Sunday, November 09, 2014

Gen Zia betrayed Col Taher?

JSD was not ready for Nov 7 Sepoy Mutiny

SALEEM SAMAD

The Biplobi Sainik Sangstha (Revolutionary Sepoy’s Organisation) was never heard of in early 1970s. The clandestine organisation’s hard-core members were mostly Junior and Non-Commissioned Officers of Bangladesh Army. The recruits of the secret group were loyal to dismissed Maj Mohammad Abdul Jalil, Commander of Sector 9 of Mukti Bahini.

The secret group began its journey on January 1, 1973 at the staff quarters of Havildar Bari of Armoured Corps. The members were drawn from serving Junior and Non-Commissioned Officers. On the founding day of the ‘Bangladesh Revolutionary and Suicide Commando Force’ they took solemn oath by touching the Holy Qur’an.

The underground Biplobi Sainik Sangstha’s members held secret meetings at Ahsanullah Hall of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). The political wisdom, mission and visions of the revolution were tutored by Sirajul Alam Khan, political theorist and founder of the Jatiya Samjtantrik Dal (JSD) and Dr Akhlaqur Rahman, an economist.

Days after Maj Jalil was imprisoned on March 17, 1974, he send secret message to the underground organisation’s leader Corporal Altaf Hossain to contact Col Abu Taher (Bir Uttam) and seek directives from the former commander of Sector 11.

Corporal Hossain was the key person to organise the soldiers in various cantonments and motivate them to join the revolution.

On June 20, 1974, a secret meeting presided by Col Taher was organised at Sergeant Abu Yusuf Khan’s residence at Elephant Road. The retired Sector Commander told the dedicated group that his friend Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman, who was Deputy Chief of Army Staff has expressed solidarity with the group and will support their revolution.

The statement has raised the morale of the junior officers. Since then the activities of the Revolutionary Commando Force were held openly.

On the other side, most soldiers of Sector 11 and loyal to Taher joined ‘Biplobi Sainik Sangstha’ also many soldiers in Comilla Cantonment where he (Taher) once served as Commanding Officer also joined the group. He advocated for ‘People’s Army’ and through ‘class struggle’ drew political support of the soldiers.

Soon the Revolutionary Commando Force and other smaller groups among the soldiers merged into Biplobi Sainik Sangstha, after the crisis created following the assassination of the Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a military putsch.

Taher knew his limitation and was not a protagonist of the revolution. He decided to use Zia’s image among the soldiers to expedite the revolution. In a bid to garner more support of the soldiers he included in the Sainik Sangstha a 12-point demands for the realisation of 18 months of unpaid wages of repatriated soldiers from Pakistan. This was debated by former Mukti Bahini soldiers and was not discussed at the high command of the JSD.

Taher also formed strategic alliance with the pro-Peking (now Beijing) left groups and parties who participated in the Liberation War to form liberated areas in rural regions, so that the radical groups can create pressure on the capital Dhaka.

JSD radical political philosophy was similar to the Sainik Sangstha revolution to overthrow the autocratic regime to establish a pro-people, farmers, soldiers, workers and students national government.

On November 6, JSD party forum held an emergency standing committee meeting at a residence in Kalabagan. The meeting was attended by Sirajul Alam Khan, Aklaqur Rahman, Monirul Islam, Hasanul Haque Inu and Khair Ejaz Masud and others, writes Mohiuddin Ahmed in his recent book “Jashoder Utthan Poton: Osthir Somoyer Rajniti, Protoma Prokashon.

The agenda for discussion was to organise an indefinite shut down (hartal). A show down of strength was planned at Paltan Maidan on November 9. JSD leaders expected that thousands of industrial workers from Adamjee, Tejgaon and Tongi would participate and block the capital Dhaka for days, until the government collapse and form a national government with all parties, minus the BAKSAL leadership. Unfortunately the plan was abandoned, due to abrupt Sepoy Mutiny.

While the meeting was in progress, Taher walked in and sat to listen to the discussion. Surprisingly the Sepoy Mutiny was not in the agenda. Possibly the key leaders had no knowledge that a mutiny was brewing.

After a while, a young military officer in civilian dress barged into the meeting room, without causing any alarm among the key leaders sitting there. He whispered in the ears of Taher and handed over to him two small pieces of papers.

Once the officer departed, Taher drew the attention of the meeting and read out one message which came from Gen Zia. Which reads: “I am interned, I can’t take the lead. My men are there. If you take the lead, my men will join you.”

