Shahid President Ziaur Rahman, (1936-1981) President of Bangladesh, valiant freedom fighter, Chief of Army Staff. Ziaur Rahman, fondly called Zia, was born on l9 January 1936 at Bagbari in Bogra. His father Mansur Rahman was a chemist working in a government department in Calcutta. His childhood was spent partly in the rural area of Bogra and partly in Calcutta. After the partition of India (1947), when his father was transferred to Karachi Zia had to leave the Hare School in Calcutta and become a student of the Academy School in Karachi. He completed his secondary education from that School in 1952. In 1953, he got himself admitted into the D.J College in Karachi. In the same year he joined the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul as an officer cadet.

Ziaur Rahman was commissioned in 1955 as a second lieutenant. He served there for two years, and in 1957 he was transferred to East Bengal Regiment. He also worked in the military intelligence department from 1959 to 1964. In the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 Ziaur Rahman fought in the Khemkaran sector as the commander of a company. Incidentally, his company received maximum number of gallantry awards for heroic performances in the war. He was appointed an instructor in the Pakistan Military Academy in 1966. In the same year he was sent to the Staff College in Quetta for attending a ‘command’ course. In 1969, he joined the Second East Bengal Regiment as its second-in-command at Joydevpur. He received higher training from West Germany. On his return home in 1970, Ziaur Rahman, then a major, was transferred to the Eighth East Bengal Regiment at Chittagong as its second in command.  Obviously, Ziaur Rahman was an unknown name to the people. But he became an instant national figure when he, on behalf of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at declared Bangladesh’s independence on 27 March from the radio station of Kalurghat in Chittagong. His declaration goes:

“I Major Zia, Provisional Commander-in-Chief of the Bangladesh Liberation Army, hereby proclaim, on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the independence of Bangladesh”.

“I also declare, we have already framed a sovereign, legal Government under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which pledges to function as per law and the constitution. The new democratic Government is committed to a policy of non-alignment in international relations. It will seek friendship with all nations and strive for international peace. I appeal to all Governments to mobilize public opinion in their respective countries against the brutal genocide in Bangladesh. The Government under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is sovereign legal Government of Bangladesh and is entitled to recognition from all democratic nations of the world”.

Ziaur Rahman and his troops thus came in the forefront of the War of Liberation. Major Zia and the armed forces under his command kept the Chittagong and Noakhali areas under their control for a few days and then, crossed the border as a strategic retreat.

Shahid Ziaur Rahman

Ziaur Rahman played a brilliant role in the War of Liberation both at the level of planning and execution. As the commander of Sector I up to June 1971, later as the head of Z-Force, Ziaur Rahman distinguished himself as a brave warrior and was offered the gallantry award of Bir Uttam.

After the most creditable performances during the nine-month war, Zia was appointed brigade commander in Comilla. In June 1972, he was made deputy chief of staff of the armed forces of Bangladesh. In the middle of 1973, he became a brigadier, and a major general by the end of the year. Ziaur Rahman became the chief of army staff on 25 August 1975. When Khaled Mosharraf with the support of the Dhaka Brigade under the command of Shafat Jamil staged a coup d’etat on 3 November 1975, Ziaur Rahman was forced to resign his command and was put under house arrest. The Sepoy-Janata Biplob of 7 November, however, took him to the centre of political power.

On 7 November 1975, a new administrative set-up for the running of an interim government was arranged with Justice ASM Sayem as the Chief Martial Law Administrator and the three service chiefs, Major General Zia, Air Vice Marshal MG Tawab and Rear Admiral MH Khan, as Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrators. Ziaur Rahman became Chief Martial Law Administrator on 19 November 1976 when Justice Sayem relinquished his position. Ziaur rahman became the President of Bangladesh on 21 April 1977 when President Sayem resigned.

After assuming office as head of the state Ziaur Rahman issued a proclamation order amending the Constitution to insert Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful) in the Preamble of the Constitution. In Article 8(1) and 8(1A) the principle of ‘absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah’ has been added. In Article 8(1), socialism has been defined as ‘economic and social justice’. In Article 25(2) it has also been provided that “the state shall endeavour to consolidate, preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity.’

Ziaur Rahman introduced a new concept what he styled as Bangladeshi nationalism. He believed that in a plural society like Bangladesh where people are of diverse ethnicity and where they profess different faiths, have different cultural traits and various lifestyles, nationalism should better be conceptualized in terms of territory rather than language or culture. This is what he emphasized upon. Bangladeshi nationalism put emphasis on national unity and integration of all citizens of Bangladesh irrespective of religion, caste, creed, gender, culture, and ethnicity.

Assuming power, Zia immediately moved to restore law and order in the country and for the purpose strengthened the police force, practically doubling its size from 40,000 to 70,000 and arranging for their proper training. He also restored order in the armed forces. For the purpose, he took certain steps for the development of professionalism in them through rigorous training and restoring discipline. He expanded their strength substantially from less than 50,000 in 1974-75 to about 90,000 in 1976-77. Although Zia was successful in restoring discipline within the armed forces, he faced a difficult time because of the existence and operation of heterogeneous interests who staged a number of mutinies and attempted coups forcing him to adopt certain uncompromising and stern actions against those who ignored discipline and took part in those uprisings.

