15th August tragedy: Of the helpless chiefs of air, navy
12:00 AM, August 14, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:11 AM, August 14, 2016

15th August tragedy

Of the helpless chiefs of army, air, navy

The phone rang. Major General KM Shafiullah picked it up. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was on the other end.

“Shafiullah, your troops have attacked my home. They might have killed Kamal [Bangabandhu's son]. Send forces quickly,” he ordered the army chief in an angry voice amid deafening sounds of gunshots in the pre-dawn hours of August 15, 1975.

“I am doing something. Can you get out of the house?” replied the general, according to a statement he made before a court as a witness in the Bangabandhu murder case.

The army chief could not talk more as he got no reply from the Father of the Nation. Moments later, he found the phone line dead.

Minutes before Shafiullah talked to Bangabandhu over the phone, Lt Col Salauddin, director of military intelligence, went to his house inside Dhaka Cantonment sometime between 5:15am and 5:35am to enquire about the movement of troops.

“Sir, did you order armoured and artillery divisions to march towards the city?” asked Salauddin.

“No,” replied the general.

“Tanks and artillery divisions are heading towards the radio station, Gono Bhaban and Bangabandhu's house on Dhanmondi Road-32,” Salauddin said, according to Shafiullah's statement.

“Does Shafayat know about it?” asked the general.

“I don't know it, Sir. I came to you first.”

“Go and tell Shafayat to stop them [the troops] with three artillery divisions. I am giving him the order over the telephone,” Shafiullah said.

The general picked up the phone to warn Bangabandhu about the information he received from Salahuddin. But the line was engaged.

Shafiullah, according to his statement, communicated with AK Khandker, chief of air force, MH Khan, chief of navy and some others. While talking to Ziaur Rahman, deputy chief of army, and Khaled Mosharraf, chief of general staff of army, he asked them to come to his house.

He tried to get Shafayat Jamil, commander of the 46th Brigade, also known as Dhaka Brigade, but that line was engaged too. He then got hold of Col Jamil Uddin Ahmed, who had recently been posted to the Directorate of Forces Intelligence (DFI) from the post of military secretary to the          president.

Jamil told Shafiullah that Bangabandhu had called him and asked him to go to Bangabandhu's house as some people were roaming around his residence.

Shafiullah asked Jamil, who was killed by some disgruntled army officials in front of Sobhanbagh mosque on his way to the president's residence, to take Bangabandhu somewhere else, according to an interview of Shafiullah published in The Daily Star in 2010.

The army chief in his statement said he finally got Shafayat on the phone at the latter's house. Hearing his voice, Shafiullah thought he just woke up. The army chief claimed to have ordered Shafayat to resist the armoured and artillery divisions marching towards the radio station, Gono Bhaban and Bangabandhu's house with three artillery divisions -- 1, 2 and 4.

In the army, the brigade commander, not the army chief, commands the troops.

Before Shafiullah's phone, Shafayat woke up from sleep as someone was constantly knocking on the door. He opened it and found Major Khandaker Abdur Rashid, armed with a Sten gun, standing there, according to a statement of Shafayat as a witness in the Bangabandhu murder case. He also described the event in his book “Ekattorer Muktijuddho, Roktakto Moddho-August o Shorojontromoy November.”

“We've captured state power under Khandaker Mushtaq. Sheikh has been killed. Don't try to take any action against us,” Rashid threatened. At   that time, Shafayet, as he said, got a phone call from Shafiullah who told him what he heard from Bangabandhu.

Shafayat put on uniform and left his house for his brigade headquarters. On the way to his office, he visited Ziaur Rahman at his residence and informed him of the latest developments.

“So what? [the] President is dead, [the] vice-president is there, uphold the constitution,” Zia commented.

Shafayat then left Zia's house.

Zia, who was in uniform, went to Shafiullah's house.

Khaled Mosharraf, still in his sleeping gown, also arrived there, said Shafiullah in his statement.

Shafiullah asked Khaled Mosharraf to immediately go to the 46 Brigade to assist Shafayat, as the army chief said he did not see any progress of his previous order.

“Don't send him. He is going to spoil it,” Gen Zia told Shafiullah.

Shafiullah went to his office. Zia followed him. The army chief communicated with other brigades of the army and told them that he was not aware of what was happening in Dhaka.

One radio was brought into his office by an office staff. Around 7:00am, the army chief said, he heard a radio announcement: “This is Major Dalim speaking; the president has been killed…”

Zia stayed at the army chief's office. At one stage, he asked the army chief not to allow Khaled Mosharraf to go outside of his office.

“Ask him [Khaled Mosharraf] to prepare operation order because Indian army might get in on this pretext,” said Shafiullah in his statement quoting Zia as saying.

CHIEFS WERE TARGETS

The army chief did not find his own office safe anymore as Major Dalim, accompanied by a dozen armed soldiers, had stormed in there and mounted pressure on him to go to the radio station.

Dalim pointed his Sten gun at Gen Shafiullah and said: “The president wants to talk to you. You come with me.”

Infuriated at Dalim's insolence, Shafiullah replied, “Dalim, I am used to weapons. If you want to use it, then do it. But do not keep your gun pointed at me.”

“If you want to talk to me, ask your troops to keep their arms out of the room,” continued Shafiullah, according to his statement before the court.

At one stage of the argument, Shafiullah left his office and went to the office of the 46th Brigade. Major Dalim and the armed soldiers followed him.

At the 46th Brigade, Major Dalim again started putting pressure on the army chief to go to the radio station, but he refused to go there alone and wanted to talk to air and naval chiefs.

Shafiullah again called AK Khandker at his office in the Air Headquarters around 8 or 9 o'clock in the morning.

