Rashid turns to Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed as "temporary measure"

Farook gave Rashid the responsibility for finding a suitable replacement for Sheikh Mujib after General Zia had turned him down. Rashid was well aware that Sheikh Mujib's killing could unleash a spontaneous storm of violent opposition which they would not be able to contain with their meagre forces available to them. He determined that the man they chose as Sheikh Mujib's successor needed to be untarnished and competent political leader whose presence would go a long way to containing any adverse reaction to the killing.

Factors to consider whilst selecting new leader

Rashid identified four potential sources of trouble - the Awami League, the Rakkhi Bahini, unlawfulness and disorderliness rising from people turning on Awami Leaguers, and India's intervention rising from fleeing refugees similar to 1971.

These factors prevented Rashid from choosing someone from the opposition and compelled him to choose a suitable candidate from the Awami League's hierarchy itself.

Such a person would reassure pro-Mujib groups and the Rakkhi Bahini. The public seeing another Awami Leaguer in charge would not dare to take revenge. There would be no refugees and India would have no reason to intervene.

Major Abdur Rashid

However, the replacement Awami Leaguer would only be a "temporary measure" since "they will do all sorts of hypocrisy, bungling and other things". Once the army and air force were combined under the proper leadership, Rashid thought, then they could "sort them out at any time".

Despite the bold words, the two majors were showing themselves to be incredibly naive in the matter of choosing the man to succeed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The criteria that Rashid was working to were essentially security considerations, not the winning combinations for a much-vaunted changed. The most important requirements for the latter - statesmanship, integrity, a man who could deliver the goods where Sheikh Mujib could not - did not figure at all on Rashid's list. It was unbelievably arrogant for him, or still worse, unforgivably puerile, to assume that Khandaker Mushtaque, the man eventually chosen, would be merely a puppet who would allow himself to be used and discarded at their convenience. It was well known that Mushtaque was a 'survivor', the leading alumnus of the rough-and-tumble school of Pakistan/Awami League politics. With any intelligence Rashid should have realised, at least at their first meeting, that there was an old fox who could eat them for breakfast, which he did.

Thus in the spring of 1975 - a season for flowers in Bangladesh which, lamentably, has also become a season of woe - Farook and Rashid were plotting what in effect would become an assassination, not a coup; it would be a savage blood-letting that made a mockery of their pretentions to perform cleansing, health-restoring surgery. Because they had neither the wit nor the maturity to tell the difference, the majors besmirched the proud name of the army they professed to love and set in train dark forces that have been more destructive to the dream of Shonar Bangla than Sheikh Mujib ever was.

Anthony Mascarenhas,

Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed's backgound

Before the end of July 1975 Rashid sought an interview with Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed, the Commerce Minister and the third ranking member of BAKSAL after Chairman Mujib.

Khandaker Moshtaque was the least controversial of the Awami League ministers and generally considered to be the leader of the party's right wing - his Islamic leanings no doubt fostered by the fact that his father, Marhum Alhaj Hazrat Khandkar Kabiruddin Ahmed, known as 'Pir Sahib', was considered to be a Muslim saint in his time. Moshtaque (also spelt Mushtaq) was a year older than Sheikh Mujib. The two had been close comrades in the long struggle for Bengali emancipation during which he had been detained six times for a total of seven years in Pakistani prisons. In the process Moshtaque had also acquired a law degree from Dhaka University and built up a considerable reputation as an advocate in Dhaka High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

In 1971 during the freedom struggle, Moshtaque was Vice President of the Awami League. When he fled to India with his colleagues he was appointed Foreign Minister in the Mujibnagar government-in-exile based at Kolkata, headed by Tajuddin Ahmad. His right-wing views earned him a pro-American label. He did live up that reputation when Henry Kissinger in the autumn of 1971 singled out Moshtaque in an abortive attempt to split the Awami League and prevent the break-up of Pakistan. Because of this Moshtaque was abruptly sacked from his job as Foreign Minister when the Mujibnagar government moved to Dhaka after the formal creation of Bangladesh.

Khandaker Moshtaque served as Minister for Flood Control, Water Resources and Power in Sheikh Mujib's first Cabinet. In 1975 when Mujib switched to the presidential system of government Moshtaque became Minister for Commerce and Foreign Trade.

Moshtaque's political ability is underscored by his penchant for survival. Though always very servile and falling easily into line behind Mujib - even in the notorious Baksal one-party system introduced just before Mujib was assassinated - Moshtaque did not share in the public odium which attended the other ministers. Nor was he ever accused of the blatant corruption that most of his Cabinet colleagues were. As such Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed nicely measured up to Major Khandaker Abdur Rashid's ideas for a replacement for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Anthony Mascarenhas

Both Rashid and Moshtaque came from the same general area of Daudkhandi in Comilla district. They came from adjoining villages - Moshtaque from Dosphara, Rashid from Chandina. Rashid's uncle Musharraf Hussain ('Mushu') had also befriended Moshtaque while he was escaping to India in 1971 and they had been close friends since then. Rashid asked 'Mushu' to arrange an appointment for him with Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed in Dhaka. This was easily done.

Rashid informs Khandaker Moshtaque of their desire to remove Sheikh Mujib in their first meeting

Dressed in civil clothes to avoid attention Rashid turned up at Moshtaque's home in 54 Aga Masi Lane in the old quarter of Dhaka (near Dhaka University) at 7pm on 2 August 1975 - thirteen days before the assassination. He took the precaution of carrying with him an application for a permit to buy a scooter just in case he was noticed and someone wanted to know why an army officer was calling on a politician.

