Ziaur Rahman was a Bangladesh Forces Commander of


Ziaur Rahman was a Bangladesh Forces Commander of BDF Sector BDF Sector 1 initially, and from June as BDF commander of BDF Sector 11 of the Bangladesh Forces and the Brigade Commander of Z Force from mid-July during the country’s Independence war from Pakistan in 1971. He originally broadcast the Bangladesh declaration of independence on 27 March from Kalurghat radio station in Chittagong. After the war of Independence, Rahman became a brigade commander in Bangladesh Army, and later the deputy chief of staff and chief of staff of Bangladesh Army. His ascent to leadership of the country resulted from a conspiracy that had begun with the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding president of Bangladesh, in a military coup d’état followed by a coup and counter-revolt within the military to gain control at the helm. Ziaur Rahman gained de facto power as head of the government already under martial law imposed by the Mushtaq government. He took over the presidency in 1977.

As president in 1978, Rahman founded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (popularly known by its abbreviation BNP). He reinstated multi-party politics, freedom of the press, free speech and free markets and accountability. He initiated mass irrigation and food production programmes, including social programmes to uplift the lives of the people. His government initiated efforts to a create a regional group in South Asia, which later became SAARC in 1985. He improved Bangladesh’s relations with the West and China, and departed from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s close alignment with India and the Soviet Union. Domestically, Rahman faced as many as twenty-one coup attempts for which trials were set up, and many soldiers and officers of the Bangladesh Armed Forces were executed, which were mostly claimed to be biased and false trials. He was criticized for passing the Indemnity Act and removing the ban on religion-based political parties.

Rahman was awarded two gallantry awards for two wars fought in South Asia. Hilal-i-Jurat for the Indo-Pak War in 1965, and Bir Uttom in 1972 for the Bangladesh Independence war 1971 for his wartime contributions. According to the 1986 book Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood written by Anthony Mascarenhas, Rahman retired from the Bangladesh Army as a Lt. General (promoted by himself) in 1978 with effect from 28 April.

The political party he formed in 1978, the BNP, became one of the two dominant political parties of Bangladesh. His wife Khaleda Zia, a former prime minister, is the current chairperson of the BNP.

(Early life)

Ziaur Rahman, nicknamed Komol, was born in Gabtali, Bogra to Mansur Rahman and Jahanara Khatun. Mansur was a chemist who specialized in paper and ink chemistry and worked for a government department at Writer’s Building in Kolkata. Rahman was raised in his home village of Bagbari and studied in Bogra Zilla School.[10] He had two younger brothers, Ahmed Kamal and Khalilur Rahman.

In 1946, Mansur enrolled Rahman for a short stint in a boys school of Calcutta, Hare School, where he studied until the dissolution of the British Empire in India and partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Mansur Rahman exercised his option to become a citizen of a Muslim majority Pakistan and in August 1947 moved to Karachi the first capital of Pakistan located in Sindh, West Pakistan. Zia, at the age of 11, had become a student in class six at the Academy School in Karachi in 1947. Rahman spent his adolescent years in Karachi and by age 16 completed his secondary education from that School in 1952.

In 1953, Rahman was admitted into the D. J. Sindh Government Science College. In the same year, he joined the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul as a cadet.

In August 1960, his marriage was arranged to Khaleda Khanam Putul, the 15-year-old daughter of Iskandar Majumder and Taiyaba Majumder from the Feni District (part of then Noakhali District). Khaleda Khanam Putul, later known as Khaleda Zia, went on serve as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh three times. Rahman, a captain in the then Pakistan Army who was posted at that time as an Officer of the Defence Forces. His father, Mansur Rahman could not attend the marriage ceremony, as he was in Karachi. Zia’s mother had died earlier.

(Military career in Pakistan)###

Graduating from the Pakistan Military Academy at 12th PMA long course on 18 September 1955 in the top 10% of his class, Rahman was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Pakistan Army. In the army, he received commando training, became a paratrooper and received training in a special intelligence course.