Those present at the meeting have never met Zia and does not know him. The first reaction came from Akhlaqur Rahman, who refused to accept Gen Zia as their leader. All the leaders had one question, whether Zia should be trusted? Taher promptly responded and confidently said, “If you trust me, then you can also trust Zia. He will be under my feet.”

He also informed the meeting that he has instructed the Sainik Sangstha to begin the revolution. Immediately all the members in the room were baffled by the announcement. The meeting tried to influence Taher to withdraw the call for mutiny. He said it was impossible to reach the decision as the communication is a one-way traffic. 

The second message was from the command centre of the soldiers planning the mutiny at midnight following November 6. It reads: “Khaled Mussaraf men are moving fast. The iron is too hot. It is time to hit.”

Taher took the floor and said like what happened in the Bolshevik Revolution – Tonight or never. Sirajul Alam Khan did not say yes or no to the plan. The leaders continued to pursue Taher and frustrated the meeting abruptly ended without any plan, Mohiuddin writes.

F Rahman Hall at Dhaka University was converted into a clandestine command centre for the November 7 Sepoy Mutiny led by Col Abu Taher, commander of Gono Bahni (People’s Army).

A nervous mutineer Subedar Mehboob rang the shot an hour early than determined at 1 O’clock. The single shot at midnight from a rifle, triggered the revolution of soldiers. Thousands of soldiers joined the mutiny broke the military armoury to loot weapons and boarded trucks and jeeps and took control of strategic points.

A contingent rushed to Gen Zia’s residence to free him from house-arrest in Dhaka Cantonment hours after Maj Khaled Musharraf's coup d'etat on November 3. Taher drove in a military jeep with few JSD leaders and met Zia. “You have saved the nation,” he admired Taher amidst cheering soldiers.

Zia asked Taher of the whereabouts of Sirajul Alam Khan. It was presumed that Zia wanted to meet the top leaders of JSD, which never happened.

Since the meeting held on the eve of November 7, Sirajul Alam Khan, Akhlaqur Rahman and many senior leaders opted to maintain low profile. Possibly they believed that the mutiny would fail, and it failed.

Mohiuddin in his book writes that despite request by Taher, Zia refused to go to the radio station on an excuse that his statement could be recorded and broadcast. At the radio station Shamsuddin Ahmed, a young Turk of the Gana Bahini read out a statement which announced the Sepoy Mutiny. Unfortunately, the announcer did not mention the name of Taher or other JSD leaders or even his name.

On November 23, 1975, Zia also ordered the arrest of JSD leaders. A large police contingent surrounded the house of Col Taher's brother Sergeant Abu Yusuf Khan and took him to the police control room.

When Col Taher heard about his brother’s arrest, he rang Gen Zia but was told that he was not available. Instead Maj Gen HM Ershad, the Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrator, spoke with him. Ershad said it was a police matter and they knew nothing about it, writes Talukder Maniruzzaman in “Bangladesh in 1976: Struggle for Survival as an Independent State,” published in Asian Survey in February 1977.

The following day Taher was arrested 16 days after freeing Ziaur Rahman and was taken to Dhaka Central Jail. He was accused of 'instigating indiscipline' in the army and attempting to expand the original mutiny of November 7, 1975 towards a goal of "socialist revolution" and to kill some of the army officers.

Abu Taher's Last Testament: Bangladesh: The Unfinished Revolution by Lawrence Lifschultz published in Economic and Political Weekly, India in August 1977: “It became very clear to me that a new conspiracy had taken control of those we had brought to power on November 7 in 1975.”

“On November 24, 1975, I was surrounded by a large contingent of police. The police officer asked me to accompany him for discussion with Zia. I said I was surprised and I asked him why there was need of a police guard for me to go to Zia. Anyway they put me in a jeep and drove me straight to this jail. This is how I was put inside this jail by those traitors who I saved and brought to power.”

“In our history, there is only one example of such treachery. It was the treachery of Mir Zafar who betrayed the people of Bangladesh and the subcontinent and led us into slavery for a period of 200 years. Fortunately for us it is not 1757. It is 1976 and we have revolutionary soldiers and a revolutionary people who will destroy the conspiracy of traitors like Ziaur Rahman,” the statement concluded.