Rashid was welcomed by Moshtaque in an upstairs room, and after the normal courtesies, Rashid steered the conversation to the political situation. They spoke for almost two hours. Abdur Rashid told Khandakar Mushtaq that they'd do whatever it takes to remove Sheikh Mujib but they never openly discussed the killing.

We discussed political matters for some time as I was indirectly finding out how he felt. Then I asked him, being closest to Sheikh Mujib and one of the seniormost Awami League members, how did he feel? I asked him, "Can the nation expect progress under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman?" He said, "No, they cannot". Then I said "If that is the case why don't you leave?" He said "That is not easy". It showed that they (the ministers) are quite afraid of taking such a decision though they know what he is doing. They are such cowards that they have accepted all his bad doings.

Then I asked, "Will there be any justification at this stage if somebody takes a decision to remove Sheikh by force?" He said, "Well, probably for the country's interest it is a good thing. But it is also very difficult to do it.


Khandaker Moshtaque asked Rashid that if somebody did remove Sheikh Mujib then who'd replace him. Rashid remained non-committal in his reply. He explained to Moshtaque that if someone did remove him then they'd definitely have a suitable replacement in mind, particularly "someone who could balance out the political side".

He (Khandakar Mushtaq Ahmed) said "Well, if somebody had that courage and guts to do it, well, that's a good think probably for the future leaders whom we are going to choose" ...So we just wanted to know that he had no programme of immediately going outside the country anywhere.

Major Abdur Rashid confirms Khandakar Mushtaq Ahmed knew about the plans

Rashid left Moshtaque's house satisfied that in Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed he had found a willing replacement for Sheikh Mujib. He conveyed his impression to Farook who made no comment beyond, "I hope you are right. That's your problem".

Major Abdur Rashid kept regular touch with Khandaker Moshtaque and made frequent visits to his home. They met again on 12th, 13th and 14th August - a day before the massacre.

So, here was another man, one of Mujib's ministers, also waiting and watching for the big moment when he knew the leader would die.

Anthony Mascarenhas, Journalist

Farook at his wedding anniversary: "I'm going to do it on the 15th"

Over 100 or so guests attended Major Farook and wife Farida's third wedding anniversary at Dhaka Golf Club on 12 August 1975. Farook and Farida were popular young couple, well-connected to the upper crust of the Bengali society. Their party was something of a social event.

Farook gave no hint that night of the dark secret he carried. For him it had a grand finality - either his actions would put him before a firing squad or carve his name in the history of Bangladeshis.

Farook took his brother-in-law aside. "I'm going to do it on the 15th", he told Rashid. "I'm going to knock off Mujib on Friday morning".

Rashid was startled. He looked round nervously to see if anyone had overhead Farook's bombshell. Suddenly the months of secret plotting had reached a conclusion. But Rashid was not ready. After a long moment of silence he hissed: "Are you mad? It's too short notice. We don't have officers. We don't have equipment. How can we do it?".

Farook stared at Rashid, a gliat of steel shining through the tinted glasses he wore. "It's my decision", he told the other major. "I have the tactical plan ready. I'm going ahead even if I have to do it alone. You can keep away if you want. But remember, if I fail they will surely hang you also".

Another long silence from Rashid. He appeared to be visibly digesting Farook's words. When their harsh meaning finally seeped through, the lanky artillery officer straightened out. "All right", he told Farook, "If it's got to be done let's do it. But we must talk. I need to bring in some more officers".

Farook informs Rashid of the date

Sheikh Mujib: "Nobody understands what I do for my country"

In another part of the city, Sheikh Mujib was relaxing with a small family group in his modest bungalow on Road No. 32, Dhanmondi. The Sheikh clan had gathered two day earlier for his baghni's wedding. Conversation that night had much to do with official matters as those concerning the family. Sheikh Mujib's style made the two inseparable. When he became absorbed with anything concerning his beloved Bangladesh, the family was inevitably drawn in.

Abul Hasnat recalled: "Uncle was worried about the possibility of floods in the autumn months which could severely damages the rice crop. He told my father he should quickly press into service the dredger he was arranging to buy from India".

Mujib had a farmer's gift for anecdotes. Soon, in the manner of village elder, he was framing the problem of the moment against a background of a personal experience deeply rooted in the soil of the delta country. The room filled with the aroma from his pipe. "When I was a boy", he told his listeners, "I used to play football on the banks of the river with the Britishers from the dredger company. Then the war came and the dredgers were taken away to make barges for the Burma campaign. They never came back. Now there is no river where I used to play, only silt; and we have great floods every year".

As he rambled on Mujib warmed to the idea of what he was going to do to solve the problem. "I have no money for flood control, but I am getting my dredger", he told the family. "You will see how I comb the rivers. My BAKSAL will do it".

Then his mood changed, enthusiasm deflating like a man suddenly overcome by futility. Hasnat remembers the last words he would hear his uncle speak: "Nobody understands what I do for my country".

That remark is Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's epitaph.

Sheikh Mujib's passion for Bangladesh

Little did Sheikh Mujib know but he was nearing the end of a life-long love affair with the Bengalis.

My strength is that I love my people. My weakness is that I love them too much.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman