Khandakar Moshtaque Ahmed takes over after Sheikh Mujib's assassination and becomes president

Ex-Mujib cabinet member Khandaker Moshtaque takes over

General Zia coolness personified as Shafaat Jamil seeks instructions

After Major Rashid left, Shafaat Jamil received another telephone call from General Shafiullah, who was crying as he informed him that Sheikh Mujib had been killed. The Army Chief appeared to have broken down completely and failed to give the Dhaka Brigade commander instructions to quell the mutiny. So quickly throwing on his uniform, Shafaat Jamil walked over to General Zia's house. He found him shaving.

After recounting Rashid's visit and the telephone calls from General Shafiullah, Shafaat Jamil told Zia: "The President has been killed, Sir. What are your orders?"

Zia, he recalled, was quite calm, evidently aware of what had happened. Zia answered: "If the President is no longer there, then the Vice President is there. Go to your headquarters and wait there".

General Zia remains calm over killings

General Zia clearly was not going to be pushed into any hasty action. Sheikh Mujib was dead. The situation was extremely fluid and unclear. So General Zia, like the other senior officers as Farook had suspected, decided to wait and see.

Rashid momentarily thinks about grabbing power

The success of their killing operation tempted Major Abdur Rashid Khandaker to consider making a grab for power, instead of installing Khandaker Moshtaque as President. He quickly assessed the situation. The Rakkhi Bahini had been cowed into submission by Farook's tanks. GHQ was in a state of paralytic shock. The army was in disarray but with a little persuassion now that the deed was done, it could be counted on to rally round the majors. Rashid was also confident that the people were not shedding any tears for Sheikh Mujib. But he was not sure what the public reaction would be once it became known that the families had also been slaughtered.

That was Rashid's main concern at the moment, and while giving it thought, he put off going to Khandaker Moshtaque's house for about 20 minutes. Then he heard Dalim on the radio.

Dalim announces Moshtaque as new President via radio

After the murder spree Major Dalim announced over Radio Bangladesh (previously called Bangladesh Betar) that the armed forces had taken over.

Ami Major Dalim Bolchi. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman'ke hottya kora hoyechey… (This is Major Dalim speaking, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has been killed).

Major Dalim's opening statement over Radio Bangladesh in the morning

The new President, he declared, would be Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed, 56, who had been Minister of Foreign Trade and Commerce in Sheikh Mujib's Cabinet. Major Dalim further announced that martial (military) law, as well as a 24-hour curfew, had been proclaimed throughout the country which would henceforth be called "Islamic Republic of Bangladesh" and not People's Republic of Bangladesh. By the time he had finished speaking, tanks were patrolling the streets of Dhaka.

This was the first martial law in the history of Bangladesh and for the next 16 years, after Sheikh Mujib's murder in 1975, it would be the 'men in uniform' who would rule the country.

Anybody trying to resist the new revolutionary government or violating any instructions given so far will be dealt with severely.

Major Dalim's warning to counter-coupers

Dalim's radio declaration had angered Major Rashid as it was contrary to his instructions.

Apparently Dalim and some of the other retired officers - "with typical indiscipline and rashness" Rashid said - had rushed to the radio station after killing Sheikh Mujib and Serniabat. There they fought over the microphone, each wanting to be the first to break the news. Then Dalim grabbed it and made the announcement in his name.

The broadcast shocked Rashid into action. "I knew it would create a problem for us, because the brigades outside Dhaka would want to know how Dalim, a retired officer, had staged a military coup which could only be done by the army. How could such a man speak for the army? They would not accept it".

Anthony Mascarenhas,

Dismissing the thought of grabbing power, Rashid went post haste to Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed's house.

Rashid tells Moshtaque he's the new President and takes him to radio station

At 7.30 am Rashid's jeep, followed by a solitary tank, snaked through one of Dhaka's older quarters into Aga Masih Lane and came to a stop outside Khandaker Moshtaque's house. It was an old-fashioned three-storey building sandwiched between even older houses in a tiny square. The clatter of the tank tracks had electrified the run-down neighbourhood.

Hundreds of people, already staggered by Dalim's fateful radio broadcast, had instantly gathered to watch the drama unfold before their very eyes. They perched silently in windows, on the roofs and at other vantage points in the square, but keeping well away from the tank.

