President Ziaur Rahman was assassinated in Chittagong on May 30, 1981. Two days later, General Manzur was murdered. Facts related to the planned killing of Manzur show how top military leaders at the time desperately tried to bury the truth behind the Zia killing and how it helped them seize power. Manzur was the unsuspecting victim of their duplicity, which has become evident from the depositions of witnesses and the accused and from some authoritative books on the killing.
All these years since June 1981, justice for Manzur and his family has remained elusive.
The phone call interrupted the afternoon meeting at the Bangabhaban. Acting President Abdus Sattar picked up the receiver and spoke to someone. He then hung up.
"IGP Kibria called. He informs me that General Manzur has been captured by the police," Justice Sattar told the top military officials, including army chief HM Ershad and air force chief Sadar Uddin, present at the meeting . They had gathered there to discuss the aftermath of the killing of President Ziaur Rahman in Chittagong.
In the afternoon of June 1, 1981, barely two days after the killing of Zia, Sattar was holding the meeting. The mood at the Bangabhaban was somewhat different than on any other day.
Hearing the acting president, Ershad got excited and stood up. Without saying a single word, he went to a red telephone in the room and dialled a number. "Manzur has been captured by the police. He should immediately be taken into army custody and the plan carried out," Ershad directed someone at the other end of the line.
Air Vice Marshal Sadar Uddin, who overheard Ershad's directive, enquired about it. "General Ershad, what is that plan you are talking about? May we also know about it?"
Ershad became annoyed and replied: "Air chief, you don't understand anything."
"I don't have to know from you what I understand and what I do not," the air-chief retorted.
Within moments, the air chief told the acting president: "Sir, please make sure that nothing happens to Manzur and that he is given a trial. If anything happens to Manzur, we will be answerable to the nation."
Sattar, who had been acting as president from the day Zia was killed, assured that Manzur, GOC of 24th Infantry Division and Area Commander of Chittagong, who was branded by the army authorities in Dhaka as the leader of the mutiny in which Zia was killed, would be given a trial.
That afternoon, Home Minister ASM Mostafizur Rahman, who was informed by the IGP about Manzur's arrest, also talked to Sattar over the telephone and recommended keeping Manzur in police custody.
The home minister had wanted to ensure that Manzur was in no way placed under army custody. He was afraid that the masterminds behind the conspiracy would not keep him alive. Mostafiz also argued that Manzur had been sacked from the army after the assassination of the president and so he must be kept under police custody.
The IGP also made hectic efforts to convince Justice Sattar to keep Manzur under police custody. He even engaged in altercations with Ershad on the issue.
But all such efforts went in vain. Finally, the president, the head of state and government, could not keep to his assurance and succumbed to the army chief's pressure within hours.
Ershad had won his game. His plan was executed. Manzur was taken from police custody by some army officials and was killed inside Chittagong cantonment hours after the Bangabhaban meeting from where the IGP had been compelled to order Chittagong police to hand Manzur over to the army.
Manzur and some army officers, who had fled Chittagong cantonment following a series of events after the killing of Zia, were captured by the police at around 4:00pm on June 1 at Fatikchhari in Chittagong.
They were then brought to Hathazari police station.
The IGP ordered the CMP commissioner to ask the DIG, Chittagong Range, to rush to Hathazari police station with adequate force. He also ordered that the armed police battalion be deployed to beef up security.
In the evening, Chittagong Divisional Commissioner Saifuddin called Kibria over telephone and requested him to pursue the acting president about the need to lodge Manzur in jail, and if the situation demanded, to airlift him to Dhaka.
When Kibria telephonically informed the acting president in the afternoon about Manzur's arrest, Sattar asked the police chief to meet him at the Bangabhaban.
At around 7:30 in the evening, Kibria entered the Bangabhaban. He found Ershad and other armed forces officers sitting there and talking to Sattar. As he came in, Ershad welcomed him with a broad smile and told him that he had secured the reward money declared by the acting president for the capture of Manzur.
Kibria was annoyed at Ershad's remarks and told him the reward money had a bad odour and he [Ershad] could keep it for himself. [Sattar had earlier declared a reward of Tk5 lakh for the capture of Manzur]
Noticing Kibria's annoyance, the acting president tried to pacify him by appreciating the police efforts in capturing Manzur and others.
Then the acting president initiated a discussion as to the steps to be taken against Manzur and others.
Ershad immediately demanded a handover of Manzur and the other arrestees as well as their family members to the army.
The police chief opposed Ershad's demand. He briefed the acting president about the measures already taken to protect and defend Hathazari police station and the army officers in custody. "The armed police battalion could escort Manzur and others to Chittagong city and lodge them in jail," Kibria continued.
He also informed the acting president about Chittagong Divisional Commissioner Saifuddin's suggestion about airlifting Manzur to Dhaka.
The acting president nodded. The police chief thought the acting president approved of what he said. At that point, Ershad whispered in Sattar's ears which Kibria could not follow.
The IGP again told the acting president that the arrested army officers and their family members could be flown to Dhaka by helicopter. But Kibria could not finish speaking. Ershad interrupted him and insisted on an immediate handover of Manzur and the others to the army.
Kibria again tried to speak. But the acting president said: "We have had enough discussions with the chief of army staff and now a decision has to be given."
He rejected the IGP's proposal but thanked him for all the efforts made towards capturing Manzur and the other officers.
He ordered Kibria to hand Manzur and the others over to the army, the appropriate authority to be designated by the army chief, in Chittagong.
Ershad was visibly pleased. He then went out of the meeting room for a while before coming back.
From the Bangabhaban, Kibria rang the CMP commissioner and informed him about the president's order. He also asked him to convey the same message to the DIG and the superintendent of police in Chittagong, who were then at Hathazari police station.
While the Kibria was pursuing Justice Sattar at the Bangabhaban, the local administration in Chittagong decided to send Manzur and his family to Dhaka for their safety. Top officials there were impatiently waiting for the acting president's permission to execute the decision.
Ziauddin M Choudhury, then deputy commissioner of Chittagong, had advised Saifuddin that he should ask for a special Biman flight to take Manzur and his family to Dhaka. The police would escort Manzur to the airport from Hathazari.
Saifuddin communicated with Justice Sattar and informed him about the decision. The acting president heard him out before telling him that he would get back to him after consultations with Home Minister Mostafizur Rahman and IGP Kibria.
In line with the suggested plan, Ziauddin himself had spoken to the managing director of Biman, Manzurul Karim, on his own initiative to alert him that there could be a need for a special flight.
The Biman official said that a special flight would not be a problem. All that he required was an order from the home ministry or the president's office.
About 30 or 40 minutes went by and during all this time the Chittagong administration did not receive any call either from the home ministry or the president's office.
Ziauddin asked Saifuddin to call the president's office again. The acting president was available, but he said he could not give the Chittagong administration permission till he had talked to army chief Ershad.
The deputy commissioner found it not only frustrating but unbelievable. He was to find out how the head of the government had succumbed to the pressure mounted on him by the army chief.
Succeeding in his efforts, Ershad that evening made a phone call from the Bangabhaban to the army headquarters and directed that Manzur be taken into army custody. The officer in charge of Chittagong cantonment was instantly notified by the army headquarters about the army chief's order.
The acting president finally issued the order at around 8:00pm that Manzur to be handed over to the army. But from the afternoon on the day, two brigadier generals-- Azizul Islam and Abdul Latif-- were working in Chittagong relentlessly to execute Ershad's plan at his directive.
So, even before Ershad had managed to secure the acting president's order for the handing over of Manzur to the army, the two generals were working to form a team that would later bring Manzur to Chittagong cantonment from Hathazari police station.
While the two generals were at a meeting at Aziz's office in Chittagong cantonment, the telephone rang. Aziz picked up the phone.
"Right sir, yes sir. Work is going on as per your instructions," Aziz told Ershad over the telephone when the army chief enquired about the progress in the execution of the plan.
As Aziz was talking to Ershad, Latif was present there. "Brigadier Latif is here. Please talk to him," Aziz told Ershad at one stage of the conversation and passed the phone to Latif.
"Latif, I have given detailed instructions to Brigadier Aziz on how to handle General Manzur. He should be finished," Ershad told Latif.
Aziz and Latif despatched a group of army officials, led by Captain Emdad, to Hathazari police station that night for Manzur and the others to be taken into army custody.
Chittagong police escorted the army vehicles carrying Manzur and others to the gate of Chittagong cantonment on that fateful night.
Sometimes on the night of June 1, Sattar told Home Minister Mostafizur Rahman that he could not keep his suggestion for keeping Manzur in police custody because the army had taken Manzur under its control by putting pressure on him.
[The report was prepared on the basis of the depositions of witnesses and accused in the Manzur murder case and the book, "Assassination of Ziaur Rahman and the Aftermath" by Ziauddin M Choudhury, who was deputy commissioner of Chittagong in 1981.]