The Supreme Court has recently described the execution of Taher through an order of a military tribunal in 1976 as ‘outright murder’. It says the hanging of Taher was ‘illegal’ and a case of ‘cold blooded assassination’.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow (USA) is an award winning investigative reporter based in Bangladesh. Email

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Bangladesh: Death for Merchants of Death

S. BINODKUMAR SINGH

After forty-three years, justice finally caught up with Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) ameer (chief) Motiur Rahman Nizami (71) as the International Crimes Tribunal-1 (ICT-1), one of the two War Crimes Tribunals constituted by the Sheikh Hasina Wajed Government, sentenced him to death on October 29, 2014, for atrocities during the Liberation War of 1971. Nizami was found guilty on eight of the 16 charges brought against him. The four charges which brought him death included involvement in the killing of intellectuals; the murder of 450 civilians; rape in Bausgari and Demra villages in Pabna District; the killing of 52 people in Dhulaura village in Pabna District; and killings of 10 people and rape of three women in Karamja village in Pabna District. He was also sentenced to imprisonment for life on the charges of involvement in the killing of Kasim Uddin and two others in Pabna District; torture and murder of Sohrab Ali of Brishalikha village in Pabna District; torture and killing at Mohammadpur Physical Training Centre in Dhaka city; and killing of freedom fighters Rumi, Bodi, Jewel and Azad at Old MP Hostel in Dhaka city.

Nizami, at that time, was the President of the Islami Chhatra Sangha, the students’ wing of JeI, the precursor of the present-day Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), and was also ex-officio chief of Al-Badr, a paramilitary wing of the Pakistan Army in 1971. As a leader, he not only took part in crimes against humanity, the judgment reads, but also delivered provocative speeches to incite thousands of his followers to commit similar crimes during the Liberation War. However, instead of being punished for the heinous crimes, President Ziaur Rahman permitted Nizami and other leaders of the JeI to revive the party in 1978. The JeI subsequently emerged as the largest Islamist party in the country and Nizami established himself as a key leader, organizing the ICS. He became JeI ameer in November 2000, and also served as the Minister of Agriculture (from October 10, 2001, to May 22, 2003) and Minister of Industries (from May 22, 2003 to October 28, 2006) in the Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led Government between 2001 and 2006.

Nizami was first arrested on June 29, 2010, in a lawsuit for hurting religious sentiments. After three days, he was shown arrested for committing crimes against humanity during the Liberation War. Subsequently, on May 28, 2012, he was indicted on 16 specific charges for his involvement in War Crimes. It took around 29 months to go from the indictment to the sentencing, as the verdict was deferred three times in the past.

Earlier, on January 30, 2014, the Chittagong Metropolitan Special Tribunal-1 had awarded the death penalty to Nizami in the sensational 10-truck arms haul case of 2004, the country’s biggest ever weapons haul case. On February 7, 2014, the verdict on the arms haul case was transferred to the Chittagong High Court for confirmation of its sentences. Nizami filed an appeal with the Chittagong High Court seeking acquittal from the charges and, on April 16, 2014, the Chittagong High Court accepted the appeal. The case is still pending in the High Court.

Meanwhile, as in earlier cases, soon after the verdict, cadres of JeI and its student wing ICS went on rampage across the country. 30 persons, including 28 JeI-ICS cadres and two Security Force (SF) personnel have been injured in violence across the country, thus far. 71 JeI-ICS cadres were also arrested from various parts of the country for bringing out processions. The JeI called for a countrywide hartal (general strike) on October 30, November 2 and November 3

The verdict has attracted some negative international attention. Calling for a commutation of Nizami’s death sentence, the European Union (EU), in a statement on October 29, 2014, declared, “The case of Motiur Rahman Nizami has now reached a stage where an execution of the death sentence constitutes a serious threat.” On October 29, the United States (US) reiterated its support to bringing to justice those who committed atrocities during the Liberation War, but demanded that the trials should be fair and transparent maintaining the international standards.

On the other hand, minutes after the news of Nizami’s death penalty reached the Shahbagh intersection in Dhaka city on October 29, Gonojagoron Mancha (People’s Resurgence Platform) activists erupted into exhilarated cheers. Showing victory signs, they demanded the immediate execution of the verdict, chanting slogans like “we demand hanging”.