In the midst of a disorderly army Zia stood firm and resolute. He came to believe that sooner the country moved to a democratic system the better for himself and for the country. 1975 through Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, democracy was buried and one party value introduced. Zia moved as fast as he could to democratize the polity by restoring multiparty democracy and the institution of election and thus facilitating the transfer of power to elected representatives peacefully. As a first step towards his goal, Zia allowed the disbanded and disarrayed political parties to be revived and peaceful political activities pursued on once again. Having this goal in view, Zia withdrew the ban on the newspapers and inaugurated the free flow of news by making the information media free and uninterferred. The prevailing situation persuaded him to take part in active politics.  He came to believe that by restoring normal political activities and allowing the parties freely, he hoped for establishing democratic environment in the country.

In February 1978 Ziaur Rahman floated Jatiyatabadi Ganatantric Dal with Vice President Justice Abdus Sattar as its head. For the presidential election, Zia himself became a presidential candidate to lead an electoral combine consisting of six political parties. He won a comprehensive victory by securing 76.67% of the votes.

Zia had further reform in mind. He was not entirely happy with the Jatiyatabadi Ganatantric Dal. On 1 September 1978, he floated a new political party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), with himself as its chairman. However, the parliamentary elections were held in February 1979 and BNP won 207 seats out of 300, Abdul Malek Ukil led Awami League won 39 seats and Mizanur Rahman led Awami league 2. On 1 April 1979, the first session of the Jatiya Sangsad was convened. On 9 April, martial law was lifted after the enactment of the Fifth Amendment. It was indeed a great achievement and a mark of leadership for Ziaur Rahman to be able to take the country back to normalcy by introducing electoral politics again.

As president, Ziaur Rahman can again claim to have made significant contributions in another sector. It is the national economy. Zia’s economic policy laid emphasis on private sector development, which remained neglected before. He engaged a team of experts to design ways and means for achieving economic developments by promoting the private sector development, and by initiating agricultural development through injecting subsidies to farmers and agricultural marketing. He took various measures for handing over nationalized industries to their former owners, where possible. To develop the export sector, he took several measures including the promotion of export of conventional and non-conventional goods. Zia’s economic policy earned him considerable success. Food production reached a new height and Bangladesh was dreaming of becoming a rice surplus country in near future.

Ziaur Rahman’s action plan included a 19-Point Programme which put emphasis on making rapid socio-economic transformation in the country. The thrust of the programme was to bring socio-economic transformation and achieve self-reliance and rural uplift through people’s participation in the development efforts. Its primary objectives were to accelerate agricultural growth, population control, self-sufficiency in food, decentralization of administration and greater incentives to the private sector. It was also designed to meet the basic needs of the people and special needs of women, youths and workers, and it aimed at establishing a political order based on social justice.

For achieving his economic goal, President Zia tried to transform the politics of the country into a development-oriented one. Social development area includes not only production. It has many other ramifications. However, he chalked out programmes terming them as revolutions and motivated his party men to realize those programmes through their active participation in the development drive. The first of those was canal digging, and it was designed to supply adequate water to the farmers, especially during the lean season. The second was to remove illiteracy from the society so that an air of enlightenment might emerge through both formal and non-formal education in all strata of the society. Moreover, motivational programmes were set on motion for the acceleration of productions both in the field and factories. Intensifying the Family Planning programme, revolutionary as it was, was designed to stabilize population at a level which might be termed as optimum from the economic and sustainability point of view. The institution of Gram Sarkar (village government) aimed at enlisting the support of the people for a self-reliant Bangladesh, which became a political cliché for Zia. One important aspect of his programme was that he did not like to make it a mere vote-catching slogan. He tried to implement his programme in right earnest. The excavation and re-excavation of more than 1500 canals in a year and a half, record production of food grains in two successive years (1976-77 and 1977-78), an average annual GDP growth of 6.4% during 1976-78, a vigorous mass education campaign, introduction of Gram Sarkar and Village Defence Party (VDP) made deep impression in the minds of the people. The donor agencies also expressed satisfaction at the development spheres of his government.

Having the objectives of establishing good neighbourly relations with India and other South Asian countries on equal footing Zia started bringing in changes first at the internal setting through resurgence of nationalistic aspirations of the people and then by stabilizing countervailing forces at the regional and international levels.

The foreign policy goals were thus devised anew, and friendly international relations were set on with a view to achieving peace and progress on the basis of mutual understanding and trust. At the regional level, Bangladesh developed a pattern of mutuality with such states as Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Srilanka, and Maldives along with India so much so that it ultimately led to the forging of SAARC – a regional cooperation in the region, a move which received acclaim from all quarters locally and internationally.

At the international level, Bangladesh under his leadership tried to establish friendly and cooperative relations with states of all political varieties, right, centre and left. Bangladesh came closer to the Muslim world which began to take a fresh look at Bangladesh and its problems. Bangladesh developed a good working relation with China and America. South East Asian countries were drawn closer to Bangladesh. He attended many international conferences and visited many countries to promote the cause of the nation’s multilateral and bilateral relations. The dividend of his drive was rich. Bangladesh was elected to the Security Council in one of its non-permanent seats in 1978, and became actively involved in the activities of the UN members. It was President Zia who conceived of the idea of, and initiated actions for, regional cooperation in South Asia. For the purpose, he visited these countries during 1979-80 to speak of the need to develop a framework for mutual cooperation. south asian association for regional cooperation (SAARC) was the outcome of his efforts, which was formally launched in Dhaka in 1985. Zia did not survive to see his dreams come true. He was assassinated in Chittagong on 30 May 1981 in an abortive army coup. He lies buried at Sher-e-Banglanagar, Dhaka.

His Namaz-E-Janaza (funeral congregation) witnessed the largest gathering ever from all walks of life.

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