Brig Gen Sharif Aziz, psc (Retd)
On that particular day there were three other Military Officers, who, besides Colonel Jamil, responded instantaneously in their bid to save Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The story goes like this. Early in the morning at about 6 o'clock on 15 August, I (Capt Sharif Aziz, the then ADC to the President) received a phone call from Ganobhaban from one of the Security Officers by the name of Fakrul Islam. He said, "Do you know what is happening"? He then said that tanks are rolling by the road in front of Ganobhaban towards Mirpur/Dhanmondi Road No 32. "Something is happening. Please find out". I then rang up Mohsin, another Security Officer to the President. He said there were loud noises of gunfire, tank movements and rifle shots. He also said that something terrible might be happening.
After hearing this, excited and anxious I rang up Brigadier Mashoorul Haq, the then Military Secretary to the Honourable President, who along with us used to reside in Bangabhaban. I informed him of what I had heard and said that we should go to Bangabandhu's residence to find out all about it. His reaction was spontaneous. I also informed Lt Gholam Rabbani, the other ADC from Navy, who was residing next to my room. In the meantime I called up Bangabandhu's house several times but failed to establish contact with anyone.
Quickly we called for a vehicle (An old Volkswagon car) from the transport yard at Bangabhaban and started our journey towards Road No 32 Dhanmondi, the residence of Bangabandhu. We decided to take a different route and soon were at the Science Laboratory area. We intentionally came by the Dhaka University Campus to see for ourselves whether everything was normal in the area since Bangabandhu was supposed to be here in a few hours for a ceremony.
We then proceeded towards Bangabandhu's house but soon were confronted by some people wearing black dungaree on the road opposite to the present Road No 2 of Dhanmondi. We had some Army jawans stopping our vehicle and asking us about our destination. They were quite surprised to hear that we were going towards Bangabandhu's house. Since we were in civil clothes, they challenged us, but eventually they let us go when we said we were personal staffs of the President.
Soon we reached the Staff Quarters area of Kalabagan, where we were again challenged by another group of unruly soldiers. They stopped our vehicle and told us not to proceed towards Bangabandhu's house and said that they had already killed Bangabandhu. They were quite rough with us and threatened us with consequences if we proceeded further. We were infuriated with their behaviour and told them not to stop us from going ahead. They identified us as officers and since some of them knew us, they eventually let us proceed.
However, advancing a little further, at Kalabagan we were again stopped by another group of black dressed soldiers. This time they were more aggressive and violent. They pulled us out of the vehicle with force. When we introduced ourselves to them, they said "you are 'GADDARS' (Traitors) and you should be killed right way". Thereafter it was a story of abuse and humiliation towards us. We endured and kept quiet. We were identified as the single group of three people on that day trying to reach Bangabandhu to salvage him. This was most surprising to them that we did not know anything about the murder of Bangabandhu by then. They held a transistor in front of us where we heard for the first time announcement like, "Aami Major Dalim bolchhi. Sheikh Mujibke hotya kora hoyechhe. Aami Major Dalim bolchhi. Sheikh Mujibke hotya kora hoyechhe." (I am Major Dalim speaking. Sheikh Mujib has been killed. I am Major Dalim speaking. Sheikh Mujib has been killed). We really did not believe the announcement and tried to justify our efforts to reach Bangabandhu.
Our insistence to go ahead to the residence, which was very near from where we were held captive, made the soldiers extremely agitated and annoyed. When they came to know this was our third attempt to reach the residence they blindfolded us, tied our hands and waist with rope and made us lie on the ground with head down. We were kept lying like this for the next five hours. In between Colonel Faruk Rahman, Maj Noor Chowdhury and some other officers passed by the road for a number of times. They were told of our destinations and our attempts to reach Bangabandhu's residence. Everything was presented very negatively to them and they had all the reasons to think of us as adversaries on that day. The soldiers were whispering all along against us, at times hurling dirty abuses and foul words. We have been lying for few hours by then, exhausted and hungry we asked for drinking water and one of the soldiers suggested to feed us their urine instead. I was particularly made a target, for I held a revolver loaded with bullets, which belonged to the Military Secretary, handed over to me before we started our journey from Bangabhaban. Just as we were about to be shot and killed and thrown into Dhanmondi Lake, our lives were spared most miraculously. (Reference of the incident is given in Page 77, Para 3 in the Book titled "Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood" written by Anthony Mascarenhas). Major Mohammad Shahidullah AC (Retd) (Brother-in-law of late novelist Humayun Ahmed) is another surviving officer who was a witness to the incident on that day.
