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Despite a lot of debates and discussions about the roles of the top brass of the Bangladesh Army on August 15, 1975, certain important questions still remain unanswered. It is necessary to investigate these questions impartially in order to get at the truth about their roles before and after the brutal killings of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members.  The prime question is, why did not the armed forces and the Rakkhi Bahini put up an immediate resistance against a few junior army officers and their loyal troops involved in the attacks in Dhanmondi? After the assassination of Bangabandhu, one retired army officer, Major Dalim, came into the Army Chief’s office. He was carrying a submachine gun and ordered the Army Chief to go to the radio station to pledge allegiance to the new President Khandaker Mushtaq Ahmed. Major Dalim was accompanied by just a few soldiers. But no attempt was made at that time to arrest him.

After August 15, these junior officers became the most powerful men in the country. By totally disregarding the army chain of command, they stationed themselves in Bangabhaban alongside Khandaker Mushtaq and exerted their influence on government orders. The attack on Bangabandhu’s residence was masterminded by two Majors – Farook Rahman, then Second in Command of Bangladesh Army’s sole armoured unit 1st Bengal Lancers, and Abdur Rashid, then Commanding Officer of the 2nd Field Artillery Regiment. The tanks and artillery guns of these units became the source of power of the junior officers involved in the murder of Bangabandhu. Three types of military coups are commonly seen. A corporate coup occurs when the military as a corporate body seizes the power of the state. Such a coup is endorsed by the most senior officers of the army. A factional coup is carried out by only a faction of the army and mainly the middle-ranking officers command the seizure of political power. A counter coup is directed against a military government by a disgruntled and ambitious group of officers. It is known that before August 15 certain senior officers of the Bangladesh army were aware that some junior officers were hatching a plot to overthrow the government. And when the President was murdered, quick measures were not taken against the killer officers. So would it be reasonable to characterize the August 15 coup only as a factional coup organized by some junior officers?

Was it impossible to repel the Farook-Rashid-Dalim-Noor ring only because they had tanks and artillery guns under their command? At the time three infantry battalions, 1st, 2nd and 4th Bengal, were based in Dhaka Cantonment under 46 Brigade. Two and a half months later, then Chief of General Staff Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf and then 46 Brigade Commander Colonel Shafaat Jamil deployed these battalions against the units loyal to the murderers of Bangabandhu. Jet fighters of the Air Force flew over Bangabhaban, signaling that they were ready to strike the tanks. Junior officers led by Farook-Rashid-Dalim-Noor gave in straightaway. So the question arises as to why the military top brass did not try to neutralise the tank and artillery units using the infantry battalions and jet fighters on August 15?

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Soon after the killing of Bangabandhu, it was known that the tanks took part in the attacks without any gun ammunition. Those were equipped only with automatic firearms. But within a few hours after the massacre in Dhanmondi, Khaled Mosharraf issued an order to get gun ammunition for the tanks from Rajendrapur Ordnance Depot. Why did the CGS give such an order? In his book, Shafaat Jamil wrote that the order came from Chief of Army-Staff General Safiullah. Khaled Mosharraf only followed the instruction of the Army Chief (Ekattorer Muktijuddho, Raktakto Moddho August O Shorojontromoy November, p.107). Contrariwise, Safiullah said he was informed by Khaled on August 17 that the tanks did not have gun ammunition. But two days earlier, without his permission, Khaled ordered giving gun ammunition to the tanks (15th August: A National Tragedy, pp.95-96). Which of these statements should we believe now?

