Who killed Bangabandhu?
The usual response to the question that we have gotten used to hearing is the assassination was carried out by a group of misguided army officers. But the answer is not quite as simple
We have a very canny knack to explain away such acts as being the work of wayward groups, as being a spontaneous outburst of some pent-up grudge. We have done it for August 15, 1975 and very recently tried to characterise the BDR killings in the same vein. But the fact that the president was alerted several months before August 15 by more than one country, if not our intelligence agencies, negates the claim that the plan was spontaneous and nobody had any wind of it.
The question that is being asked of those at the helm of affairs in the army at that time, of whom, regrettably only the CAS is alive, is whether the killings could have been anticipated and whether or not the alleged inaction to prevent August 15 amounts to being complicit in the matter.
It seems that the suddenness of the violence caused the AHQ to suffer a shock that infused total inertia in the leadership, and which in turn allowed a handful of army officers to perpetrate the most heinous act the country has ever witnessed, without any resistance whatsoever, either before or after the tragic incident.
Although the timing may not be right, but can we fault anyone, particularly one that has suffered personal loss in that tragic incident, for demanding to know why a handful of army officers and men went unchallenged, what actually went wrong and why, and that too when the mutineers' tanks were without the main gun ammunition? One realises that revisiting the issue might expose many bitter truths. But we should be able to face it.
While for now within the space available we will address only the issue of "who" in Bangabandhu's killing, perhaps an equally important question, and one that our historians will have to address is "why" he was killed.
Was it his supreme self confidence that no Bengali would ever do what the Pakistanis did not dare, or was it his too nationalistic an attitude that caused him to meet the same fate as Allende's? Or may be his internal policies and political philosophy that did not meet with the approval of some; or was it an attempt to reverse the result of the Liberation War? These will require dispassionate study.
The then CAS has been put in the dock for his failure to get pre-warning of the impending action of the mutineers and to put down the mutiny with the forces available to him. On the contrary, the mutiny passed of as a "successful revolution" and all the rest that followed is in front of us. It is a matter of conjecture as to what might have happened if the mutineers were resisted, but they were not.
It is a fact that the mere shock caused by the tragic event had pulverised the military leadership, but are we not trained to absorb shocks and keep our wits about us? Then again, does inaction mean complicity in the matter? In hindsight perhaps we can come out with many theories. But on ground the reality was that appropriate orders from the AHQ did not issue on time nor did the units respond to command timely. There was a wait and see attitude, which might have given the impression that there was acquiescence to what had happened? It is true also that some in the chain of command wanted to put down the rebellion and restore command in the army, but failed do so for whatever reason.
The long and short of it is that the army failed to respond, due to failure of the channel of command, when the country's president, along with his family, was being killed by some of its errant members. This is a collective guilt we must shoulder and which cannot be washed away. And it is futile to hide behind any excuse whatsoever. So, to the question that who killed Bangabandhu, the answer is simple and bitter -- we all did.
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc, (Retd) is Editor, Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.
This piece was first printed in The Daily Star, September 3, 2009.