Since the birth of Bangladesh in 1971 the country’s political history has been rattled regularly with intimidation, bloodshed and assassinations. At birth it was perceived that the country will see an end to all sorts of killing and bloodshed but within a short period of time the expectations were proven wrong. During the War of Liberation the people of the country were divided. Majority of the people believed in the liberation of country and participated directly or indirectly in the liberation war to free the country from the occupation forces of Pakistan. During these nine months of Liberation War the Pakistani occupation forces were actively helped by the other segment of people who believed in the ideologies of Pakistan and became their willing partners in committing crimes against humanity. These were the leaders and workers of Jamaat-e-Islami, Muslim League and PDP. They formed their own armed gangs viz., Razakars, Al-Shams and Al-Badars. Throughout the nine months they were involved in rape, looting, arson and forcibly displacing people from their homes. There emerged another group in the name of Pro-Peking Communists who believed in the doctrine of the founder of Communist China’s leader Mao Zedong that ‘political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’. In the name of preaching their version of Marxism they also joined the ranks of the previous groups and became their active comrades. Immediately after the liberation of Bangladesh these political parties were banned constitutionally by Bangabandhu’s government. When General Zia usurped the state power after the assassination of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the name of returning to multi-party democracy he amended the Constitution and allowed all these parties to return to normal politics of the country. But those who preached ultra-left dogma and Mao’s doctrines went underground and unleashed a reign of terror in the name of cleansing the politics of the country from big landowners. Siraj Sikdar founded his ‘Sharbahara’ (proletariat) party for these activities. Then Abdul Hoque, Abdul Matin, Md. Toha, Alauddin and others had their own communist parties which they loved to call Marxist-Leninist. They regularly fought pitched battles with the regular forces of Bangladesh Military. During the rule of Bangabandhu some of them went into hiding only to resurface after 1975.
A faction of Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of Bangladesh Awami League, under the leadership of Serajul Alam Khan, MA Jalil, ASM Abdur Rab, Shahjahan Siraj broke away from the mainstream Chhatra League and Awami League and formed their own ultra-left National Socialist Party or JSD and preached their own version of Marxism and resorted to violent means to spread their romantic political ideology, ‘scientific socialism.’ They even formed an armed wing of the party named ‘Gonobahini’ that preached hatred and extreme violence. Dozens of workers and leaders belonging to Bangladesh Awami League and Chhatra League, including parliament members lost their lives in the hands of Gonobahini. They even attempted to take hostage the Indian Ambassador to Bangladesh, Samar Sen. The attempt was however foiled by the security forces.
After Zia took over the state power from another lynchpin of August killing, Khondaker Mostak Ahmad, a one-time political colleague and a senior member of Bangladesh Awami League who was also known to be a close confidant of Bangabandhu Bangladesh’s blood soaked politics took a new turn. Zia not only emerged as a new iron fisted military ruler of Bangladesh but also introduced the culture of state sponsored killing in the politics of Bangladesh just to consolidate his power. On 7 November 1975 Brigadier Khaled Musharraf, a brilliant freedom fighter of 1971 staged a coup to restore the chain of command in the military which collapsed following the killing of Bangabandhu. His attempts failed resulting in his assassination by another group of military personnel inside the Dhaka Cantonment (the under-construction national parliament building). Along with him were killed Lt. Col. Huda and Col. Haider, also two other freedom fighters. According to the available information these killings happened while Zia was in control of the situation inside the cantonment. While the overall environment seemed very confusing, steps in Col. Abu Taher another valiant freedom fighter to preach his imaginary version of ‘scientific socialism’ amongst the soldiers in the Dhaka Cantonment. Taher was soon overwhelmed, arrested, tried in a Kangaroo court by Zia and hanged. Taher also subscribed to the ideologies of JSD.