God knows what happened, we, blindfolded, were moved to Ganobhaban in a vehicle at around 1 0'clock and confined there in a room. It was Friday. We requested the sentry to allow us to offer prayers in the mosque located in Ganobhaban. Comptroller of Ganobhaban, who was known to us, arranged a vehicle for us before sunset. Escaping the eyes of wary soldiers, we boarded the civil jeep and made our way to Bangabhaban after darkness.
At Bangabhaban we found our place taken over by newly posted officers. New ADCs and a new MSP had taken over our responsibilities. We were identified as arch enemies of the newly formed government. In a-week-time all of us received posting orders and when we were preparing to move out, we received counter orders from the coup makers that we should hold on until further order to conduct the ceremonial functions at Bangabhaban. This happened because the new setups were not confident to conduct credential ceremonies and other state functions that required some kind of expertise and were possible to be done smoothly by us only. However, we were totally barred from attending/entering any meeting halls for next two and a half months until after 7 November, 1975 when we resumed our normal duties with President Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayeem.
The above account is a true revelation that along with Col Jamil another three persons, i.e the Personal Staffs of the President, without fear or hesitation, responded on that fateful day. We made repeated attempts to reach Bangabandhu but failed once we were overpowered physically. It was mere luck and miracle that we survived.
Three of us were coming from Bangabhaban and Col Jamil was coming from Ganobhaban. Even if we could reach Bangabandhu's house early in the morning, we could not have saved him by any means, as we were unarmed. What was most crucial at that moment was to respond to the CALL OF DUTY as soon as we heard the news of the attack on Road No 32. One thing is for sure, had Bangabandhu listened to our advice of residing at Bangabhaban or Ganobhaban after becoming the President, the possibility of success of the Coup would have been remote.
That is why I feel we should avoid the blame game after 40 years. Having said that, some amount of blame definitely comes upon the Chief Security Officer and the Personal Staffs of the President for their oversight on the security layout and deployment of troops at the house, on Road No 32. The house was very loosely protected without any depth for defence. We were also poor in intelligence collection and monitoring. Therefore it was a lapse on our part not to have considered some cardinal aspect of security of the House from 1972 to 1975. Though by that time the President Guard Regiment was raised they were not deployed in Road No 32, as far as I remember. The House was still guarded by the troops of 2 Field Regiment Artillery who were a part of the Coup. How strange! We did not have any inference or inkling of the impending coup.
The whole Army was taken by complete surprise as the Army was not at all involved in the Coup. Rather the Army dislodged the coup-makers within nearly two months since the massacre. Therefore the Army cannot be blamed at all for the coup. But it was definitely expected that the Senior Command of the Army visit the scene of the "Bloodiest Killing in History" in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Earlier the local Commanders failed to respond and mobilise troops to the scene of the incident. That was a failure by any count.
In the end I may recall it was purely at the call of duty that we rushed to the President's house. The superlatives like Raw Courage; Bravery; Exemplary Discharge of Duty; Extreme Dedication etc were not relevant then, and may not be added now as adjectives to add extra flavour to the incident to our credit. Readers may please realise that at that time, 40 years ago, I was a junior officer aged 25 only, with limited access and knowledge. Therefore I may not be able to give satisfactory answers to many of your queries today.r
Brig Gen Sharif Aziz, psc (Retd) is Managing Director, Elite Force