Fatal deaf ear | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 14, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:11 AM, August 14, 2015

Fatal deaf ear

August 15 tragedy could have been averted if Bangabandhu had not ruled out RAW's alert twice

It was sometime in June of 1974. Some army officers including Major Faruk and Major Rashid had gathered at the residence of Major General Ziaur Rahman, then deputy chief of army.

During the three hour long meeting, their discussion was centered on a coup. One of the participants had doodled on a scrap of paper which had been thrown carelessly into a waste paper basket.

The scrap of paper was collected from the garbage pile by a clerk and passed on to a RAW (Research & Analysis Wing) operative. That bit of information found its way to New Delhi and into the hands of Rameshwar Nath Kao, founding chief of RAW, the Indian intelligence agency. Convinced that a coup was in the offing, Kao flew into Dhaka in the guise of a 'paan' (betel leaf) importer.

Before his Dhaka trip, Kao had personally met Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and informed her of his mission to Dhaka. He said that these reports had been received through a very sensitive source whose identity had to be kept secret at all costs.

With her approval Kao came to Dhaka in December of 1974.

He was driven after his arrival to a rendezvous arranged beforehand. He met Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Bangabhaban and requested him for a short stroll with him in the Bangabhaban garden.

When they were alone, Kao told him what RAW knew about the threat to his life. He also mentioned the names of the officers who were preparing for a coup.

Mujib dismissed Kao's concerns with a wave of his hand. "These are my own children and they will not harm me," he said.

Kao did not argue with Mujib. He however said the information was reliable and he would send him more details of the conspiracy.

Following the December 1974 meeting, Kao sent one of his trusted RAW officers to Dhaka in March 1975 to brief Bangabandhu further about a possible coup.

The officer gave Bangabandhu exact details of the units and ranks of the serving and dismissed officers who were planning a coup against him.

But again, Bangabandhu was not convinced. 

Faruk and Rashid had begun the conspiracy to overthrow Bangabandhu much before that June, 1974 meeting at Ziaur Rahman's residence.

Major Faruk had made a surreptitious visit to the US embassy in Dhaka in 1972 to discuss about procurement of arms. The government was in the dark about it.

In less than a year, another major, Abdur Rashid, brother-in-law of Faruk, went to the US embassy on July 11, 1973 seeking arms. This time he claimed that he went there to negotiate on behalf of a committee headed by then Brigadier Ziaur Rahman for the purchase of arms.

In May 15, 1974 Faruk, on the directive of a senior army officer, sought assistance from the US government through the US embassy in Dhaka. The US ambassador Davis Eugene Boster forwarded the message to the US State Department in a secret document sent to Washington.

Meanwhile, there were unusual goings-on inside the cantonment.

Col Moinul Hossain Chowhdury, the then adjutant general of the army, had a chat with Zia in the evening of March 20, 1975 in the lawn of Zia's residence. While leaving, Moinul found Major Faruk standing in the front of the residence alone.

"What are you doing here?" asked Moinul.

Faruk replied he had come to meet Ziaur Rahman.

Major Faruk was very cautious at his meetings with Zia. He was apprehensive that if he bluntly told the deputy chief that he wanted to overthrow the President like that there was a very good chance Zia would arrest him. So Faruk decided to be circumspect.

He began his discussion by focusing on corruption. At one stage, Faruk said the country required a change.

Zia said: "yes, yes. Let's go outside and talk."

Zia led him to the lawn.

"We are professional soldiers who serve the country, not an individual. The army and the civil government, everybody, is going down the drain. We have to have a change," Faruk said, "We, the junior officers, have already worked it out. We want your support and your leadership."

Faruk's initial fears about Zia were unfounded. Zia did not react negatively at his plan to overthrow the president let alone have Faruk arrested for presenting a plot of such enormity.

"I am sorry I would not like to get involved in anything like this. If you want to do something, you junior officers should do it yourselves. Leave me out of it," replied Zia. He had his own reasons to feel disgruntled. He was disappointed with the government for picking Gen Shafiullah as chief of army instead of him.

Major Faruk understood Zia's mood.

Next day, Col Moinul informed Zia about Faruk's presence in front of his house. Zia replied: "yes, Faruk came to see me."

Col Moinul had a bad feeling about Faruk's presence in front of Zia's residence on March 20, 1975.

The political situation of the country had changed in June, 1975 with the establishment of BAKSAL. In this changed situation Major Rashid went to meet Col Moinul in early July of 1975.

In the afternoon that day, Rashid was waiting at the entrance of Moinul's residence inside the Dhaka cantonment. As soon as Rashid saw Col Moinul, he started to speak in an excited voice about the army, politics and BAKSAL.

Moinul, who was transferred from Dhaka brigade by that time, advised Rashid to talk with his brigade commander Col Shafayet Jamil about his misgivings.