In 1975, Anwar Ul Alam was Deputy Director of Rakkhi Bahini. According to him, at the time Rakkhi Bahini used to keep its arms and ammunition in Bangladesh Rifles Headquarters in Peelkhana. After the killing of Bangabandhu, when Rakkhi Bahini members went to get their weapons, they were not even allowed to enter Peelkhana (Rakkhi Bahinir Shotto Mittha, p.146). Why did the authorities refuse to give ammunition to Rakkhi Bahini, whereas the killers of Bangabandhu got ammunition for their tanks very quickly? In an interview with journalist Anthony Mascarenhas, Major Farook said that in March 1975 he informed General Ziaur Rahman, then Deputy Chief-of-Staff, of their intention of deposing the government. According to Farook, Ziaur Rahman did not want to involve himself in the plot. But he said that if the junior officers would like to do this, they may go ahead. In 1976, when Mascarenhas asked Zia about this claim of Farook, Zia neither denied nor confirmed it (Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood, p.54). Major Nasir Uddin, an armoured corps officer, wrote in his book that Farook wanted to stage a coup one night in March 1975 by capturing six tanks which were on their way to Chittagong for firing practice. Nasir said he informed Khaled Mosharraf immediately of Farook’s intention, and the CGS managed to pacify Farook (Gonotontrer Biponno Dharai Bangladesh er Shoshostro Bahini, pp.58-59). Shafaat Jamil also wrote that Farook wanted to mount a coup against the government using the tanks in 1973. He could not execute his plan but the senior army officials were aware of his intention (Jamil, pp.117-18). Yet Farook was never arrested. Furthermore, he continued to work in the armoured unit.

Safiullah says that having heard of the movement of tanks and artillery pieces towards Bangabandhu’s residence he rang up Shafaat Jamil and ordered him to confront those units with infantry battalions without losing any time. But Shafaat Jamil says the Army Chief phoned him but did not give any order to combat the mutinous units. Contradictory claims of these two important officials have created a lot of confusion about the attitude of the Bangladesh Army towards the attacks in Dhanmondi on August 15. When Shafaat Jamil informed the Deputy Chief that Bangabandhu had been murdered, Zia replied, “The President is dead, so what? Vice-President is there. Uphold the constitution.” (Jamil, p.103). Zia did not say anything about confronting the killers of Bangabandhu. Brigadier Abdur Rouf was the outgoing DG, DGFI at that time. It is not known that he provided the political authority with prior information about some military officers’ plot to overthrow the government. Safiullah writes that his house guards saw Brigadier Rouf taking shelter under a tree in the nearby golf course during the early hours of August 15. At dawn, he entered Safiullah’s house climbing over the rear boundary wearing a lungi and vest (Safiullah, p.182). If this information are correct we need to assume that Rouf was more concerned for his own safety that night rather than trying to shield the President from harm.

At dawn on August 15, Bangabandhu phoned his former Military Secretary Colonel Jamil Uddin Ahmad and informed him of the attack on his house. Colonel Jamil immediately moved towards Bangabandhu’s residence. The attackers shot and killed this devoted and courageous officer who set an extraordinary example of remaining dedicated to duty. Unfortunately, the other military officials failed to resist the killers of Bangabandhu fearlessly that day. Lack of success of the army higher-ups in uncovering the conspiracy beforehand, and their inaction on August 15 raise questions. They cannot deny their failure to resist the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members.

Naadir Junaidis Professor, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka.

12 Responses to “The plot, inaction and unresolved questions”

  1. AHM NURUL ISLAM

    History repeats. In 1757, during the battle of Palassey, when Nawab Sirajuddowlah asked for his Commander-in-Chief Mir Zafar’s help, Mir Zafar did not pay any heed and ignore the call as per conspiracy hatched with the British. On 15 Aug 1975, Gen Safiullah also sat idle when Banga Bandhu asked for his help. But we should ask one question: Why army dared to kill Father of the Nation?

    Reply
  2. Shazad Sarwar

    Certainly, there was a big role of Bhutto and Pakistan intelligence behind Mujub killing and it was not a single day’s plan. Why they chose 15 August for this Killing? That’s another big question? It’s Independence day for Pakistan (and India)…What’s the link there? More importantly there was definitely support from CIA for this killing…The question is: who was those connections of CIA? Are they still alive? Are they still active?

    Reply
  3. Qudrate Khoda

    The questions raised in this article are very simple, but solid and significant.

    Many Bangalis had conveniently forgotten about them and for long perhaps because they were too inconvenient a truth to digest. However, some people have begun to discuss the issue recently is a good omen for the future of the nation.

    Obviously, Prof. Junaid deserves kudos for taking the trouble to tell the terrible truth.

    Reply
  4. Rubo

    In my views: only blaming the army is not right. Bangabandhu was killed within minutes after calling Gen Shafiullah. It would have been impossible to save Bangabandhu’s life even if the troops had started moving from cantonment immediately. The top political brass of Awami League failed to give order to the Army Chief to quell the mutiny. Most of the cabinet members of Bangabandhu were busy queuing up for taking oath while his dead body was still laying on the stairs of his house.

    Reply
    • Dr. Naadir Junaid

      No one is blaming only the army for August 15 massacre. This article did not say that only the army was responsible for those brutal killings. There were conspiracies at different local and international levels. Having said that, we should not forget that August 15 murders were committed by military officers and troops. And when it was evident that some junior officers were hatching a plot to overthrow the government, did the Army top brass try to arrest the officers involved in the plot? If they could arrest the conspirators in the army, August 15 killings would not have taken place. So, we must condemn the inaction.
      This article deals only with the inaction of the army higher-ups before and after August 15 concerning the conspiracy and the killings. And it presents arguments through the use of references. Other articles can be written focusing on conspiracies in various other institutions. But this article deals only with the roles of specific individuals during that time.

      Reply
  5. Khan

    The conspiracy of killing of Bangabandhu and his entire family does not depend solely on military. The political angle and the entire situation and expectation with him were also responsible. It was indeed a very sad episode but was created primarily by the political class of Bangladesh at that time.

    Reply
  6. M. Emad

    Pakistan PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Pak Army directly involved in the plot to kill Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members in 1975.

    Reply
  7. Shelley Shahabuddin

    I thank Naadir Junaid for this article, especially for some information that I did not know before.
    I have three thoughts.
    1. This article shows some of the moral or mental composition of Bangladesh Army at that time. Moral is considered the most important part for an army in order to win a War or Battle.

    I believe that moral was at ‘0’ level at that time. But was not that strange in a victorious Army?
    Yes. Freedom Fighter (FF) officers were supposed to be at a very high moral ground. But probably they were demoralised by officers returning from Pakistan (PR). I had many friends in Army. I found that PR officers mounted a concerted campaign against FF officers. One ground was promotion of FF officers superseding PR officers. I was hearing that PR officers were honest, Army like. Not the FF officers.
    Demoralisation is the most possible explanation of officers not reporting violent ante-state intentions of other officers. The incidence of 1973 would have resulted in a court martial in any normal Army.
    Another propaganda of PR officers to demoralise Army was to create the foul impression that government treats Army as second class to Rokkhi Bahini.
    Mind set of Army at that time may have been compounded & confused also by inattention to reforming the loose discipline of a Guerrilla force and prevailing civilian politics which was also vicious. It was so unfortunate. The country was in ruins. Pakistan took away everything to West. US and its allies were trying to strangle the new born infant country. And an opposition in the country was asking for the moon.
    2. My second thought is also stimulated by this article. Mr. Junaid has shown a complicate situation, ending in favour of our enemies. How was it possible without a Master Plan?
    If there was a Master Plan, who had the reasons, motive, resources and ability to have it?
    I had a short opportunity to watch a CIA operative once. I think many top Army officers (both PR & FF) were bought with sufficient compensation beforehand. They were contracted only to stay out.
    3. My third though is our nature. Complacence & Herd Mentality. This I see in the current political situation also. In an interview with BBC, a renowned journalist has equated BNP & Awami Leauge in relation to Grenade Attack of 21st August. It is not his fault. 50% of our so-called intellectuals & some Journalists are doing this every day in broad daylight.
    Its like comparing killers of Bangabandhu (or Gandhi, Lincoln, Kennedy) at the same level with the victim.
    Lastly, I must mention that hind sight is ‘twenty twenty’.
    Today we find the silence of 1975 unbelievable!

    Reply
      • Akm Shahabuddin

        We need more writings like yours.
        For too long we suffered fear of telling the truth, and enjoyed conspiracy of silence.

        I am happy that now Bangladesh is having an economic surge.
        But I am very unhappy that Bangladesh is morally and psychologically retarded, most of which is intentional, I think.

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