AK Khandker talked to Bangabandhu over the telephone around 8:20pm on August 14, 1975.

Early morning the next day, he received a phone call from the army chief, who told him that Bangabandhu was killed, Khandker said in his statement before the court as witness in the Bangabandhu murder case.

“Did you hear Bangabandhu was assassinated?” asked Shafiullah.

“Are you sure?” replied Khandker. He then rushed to Shafiullah's house.

After returning home from the army chief's house, he went to Air Headquarters and called senior air force officers and asked them to ensure discipline in the air force.

From his office, he went to the 46 Brigade to meet Shafiullah.

Naval chief MH Khan heard the shocking radio announcement. He rushed to the house of Khandker who suggested him to go to Shafiullah's residence. The air chief did it accordingly. He talked to Shafiullah for some time, according to a statement of the naval chief who was also a witness in the Bangabandhu murder case.

MH Khan was asked by the army chief to go to the naval base -- Haji Mohsin. Later, he was asked to meet Shafiullah at the 46th Brigade.

The naval chief was not aware of the situation in 46th Brigade. He found the army chief surrounded by a group of armed soldiers, led by Major Dalim who lost his job in the army in 1974 on the charge of violation of discipline.

ALLEGIANCE TO KILLERS

In the morning of August 15, it was clear to the senior army top brass that the army, as an institution, was not involved in the bloody changeover. But a radio announcement was made claiming that the army captured state power. To back up their claims in the announcement, they needed chiefs of three services to express their allegiance to the bloody changeover.

The chiefs of three services were taken to the radio station where Khandaker Mushtaq Ahmed was waiting for them. They were made to express their allegiance to Mushtaq and the killers. From there, they were taken to Bangabhaban where Mushtaq was sworn in as the president on Mushtaq's desire.

After the oath-taking ceremony, the army chief tried to go out of Bangabhaban. But he was not allowed to do so. He was kept confined in Bangabhaban until August 18 with the same dress he had worn in the morning of August 15, said Shafiullah in his statement.

Air and naval chiefs were also kept confined in Bangabhaban until August 17 from August 15.

MOVE TO TAKE ACTIONS AGAINST KILLERS FAILED

The situation that prevailed in the morning of August 15 exposed the helplessness of the chiefs of three services, particularly the chief of   army.

Gen Shafiullah had ordered Dhaka Brigade Commander Col Shafayet to counter the coup. The commander, as he said, ordered three divisions -- 1, 2 and 4 Bengal regiments under his command -- to prepare for stopping the mutineers.

Shafayat Jamil, as he writes in his book, went to the office of the First Bengal Regiment. But he was not prepared for what he saw there. He found many of the soldiers were in a jubilant mood. They were soldiers of two    field regiment adjacent to regiment one.

Journalist BZ Khasru in his book “The Bangladesh Military Coup and the CIA Link” wrote about Khaled Mosharraf's response to Shafiullah's plan to take actions against the killers. When the army chief asked Khaled Mosharraf, he simply replied, “There was nothing that possibly could be done to reverse the process.”

Deputy Director of Rakkhi Bahini, Anwar Ul Alam, in his book “Truth-false of Rakkhi Bahini” said Khaled Mosharraf asked him to meet him [Khaled] at Bangabhaban in the evening of August 15.

Alam, as he wrote, found Khaled Mosharraf busy setting up an operation room at Bangabhaban in the evening of August 15. The operation room was set up on the pretext of countering possible Indian attack.

Khaled asked Anwar to meet him saying he has something urgent to discuss. But he did not talk to the official of Rokkhi Bahini, which was ready to counter the coup and was waiting for a signal from the army chief.

He discussed nothing with Anwar at Bangabhaban. Anwar understood that the fear of Indian attack was a hoax, as there was no news on Indian troops' movement in the border areas.

The chain of command in the army collapsed.

On his return from Bangabhaban, the army chief convened a meeting at the army headquarters in the night of August 18. Air and naval chiefs and other top brass of the army, BDR and police attended the meeting where they discussed how to restore chain of command in the force and take actions against the killers, said Shafiullah in his statement.

Another meeting was convened by the army chief on August 19 with senior army officers. On Mushtaq's directives, two killers -- Major Rashid and Major Faruk -- attended the meeting “to explain the coup”.

At the beginning of his speech, Major Rashid claimed that all the senior army officers were aware of the coup beforehand. Even the Dhaka brigade commander, Shafayet, was also aware of it.

No one protested Rashid's statement, Shafayat Jamil wrote in his book.

“You all are liars, mutineers and deserters. You all are murderers. Tell your Mushtaq that he is a usurper and a conspirator. He is not my president. In my first opportunity, I shall dislodge him and you all be tried for your crimes,” Shafayat Jamil told Rashid and Faruk.

The meeting ended in chaos.

On August 22, the army chief met Mushtaq at the Bangabhaban and tried to convince him to bring back the troops stationed there. Major Rashid, Major Faruk and some of their cohorts had been staying there since August 15, according to Shafiullah's statement.

Mushtaq did not agree. “Wait and see,” he told the army chief.

On August 24, Mushtaq summoned Shafiullah to meet him at the Bangabhaban. Shafiullah went there as the army chief. But after returning to the cantonment, he found Ziaur Rahman taking over the office of the chief of army.

Shafiullah was not aware of the appointment of Gen Zia as the chief of army until he met Mushtaq.

Air chief AK Khandker was replaced on August 18 by Group Captain Ghulam Tawab who opted for staying in Pakistan during the Liberation War and went on retirement after the country's independence and was staying in Germany.

MH Khan, however, served as the naval chief until November 3, 1975.

The move to take action against the killers failed. Rather, they were rewarded.

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