During Zia’s rule from 1975 until his brutal killing in another military coup that took place in Chattogram on 30 May 1981, there were a series of attempted military coups to unseat him. In the month of October 1977 while the world was watching a drama unfolding in Dhaka’s Kurmitola Airport where a Japanese airline plane was high-jacked by the Japanese Red Army, another military coup with the help of the airmen on duty at the airport took place but was foiled by soldiers loyal to Zia. Following this incident there were random arrests that took place across the country, most of whom had no clue about the incident and many of them were even not on duty or were on leave. All accused were tried in sham military courts and more than 1143 were executed without the knowledge of their family members. The mortal remains were buried without their knowledge and till to date they have no idea as to where their beloved ones are buried. This entire episode has been vividly documented by journalist Zaedul Ahsan in his book ‘The Mysterious Coup and Mass Hanging’ (in Bangla).
Ander Gunder Frank, the German-American sociologist mentioning the mass execution of 1977 in his book ‘Crisis in the third world’, wrote ‘Ziaur Rahman has opened an ugly breach. Mass execution of the imprisoned ordered by the central authority of the state is something repugnantly new…[These are] the first official mass murder executions that have been known in this country in South Asia…The Washington Post [10 February 1978] wrote …”the State Department quoted the regime in Dacca as hanging 37 rebels…Our best estimate, drawn from sources available to the embassy as a whole, is that 217 military personnel were executed…President Ziaur Rahman had slain large numbers of suspected rebels without bringing them before court-martial.’ Such news and commentaries abound in the western media of that time. Some media even wrote, ‘The issue now for the West is whether he (Zia) can become Bangladesh’s General Suharto, the Indonesian Military figure whose American backed countercoup ended in the massacre of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), and securely opened the country to the Petramina oil export boom of the next decade. A number of Western observers see an Indonesian style solution as the only answer to Bangladesh’s radical traditions.’ (Gunder Frank. Page 202). Should Sheikh Hasina be cautious about the present situation in Bangladesh and all those sanctions and other unfolding events? The answer lies in the possible unfolding events over next few months before the next national election.
After Zia’s assassination in Chittagong in 1981 the Commandant of Chittagong Garrison General Manzoor was arrested and in another mysterious circumstance was executed inside the cantonment. Many accuses the then Army Chief General Ershad for the assassination of Zia and Manzoor. Though no investigation was ever held to unearth the truth under which Zia was killed, not even when his party BNP was in power 13 freedom fighter officers were tried in another closed door kangaroo court and executed, presumably on the order of Ershad.
Ershad ruled Bangladesh from 1982 to 1991 after he overthrew the elected President Justice Abdus Sattar in a bloodless coup. Ershad till his fall following a mass upsurge in the 90s emerged as another military dictator who would not tolerate any opposition from any quarter challenging his authority. The open truck on which Sheikh Hasina was travelling to address a public rally in Chittagong on 24 January 1988 came under indiscriminate police firing, ostensibly to kill her. She was saved by her party workers who formed a human shield around her. After her return from exile in 1981 following the killing of her family she faced number of assassination attempts, one of the most life threatening was the hurling of 14 hand grenades on her public rally in front of Awami League party office on 21 August, 2004. Though she escaped again due to her party workers protecting her with a human shield, the carnage left 24 of her party workers dead and more than 500 maimed for life. The entire killing spree was carefully choreographed, planned and executed under the leadership of Begum Zia’s eldest son Tarique Rahman. His involvement has been well documented both in Bangladesh and by FBI of USA. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment not only for this incident but also for quite a few other crimes including money laundering to arms smuggling. He is now absconding in London and taking care of BNP while the Chairperson of BNP Begum Zia is serving prison terms convicted for embezzlement of public fund.
Bangladesh under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina has emerged as an economic powerhouse in the region. Her success may not be easily taken by some powers of the West. The western powers have assumed that it is their natural right to interfere in the internal matters of other nations and for this they may resort to all sorts of covert and overt means. Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan are cases to be considered. The next few months may be crucial for Bangladesh and Sheikh Hasina. All quarters needs to be careful. At the end it is the interest of the nation that matters.
(The writer is an analyst and a commentator)
Source: Sun Editorial