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Days leading up to killing

Major Generals criticise Zia for 'over-democratising' and Zia-Manzoor conflict 10 days before the killing

On 20 May 1981, ten days before he went to Chittagong, Ziaur Rahman met Major Generals, including Major-General Manzoor, at the regular Formation Commanders' Conference at the army headquarter in Dhaka. These conferences had been initiated by Zia as Chief of Army Staff and were now continued by him, as the Supreme Commander, to discuss national security and military issues with the commanders of the army. While proceedings of these conferences remain classified, several Major Generals are believed to have criticised Zia severely for 'over-democratising' the political system. The overwhelming demand of the military leaders at this meeting was for a reimposition of martial law, to be accompanied by press censorship, restrictions on political activities, and denial of some judicial rights.

They were especially critical of Zia's economic policies, which had begun to favour the rural sector and pinch the urban middle-class, including the military and the bureaucracy [sup: 2]. They argued that inflation and the law and order situation were both careening out of control, that Zia had been so concerned with his internation image that he had neglected domested politics that there was rampant corruption within the BNP, and that Zia had not been strong enough in his dealings with India. They criticised the President for trying, in the words of one General, to "play politics too much", or, in the words of another, for "being too clever in balancing off all the political factions".

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The most vocal and outspoken at the meeting was Major-General Manzoor and an argument is known to have broken out between him and Ziaur Rahman. Major Manzoor reportedly pounded on the table and shouted at Zia, accusing him of 'betraying the army', of being ungrateful towards the military which help him attain power, and of threatening the nationalist cause by his increasingly 'civilian political stance'.

Though the other officers present did not necessarily support Manzoor, their 'sullenness and milder expressions of discontent made it clear to everyone that they were unhappy with the directions in which Zia was leading the country'. Major Manzoor flew back to Chittagong after the meeting and apparently started planning the coup that cost Zia his life. Some speculate that Manzoor might have believed that the meeting had sealed "an unwritten covenant between him and the rest of the army" were he to attempt a coup.

Manzoor also accused Zia of tolerating corrupt practices among BNP leaders and several army commanders, appearing to hold the president responsible for many of the nation's ills. Ziaur Rahman vigorously defended himself but found no open support from the other Generals present. This may have given Manzoor the impression, or illusion, that his fellow Generals were with him on these points

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Zia was killed by a group of young officers (much like Sheikh Mujib) whom he had refused to discipline despite persistent recommendations from senior military advisors that the dissident officers be disciplined or even retired.

...The gossip mills in Dhaka had spread rumours - even before Zia's death - that Manzoor and others were planning to lead a coup in July or August 1981, prompting other reporters to speculate that Manzoor and his associates in Chittagong had simply hastened their plans once they found the President unguarded in their territory and felt threatened by his movements against them.

Marcus Franda (August 1981)

Party dispute brings President Zia to Chittagong

On 29 May 1981 Ziaur Rahman travelled down to Chittagong (Chotrogram) to arbitrate a clash between two of his local BNP leaders that had fragmented the party there. The trip was handled by National Security Intelligence (NSI), which added to the frustration of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), the principal intelligence agency of the Bangladesh Armed Forces. The DGFI had been irked for some time because President Zia had been gradually shifting his security affairs to the non-military NSI and the Special Branch of the Home Ministry. It was the NSI which was in charge of the President's trip to Chittagong after President Zia himself sent Major-General Mahabbatjan Choudhary, the Chief of DGFI, back to Dhaka on the evening of 29 May 1981.

A number of BNP leaders had told President Zia during the previous week that there was no need for him to travel to Chittagong on party business, since the party dispute that he was going to patch up had its roots in a personality clash between Deputy Prime Minister Jamaluddin Ahmed and Deputy Speaker Sultan Ahmed Chowdhury, both of whom were in Dhaka. Many senior Bangladesh officers also claimed to have warned Ziaur Rahman not to got to Chittagong at all and instead simply arrest General Manzoor and bring him back to Dhaka for a military trial.

Nevertheless, Ziaur Rahman persisted, not heeding any warnings.

Manzoor had been offended because Zia had told him that it was not necessary for anyone from the cantonment to meet him at the airport. There were numerous reports that Zia and Manzoor met on the 29th - either in the cantonment or at Circuit House - but witnesses present in Chittagong recall no such meeting. While Zia may have had plans to meet Manzoor on the 30th, his ostensible purpose for going to Chittagong was to iron out political party dispute. He had not even told many of his top security people that he had issued orders transferring Manzoor to Dhaka.

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  • Mahabbtjan Choudhary ()
  • Jamaluddin Ahmed ()
  • Sultan Ahmed Chowdhury ()