Rahman went to East Pakistan on a short visit and was struck by the negative attitude of the Bengali middle class towards the military, which consumed a large chunk of the country’s resources. The low representation of the Bengalis in the military was largely due to discrimination, but Rahman felt that the Bengali attitude towards the military perhaps prevented promising young Bengali from seeking military careers. As a Bengali army officer he advocated military careers for Bengali youth. After serving for two years in Karachi, he was transferred to the East Bengal Regiment in 1957. He attended military training schools of British Army. He also worked in the military intelligence department from 1959 to 1964.

Ayub Khan’s highly successful military rule from 1958 to 1968 convinced Rahman of the need for a fundamental change in the Bengali attitude towards the military. During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, Rahman saw combat in the Khemkaran sector in Punjab as the commander of a company (military unit) of 100–150 soldiers. Rahman was awarded Hilal-i-Jur’at for gallantry by the Pakistan government medal, Pakistan’s second highest military award, and the first Battalion of the East Bengal Regiment (EBR) under which he fought won 3 Sitara-e-Jurat (Star of Courage) medals, and 8 Tamgha-i-Jurat (Medal of Courage) medals, for their role in the 1965 War with India. In 1966, Rahman was appointed military instructor at the Pakistan Military Academy, later going on to attend the Command and Staff College in Quetta, Pakistan, he completed a course in command and tactical warfare. Rahman helped raise two Bengali battalions called the 8th and 9th Bengals during his stint as instructor. Around the same time, his wife Khaleda Zia, now 24, gave birth to their first child Tarique Rahman on 20 November 1966. Rahman joined the 2nd East Bengal regiment as its second-in-command at Joydebpur in Gazipur district, near Dhaka, in 1969, and travelled to West Germany to receive advanced military and command training from the British Army of the Rhine and later spent a few months with the British Army.


Rahman returned to Pakistan the following year and was promoted to major. He transferred in October 1970 to be second-in-command of the 8th East Bengal regiment stationed in Chittagong. East Pakistan had been devastated by the 1970 Bhola cyclone, and the population had been embittered by the slow response of the central government and the political conflict between Pakistan’s two major parties, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s PPP. In the 1970 Pakistan Parliamentary elections the Awami League had won a majority and its leader Sheikh Mujib laid claim to form a government, but Pakistan President Yahya Khan postponed the convening of the legislature under pressure from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP party..

(Bangladesh War of Independence 1971)###

Following the failure of last-ditch talks, Yahya Khan declared martial law and ordered the army to crack down on Bengali political activities. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested before midnight on 26 March 1971, taken to Tejgaon International Airport and flown to West Pakistan.

Rahman and Khaleda Zia on a state visit in the Netherlands in 1979 (in the background, Prince Claus)
Zia, who already by then geared to revolt against the government of Pakistan, was preparing to defect, and later arrested and executed his commanding officer Lt. Col. Janjua, revolted. He was requested by some Awami League supporters to announce the Declaration of Independence proclaimed by Sheikh Mujib before his arrest on 27 March 1971 from Kalurghat, Chittagong, which self-published source?

I, Major Ziaur Rahman, Provincial Head of the government, do hereby declare that Independence of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

Later on the same day (27 March), a second broadcast was read:

I, Major Ziaur Rahman, do hereby declare the Independence of Bangladesh in the name of our great leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Later in an interview with German Radio, Rahman talked about his 27 March announcement.

Rahman organised an infantry unit gathering all Bengali soldiers from military and EPR units in Chittagong. He designated it Sector No. 1 with its HQ in Sabroom. A few weeks later he was transferred to Teldhala where he organised and created Sector 11. All sectors were restructured officially under Bangladesh Forces as the sector in the Chittagong and Hill Tracts area, under Colonel M. A. G. Osmani, the Supreme Commander of Bangladesh Forces, of the Provisional Government of Bangladesh which had its headquarters on Theatre Road, Calcutta in India. On 30 July 1971 Rahman was appointed the commander of the first conventional brigade of the Bangladesh Forces, which was named “Z Force”, after the first initial of his name. His brigade consisted of 1st, 3rd and 8th East Bengali regiments, enabling Rahman to launch major attacks on Pakistani forces. With the Z Force, Rahman “acquired a reputation for icy bravery” according to The New York Times,[9] and was awarded the Bir Uttom, the second-highest military honour (and the highest for living officers) by the Government of Bangladesh.

