Zia used violence, betrayed others: Lawrence Lifschultz
Investigative journalist and former South Asia correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review Lawrence Lifschultz has said General Ziaur Rahman was a 'psychopath' in his capability to use violence, use others and then betray them.
He also suggested the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the atmosphere after the coup and chaos in 1975 need to be investigated further.
The men behind the assassination would not move without Zia's backing, Lifschultz opined, adding that Zia would not move without American backing.
"In my view, it needs to be further investigated," he said.
Lifschultz lauded the judicial process of holding those involved to account and said it was an essential part in moving forward.
He was addressing an insightful discussion on the ramifications of the killings during the early hours of August 15, 1975 titled "Bangladesh 1975: Setting the clock back" hosted by the Centre for Research and Information (CRI) on Thursday night.
The assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first president of Bangladesh, was unique and strategically plotted. It was the first coup assassination in South Asia.
Other participants of the discussion were: Salil Tripathi, historian and visiting scholar at New York University; Nasreen Ahmed, academic and former Pro-VC at University of Dhaka; Mohammed Farashuddin, economist and former civil servant, visiting professor at East West University; and Syed Badrul Ahsan, journalist and biographer, fellow at Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London.
Zafar Sobhan, columnist and editor of Dhaka Tribune, moderated the discussion.
Lifschultz also said he later came to full realisation that Ziaur Rahman was holding things together.
Weeks before the coup, Lifschultz said, Zia was meeting with a senior member of the US embassy.
"We also know he was with the CIA station chief in a private meeting in Dhaka and we also know that there was tremendous tension within the American embassy... The American ambassador Davis Eugene Boster was very disturbed and stressed as he had given instructions that all the embassy staff would have no contact with anyone planning and thinking about coup," said the journalist.
However, he said, Zia had met the CIA station chief at a Bangladeshi businessman's house in Dhaka at a dinner that had been set up precisely so that they could meet.
Lifschultz said Zia's involvement in this and a path of blood led to his eventual emergence as the leading figure.
Zia had meeting with Colonel Rashid and Colonel Faruk planning the coup and it was Zia's job to make sure the army did not intervene against them, he said.
Lifschultz also mentioned the consolidation of power in the hands of Ziaur Rahman became increasingly violent, particularly the event of October 1977 against those who were in the army and were saying that Zia was involved in August 15.
He said it was indicated that Zia maintained strong connections with Pakistan and others during the uprising that took place and later.
At the time of the coup in 1975, the Indian government and the number of communist parties in India and Bangladesh all immediately alleged that the United States was behind the coup and was aligned with other countries in doing so, according to CRI.
"Although I was open to hearing all points of view, that (US's involvement) was one I categorically rejected because in the context of American politics of that time it seemed quite far-fetched," Lifschultz said.
"However, in mid-November of 1975 when I came in and I met a Bangladeshi acquaintance who I know... I never identified the person, and he sat me down and said he was not particularly friendly to Sheikh Mujib and there has been tension between Sheikh Mujib and himself," he said.
"But he was disturbed that what had happened in the coup and the extent of murder and deaths. He said to me put the word conspiracy aside. Coups are planned," Lifschultz added.
Salil interviewed self-confessed killer Colonel Faruk when he came to Bangladesh for the first time in 1986 as a young reporter.
He said he was nine years old growing up in India during 1971.
"In 1986, I had just finished my graduate studies in the US and I was back in India and came to Bangladesh essentially to figure out what was going on and what went wrong that was my question and why a country which started the trajectory of democracy, secularism and liberalism ended up having essentially one party state leading to the assassination of Sheikh Mujib, jail killing, coups and counter coups?" he said.
When he came to Dhaka, he found it was something that "only a fiction writer could dream of." The man (Colonel Faruk) who was an assassin confessed to leading the conspiracy and declared himself as a presidential candidate in the election.
"So, I was curious about the man and I approached him when I was in Dhaka and he very readily agreed to meet me. Well-guarded house in a nice part of the city and guarded by security forces and so on and wearing a Pathani outfit which is not traditionally associated with folks of the east side of the country that itself was revealing. He told me he was in Libya. He was incredibly confident," Salil said.
"When he was talking about how (Sheikh) Russel was killed, I asked 'was it necessary' as he was a 10-year-old kid," Salil said.
"He too had to go," Faruk replied to him.
As Salil wanted to know why, Faruk replied "There would have been a dynasty and it would have gone on and on".