By Nadeem Qadir;
Having had the “luck” of witnessing the Bangladesh war and one of the worst genocides ever carried out in human history by the Pakistani army in 1971 in the erstwhile East Pakistan.
One of the saddest post-liberation incident was the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman by pro-Pakistani elements and the rise of a hitherto unknown man named Major General Ziaur Rahman, who was a major in 1971.
His political mentors inserted an uncalled for blatant lie and continued to establish that by distorting history of the country’s birth. That was to make Ziaur Rahman the man who had proclaimed Bangladesh’s independence.
Much have been written or said on the issue, this piece is backed by facts to prove in the Mujib Barsho that it was an ugly attempt to make a hero out of a junior army office of 1971, Major Ziaur Rahman by carefully mutilating historical facts and to demean the real hero — Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Truth triumphs and thus not only Bangladesh, but the world is now celebrating Mujib Barsho to honour the unparalleled hero of this South Asian country and one of the greatest leaders of the world.
Reference to this author’s father is not a bias, but because he is also an important part of the facts that this piece is attempting to establish and also he is a part of this country’s history.
Having known Major Ziaur Rahman and the family since 1970, many issues linked to him based on investigations were found more a myth than a reality due to his bootlicking confidants who wanted to keep him happy at any cost for their respective self-interest.
The most absurd myth has been Major Zia’s so-called declaration of Independence of Bangladesh and his entire views on the conflict that gave birth to Bangladesh with a loss of lives of millions — men, women and children. Added to that was the rape of the Bengali women and post-war evidence of such acts, still haunts me.
Aged about 10 years in 1971, the memories, even after 49 years, are very fresh in my mind.
It was in September, 1970, I reached Chittagong where my father – Lt. Col. Muhammad Abdul Qadir of the Corps of Engineers — took up his new posting on a two-year deputation as the Chief Controller of Operations, Eastern Wing, Oil and Gas Development Corporation, forsaking his appointment to Jordan as the military attaché in the Pakistan Embassy in the kingdom. Little did anybody know why he had forsaken such a sought-after appointment to come to the former east Pakistan, which was his birthplace.
It was sometime in November, 1970, that Lt. Col. Qadir along with his family decided to visit Major Zia’s at his Nasiraband, Chittagong, residence. His wife – Hasna Hena – had questioned why was he visiting Major Zia, who was seven years junior to him, and not the other way round.
“It is ok. I just need to meet another fellow Bengali officer in the city,” Col. Qadir replied. He had already made his official rounds by meeting Brigadier Majumder and Lt. Col. Dr. M.R. Chowdhury in Chittagong Cantonment.
I remember his delight on meeting the then Captain Rafiqul Islam, a former officer of the Corps of Engineers but moved to the then East Pakistan Rifles (EPR), and retired as a major and decorated with Bir Uttom for 1971 war time gallantry. He is currently a member of parliament of the ruling Awami League.
Major Rafiq was a young Lieutenant when Col. Qadir was introduced to him in Lahore soon after the Indian-Pakistan war of 1965. He became a favourite of the colonel, nick-named “Bhashani” in the Pakistan army for his Bengali nationalistic attitudes that had triggered few interesting incidents.
The two became very close and were reunited in Chittagong. Their meetings were frequent, but cautious, which was a mystery at that point. It became more secretive and frequent after Bangbandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s 7 March 1971 historic 19-minute extempore speech including the famous lines “The struggle this time is for our emancipation! The struggle this time is for our independence!”
Myself, my sibling and our dogs had to wait locked in our Datsun 1600 car in weird places as Col. Qadir would set out on foot without answering where was he heading. He did not use his official car or driver during such visits. It was his wife Hena who told this author that he joined secret meetings with Major Rafiq and others. Although, Ziaur Rahman, was not present those meetings.
Major Ziaur Rahman was invited for tea at his residence by Col. Qadir between March 20-22, the exact date fails my memory and was not an important part of Hena life to remember the meeting until many years.
Major Zia was accompanied by his beautiful and fashionable wife, Khaleda Zia, who by another stroke of luck and “electoral conspiracy” became Bangladesh’s prime minister in 1991, the poll result of which election was rejected by Sheikh Hasina, the current prime minister and elder daughter of Bangabandhu.
After having tea and exchanging pleasantries, both the ladies were asked to be seated in the next room while the drawing room was locked from inside. Then after sometime there were loud voices, rather heated words of exchange which was not audible either to Hena or to this author present in that 70 Panchaliash Residential area house where the Bangladesh flag and a black flag fluttered.
In a flash, Major Zia left hurriedly with his wife, while Colonel Qadir could be seen fuming in rage with his face all red.
Years after Hena told this author what happened that day. (Nadeem Qdir, Muktijuddho: Ojana Oddhya, 2nd edition, 2017, Jagriti Prokashoni.)
Col. Qadir talked with Major Zia about the impending political situation in Pakistan and what the Bengali officers could do if required to come in aide of Bangabandhu, whom he met soon after the leader was freed from the Agartala Conspiracy case. He was accompanied by late General M.A. G. Osmany, who later became the war time commander-in-chief of the Bangladesh Forces.
Zia, to his utter shock, refused to have anything to do with the war, if that took place.
“There is no guarantee if there will be Bangladesh. Thus I am not with you and do not want get hanged later (by the Pakistanis) as a traitor.”
Freedom Fighter Abir Ahad in his book “Bangladeshe General Ziar Rajniti” (Bijoy Prokashon, 1994) that his co-fighter had patronised “the rise of anti-liberation forces” and made established facts controversial to achieve his lust for power.