Meanwhile, on November 2, 2014, ICT-2 sentenced JeI central executive committee member Mir Quasem Ali (62) to death after finding him guilty on two charges, one for abduction, torture and killing of 15-year-old freedom fighter Jasim of Sandwip Sub-District in Chittagong District; another for abducting, torturing and killing Ranjit Das alias Lathu and Tuntu Sen alias Raju of Chittagong town in Chittagong District. Quasem, considered one of the top financiers of JeI, faces 14 charges, including murder, abduction and torture committed in Chittagong city between November and December 16, 1971. He was allegedly the chief of the Chittagong Al-Badr and was indicted on September 5, 2013, after being arrested on June 17, 2013.

Thus far, the two ICTs conducting the War Crimes Trials, which began on March 25, 2010, have indicted 18 leaders, including 13 JeI leaders, three BNP leaders and two Jatiya Party (JP) leaders. Verdicts against 12 of them (including Nizami and Quasem) have already been delivered, in which nine persons have been awarded the death sentence (including Nizami and Quasem), while three have been sentenced to life imprisonment. Remarkably, in the first-ever execution in a War Crimes case, JeI Assistant Secretary Abdul Quader Mollah (65), who earned the nickname Mirpurer Koshai (Butcher of Mirpur), was hanged on December 12, 2013, at Dhaka Central Jail, against his conviction on charges of atrocities committed during the Liberation Wars of 1971. Of the six other convicts who were awarded death sentences, three – Al-Badr leaders Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman Khan and Chowdhury Mueenuddin, and JeI leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad – were awarded sentences in absentia. The verdicts against JeI leaders Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed and Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, and BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, are currently pending with the Appellate Division.

Significantly, former JeI Chief Ghulam Azam (92), who led the JeI during the country’s Liberation War in 1971, died at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) in Dhaka city after suffering a stroke on October 23, 2014. Azam had served a year and three months of his 90-year jail term for crimes against humanity. Protest rallies by opponents of JeI were held during his funeral at Baitul Mokarram National Mosque in Dhaka city, demanding that his body be sent to Pakistan for burial there. Ziaul Hasan, chairman of Bangladesh Sommilito Islami Jote, an alliance of progressive Islamic parties, observed, “The janaza (mourning procession) of a war criminal can never be held at the national mosque.”

The verdict against the JeI chief is a body blow to the organization. The Government is already considering banning JeI, which was debarred on August 1, 2013, from contesting elections. Awami League (AL) Joint Secretary Mahbub-ul-Alam Hanif on October 29, 2014, noted, “The verdict has once again proved that JeI was involved in war crimes with a political decision.” With its very existence now under threat, JeI attempts to retaliate violently are imminent, and likely to vitiate the security environment of the country.

Compounding the problem are the recent activities of other Islamist extremist and terrorist groups, particularly the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). On September 22, 2014, the Detectives Branch (DB) of the Police claimed that 25 top leaders of JMB and seven other Islamist outfits, including Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), Jamaatul Muslemin, Majlish-e-Tamuddin, Hizbul Zihad, Hizbut Tahrik, Jamaatil Muslemin and Dawatul Jihad, discussed a regrouping plan at a meeting in a remote char (riverine island) area at Sariakandi sub-District in Bogra District on May 5, 2014. More recently, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested JMB’s chief coordinator Abdun Noor and four of his close aides from the Sadar sub-District Railway Station in Sirajganj District on October 31, 2014. 49 primary detonators, 26 electronic detonators, four time bombs, 10 kilograms of power gel, 155 different kinds of circuits, 55 jihadi books and a power regulator were recovered from the JMB cadres. During preliminary interrogation, the JMB operatives confessed that they were planning to carry out large-scale bomb attacks across the country, particularly in Dhaka city.

Remarkably, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA), currently investigating the October 2, 2014, Burdwan (West Bengal, India) blast case, on October 28, 2014, uncovered a suspected plot by JMB to assassinate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed and carry out a coup. The JMB had also planned to assassinate BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia. Earlier, on October 27, 2014, Indian investigators had revealed that the JMB module in Burdwan had managed to transport six consignments of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to Bangladesh, to be used for terrorist activities in the country.

The War Crimes Trials, and the cumulative verdicts against leaders of extremist parties and groups that have been at the core of destabilization in Bangladesh over the past decades, have been crucial in turning the country around after years of mounting chaos that had brought it to the very brink of failure. This process needs to be sustained, indeed, accelerated, despite the backlash of extremist entities, if the gains of the recent past are to be consolidated.

First published in South AsiaIntelligence Review, Weekly Assessments & Briefings, Volume 13, No. 18, November 5, 2014


S. Binodkumar Singh is a Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management