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Ziauddin M Choudhury

Assassination of Ziaur Rahman and the aftermath

A former civil servant pens a nail-biting narrative on General Zia's killing... doubting, whether we will ever know the truth

Published : Saturday, 5 September, 2020 at 12:00 AM  Count : 413
Reviewed by Shahriar Feroze

Those who make history have no time to write. The ones, who write history, are most of the time predisposed. And those who recall it from a neutral and inquisitive standpoint are often kept in the dark because of highlighting facts, not emotions.   

The 93 page short book titled "Assassination of Ziaur Rahman and the aftermath" is one such book that comes with chronological events coupled with sharp incisive observations and probing remarks of a former civil servant, who during the time of General Zia's assassination occupied the key post of deputy commissioner of Chittagong.

The book divided in fifteen chapters is complimented with a prologue and epilogue. And all of them begin with a befitting Shakespeare quote in total agreement with their content. Additionally, it's a firsthand account of both political and military realities of Bangladesh of the early eighties. When it comes to the assassination of the late military General Zia, most of the key conspirators and their ultimate goal have been deliberately kept in the dark.

The book actually questions the mystery shrouding the death of a formidable military dictator not only of Bangladesh, but of Southeast Asia. It is a fact that, General Zia's life was cut short at the peak of his popularity by elements of the military that had tossed him to power. The army also provided him with the much needed platform to establish him as a 'successful political leader'. But at the upper echelons of the top brass, the army had been evidently split into two.

The then army high command's mistrust and loathing of General Zia's political coterie has been clearly portrayed in the book. Eventually, it was a group of the same army high command that orchestrated a grisly military coup in Chittagong.

As I proceeded through the chapters, It was learnt that General Zia's hotchpotch of political elements consisting of leftists, rightists, centrists, religious zealots, and deserters from other political parties, including the Awami League had actually led him to no specific political goal. His so -called political elements had purely appeared in the likes of hungry immediate beneficiaries. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 provides a concise and clear understanding on the making of Zia - the genesis that had led him to commit one after another political blunder.  

However, the writer doubts if we will ever know, if the officers charged and executed were the only people involved in General Zia's assassination. This has actually been the million dollar question for nearly four decades in Bangladesh. Killing of General Zia was not purely the outcome of collective hatred of a few local army commanders based in Chittagong. And If Gen. Manzoor had actually steered the leadership of the failed coup, why hadn't he ever specified whom he was representing on behalf?

Not only General Manzur had been a coup leader by default, if not mistaken, he was betrayed and misled before being killed. The term 'Revolutionary Council' used by General Manzur is a vague and confusing identity, mentioned in the book.  If such a council had truly existed, who was in charge of spearheading it?

Today we widely assume of late General Ershad's involvement in different capacities, but it is important to clarify and confirm to what extent that engagement took place?

Not to forget, in the sequential order of assuming state power, the ultimate beneficiary was General Ershad.  Generals' Zia and Ershad are both history today. Both military dictators had assumed state power via illegal means. But when it comes to General Zia's assassination, there is no substantial conclusive report till today.

Having finished chapter 14, titled "Second assassination" it was clear as daylight that there had been - both short and long term beneficiaries of Zia's killing. AL and BNP regimes in post 1991 Bangladesh have deliberately skipped and diverted from digging deeper, since far too many skeletons in the cupboard would come out in the open. But BNP's indifference and apathy surprises me the most.

Whatever, vigilant and astute government bureaucrats never questions directly, rather they present their arguments verbatim conforming to actual events. Author Ziauddin Choudhury is no exception in this regard.

I particularly enjoyed the sequence of events and the writer's observation in weaving the chapters. The gripping narrative is likely to glue the reader until it's finished. The style and personal commentaries re-affirm the writer's ever inquisitive mind.

The writer's story-telling ability is captivating, though carefully nuanced in sensitive parts. No wonder, why the author's particular breed of civil servants has become extinct in today's Bangladesh.

For this reviewer, the writer's personal observation on late General Manzur, under different circumstances is particularly overwhelming. General Manzur, given some of his outstanding attributes, yet remains an enigma to millions of us. Vilified, murdered and ultimately thrown into the garbage of history - none could have embraced such cruel fate in our military history. The manner in which he was forcibly transferred from the police to the military custody raises many unanswered questions.

The short book is a fascinating read to look deeper into a macabre series of murders. 





The book "Assassination of Ziaur Rahman and the aftermath" concludes in the fashion of an inconclusive Edgar Allan Poe mystery tale, where the writer turns sceptic about knowing the truth, he is unsure and perhaps he is left with more to say. (Strictly a personal opinion)

The cover image of the book isn't eye-catching to trigger curiosity to go for it.  The book was first published in 2009 by the University Press Limited. Priced at Tk 300, it can be ordered on line for a lesser price.

The reviewer is assistant editor, The Daily Observer



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