Post-Liberation: first and only General in history of Bangladesh

Last updated: 10 October 2017 From the section Muhammad Ataul Ghani (M. A. G.) Osmani (Bangabir)

Following Bangladesh’s victory and the surrender of Pakistan Armed Forces on 16 December 1971, Colonel Osmani arrived in Dhaka on 22 December 1971 and set up his Headquarter in Dhaka Cantonment.

On 26 December 1971, ten days after achieving victory, the Bangladesh Government promoted him to Four Star General – the first ever in Bangladesh’s history – in recognition of his gallant contribution during the Liberation War. The promotion was backdated to be effective from 16 December 1971.

On 9 January 1972 he ordered the arrangement of the Bangladesh Armed Forces Honour Guard who were to receive Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the very next day at Tejgaon Airport, Dhaka.

General Osmani continued to be the commander in chief of Bangladesh forces, which was equivalent to the post of a civilian cabinet minister. With the abolition of the post of General in the Bangladesh army on 7 April 1972, General Osmani retired from the service as the first full General (four star) of Bangladesh Forces. That same day the Bangladesh Forces was replaced by Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Navy and Bangladesh Air Force and three separate chiefs were selected along with their Headquarters. Thus 'General M. A. G. Osmani' is the only historical name whose name appears first in the honour boards of the three services as Commander-in-Chief between 12 April 1971 to 7 April 1972.

Resignation from Jatiya Sangsad and Awami League following introduction of BAKSAL

On 12 April 1972, five days after retiring from the C-in-C role, General Osmani took oath as a Cabinet Minister in the Sheikh Mujib-led Awami League as Minister in charge of Shipping, Inland Water Transport and Aviation.

In 1973, in the first General Election in independent Bangladesh, General Osmani was elected a member of the Jatiya Sangsad (National Parliament of Bangladesh) and took oath again as cabinet minister with charge of the Ministries of Post, Telegraph and Telephone, Communication, Shipping, Inland Water Transport and Aviation. However, he did not stay in his new role for long.

In May 1974 General Osmani resigned from the cabinet. After the controversial introduction of the one-party BAKSAL system of government by Sheikh Mujib through the 4th Amendment of the Constitution in 1975, Osmani resigned from the Jatiya Sangsad and also from the primary membership of the Awami League.

Brief but controversial spell under Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed leadership

Following his resignation from politics General Osmani started to concentrate again on the various welfare projects. He continued to provide support to distressed women and children, retired soldiers and their families. He remained out of politics until August 1975.

On 15 August 1975 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was murdered in cold blood along with all but two members of his family. Two weeks later, on 29 August 1975, General Osmani was appointed as an honorary Adviser to the President in charge of Defence Affairs by Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed, a close associate of Sheikh Mujib who is suspected by many to have supported the killing of Sheikh Mujib and his family.

This controversial decision has proved to be a sour point for die-hard Awami League supporters. Many view General Osmani's decision to join the cabinet of such a "murky" figure as Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed as "betrayal" of the founding principles of Bangladesh for which he had ironically fought for so valiantly during 1971.

However, General Osmani would remain in his new capacity only for few weeks. He resigned immediately following the mysterious killing of the four national leaders and main protagonist of the Mujibnagar Shorkar – Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, Mansur Ali, A. H. M. Kamruzzaman – inside Dhaka Central Jail on 3 November 1975.

  • Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed ()

It is interesting to note that while performing this responsibility [of Honorary Military Adviser] he did not avail any sorts of government amenities. Rather he paid back the bills incurred for the food and others in Bangabhaban (the presidential residence of Bangladesh) also.

However with his charisma and ingenuity, within short time he brought about total discipline and rule of law in the armed forces.

Lt. Col. Dewan Mohammad Tasawwar Raja

Creation of 'The Jubeida Khatun-Khan Bahadur Mofizur Rahman Trust' and donation of his parental home at Sylhet to the trust

In May 1976 General Osmani created 'The Jubeida Khatun-Khan Bahahdur Mofizur Rahman Trust' in honour of his beloved mother and father. He donated all his worldly possessions to the poor and also donated 'Nur Manzil', his parental home in Sylhet, to the Trust. Today the Nur Manzil houses the famous Osmani Jadughar (Museum).

In 1976, while I was DC [Deputy Commissioner], Dhaka, I used to visit Osmani. One day I found him in a very unhappy mood. He told me that he was unable to draw his pension because his pension as a retired General of Army was yet to be approved. He told me that he believed everything was approved after he left the office of the Chief of Army Staff. He made no secret of his feelings. As far as I recall he had to seek legal redress to get his pension.

A. M. M. Shawkat Ali, former Secretary in Ministry of Agriculture, recalls the ill-treatment General Osmani was encountering at the hand of government officials post-1975

Founder of 'Jatiya Janata Party'

On 5 September 1976 Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani launched a new political party called 'Jatiyo Janata Party'(National People's Party) along with former members of Parliament, including Ashraf Ali, Ferdous Ahmed Quareshi, Majharul Haque Baki and Nurul Islam Khan, amongst others.

  • Ashraf Ali ()
  • Ferdous Ahmed Quareshi ()
  • Majharul Haque Baki ()
  • Nurul Islam Khan ()

Contest two consecutive presidential election unsuccessfully

General Osmani was elected Jatiya Janata Party's president and famously contested the 1978 Presidential election as a nominee of the Ganotantrik Oikiyo Jote (People's Democratic United Front or People's Democratic Alliance). The Front was formed by five opposition parties including General Osmani’s Jatiya Janata Party, the Awami League, the two factions of pro-Moscow National Awami Party (Muzafar), the Gono Azadi League and the People’s League.

Standing in General Osmani's way was 9 other candidate. However, his main rival for the role was a certain Ziaur Rahman – the Sector Commander and Swadhinata Goshok (Declarer of Independence) who worked under Osmani during the 1971 Muktijuddho and who was now representing Jatiyotabadi Front (Nationalist Front). The contest was one of personality rather than policy with both men enjoying significant support. However, though Osmani was highly respected strong personality and had polled a considerable number of votes, he was convincingly defeated by his junior. Ziaur Rahman polled more than 70% of the votes to cement his authority on the chaotic political environment that ensued following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman three years earlier.

When Ziaur Rahman himself was assassinated in 1981, General Osmani once again contested the presidential election but this time as a nominee of Jatiya Nagarik Committee (National Citizens Committee). Once again he lost to another BNP candidate – this time it was Justice Abdus Sattar.

With his health fast deteriorating, General Osmani remained out of politics till his sad demise.

  • Ziaur Rahman ()
  • Abdus Sattar ()