were in power in Bangladesh following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, including (from top row, left) Khandaker Mostaque Ahmed, Gen. Ziaur Rahman, Justice Abdus Sattar, Gen. H.M. Ershad, and Begum Khaleda Zia, shielded the killers or failed to investigate the crime. (Not pictured here is Chief Justice A.M. Sayem, who succeeded Mostaque Ahmed as President.) It was during the tenure of Sheikh Hasina (bottom row, far right) that the trial began, nearly 22 years after the assassination.

However, the judgment shocked a section of political opinion in Bangladesh. The main Opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) founded by Gen. Ziaur Rahman and now led by his wife and former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, and its ally, the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, observed a three-day, countrywide hartal from November 9, a day after the judgment was passed. Although the BNP and its allies have not publicly supported the coup leaders, their stand on the bloody political changeover of 1975 is no secret. Obviously they believe that the judgment could jeopardise their political position since they subscribe to an ideology that is similar to that of the coup leaders. In the past it was their leaders who patronised the coup leaders by giving them diplomatic positions abroad. They are thus trying desperately to bring down the Sheikh Hasina Government.

An alarm has been sounded in the BNP’s headquarters also because of the Government’s decision to try persons accused of the murder of four national leaders three months after Mujibur Rahman’s assassination. These leaders led Bangladesh through the period of the war in 1971 and ran the provisional ‘Mujibnagar Government’ in exile when Mujibur Rahman was arrested in Pakistan. They were Vice-President Syed Nazrul Islam, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed, Finance Minister Capt. Mansoor Ali and Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Kamruzzaman; they were killed in Dhaka Central Jail on November 3, 1975, allegedly by the same group of Army officers who assassinated Mujibur Rahman. Three Opposition leaders have been charge-sheeted in this case: members of Parliament K.M. Obaidur Rahman and Nurul Islam Manzoor, both of the BNP, and Shah Moazzem Hossain, co-chairman of a faction of the Jatiya Party. All the three were at one time influential leaders of the Awami League.

The Government has also announced that it will hold trials in cases related to all political killings in order to “establish the rule of law and to halt the politics of killing” which the 28-year-old country has witnessed for years. The proposed trials include those relating to the assassination of Gen. Ziaur Rahman, who was gunned down by a group of Army officers in Chittagong in 1981. No civilian trial was held in the case, although 13 Army officers who fought in the freedom movement were sentenced to death by a military tribunal. There are also indications that the Government plans to hold trials in the case relating to the mysterious killing of Gen. Manzoor, the former General Officer Commanding of Chittagong who allegedly led a rebellion against Ziaur Rahman and was shot dead without trial. Ershad, the then Army chief, is the main accused in the case, which was initiated during Begum Khaleda Zia’s tenure as Prime Minister. The Sheikh Hasina Government’s proposal to hold a trial in the killing of Col. Abu Taher, a freedom fighter who was hanged by the Ziaur Rahman Government, has been received well by freedom fighters and leading politicians of the Left.

THE political motives behind the protests organised by the BNP and its allies are understandable, for unless they build up a strong anti-Government agitation the Sheikh Hasina Government will go ahead with the trials and the trials may turn out to be embarrassing for them politically. Indications are that the protests are likely to intensify in the near future.

The ruling party believes that the protests are part of a “conspiracy” hatched by Khaleda Zia’s party and her “fundamentalist allies” in order to “protect the killers of Bangabandhu” through destabilisation tactics.

In December 1971, Lt. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi (right), chief of Pakistan’s Eastern Command, and Lt. Gen. J.S. Arora of the Indian Army sign the document relating to the declaration of unconditional surrender of Pakistan’s troops in East Pakistan.

The Shiekh Hasina Government’s five-year tenure will end in two years. There are doubts whether the sentence on the assassins would be executed by that time since the judgment will be appealed against in the higher court. Whatever the ultimate outcome, the trail of Mujibur Rahman’s killers and the death sentence awarded to them by a court of law is a victory for pro-liberation Bangladesh.

Soon after the judgment was passed, Sheikh Hasina went to her parents’ house in Dhanmondi, where the massacre took place. The house has been converted into a museum, where visitors can see evidence of the massacre, including traces of Mujibur Rahman’s blood. Speaking to newspersons, Sheikh Hasina said: “The day the verdict is executed, the people of Bangladesh will be free from the curse.” In a voice choked with emotion she expressed her gratitude to all those who protested against the injustice and those who sacrificed their lives demanding a trial.

in Dhaka

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

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The life of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the saga of a great leader turning peoplepower into an armed struggle that liberated a nation and created the world’s ninth most populous state. The birth of the sovereign state of Bangladesh in December 1971, after a heroic war of nine months against the Pakistani colonial rule, was the triumph of his faith in the destiny of his people. Sheikh Mujib, endearingly called Bangabandhu or friend of Bangladesh, rose from the people, molded their hopes and aspirations into a dream and staked his life in the long battle for making it real. He was a true democrat, and he employed in his struggle for securing justice and fairplay for the Bengalees only democratic and constitutional weapons until the last moment. It is no accident of history that in an age of military coup d’etat and ‘strong men’, Sheikh Mujib attained power through elections and mass movement and that in an age of decline of democracy he firmly established democracy in one of the least developed countries of Asia.

Sheikh Mujib was born on 17 March 1920 in a middle class family at Tungipara in Gopalganj district. Standing 5 feet 11 inches, he was taller than the average Bengalee. Nothing pleased him more than being close to the masses, knowing their joys and sorrows and being part of their travails and triumphs. He spoke their soft language but in articulating their sentiments his voice was powerful and resonant. He had not been educated abroad, nor did he learn the art of hiding feelings behind sophistry; yet he was loved as much by the urban educated as the common masses of the villages. He inspired the intelligentsia and the working class alike. He did not, however, climb to leadership overnight.