Ziaur Rahman went against Bangabandhu and became an anti-liberation demon, he wrote.
Moudud Ahmed, currently a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) founded by Ziaur Rahman, in his book “Bangladesh Era of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman” does not mention Zia in any major political or military role during and after the war.
He writes that in the absence of Bangabandhu, Bangladesh’s first prime minister Tajuddin Ahmed “quickly tried to consolidate his own position and one of the first steps he took was to remove Khondker Moshtaque Ahmed from the important post of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and put Abdus Samad Azad there.” Why Tajuddin Ahmed did so is now clear because in 1975 when it was proved that Moshtaque had conspired to assassinate Bangabandhu and then took over the realms of the country after the 15 August killings.
Moudud Ahmed wrote in length about the Proclamation of Independence, but stopped short of mentioning Major Ziaur Rahman anywhere the way BNP claims was their man was the one who proclaimed Bangladesh’s independence, not Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Why? Moudud Ahmed knew it was a total lie to get political mileage.
The other fact remains why senior officers prepared themselves for an eventual war much before the developments of 1970-1971 at a time Ziaur Rahman had no idea or interest. Like of Col. Qadir and Major Rafiq had got involved long before under Bangabandhu and the 7 March 1971 speech gave them the message that time had come to take up weapons.
Major Ziaur Rahman was on his way to unload weapons from the Pakistani ship “MV Swat” on the “night of 25 March” 1971 to deposit them in Cantonment with his commanding officer Colonel Janjua in Major Rafiqul Islam, BU, “A Tale of Millions,” 1974, Adeylebros & Co. An officer like him knew why the weapons were being brought to east Pakistan — to kill Bengalis seeking independence!
“Capt Khalequzzaman and Capt Oli …. received reports of atrocities in and around the country and thought of calling Maj Zia …. (they) managed to catch up with Zia’s convoy near Agrabad and apprised him about the happenings at the EBRC. Without wasting time, Zia returned to Sholashohor ….” quoted in “1971 Resistance, Resilience and Redemption” by Major General Md. Sarwar Hossain January 2018, Bangla Academy.
Pakistani intelligence man Major Siddiq Salik also wrote late in his book “Witness to Surrender,” 1977, Oxford University Press. Karachi.
“When the first shot had been fired the voice of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came faintly through a wavelength close to that of official Radio Pakistan. In what must have been and sounded like a prerecorded message, Sheikh proclaimed East Pakistan to be the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.”
The two news items by the Press Trust of India (PTI) and the United News of India (UNI) published breaking news.
PTI reported dated 26 March 1971 that “Sheikh Mujibur Rahman tonight proclaimed East Pakistan the sovereign independent People’s Republic of Bangladesh.”
While UNI date 26 March 1971 datelined Shillong said “Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, speaking over “Swadhin Bangla (Free Bengal) Betar Kendro today proclaimed the birth of an independent Bangladesh.”
Thus Major Zia had not thought of any possibility of a state called Bangladesh as he told Colonel Qadir. His role during the Bangladesh war was not above doubts.
In the same book, “Since Maj Zia was in a much senior and prominent role than the rest of his colleagues, he was requested to deliver the Declaration of Independence. Accordingly, on March 27, on behalf of the Father of the Nation, Maj Zia delivered the historic Declaration of Independence.”
In fact, Major Rafiqul Islam in comments told this author (Muktijuddho: Ojana Oddhya, 2nd edition, 2017, Jagriti Prokashoni.) that had Col. Qadir was able to make it to the Kalurghat radio station at that moment, he would have been the obvious choice to read out Bangabandhu’s declaration as the most senior officer and prominent person.
Thus the myth created about Zaiur Rahman’s proclamation of independence is far from reality. Above all why March 26 and not March 27 is the country’s Independence Day even after his BNP ruled Bangladesh for the longest period until 2006.
Col. Qadir was mentioned in their books by Major Rafiqul Islam and Maj Gen Md Sarwar Hossain.
Major Rafiq writes about his last meeting with Col. Qadir on 21 March 1971 when he said “Your items (explosives) are ready and available whenever you need. Trained personnel are also available,” while Maj. Gen. Md Sarwar Hossain writes that the officer “supplied explosives which were used to blow off culverts and bridges (Shubhapur included) ….. The Pakistanis killed him for his involvement in the war. Later, Qadirabad Cantonment has been named after this valiant officer for his outstanding role.”
Thus Ziaur Rahman was made a hero by anti-liberation forces by glorifying him falsely to stay in power and serve their Pakistani masters. He joined the war when only because he had no other choice, especially to save his life because the Pakistani had started to kill Bengali officers as well as troops.
The late military dictator knew the facts and had remained quite behind his dark Rayban sun glasses as long as he lived. An extremely shrewd man, he evaded making any comment on anything written about him or Bangabandhu, but quietly did everything possible to wipe out Father of the Nation’s name and works from Bangladesh’s murky political history along with demeaning him with false information.
He took the nation away from India demonising the neighbouring country which stood by the Bengalis during the war as an “enemy,” while at the same time build special ties with Pakistan on the international political front.
One last quote, by a Bengali army major, who was dismissed for serving the Pakistani army in 1972, under the Collaboration Act. As soon as deputy army chief Major General Ziaur Rahman took over: “Freedom fighters like your father were fools. Now we will have a confederation with Pakistan.”