Bangabandhu was aware of Zia’s ambitious character: document

DHAKA, Aug 14, 2018 (BSS) – A crucial statement of the then state minister for defence suggests Bangabandhu was aware of general Ziaur Rahman’s ambitious character that eventually led him to emerge as the strongman of Bangladesh grabbing power after the August 15 carnage.

“You don’t know, Zia is very ambitious,” then state minister for defence Nurul Islam Chowdhury quoted Bangabandhu as telling him months ahead of the August 15, 1975 coup.

In a signed article published in the Azadi newspaper of Chattogram on its Independence Day edition in 1994, Islam said Bangabandhu’s comments came as he conveyed to him that being annoyed by the extension of general Shafiullah’s service as the army chief, Zia wanted to resign.

Bangabandhu, he said, became angry knowing that Zia had tendered his resignation and asked Chowdhury to immediately accept and refer the letter to him saying “he (Zia) can’t keep patience”.

Bangabandhu also told Chowdhury that Zia lobbied for getting membership in the newly floated BaKSAL engaging different persons though the membership of the platform kept for the service chiefs alone.

“Right now I only made the armed forces services members of the BakSAL, possibly I will induct him (Zia) as well . . . but he can’t keep patience,” Chowdhury quoted Bangabandhu as saying further.

Chowdhury wrote that weeks ahead of the August 15 carnage, Zia met him said he would resign from the army as Shafiullah was made chief of army staff for another term.

The then junior defence minister recalled that he asked Zia to wait for few days as he handed him over his resignation letter and then met Bangabandhu with a request to keep Zia in service for more weeks as he was tasked with restructuring the infantry force of the army.

“I told Bangabandhu – I will accept his resignation and forward to you for approval on September 1 (1975) . . . Bangabandhu used to treat me as his younger brother and so told me – do whatever you think appropriate,” Chowdhury wrote.

He added: “Had Bangabandhu been alive, his (Zia’s) resignation would have been effective from September 1 in 1975.”

Chowdhury wrote after his meetingt with Bangabandhu he called Zia and asked him to continue until September 2 and sought his assistance to accomplish his task he was given to restructure the infantry.

He said without elaborating his conversation with Bangabandhu, he told Zia that the President did not want immediately to do anything to reverse the army chief’s appointment.

Zia, Chowdhury said, told him that he did not have much savings and planned to launch a small business with his retirement benefits.

Chowdhury said he used to live at Nakhalpara MP Hostel for some eight months in 1972, when Zia would visit him to have a cup of tea and express his disappointment about his “under evaluation”.

Zia, he said, would tell him that being senior to Shafiullah in service he deserved the appointment as the army chief.

“The greatest Bengali of all time Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman entrusted me with the charge of the state minister for defence . . . today my conscience is constantly hurting me (as I could not do my job in regard to Zia),” Chowdhury said.