Early Political Life: His political life began as an humble worker while he was still a student. He was fortunate to come in early contact with such towering personalities as Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy and A K Fazlul Huq, both charismatic Chief Ministers of undivided Bengal. Adolescent Mujib grew up under the gathering gloom of stormy politics as the aging British raj in India was falling apart and the Second World War was violently rocking the continents. He witnessed the ravages of the war and the stark realities of the great famine of 1943 in which about five million people lost their lives. The tragic plight of the people under colonial rule turned young Mujib into a rebel.

This was also the time when he saw the legendary revolutionary Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose challenging the British raj. Also about this time he came to know the works of Bernard Shaw, Karl Marx, Rabindranath Tagore and rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. Soon after the partition of India in 1947 it was felt that the creation of Pakistan with its two wings separated by a physical distance of about 1,200 miles was a geographical monstrosity. The economic, political, cultural and linguistic characters of the two wings were also different. Keeping the two wings together under the forced bonds of a single state structure in the name of religious nationalism would

merely result in a rigid political control and economic exploitation of the eastern wing by the all-powerful western wing which controlled the country’s capital and its economic and military might.

Early Movement: In 1948 a movement was initiated to make Bengali one of the state languages of Pakistan. This can be termed the first stirrings of the movement for an independent Bangladesh. The demand for cultural freedom gradually led to the demand for national independence. During that language movement Sheikh Mujib was arrested and sent to jail. During the blood-drenched language movement in 1952 he was again arrested and this time he provided inspiring leadership of the movement from inside the jail.

In 1954 Sheikh Mujib was elected a member of the then East Pakistan Assembly. He joined A K Fazlul Huq’s United Front government as the youngest minister. The ruling clique of Pakistan soon dissolved this government and Shiekh Mujib was once again thrown into prison. In 1955 he was elected a member of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly and was again made a minister when the Awami League formed the provincial government in 1956. Soon after General Ayub Khan staged a military coup in Pakistan in 1958, Sheikh Mujib was arrested once again and a number of cases were instituted against him. He was released after 14 months in prison but was re-arrested in February 1962. In fact, he spent the best part of his youth behind the prison bars.

Supreme Test: March 7, 1971 was a day of supreme test in his life. Nearly two million freedom loving people assembled at the Ramna Race Course Maidan, later renamed Suhrawardy Uddyan, on that day to hear their leader’s command for the battle for liberation. The Pakistani military junta was also waiting to trap him and to shoot down the people on the plea of suppressing a revolt against the state. Sheikh Mujib spoke in a thundering voice but in a masterly well-calculated restrained language. His historic declaration in the meeting was: “Our struggle this time is for freedom. Our struggle this time is for independence.” To deny the Pakistani military an excuse for a crackdown, he took care to put forward proposals for a solution of the crisis in a constitutional way and kept the door open for negotiations.

The crackdown, however, did come on March 25 when the junta arrested Sheikh Mujib for the last time and whisked him away to West Pakistan for confinement for the entire duration of the liberation war. In the name of suppressing a rebellion the Pakistani military let loose hell on the unarmed civilians throughout Bangladesh and perpetrated a genocide killing no less than three million men, women and children, raping women in hundreds of thousands and destroying property worth billions of taka. Before their ignominious defeat and surrender they, with the help of their local collaborators, killed a large number of intellectuals, university professors, writers, doctors, journalists, engineers and eminent persons of other professions. In pursuing a

scorch-earth policy they virtually destroyed the whole of the country’s infrastructure. But they could not destroy the indomitable spirit of the freedom fighters nor could they silence the thundering voice of the leader. Tape recordings of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib’s 7th March speech kept on inspiring his followers throughout the war.

Return and Reconstruction: Forced by international pressure and the imperatives of its own domestic predicament, Pakistan was obliged to release Sheikh Mujib from its jail soon after the liberation of Bangladesh and on 10 January 1972 the great leader returned to his beloved land and his admiring nation.

But as he saw the plight of the country his heart bled and he knew that there would be no moment of rest for him. Almost the entire nation including about ten million people returning from their refuge in India had to be rehabilitated, the shattered economy needed to be put back on the rail, the infrastructure had to be rebuilt, millions had to be saved from starvation and law and order had to be restored. Simultaneously, a new constitution had to be framed, a new parliament had to be elected and democratic institutions had to be put in place. Any ordinary mortal would break down under the pressure of such formidable tasks that needed to be addressed on top priority basis. Although simple at heart, Sheikh Mujib was a man of cool nerves and of great strength of mind. Under his charismatic leadership the country soon began moving on to the road to progress and the people found their long-cherished hopes and aspirations being gradually realized.

Assassination: But at this critical juncture, his life was cut short by a group of anti-liberation reactionary forces who in a pre-dawn move on 15 August 1975 not only assassinated him but 23 of his family members and close associates. Even his 10 year old son Russel’s life was not spared by the assassins. The only survivors were his two daughters, Sheikh Hasina – now the country’s Prime Minister – and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana, who were then away on a visit to Germany. In killing the father of the Nation, the conspirators ended a most glorious chapter in the history of Bangladesh but they could not end the great leader’s finest legacy- the rejuvenated Bengali nation. In a fitting tribute to his revered memory, the present government has declared August 15 as the national mourning day. On this day every year the people would be paying homage to the memory of a man who became a legend in his won lifetime. Bangabandhu lives in the heart of his people. Bangladesh and Bangabandhu are one and inseparable. Bangladesh was Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s vision and he fought and died for it.