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Posthumous trials of August 15 planners a necessity

by tbhdesk

Over the years, demands have been made for a posthumous trial of all those civilians who, it appears, were involved in the conspiracy to bump off Bangabandhu’s government

Four decades and eight years after the assassinations of the Father of the Nation and his family, it is imperative that the nation delve into the nature of the intrigue which led to the tragedy. It is for the government, which successfully initiated the process of a trial of the assassins and sent six of them to the gallows, to undertake the onerous job of investigating the role of other players in the making of independent Bangladesh’s darkest moments.

Over the years, demands have been made for a posthumous trial of all those civilians who, it appears, were involved in the conspiracy to bump off Bangabandhu’s government. The role of Khondokar Moshtaq Ahmed has consistently called for investigation. Moshtaq in the final years of his life (he died in March 1996) denied that he had any role in the coup, but the facts point to the contrary. On the morning of the coup, Moshtaq, along with the likes of Taheruddin Thakur and Mahbub Alam Chashi, made his way to Bangladesh Betar at Shahbagh, having seized the state once Bangabandhu had been murdered.

A few days prior to the coup, these three men spent time at the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD) in Comilla. It therefore becomes essential for the government, and especially its intelligence agencies, to unearth and study the record related to those who happened to be at BARD between late July and mid-August 1975. It would be naïve to think that the killer majors and colonels approached Moshtaq only after the carnage at 32 Dhanmondi and requested him to take over as President.

Moshtaq’s argument that he was not aware of the coup until he was asked to take over the government does not tally with facts. For one thing, this writer was informed by the late Syed Najmuddin Hashim that at an official lunch in honour of Henry Kissinger, who was on a brief visit to Dhaka in late October 1974, both Moshtaq and Kissinger left the banquet hall one after the other. Curious, Hashim himself left his table, went outside and spotted the two men talking. They quickly ended their conversation at Hashim’s appearance, Moshtaq telling Kissinger, ‘It’s okay.’ That was Hashim’s narrative before this writer.

For another, Moshtaq despatched the majors and colonels to General Ziaur Rahman, the deputy chief of army staff, twice to sound him out on a possible role for him in the anti-Mujib conspiracy.

The first time the future killers met Zia was in November 1974. The second time was in March 1975. On both occasions, Zia made it clear that he could not get involved but gave Moshtaq’s emissaries the understanding that they were free to go ahead with their plans. Now, for years there has been a proliferation of reports, both from the Awami League and outside, about Zia’s role in the 15 August tragedy.

Note must also be made of the fact that on the day of the coup, informed by a shocked Col Shafaat Jamil of the assassination of the Father of the Nation, Zia, who happened to be shaving at the time, deadpanned, ‘So what? The Vice President is there.’

The implications are obvious. Zia’s role calls for a proper, full-fledged investigation, along with similar inquiries into the participation in and planning of the coup by Moshtaq, Taheruddin Thakur, Mahbub Alam Chashi and others. There are good enough reasons why such inquiries will speed up the process of a closure to the questions which have never been properly answered about 15 August.

An instance in this context relates to the information proffered to this writer by Begum Zohra Tajuddin a couple of years before her passing. As she put it, on a night late in July 1975, Tajuddin Ahmad, by then out of government, received a call from a worried well-wisher asking him to convey to Bangabandhu the dire message that all preparations had been completed for a removal of his administration and his physical elimination. The caller appealed to Tajuddin Ahmad to immediately alert Bangabandhu to the situation.

It was close to midnight when Tajuddin received the call. Leaving his Satmasjid Road residence greatly perturbed, he walked half the way before he could find a rickshaw to go to 32 Dhanmondi. When he reached Bangabandhu’s residence, he found the Father of the Nation ready to go to bed. Surprised at Tajuddin’s appearance at such a late hour, Bangabandhu asked him if anything was wrong. Tajuddin conveyed to him all the details of the telephone call he had received.

Bangabandhu’s response was one of unconcern, so typical of him. He told him not to worry at all. No Bengali could kill him. A despondent Tajuddin Ahmad returned home to tell his wife that Bangabandhu had not taken the threat seriously. Close to a fortnight later, the founding father of Bangladesh was dead, along with his family, victim of a vast, well-laid-out conspiracy.
Any investigation into the macabre incidents of 15 August necessarily should take into account the involvement of Washington’s Ford administration in the conspiracy.

The late journalist Christopher Hitchens was clear in his work, ‘The Trial of Henry Kissinger’, about the role of the former Secretary of State in the tragedy unfolding in Dhaka. It is also to be noted that prior to the coup, indeed in the planning stages of it, some of these mid-ranking army officers who later turned out to be Bangabandhu’s assassins, held several meetings with Philip Cherry, the CIA station chief posted at the US embassy in Dhaka. Those meetings were instrumental in the making of the disaster on 15 August.

Finally, it was not merely the officers who were behind the coup. With them there were general soldiers, all of whom went to 32 Dhanmondi and to the homes of Abdur Rab Serniabat and Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni. A good number of these men might be dead. Those who are alive are getting old. It is these men, all part of the killing mission, who must be identified and placed on trial, posthumously or otherwise.

The entire web of conspiracy that led to the assassination of the Father of the Nation, his family and others calls for unravelling. And once the unravelling is done, the process of justice must once again get underway. Bangladesh’s people need reassurance that those who plunged the nation into bloodshed in August 1975 will have their comeuppance, all of them, dead or alive, under the law.

Source: Dhaka Tribune.

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