Anwar Kabir : Excerpts from the author's forthcoming book 'Genocide in the Bangladesh Army (1976-1981)'. This is the tenth installment in the series.
Lt Col. SIM Nurunnabi Khan, Bir Bikram (Retd.)
Dismissed and imprisoned on charges oforganising
the Army mutiny of 1980.
The rest 40 were caught and they were tied to a date tree and publicly bayoneted. And it was done by a man called Abdul Alim. Zia made him a minister, too. Similarly, my Roumari was a liberated zone. In this free zone, the person who conducted operations against me, on behalf of the Pakistanis, was known as "Mukul Commander." Commander meaning Razakar commander and he was better known as Mukul commander in 1971. One day Ziaur Rahman came to Roumari and said Nurunnabi where did you get all this tin (corrugated iron sheets) in this shoal? I replied, sir, I've dismantled it from the two double storied tin-sheds of Mukul commander. Our people are developing leg soars from the water in the bunkers. So I've seized the tin steets. This "Mukul Commander's" real name was AKM Mayeedul Islam Mukul. He was the son of Abul Kashem, once the secretary of the (Pakistan) Muslim League's parliamentary group. Mukul was also made a minister. Moshiur Rahman, Jadu Miah, went to India and came back.
He did not stay with (his leader) Moulana Bhashani. He returned and collaborated with the Pakistanis. He was made senior minister. Because of these reasons, freedom fighters became increasingly annoyed with Ziaur Rahman although he was a fellow freedom fighter.
And when he sidelined many deserving freedom fighters and made a scoundrel like Ershad the chief of staff it was just too much. Ershad had visited Bangladesh, thrice, after the (Pakistan) Army crackdown of 25 March 1971. Even when the Army cracked down, Ershad was vacationing in his home at Rangpur. He could've joined the Liberation War (like many other vacationing Army officers) on the 25th or 26th of March. He did not. On the contrary, he went and reported to the cantonment, which was only half-a- kilometer from his house. He came to Dhaka by Army helicopter and left for Pakistan. After that he came, thrice, to collect intelligence, on behalf of the Pakistanis, in 1971.
He was made Army chief of Bangladesh. Apart from this, the intelligence (DGFI) was awarded to another repatriated, Mohabbat Jan Chowdhury. He was Zia's class mate. This created an adverse situation among the freedom fighters. Nobody liked it. So they went on creating the stage-managed coup de tats to eliminate the freedom fighters. I was accused of leading one such coup de tat.
There was an officer called Didar and some others. The first four charges were against me, three of them carried the capital punishment as the minimum sentence. Either by firing or by hanging. One charge, however, was under section 55. There is no punishment under it. One can be warned. But once arrested, handcuffed and sent to the DGFI cell, there has to be punishment. I was lucky.
The only court martial which was a field general court martial, where lawyers from outside, were allowed. It was a trial case. To study the impact of allowing civilian lawyers when they were allowed in a court martial. My lawyer was Advocate Aminul Huq, who later became Attorney General (of Bangladesh), Gaziul Huq, the language movement veteran and Sirajul Huq.
All of them had volunteered to be of service, free of cost. Sirajul Huq defended Didar, especially; I was to be defended by Aminul Huq and Gaziul Huq, mainly. They had prepared the court martial papers, early on. They had set down the dates of the meetings that were purportedly held, what was mentioned in the charge sheet was totally false. I also had a defending officer from the Army -- Mahabub Elahi Chowdhury.
He was working as the attorney for the prosecution. My name could not be found anywhere. Didar had fled to India. He was arrested and interrogated on his return. They asked him, who was your coup leader? He said, Nurunnabi. What would Nurunnabi be, if you had been successful? And what would you be? Nurunnabi would have been the president and I would have been the Army chief. They did not believe it. Later, they involved General Manzur with it. It was done under his direction. And all officers of the first and second SS (they were recruited by the Bangladesh government in-exile during the Liberation War) were accused of involvement.
I said it in court then and so did my lawyer, Aminul Huq, the papers are still with me. It is nothing. It is an attempt to eliminate the freedom fighters. As part of the process, my coup was stage managed and so were many after that. Many Army officers were killed in such "manufactured" coup de tats. For instance, soon after staging a coup de tat in Bogra in 1977 a Japanese aeroplane was hijacked to Dhaka and an uprising was organised.