Anthony Mascarenhas

Looking through the top-floor balcony Moshtaque was shaken to find the venomous mouth of the tank's cannon pointing to his direction. Moments later, Rashid, dishevelled and carrying a sten gun, ran up the stairs followed by two armed soldiers.

Though the Major, during their three previous meetings, had made no secret of his intention to give him Sheikh Mujib's job, Moshtaque was too much a politician to fully trust another man, especially when he was a military officer in frightful circumstances such as these. The long wait after Dalim's radio announcement, and now the tank, had unnerved him. He was full of misgivings.

I was not sure whether they had come to kill me. They were looking very disturbed and had guns in their hands. I kept looking at their hands to see what they were going to do. When I saw that instead of pointing their guns at me one or two of them were saluting. I felt relieved. So I took courage and asked 'What brings you here?'

Moshtaque's uncertainty

If nothing else, Moshtaque is an excellent actor.

Anthony Mascarenhas

Rashid told Moshtaque he wanted him to take over as President and for that purpose must accompany him to the radio station. The words were music to Moshtaque's ears. Still he was hesitant. He did not yet fully trust Rashid and decided to test him.

"How do we go?" he asked the major. "Do we go in your jeep or in my car?" The intention here was to ascertain whether he would drive with dignity in his own car or as a prisoner in the military jeep. Rashid told Moshtaque they could use his car if the driver could be trusted. Now even more relieved. Moshtaque said he told the major "Alright, give me some time I have something to do and I have to put on my clothes".

He continued. "I went into the toilet and while sitting there I began to prepare myself in my mind about what was to come. This gave me some time to think".

When they went down to the car, Moshtaque, still a little apprehensive, put Rashid to another test. "I was wondering who would open the door?" he told me. "My anxiety was to make sure they were not bluffing me. If I was made to open the door myself it would have meant one thing - they were in fact taking me to be killed. If someone else opened it for me then I would be sure they were being respectful. So I waited for a few moments".

The matter was resolved when one of the soldiers, saluting smartly, opened the door of the car and politely indicated he should get in. Moshtaque's doubts were swept away. He had, at last, made it to the top. "It was", he recalled "a wonderful drama".

On the way to the radio station, Moshtaque was even more gratified to find no display of public resentment at the killing of Sheikh Mujib. "People appeared to be shocked and bewildered but as we went along I could see some of them cheering. You know, success has many parents!"

Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed's apprehension removed

Service Chiefs give their backing

Though oozing confidence when they reached the radio station Moshtaque still had one nagging fear in his mind. The majors had engineered the coup and had chosen him to replace Sheikh Mujib, but how would the Service Chiefs and the rest of the army take it? He knew he would not be fully secure till they also had been nailed down. He therefore suggested to Rashid that the Service Chiefs be brought in. Rashid thought it was a good idea. He went off to the Cantonment, leaving Moshtaque with Tahiruddin Thakur, the Minister of State for Information, who was finalising his speech. In the headquarters of the 1st Bengal Regiment Rashid found Brigadier Khalid Musharraf, the Chief of General Staff, along with Colonel Shafaat Jamil and some other officers. He asked Khalid Musharraf to arrange for the tank ammunition and found him most willing to oblige. Khalid Musharraf also assured Rashid he would muster the Service Chiefs for him. Within half an hour he brought in Major General Shafiullah, Air Vice Marshall A. K. Khondaker, and Commodore M. H. Khan. Major-General Ziaur Rahman, the Deputy Chief of Staff, also arrived with them.

Rashid briefed the Service Chiefs about what they had done and asked for their cooperation.

We have done it for the greater interest of the country. We are not seeking power for ourselves and we don't disown you. Rather we want your leadership. So you come to the radio station and do what you have to do.

Rashid clarifies his intention to the Service Chiefs

As Major Farook had anticipated, once they knew Mujib was dead the military brass quickly fell into line. At that stage no one dared to take on the majors.

I am a good lawyer and know how to trap a man. Since I was being pushed into the saddle I had to get the allegiance of the Forces. So I shouted at Shafiullah, 'Tell me have you done this?'. Now Shafiullah was in a very awkward position. In front of him were the majors who had killed Sheikh and he couldn't back out of fear of his own life. So he told me quietly "Yes, we have done it". Then I proceeded one by one to ask the same question of the other Chiefs of the Services. One by one they admitted they had done it. I could see they were very frightened. They had no alternative. I then asked them 'What do you want me to do?' They told me: 'Please take over. You are the only acceptable person in Bangladesh'. I told them I am a civilian and a democrat and not an army person. I will only take over if we have a purely civilian and democratic government and you will not have anything to do it.

Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed gloats about how he tricked the Service Chiefs in submitting to him

Moshtaque didn't try to explain by what mental gymnastics he was conferring the dignity of 'democratic government' on a regime brought to power by treachery, assassination and military coup.

Anthony Mascarenhas

The military officers went into a huddle in another room, returning about half an hour later to confirm acceptance of Khandaker Moshtaque's terms. Moshtaque then quickly put them on the air one by one to swear allegiance to his government. Thus the three chiefs of Bangladesh army (Major-General K. M. Shafiullah), air (Air Vice Marshal A.K. Khandakar) and naval (Vice Admiral M.H. Khan) forces pledged their support live in the broadcast.

By 11.15am when he finally made his own broadcast, Moshtaque had gained complete mastery of the situation. The majors may have made him President, but he bottled them up with the army. He was not going to be anyone's puppet.

Anthony Mascarenhas

Moshtaque: coup was "a historical necessity"

Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed was sworn in as the new President of Bangladesh by Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Syed A.B. Mahmood Hossain, in a simple ceremony at the Bangabhaban on the same day of the massacre, 15 August 1975. In a later broadcast that day, the new President claimed that the takeover had been prompted by "corruption, nepotism and attempts to concentrate power on one head". He charged Sheikh Mujib with failure to solve the country's economic problems and described the killing and the coup as "a historical necessity" and solemnly pledged "in unambigous terms that this government will never compromise with any type of corruption, nepotism or social vices".

Everybody wanted to change the administrative system but since it was not possible through available means that armed forces had come forward to change the government... they have opened the golden gates of opportunity before the people.

Khandaker Moshtaque praises the killers for bringing about the 'change'

In his first broadcast President Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed excelled even Sheikh Mujib in bombast and in exploiting the people's gullability.

But he was lying in his teeth. For even as he spoke he was comprising with the most heinous of crimes - murder.

Anthony Mascarenhas

Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed was guilty of another public deception. Major Dalim had announced early that morning that Bangladesh had changed its name to the "Islamic" Republic of Bangladesh. However, when the new government took over they confirmed that the country would continue to be called the "People's Republic" after all.

Dalim's announcement early that morning had led everyone to believe that Bangladesh was now an "Islamic Republic". Farook and Rashid also intended it to be so. Moshtaque, however, had his own ideas. He had no intention of changing the country's secular character. But very cleverly he did not announce his unpopular decision at that time. Instead he fooled everyone by liberally lacing his speech with invocation to Allah (SWT) and concluded with the exhortation "Bangladesh Zindabad", the Urdu equivalent of "Joi Bangla" (Long Live Bengal) which had been Mujib's rallying cry to the Bengalis. At the end of it all the people, 85% of whom are Muslim, were left with the impression that a new Islamic dispensation had been installed. It was only later that they would learn the bitter truth. Bangladesh was not an Islamic State. Sheikh Mujib's international commitments and his professed domestic objectives were also unchanged.

In essence President Moshtaque was carrying on in the traditions of the Awami League. But by that time Khandaker Moshtaque had consolidated his position and it was too late to complain.

Moshtaque's speech caused tremendous confusion in Britain where there is a sizeable Bengali community. Pious Muslims who had exulted when Dalim first announced the establishment of the Islamic Republic, were crestfallen when the text of Moshtaque's broadcast was known. Hundreds of telephone calls were made to the High Commission in London for clarification.

One caller asked Deputy High Commissioner Farook Chowdhury, "Is it or is it not an Islamic Republic?" When the official said there was no change, he was disgustedly told, "If this is the case then why did you kill Sheikh?"

The case of the 'Missing Islamic Republic'

New government include Mujib loyalists

With fore-knowledge of what the majors had planned, Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed had ample time to formulate his plans and thus was able to move with precision and purpose in the midst of the general confusion.

First he imposed martial law, and ordered an indefinite curfew throughout the country. But he was careful not to aggravate the religious sentiment of the people, thus he took pains to ensure that there was a three-hour break in the curfew so that the faithful might go to the mosques for Jummah (Friday) prayers.

When Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed announced a new civilian ministry, it turned out to be composed entirely of members of Sheikh Mujib's Cabinet. The new government retained 10 of the 18 Ministers and 8 of the 9 Ministers of State of the Sheikh Mujib government. Mohammad Mohammadullah, Justice Abu Sayeed Choudhury, Prof. Yusuf Ali, Phani Bhusan Majumdar, Manaranjan Dhar, Mominuddin Ahmed, Abdul Momin, Asaduzzaman Khan, Dr. A. R. Mallick, Dr. Mozaffar Ahmed Chowdhury and Abdul Mannan were some of the high profile members amongst others. Mohammad Mohammadullah, who had been replaced as President of Bangladesh by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman few months earlier, was now appointed as the Vice President. Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury was appointed as the Foreign Minister whilst Dr. A. R. Mallick, Farook's uncle who was a university Vice Chancellor, was made Finance Minister.

The new President suspended some of Sheikh Mujib's most trusted officials and placed them on the transfer list. Moshtaque also arrested several politicians, among them Gazi Ghulam Mustafa and Abdus Samad Azad, the man who had replaced him as Foreign Minister when he was dumped from the job a few days after independence. He also granted interviews to ambassadors, and the press, radio and TV were quickly orchestrated to praise the new dispensation and denounce the old.

Even Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, the founder of Awami League, who had actively supported Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for decades and who had a few months earlier pledged "total support" for Sheikh Mujib's Second Revolution, sent a congratulatory message in support of the new government of Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed.

The sycophants needed no encouragement to switch loyalties. They went in droves to the President's house to fawn on Moshtaque, and any of the majors they could find. Congratulatory telegrams and letters poured in from everywhere.

No tears were shed for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

...In London a group of young Bangladeshis stormed the High Commission tearing down Mujib's photographs and assaulting his personal intelligence officer. The High Commissioner, Syed Abdus Sultan, who had always shown himself greatly devoted to Mujib, and was one of his most trusted appointees, instead of having the boys arrested for trespassing and vandalism, entertained them to tea in his office after removing the many photographs of Mujib which normally adorned the room.

Anthony Mascarenhas

The biggest irony in Mujib's career lies in the fact that none of his key associates came out to counter or even protest against his assassination. The top Awami leaders joined Moshtaque's cabinet treading on Mujib's blood.

Only Kader Siddqui (founder of 'Kader Bahini' during Mukhtijuddho) took arms in retaliation and had to take shelter in India chased out by the military under Zia. And Colonel Jamil Uddin Ahmed, Mujib's military secretary, gave his life in his futile attempt to protect Mujib.

Muhammad Hossain, blogger

Moshtaque keeps killer duo with him in Bangabhaban

A few hours after installing Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed as President, Farook and Rashid placed themselves at the disposal of the Army Headquarters, but were not allowed to rejoin their units. Not only were they a source of embarrassment and fear to the military commanders but they were also the target of much hostility from those officers who had earlier conspired with them for the overthrow of Sheikh Mujib, but had backed out at the last moment. The problem was solved by Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed. For his own security he insisted that the two majors remain with him in the President's house at all times.

In the first few days the situation at the top remained fluid, with the majors who led the coup staying with President Moshtaque at Bangabhaban guarded by tanks, while the sullen senior officers remained in the cantonment. The fear of an Indian intervention, however, had a sobering effect on both the leaders of the coup and senior officers, and negotiations went on between them.


Military restructuring sees Colonel Osmani as Defence Adviser and General Zia as COAS

Although he had connived with the majors in the overthrow of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and now clung to them for protection, Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed, like his predecessor, had a basic mistrust and dislike for all things military. As an Awami Leaguer who too had suffered under the hands of Pakistan's military rules for nearly two decades, Moshtaque was fully aware the military 'monster' that Sheikh Mujib feared had once again crept up into the surface. Unless he demolishes this monster by restoring military discipline and re-establishing civil authority over the armed forces, Moshtaque knew he wouldn't be able to consolidate his position as President. To put down the military, therefore, became Moshtaque's preoccupation during his 83 days in office.

But he faced many obstacles to his plans. The most important was Farook and Rashid's insistence that Major General Ziaur Rahman should replace Major General Shafiullah as Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). Thus one of the first moves Khandaker Moshtaque made as President was to remove COAS General Shafiullah from command and replace him with his deputy Ziaur Rahman on 25 August 1975. Ziaur Rahman was also promoted from Major-General to Lieutenant General. Major General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, who was on a staff course in India, was also given his second promotion in four months and brought in as General Zia's deputy. Brigadier Khalid Musharraf had been Zia's rival for promotion. Moshtaque retained him in the sensitive position as CGS (Chief of General Staff) under Zia.

