WHO KILLED SHEIKH MUJIB?
The month of August is a month of mourning for the people of Bangladesh, especially for those who believe in a secular, democratic ideals and the spirit of our Liberation War. On 15th. of August, 1975 the leader who created a Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sk. Mujibur Rahman was brutally murdered with his entire family in his private residence in Dhanmondi Road No. 32 by a group of sacked, retired and serving mid-ranking military officers. The senior masterminds remained behind the screen. Two daughters of Bangabandhu, Sk. Hasina and Sk. Rehana escaped the bullets of the assassins as they were in Germany at that time. This was the most brutal assassination of the century and every year the day is observed as National Mourning Day.
This year the country observes the fortieth year of that fateful dark night. Many would like to believe that the killing of Mujib and his family was the deed of a group of sacked, retired and serving soldiers whereas the truth is people involved in the killing included many others. Many of them belonged to the ruling party Awami League and people running the civil and military administration.
No military coup is possible in a country like Bangladesh unless the coup makers get support from outside forces. In the case of Bangladesh the conspirators were profusely helped by two countries, US and Pakistan. From fifties onwards US gained notoriety in helping conspirators to get rid of democratically elected governments and installing puppet dictators.
The US government always used the CIA to mastermind all the conspiracies with the help of local conspirators. The first such dirty work carried out by US after the Second World War was the overthrowing of democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. Gamal Abdel Naser of Egypt, Ahmed Ben Bellah of Algeria, Soekarno of Indonesia, Makarios of Cyprus, Salvador Allende of Chile and Mujib of Bangladesh all were the unfortunate victim of the plots masterminded by US with the help of the local willing lackeys as it happened in Bangladesh.
Though all contemporary US governments preach their commitment towards democracy seem to have an inherent liking for military dictators and autocratic regimes. History provides ample proof on this. Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, General Suharto of Indonesia, Marcos of the Philippines, Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Ziaul Hoque and Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh, the successive military dictators of Thailand and Myanmar, South Vietnam, Augusto Pinochet of Chile all enjoyed the blessing of the US governments since Second World War. It is an irony that the country which produced great Presidents and leaders like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D Roosevelt and Dr. Martin Luther King feels comfortable with dictators and autocrats as their bedfellows.
The conspiracy against the Liberation War of Bangladesh began in the midst of the war itself led by Khondakar Mushtaque Ahmed, the Foreign Minister of the Government in exile. Though Mushtaque was an important leader of Awami League and close to Bangabandhu, his political belief was more aligned to right of the centre. Mushtaque was known to be very ambitious. Though he and many others fled to India after the military crackdown on March 26 and joined the government in exile in 1971, a large number of them were sceptical of the success of the war against the well equipped modern Pakistani army by the ‘rag-tag’ Mukti Bahini. Among these sceptics most were civil bureaucrats while some were politicians of whom Khondakar Mushtaque was prominent. From the very beginning they expressed their concern about the success and formed an axis around Mushtaque and began preaching their scepticism amongst the Mukti Bahini trying to demoralise them. At one time they even distributed leaflets among the Mukti Bahini forces saying that their first priority was to release Bangabandhu from Pakistani prison and for that they might even have to suspend the independence movement temporarily.
This of course was part of a bigger conspiracy. Secretly Mushtaque established contact with the US Consul General in Calcutta through Mahbubul Alam Chashi the foreign secretary of Government in exile and Awami League MP from Comilla Jahurul Quyium. They wanted to send a message through US government to Yahya Khan that the War of Liberation would be stopped once Yahya released Mujib. They also suggested that a loose confederation could be forged between the two wings of Pakistan once the Liberation War comes to an end.
All these began in the month of August. Henry Kissinger the then Secretary of State in Nixon administration in US vividly describes the spread of the conspiracy canvas in his best selling book ‘White House Years.’ Indian intelligence agencies came to know about the conspiracy and tipped off Tajuddin Ahmed, the Prime Minister of the Bangladesh Government who began to sideline while taking decisions relating to the matters of the state. Mushtaque was even prevented to lead a team of Bangladeshi delegation to UN in the month of October.
Though Bangabandhu failed to assess the conspiratorial character of Mushtaque, Tajuddin Ahmed could easily read Mushtaque and assess his plans. Mushtaque was relieved from his post once the government in exile moved to Dhaka after December 16, 1971. Mushtaque did not take this in good earnest and waited for an opportune moment to take his revenge. Unfortunately Tajuddin was later removed from the cabinet by Bangabandhu himself on the behest of Nixon administration and Bangabandhu and his family and the nation paid a high price for this. Nixon administration had a congenital disliking for Tajuddin as he was very critical of US administration’s policy towards Bangladesh’s Liberation War and their support for Yahya’s genocide in Bangladesh. US was a big player in global politics in the sixties and seventies and Bangabandhu mistakenly thought if receiving US’s assistance to rebuild the war devastated Bangladesh their wishes need to be honoured. Tajuddin had to go. Bangabandhu and the nation had to pay a high price to prove that he was wrong.
The conspiracy after a brief pause once Bangladesh was liberated from the Pakistani occupation forces resumed with more vigour and larger spread. Most of those who collaborated with the Pakistani forces in 1971 found refuge in Maulana Bhashani NAP and the newly formed JSD led by Major (Retd) Abdul Jalil, Sirajul Alam Khan and A S M Abdur Rab. They were all very close to Bangabandhu. Chhatra League was split and so was many other Awami League affiliated organisations. Pakistan’s notorious military intelligence service ISI was pressed into action by Bhutto. On December 16, 1974 Comrade Abdul Hoque of Bangladesh Communist Party (M-L) wrote to Bhutto addressing him as ‘My Dear Prime Minister..’ requesting him for providing funds, arms and wireless equipments to unseat the ‘puppet’ regime of Mujib. Bhutto acknowledged the letter and wrote in a note that ‘He is an honest man. Take all necessary steps to fulfill his desire.’
Bhutto entrusted the responsibility of deposing Mujibs’s government on one Abdul Malek a close confidante of Bhutto. Malek travelled to Arab countries with Maulana Kawsar Niazi of PPP and an Advisor of Bhutto to create anti Mujib sentiment among the Arab rulers.
It was only after Bangabandhu’s death that Saudi Arabia and most Arab countries and China recognised Bangladesh. All these are objectively described in the book ‘Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan’ written by American researcher Stanley Wolpert. Nixon Administration was hyper-active on overthrow Mujib government conspiracy. In the country the harvest was bad because of successive floods. The price of essentials rose overnight due to hoarding by some unscrupulous traders and rise in the international oil prices following the Arab-Israel war. Bangladesh had foreign exchange reserve to pay for its imports. Government of India and former Soviet Union and other East European countries sent some commodity aid. Bangladesh even began practicing barter trade but it had only few thousand bails of jute to exchange. The Ghorashal Fertiliser factory was blown off by saboteurs.
The Chittagong and Mongla ports were inoperative till 1973 due to the floating mines left by the retreating Pakistani army. Even before the administration was put in place in the newly created country Maulana Bhashani brought out a ‘procession of the hungry’ (Bhukha Michhil) in September of 1972 in Aricha trying to drum up the anti Mujib government sentiment. US sent some relief but most of them were useless as they comprised of skirts, bikinis, baby strollers. A consignment of food aid under PL480 was taken back by US on the pretext that Bangladesh sold some jute bags to Cuba, its declared ‘enemy state.’ That same Cuba is now on the threshold of becoming one of the most friendly state of US. Politics is a strange game.
Bangabandhu realising the gravity of the situation ordered that free feeding centres be opened in the affected areas. But the opponents of Mujib and his government were not convinced. JSD created an armed underground outfit called ‘Gonobahini’ to carry out subversive activities across the country. They with the help of absconding Al-radars and Razakars did these successfully by burning jute godowns and jute mills.
By 1974 the entire security system of Bangabandhu was taken over by the repatriate Pakistani soldiers or by those who willingly served Pakistani occupation forces in 1971. Unfortunately Mujib was in the dark while all these were taking place though he was warned number of times by the Indian intelligence RAW. Mujib treated everyone as his own son and believed the sons will never harm their father. How wrong he was! A section of the armed forces became restive and they were mostly repatriates from Pakistan. They did not endorse the decision of giving the freedom fighters two years’ seniority by the government and publicised that the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini (JRB) was getting more funds from the defence budget and the Mujib government has a plan to abolish the armed forces and replace it with JRB.
All these were totally concocted and fabricated stories. In fact JRB got only 9 percent of the defence budget. The conspirators capitalised on the discontent of the then Deputy Chief of Army General Zia who was very unhappy when he was superseded by General Shafiullah who was made the first Army Chief of independent Bangladesh. Somehow Bangabandhu could sense that Zia was an over ambitious officer. The conspirators, including Col (Retd) Rashid, Major (Retd) Farookh met Zia in March and shared their plan to remove Mujib from state power and replace him with someone of their choice, meaning Khondakar Mushtaque. Rashid was a close relative of Mushtaque and he maintained a contact with Mushtaque. Zia consented to the plan but said as a senior officer he will not be a party to the execution of the plan. Zia’s service was placed before the Foreign Ministry in March and he was designated to take up a diplomatic position either in Belgium or East Germany. Zia, taken aback, made contacts with some Awami League leaders close to Bangabandhu to have an appointment with the President which was arranged. He met Bangabandhu and informed him in clear terms that as a professional soldier he would like to continue his professional life in the Army. He told Mujib his loyalty towards him was total. Mujib trusted the wily Zia and ordered the cancellation of his diplomatic posting. The rest is history.
Zia was the biggest beneficiary of Bangabandhu’s killing. Rashid confessed his meeting with Zia in a televised interview in London later. The conspirators needed a support from a powerful country and that they found in US. Contact was established with US Embassy in Dhaka. US Ambassador Eugene Boster and CIA’s Station Chief Phillip Cherry teamed up to help the conspirators. By early August the noose closed in around Bangabandhu and Bangladesh.
When the first salvos of bullets were fired at the Father of the Nation the Muazzein was calling the believers to Fazr prayers. The non-believers were on a brutal killing mission. Mujib, the Bangabandhu, the Father of the Nation, was killed with his entire family on that dark night by the very people whom he trusted as his sons. After the killing of Bangabandhu, Bangladesh began its journey to become a mini Pakistan as the conspirators desired.
Mushtaque, the master conspirator, died a natural death on March 6, 1996. His Namaj-e-janaza could not be held in Dhaka fearing public reprisal. His close relative and currently one of BNP’s policy makers Khondakar Musharaf Hossain made arrangements to take his dead body to his village home in Daudkandhi. When BNP formed a government in a one party election held on Februay 15, 1996 an obituary reference was made in the parliament on the master conspirator Khondakar Mushtaque terming him as a hero. Khondakar Mosharraf Hossain, the then BNP law maker, making a long speech on Mushtaque termed him as a ‘great parliamentarian who contributed to the great Liberation War of 1971.’
Mujib was an all time great politician, a statesman and a loving human being. But his love for his people was blind and it cost him his life. Politicians like Mujib have millions of followers but also have enemies. A small number of enemies are enough to bring the citadel of power, democracy and the state crumbling down. History is full of such examples.
Long live the memory of Bangabandhu and those killed on the fateful night of August 15, 1975.
AUGUST 14, 2016
ABDUL MANNAN is an analyst and commentator