This, too, was a stage managed soldiers' revolution. I've heard it myself: senior generals had worn the ranks of JCOs and NCOs and tried to instigate a coup de tat to test them if there was any germ, any revolutionary germ, in the Army and around it. Many JCOs and NCOs and common soldiers were killed through the so-called mass tribunals after that. There were many incidents (I was 1 year in prison then) where they refused to go to the gallows because he did not know anything. A fishing net was thrown over him and he was netted and taken to the gallows. Even then they shouted, Allah, aren't you there? I'm innocent. I don't know anything. Why should I be hanged? Where are you? There are even incidents where the convicted were moving around his head and the head remained and the body fell. There were many such incidents. This kind of mass- tribunal, mass- killing - that was it! The verdicts were written before the trial.
A minute or two: what's your name? Father's name? Rank? Unit? This was enough to convict a person to death. This was the kind of courts they organised. This was inhuman, misanthropic and in total violation of basic human rights. Nobody had any opportunity to defend themselves in such court martials. They chose who will be my lawyer. He will follow our instructions, as he is in service. And the worst part is our civil courts do not admit such cases. Not even the Supreme Court. They say, oh, dear these are Army matters! The law needs to be changed and also our mindset. Those who work in the Army are human beings; citizens of this country; they, too, have rights. He, too, has a right to get justice. But in the Defense Forces there is no scope for it. The constitution should include it. Human rights should be equally applicable for them.
In all coups freedom fighter officers were executed, dismissed. There is not a single incident where a repatriated officer has been executed or dismissed. During the Chittagong incident many repatriated officers were posted there. But nobody lost their job or was hanged. Who suffered? Freedom fighters. All coup de tats in Bangladesh including that of the killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was pre-planned.
And freedom fighters were the victims. Those who were involved with Hitler during the Second World War are facing trial even today. Some of them are 90, others…………….. so many of them were in hiding for 50 years. Even then they are being hunted down and tried. Here, there are some who say forget the past. But that is not true, the past is true. All coup de tats of Bangladesh should be investigated, reinvestigated. Commissions should be set up for all of them; if necessary, lawyers from abroad, who specialise on human rights, should be hired, and a commission formed --- a truth commission to investigate into all the incidents.
Lt General M. Haroon -Ur-Rashid (Retd.), Bir Pratik former chief of staff, Bangladesh Army.
I'm Lt. General M. Haroon-ur-Rashid, Bir Pratik, retired, former chief of staff of the Bangladesh Army. I was commissioned in 1970 in the Pakistan Army after graduating from the Pakistan Military Academy. I was lucky to observe the great mass-awakening, soon after I joined the Army. Very soon this uprising through many ups and downs turned into the Liberation war of 1971. On the morning of 27 March 1971 we deserted the Pakistan Army and announced our loyalty to the Bangladesh Forces.
We imprisoned the Pakistani officers and launched our war. The government awarded me the "Bir Pratik" award for my endeavors during the Liberation war. After the war we were engaged in rebuilding the Army and building it up as a symbol of national sovereignty. In 1975 the worst chapter in the country's history occurred.
Bangabandhu and his entire family were assassinated on the 15th of August, 1975. After the killing morale in the Army feel and it became so bad that nobody could even say anything against it. On 3rd November 1975 a coup de tat led by Khaled Mosharraf occurred against it. Its aim was to restore the chain of command in the Army and to bring those outside it within its structure. Amidst all this 7th November occurred. As a result a number of soldiers and officers lost their lives without any reason. Those who came to power on 7th November rewarded the coup makes of 15th August.
They were awarded high posts and some were giving foreign postings, meanwhile, a move was on to destroy the spirit of the Liberation war. Many officers and soldiers were given death sentences, different terms in prison or were dismissed on flimsy grounds. These punishments were usually given through mock court martials. In other words, from then on the process of undisciplined termination, jail sentence of such a type was the execution of a valiant freedom fighter, Col. Abu Taher, Bir Uttam. One has to remember that his death sentence was also given through a court martial. But the rules for setting up such a court that exists in the Army was not followed nor were the proceedings published.