(Assassination of Mujib in 1975 and its aftermath)###

A deep conspiracy and pre motive of removing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from the helm was well under way long before his assassination by outside forces and internal collaborators within Bangladesh. On 15 August 1975 President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family were assassinated in a gun fight with army personnel. One of Mujibur Rahman’s cabinet ministers and a leading conspirator Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad gained the presidency and dismissed Major General K M Shafiullah,who stayed neutral all the while Sheikh Mujib was attacked. Major General Ziaur Rahman (then deputy chief of army staff) was appointed as army chief of staff, after Shafiullah resigned. However, the coup of 15 August caused a period of instability and unrest in Bangladesh and amongst the rank and file of the armed forces. Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf and the 46th Brigade of Dhaka Cantonment under Colonel Shafa’at Jamil revolted against Khandaker Mushtaq Ahmed’s administration on 3 November 1975, and Ziaur Rahman was forced to relinquish his post and put under house arrest. Hidden forces out of the dark came out of the woods in attempting to place a puppet administration in power. Instability, confusion and uncertainty with a dark atmosphere loomed over the major parts of the country. This was followed by (Sipoy-Janata Biplob) (Soldiers and People’s Coup) (“National Revolution and Solidarity Day”) on 7 November, a mutiny staged by the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (JSD or National Socialist Party) under retired Lieutenant Colonel Abu Taher and a group of socialist military officers.Khaled Mosharraf Colonel Jamil were killed by Retd. Lt. Col. Taher and Gonobahini, while Rahman was freed by the 2nd Artillery regiment under Lt. Col. Rashid and re-appointed him as army chief of staff with full support of the entire rank and file of the army.

Following a meeting at army headquarters, an interim government was formed with Justice Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem as chief martial law administrator and Major General Ziaur Rahman, Air Vice Marshal M. G. Tawab and Rear Admiral M. H. Khan as his deputies. However, discipline in the army had totally collapsed and it was difficult to disarm the soldiers supported by JSD and Lt. Col. Taher, as they moved for another coup to remove Rahman. Rahman realised that the disorder by the mutiny had to be suppressed firmly if discipline was to be restored in the Bangladesh Army. Rahman cracked down on the JSD and Gonobahini. Abu Taher was sentenced to death in July 1976 and other party figures had various terms of imprisonment slapped on them.[33] Taher was executed on 21 July 1976. Rahman became the chief martial law administrator following Justice Sayem’s elevation to the presidency on 19 November 1976. He tried to integrate the armed forces, giving repatriates a status appropriate to their qualifications and seniority. While this angered some veterans of the independence war, who had rapidly reached high positions following independence in 1971, Rahman sent discontented officers on diplomatic missions abroad to defuse unrest.

(President of Bangladesh)###

Rahman became the 7th President of Bangladesh on 21 April 1977. Years of disorder from the previous political administration of the Awami League and BAKSAL had left most of Bangladesh’s state institutions in disarray, with constant internal and external threats. After becoming president in 1977, Rahman lifted martial law and introduced massive reforms for the development of the country.[35]

In late September 1977, a failed coup-de-ta against the Zia Administration occurred. A group of Japanese Red Army terrorists hijacked Japan Airlines Flight 472 from India armed with weapons and ammunition and forced it to land in Tejgaon International Airport. On 30 September, while the attention of the government was riveted on this crisis situation, due to spreading of panic and disinformation actions went under way in Bogra Cantonment where a revolt broke out. Although the revolt was quickly quelled on the night of 2 October, another revolt started in Dhaka cantonment, led by misinformed airmen of Bangladesh Air Force (BAF). Armed group among this group of army and air force personnel unsuccessfully attacked Zia’s residence, captured Dhaka Radio for a short time and killed eleven(11) air force officers and 30 airmen at Tejgaon International Airport, where they were gathered for negotiations with the hijackers. Wing Commander M. Hamidullah Khan BP (BDF Commander Bangladesh Forces Sector 11), then BAF Ground Defence Commander, quickly put down the rebellion within the Air Force, while the government was severely shaken. Chief of Air Staff AVM AG Mahmud reappointed Wing Commander Hamidullah Khan as Provost Marshal of BAF. President Zia immediately appointed Wing Commander Hamidullah Khan as ZMLA (Dhaka) and Director of Martial Law Communications and Control at Tejgaon (present day PM’s Office). Government intelligence had failed and President Rahman promptly dismissed the DG-NSI and the DFI chief, Air Cdre Aminul Islam Khan BAF, of 9th GD(P) formerly of Pakistan Air Force, and also the . Hamidullah initiated the transfer of DFI under the ministry of defence from old Bailey Road office to Dhaka Cantonment under direct control of the president. In the aftermath at least 200 soldiers involved in the coup attempt were executed following a military trial, prompting some critics to call Ziaur Rahman “ruthless”.

The size of Bangladesh police forces was doubled and the number of soldiers of the army increased from 50,000 to 90,000.[21] In 1978 he appointed Hussain Muhammad Ershad as the new Chief of Army Staff, promoting him to the rank of lieutenant general. He was viewed as a professional soldier with no political aspirations (because of his imprisonment in former West Pakistan during the Bangladesh War of Independence) who possessed a soft corner for India. Quietly Ershad rose to become Zia’s close politico-military counsellor. In 1981, he brought back Mujib’s daughter Sheikh Hasina to Bangladesh.


During his term of power, Rahman was criticised for ruthless treatment of his army opposition.Although he enjoyed overall popularity and public confidence, Zia’s rehabilitation of some of the most controversial men in Bangladesh aroused fierce opposition from the supporters of the Awami League and veterans of its Mukti Bahini. Amidst speculation and fears of unrest, Rahman went on tour to Chittagong on 29 May 1981 to help resolve an intra-party political dispute in the regional BNP. Rahman and his entourage stayed overnight at the Chittagong Circuit House.In the early hours of the morning of 30 May, he was assassinated by a group of army officers. Also killed were six of his bodyguards and two aides.

Nearly two million people are estimated to have attended the funeral held at the Parliament Square.

(Criticism and legacy)###

Many Bangladeshi politicians consider Rahman a war hero.However, his role after 15 August 1975 assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family remains controversial. The Indemnity Act, an ordinance ordered by Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad in 1975 pardoning the subsequently convicted killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was legalised by Rahman during his tenure as president. Some killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family were sent abroad during his time as president.

The Dhaka High Court declared the seizures of power by military coups between 1975 and 1979, including Zia’s military regime. as “unlawful and unconstitutional.” Zia’s martial law decrees, his ascendancy to the presidency in 1977 and the election held in 1978 were declared “unknown to the constitution.” The court ruling over-ruled the Indemnity Act by which these very events were accorded a legal status and enshrined in the constitution.

Rahman is credited for ending the disorder of the final years of Sheikh Mujib’s rule and establishing democracy by abolishing BAKSHAL (One party rule established by Mujib). On the other hand, Rahman is assailed by his critics for suppressing opposition. Its claimed that around 3,000 army men, military officials and civilians were either killed or got disappeared during his reign.On one occasion, about 1,143 people were hanged in different prisons of Bangladesh, on charges of participating in a failed coup attempt on 2 October 1977.

However, Zia’s economic reforms are credited with rebuilding the economy and his move towards Islamisation brought him the support of ordinary Bangladesh people. His nationalist vision also appealed to many who resented the other political parties alleged inclination towards India and the Soviet Union. Moving away from Mujib’s secularism, Rahman asserted an Islamist political identity for Bangladesh and membership in the wider community of Muslim nations, which was applauded by the public.

However, many historians[who?] have said these measures laid the foundations of future communal and ethnic conflicts by isolating and embittering many ethnic and religious minorities in Bangladesh. Critics of this view say this is an oversimplification, and that Rahman alone cannot be held responsible for these tensions.It is generally acknowledged that he lived a simple life, which included opting to have his food supplied from the army canteen….