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?
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.