Some fictitious charges were brought against him and when the court martial was in session, it was whispered in the Army that he will be executed. Later that proved to be true. When a law is violated it goes on repeating it self. This became the norm for the Bangladesh Army, henceforth. One can clearly see from the court martials held afterwards in which many officers were given the capital punishment, did not follow any rules and the verdicts were dictated. In the Zia Murder Case, 12 officers and later another officer, that makes it 13, were executed.
Such a big court martial involving the death of the president and so many officers were completed in only 18 days the charge , the inquiry, deposition and cross examination of) witnesses, argument analysis and verdict. And the speed at which the government endorsed the verdict was all very surprising. If they are guilty, what is the harm in trying them in an open court martial? And why can't they be defended, properly? Between 1975 and 1977 many court martials were organized.
But nobody knows how many people were killed as a result. I was a mid-ranking officer then. Even I could not know what was going on because the court martials were held, on- camera. In 1977, a number of incidents happened. You probably remember that in Bogra, what was known as 22 Bengal, revolted and in Dhaka the Air Force revolted.
All this taken together, the Army went through an indiscipline period then. This was an anarchic period for us. After '77 some discipline was restored among the soldiers but some discontent simmered. The result was the killing of Ziaur Rahman in 1981. After the killing of Ziaur Rahman indiscipline ensued again but his assassination cannot be called a coup de tat. Because it was widely believed in the Army that those who were in command of the Army then through a planned organization killed him. It was like killing two birds with the same store.
Ziaur Rahman was killed and those who were accused of doing so, a huge population, were either killed or terminated from service. We observe that after the killing, 13 officers were executed through a verdict of a sham court martial in a span of 18 days. How is it possible? Secondly, those charged, were they given a fair chance to defend themselves? The accused 31 officers were given only 3 officers to defend, although it is clearly written in the Army rules that each person will get adequate opportunity to defend himself. How can 3 officers defend 31 officers?
During my years in the Army I had many such questions for officer I could not find an answer, so I don't expect my countrymen to find one. Soon after independence, the situation can be pretty unstable, which may result in undesirable consequences for some or many but as a nation we must be clear to our conscience. If that is to be done, we need to know, what really happened? Who were the real culprits? And how they were killed. For this, we can take lessons from other countries.
I think, the best example is South Africa. They have organized a truth commission. I believe because of it nobody can raise any questions regarding apartheid era or the transition. I believe the many questions we have: what happened then? How did it happen? Was its inquiry completed? All these need to be answered, as it is our national and ethical responsibility.
And this can be done by establishing a neutral truth commission at the national level. In the post 1975 situation the desire of some Army bosses to fulfill their desires by violating the law that resulted in the death of many officers and soldiers needs to be rectified. Till today, their families, many of them, do not know what happened to them as their corpses were not even handed over to their families. From a human rights point of view this is totally unacceptable. Where did a person go? He was working for the Defense Forces, suddenly he is untraceable or missing this is just not acceptable.
The issue has been discussed a number of times. We who have resin from the middle rankles to the top have faced embarrassing questions. I, when I became the chief of army staff, many asked me this question but I was in no position to answer them as nobody had kept any records of them. This may or may not have been deliberate. But I feel that there is no scope for such records to vanish from the Armed Forces, at least.
There is only one way out of this mess is to go according to the rules and discipline of the Army and that alone will restore discipline in the Forces and make it a professional organization. Those who have lost their children, parents or relatives, we ought to give them a satisfactory answer. Where they are? What happened to them? Why it happened to them? If these questions are to be answered we need to be thoroughly analysis under what circumstances they were arrested, court martialled and possibly executed. I believe the right to know where their relatives died is a basic human right and the government owes an explanation to the people.
We, who were in government, it was our responsibility. But as there was no plan to investigate the whole matter, we could not find the answers. But I believe it is better late than never. I think if there is a national truth commission it can find out who, where, how was involved in the different incidents in the Army. How he was punished and what was his crime, whether the crime was adequately proved if this happens the nation will rid of a huge debt.
If it is proved through the truth commission that many people have lost their lives despite being innocent they, I understand, cannot be restored to life. But their families were innocent of any crime and that they were wrongfully killed.
At least, they will have that consolation. If they have been hanged unjustly, if they have been punished unfairly as a nation we can seek apology to their next of kin and rid our4selves, a little, of our collective guilt. It may give some comfort to their families.
The writer is a journalist.