1975 The killings of November

Syed Badrul Ahsan
Thursday, November 9th, 2017


 

PROLOGUE

 

Tragedy has been part of Bangladesh’s history, both before and after the attainment of independence. It was the expectation of the nation, once the country stood liberated in December 1971, that Bangladesh would emerge as a truly democratic, secular and socialist republic under the leadership of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. And indeed Bangabandhu began well, with the overwhelming support of his people. A war-ravaged land, a destroyed economy, a ruined infrastructure — all needed to be built anew.

 

But that was not to be. A vast intrigue involving both local and alien elements put paid to our dreams. On August 15, 1975, foul conspiracy caused the assassination of Bangabandhu and most of his family. Bloody treason reigned supreme. A few days after the dark deed was committed, the four leaders of the 1971 Mujibnagar government — Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, M. Mansur Ali and A.H.M. Quamruzzaman — were carted off to prison by the usurper regime of Khondkar Moshtaque Ahmed. They would never emerge into freedom ever again, for even as Brigadier Khaled Musharraf went into action on November 3 against the assassins of August, these four pre-eminent national leaders, all close associates of the Father of the Nation, were murdered in the supposed security of Dhaka Central Jail.

 

Over the next few days, the forces of counter-revolution, all loyalists of General Ziaur Rahman and Col Abu Taher, organized themselves on the basis of false and motivated propaganda against Musharraf, who had by then been promoted to the rank of major general and become army chief of staff in succession to Zia. As Musharraf negotiated with Moshtaque on the ways and means through which the latter would quit Bangabhaban and a proper government could be restored, his enemies were disseminating crude propaganda in the cantonment.

 

Early on the morning of November 7, Khaled Musharraf’s coup collapsed. He and his close aides, Col Najmul Huda and Major A.T.M. Haider, were murdered in cold blood by soldiers loyal to Zia and Taher.

 

Thus did the killings of November blight our future. Thus did a long period of darkness descend on Bangladesh.

 

Every 3 November dawns in darkness for the people of Bangladesh. Every year the day is a painful reminder of the brutalities committed in 1975.

 

The assassination of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, with nearly his entire family, earlier in August 1975 had been a rude shock that left the nation in a state of paralysis.

 

Bangabandhu’s murder put paid to the principles that had sustained the War of Liberation. In that summer of cumulative pain, a group of young military officers, in connivance with a band of political predators symbolised by the likes of Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed, pushed the country further down the path to disaster. It was in November of the year that matters came to a head, for reasons that had to do with the murders of August.

 

In the weeks preceding November 1975, rumours had begun to circulate about a power struggle getting underway at Bangabhaban and in the cantonment. Senior officers in the army, among whom were Brigadier Khaled Musharraf, Colonel Shafaat Jamil, Colonel Najmul Huda and Major ATM Haider, all heroes of the 1971 war, were determined that the chain of command broken by the assassin majors and colonels through the coup in August needed to be restored. The assassins of course remained ensconced inside the safe confines of the presidential palace, along with Khondokar Moshtaque.

 

The chief of army staff, Major General Ziaur Rahman, having been unable to exercise authority over the assassin officers, was himself under threat of removal from his position. By the evening of 2 November, it was obvious that changes of a major nature had begun to take shape. By the next day, 3 November, it became fairly clear that Musharraf had gained the upper hand and was putting pressure on Moshtaque to give up the presidency. What exactly was being done about the majors and colonels was not at that stage very clear.

 

And yet Brigadier Musharraf would soon be under siege. Even as his enemies went into planning strategy against him, he was found spending a long stretch of time trying to negotiate a deal at Bangabhaban that would have Moshtaque and his team leave office quietly. Musharraf, one of the most brilliant of tacticians in the 1971 war, was suddenly observed to be oblivious to conditions outside Dhaka, especially in places like Joydevpur and Comilla where forces arrayed against him were spreading the lie that he was a foreign agent and therefore leading the country to a new phase of servitude.

 

Murder of the Mujibnagar leaders

 

As Musharraf remained busy in the presidential palace and as Col. Taher went around developing his own plans of liquidating the Musharraf group, a macabre plan of murder was given shape to and then executed.

 

On the night between 3 and 4 November, Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, M. Mansur Ali and AHM Quamruzzaman were gunned down in a cell inside Dhaka central jail by the very men who had in August murdered Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family. Khaled Musharraf and his men clearly had little idea of the tragedy that had already occurred at the Dhaka jail. A mere few hours after the murders had been committed, all the majors and colonels involved in the coup d’etat of 15 August 1975 (and the killings of 3 November 1975), were allowed to fly off to Bangkok with their families. Musharraf had triumphed, but he remained as yet unaware of the price he had paid to ascend to the top. On the morning of 4 November, a newly freed from jail Korban Ali, minister for information in Bangabandhu’s government, was spotted telling a crowd outside his Wari home of the horrific murders just hours earlier.

 

Between 4 and 6 November a flurry of announcements and statements made by the president were aired over the radio. The queer part of the story was that no one exactly knew who the president was. The popularly held belief was that Moshtaque had been ousted by Brigadier Khaled Musharraf. But if that was true, who had replaced him? No one knew. Meanwhile, fresh rumours began to make their rounds, all reinforcing the thought that for all his triumph in securing the departure of the assassins, that Musharraf was really on shaky ground. Rumblings of discontent were gaining in intensity inside Dhaka cantonment and elsewhere. Soldiers unhappy with Musharraf were organising themselves, through the active involvement of Colonel Taher, in a plot to overthrow Musharraf, who had meanwhile been appointed chief of staff of the army in succession to the detained Ziaur Rahman.

 

As the country teetered on uncertainty, 6 November dawned with newspaper images of a beaming Khaled Musharraf being decorated with epaulettes reflecting his new rank of major general by the chief of staff of the navy, Rear Admiral MH Khan, and the chief of staff of the air force, Air Vice Marshal MG Tawab. The latter had been flown in from Germany, where he had been leading a retired life, to take over from AK Khondokar in the period following 15 August.

 

As the day progressed on 6 November, the pieces began to fall into a pattern. The announcement that Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed had resigned the presidency was swiftly followed by news that the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Abu Sadat Muhammad Sayem, had replaced him. The new president addressed the nation late in the evening and specifically condemned the killings of the national leaders in August and November.

 

Khaled Musharraf dies

 

What followed was bizarre. As 7 November dawned, Dhaka passed into the hands of Colonel Taher and his men, who lost little time in freeing General Ziaur Rahman from confinement and restoring him to authority as chief of staff of the army. For General Musharraf, conditions had already gone from bizarre to eerie. He and his loyalists were on the run from the marauding men who had clearly thrown in their lot with Taher and Zia.

 

Attempting to make their way out of Dhaka in the hope of organising resistance, Musharraf, Huda and Haider found themselves in Sher-e-Banglanagar. Within minutes they became prisoners of the men they had once commanded. All three were brutally murdered. Their corpses were then subjected to varied forms of indignities.

 

Sometime in the early afternoon, General Zia made his way to Bangabhaban. Soldiers and a crowd of onlookers raised, for the first time in independent Bangladesh, the slogan of Nara-e-Takbeer, punctuated of course by another, Sepoy-Janata Zindabad.

 

As twilight descended on the country on 7 November 1975, Musharraf loyalists in the army, those who had survived death, were scattered and making their way to safety. Moshtaque and his cabal were out, certainly, but those who took charge after Khaled Musharraf’s murder appeared to promise to continue what had been inaugurated on 15 August.

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