Moshtaque was disinclined to appoint General Zia as Chief of Army Staff for two reasons. First, he did not trust him. It was essentially a gut feeling, but Moshtaque was not the one to invalidate his intuition. Time would prove how right he was. Secondly, Zia, unlike the other senior army officers, was popular with the troops. This was anathema to Moshtaque for he firmly believed that such a commander must be regarded as a potentially dangerous rival. So he did the next best thing. While appointing Zia as COAS, Moshtaque made sure he was tightly boxed in and made ineffective by his own nominees.

Anthony Mascarenhas

Later, despite Moshtaque's reservations, Farook and Rashid brought in another man of their choice to head the Bangladesh Air Force. He was Group Captain M. G. Towab, a former Pakistan Air Force officer who had for a time served as the senior air officer with the Mujibnagar government-in-exile in Kolkata. Captain Towab was living in retirement with his German wife in Munich when Rashid went there to recruit him. He replaced Air Vice Marshal A. K. Khandakar, the founder of the Bangladesh Air Force, as the Chief of Air Staff after Vice Marshall Khandakar was relieved from his post.

Rashid was supposed to be advising Moshtaque on army matters. But without consulting the major, Moshtaque created the post of Chief of Defence Staff - ranking above the three Service Chiefs (and above Zia) - and appointed Major General Khalilur Rahman, Commandment of the Bangladesh Rifles, to the job.

But the appointment that raised the greatest eyebrows in the country was the return of General M.A.G. Osmani as the Defence Advisor to the new president on 25 August 1975, ten days after the massacre of Sheikh Mujib and family. General Osmani, Sheikh Mujib's first Defence Minister, had famously resigned from Jatiyo Sangshad (National Parliament) once Sheikh Mujib had formed BAKSAL. His decision to join a government founded in such controversial and blood-ridden circumstances baffled many observers.

Known as the 'Papa Tiger' because he was Colonel-in-Chief of the Bengal Regiment, Osmani was an old-style officer and a gentleman who lived by the Military Manual. Moshtaque found him the ideal person to oversee what he grandly described as the restoration of discipline in the Armed Forces.

In fact Moshtaque was doing the opposite.

Anthony Mascarenhas

Moshtaque outdid Mujib in his mistreatment of the Forces. He was clever and cunning. He played one against the other and he set up the bureaucrats against the Army.

Brigadier Manzoor blames Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed for army chaos while General Zia nods in agreement

'Awami League' President Khandaker Moshtaque scraps BAKSAL

Five days after the coup, President Moshtaque issued a Proclamation of Martial Law to legitimise his assumption into office and his subsequent actions. Though the Constitution was still considered valid, it was only allowed to function within the boundaries of the new Proclamation.

On 1 September 1975 the government abolished the one-party system and declared null and void the formation of the BAKSAL. The implementation of the 60-district scheme was also dropped.

A month later, on 5 October 1975, an Ordinance was promulgated to absorb the members of the Rakkhi Bahini into the Bangladesh army. Religious leaders of Islam-oriented parties, such as the various groups of the Muslim League and the Jamaat-e-Islami, who were alleged to have opposed the secession from Pakistan and had been imprisoned as collaborators, were released.

The three leading newspapers, 'Daily Ittefaq', 'Dainik (Daily) Sangbad' and Azad, were also restored and given back to their owners.

Over the years, much has been made of the fact that it was the Awami League that continued in power after the death of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Opponents of the party have, in their untenable way of explaining why there was no proper trial and punishment of Mujib's killers (until the Awami League returned to power in 1996), sought refuge behind the spurious argument that Khandaker Moshtaque and everyone else in government after 15 August were part of the Awami League. It was sophistry elevated to newer levels. The facts were actually rather different.

On 15 August, there was technically and legally no Awami League since the party had already been subsumed in the larger Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League Mujib had formed in January of the year. More importantly, the ministers who worked, or were made to work, with Moshtaque did so as a result of the plain intimidation that was being exercised on them. In the few months the Moshtaque presidency would last, it was not uncommon for the majors and colonels involved in the August mayhem and murder to make themselves present in the room even as cabinet meetings went on.

Syed Badrul Ahsan, Editor of "The Daily Star" newspaper