Col Moinul believed Rashid might have thought that the transfer had made him [Moinul] aggrieved and he would be able to instigate Mainul against the government, Mainul later wrote in his book.

It seems the prevailing uncertain political situation with the introduction of the one-party system, BAKSAL, following the constitution's fourth amendment in January 1975, came as a blessing for the conspirators.

They conspirators continued with their plans unhindered. Major Rashid was maintaining contact with Khandaker Mushtaque Ahmed, the then commerce minister, all along.

Rashid convinced the other conspirators that BAKSAL must be brought down by any means. He impressed it upon his partners if needed Mujib should be killed or the country and the nation would not survive. Rashid assured them of having Ziaur Rahman on their side if they were to eliminate Mujib.

With Mushtaque on board, the conspiracy started gathering political momentum.

They started holding more meetings to finalise their plans.

In May or June of 1975, defying army protocol, they decided to meet at the Shalna High School ground of Gazipur on the occasion of a conference of self-reliant movement of Dhaka Division. Four to five army officers including Major Noor, Major Shahriar and Major Faruk went there to meet Khandaker Mushtaque.

They talked to Mushtaque. He wanted to know of their progress. They informed him that everything was moving along as planned.

Mushtaque also had good relations with two army generals, Lt. Gen Khawza Wasiuddin and Maj Gen MI Karim. Both generals were repatriated from Pakistan after the country's Liberation War. Gen Karim was sent on retirement for his role in cooperating with the Pakistan army in 1971. Gen Wasiuddin served as ambassador in different countries.

To finalise the plan, the conspirators also held several more meetings at Major Rashid's residence in Dhaka cantonment, BARD in Comilla, residences of Khandaker Mushtaque in Comilla and Dhaka, at Ramna Park and at the residence of Major Shahriar in Dhaka cantonment.

The roles of the intelligence agencies remain unclear to this day. There is no information available of any reports or warnings of any conspiracy coming from any agency all through the period.

Brig Gen Abdur Rouf was chief of the DGFI, directorate general of forces intelligence, a military intelligence service of the armed forces. He was repatriated from Pakistan after the War of Liberation.

Col Jamil Uddin Ahmed, who was military secretary to President Mujib, was appointed as chief of the DGFI on August 12 or 13. Col Jamil was poised to take over his charge from Brig Rouf. It was not to be as Jamil was shot dead in the morning of August 15 at an army checkpoint set up by Faruk-Rashid's men at Sobhanbag when he was rushing to Bangabandhu's residence responding to the president's call.

A senior police officer, ABM Safdar was chief of the national security intelligence (NSI) in 1975. He was director general of special branch during the Liberation War and was in service for the East Pakistan government. His loyalty to Bangladesh and Bangabandhu government was questionable. He had reported links to CIA. 

Police officer EA Chowdhury was director general of the special branch. He was not a freedom fighter. He had served the then East Pakistan government in 1971. But he did not help the Pakistani army in 1971 to carry out atrocities against freedom fighters.

Being the chief of SB, he was concerned about the security of Bangabandhu.  He often visited Bangabandhu taking Anwarul Alam, deputy director of Rakkhi Bahini, and Sarwar Hossain Mollah, another official of Rakkhi Bahini.

Sometimes in May or June of 1975, they again met Bangabandhu at his residence at Road 32 at Dhanmondi.

"Sir, you can no longer stay in this house. You will have to live in Bangabhaban. This house is not safe for you," EA Chowdhury had told Bangabandhu.

Anwar and Sarwar were of the same opinion as Chowdhury. But as before, Bangabandhu was unconcerned.

By this time the conspirators were putting finishing touches to their sinister plan. 

Mushtaque, who had lost his foreign ministry portfolio after the Liberation War for his secret link with the CIA and secret negotiations to scuttle the Bangladesh Liberation War, now emerged again with his true character.

One of his meetings with Taheruddin Thakur, state minister of information of the Bangabandhu-led government, exposed it. They had met at around 1:00 pm of August 14, 1975 in Bangladesh secretariat.

"Brigadier Zia came [to me] twice this week. He and his men have become restless to do something fast," Mustaque had told Thakur.

"They want to bring a change in power by force. They are ready to do anything," he had said.

"I have given my opinion. Because, I do not have any other alternative, but this," Mushtaque had said.

This conversation was in the final hour of their plan to carry out the barbaric assassination.

[The report is prepared based on the books "Mission R&AW" by RK Yadab, "Inside R&AW" by Asoka Raina, "Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood" by Anthony Mascarenhas, "Silent Witness of a General" by Maj Gen (retd) Moinul Hossain Chowdhury, "Truth-false of Rakkhi Bahini" by Anwar Ul Alam, "Mujib murder in US documents" by Mizanur Rahman Khan and charge sheet and confessional statements of some accused in the Bangabandhu murder case.]

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