Sunday, March 18, 2018

Mujib, Zia and war through the eyes of a former army chief

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Nadeem Qadir illustrates some glimpses of our liberation war and itsinner facts that unveiled by the author

A former chief of the Bangladesh Army, retired lieutenant general Mahbubur Rahman, is known for his footings in many areas and that includes writing columns as well as several books, mostly during his 34 years in the military service.

It was an honour for me when he presented a copy of his latest book in Bengali "Kichhu Sriti Kichhu Katha" (when loosely translated -- Some Memories Some Words) to me recently. To my great surprise, he told me "Antu (my nick name), you should do the review of this book."

I promised to do so not only it is a book by a well-respected former army chief, but also whom I have known from my childhood as he was one of my father's ---Lieutenant Colonel M. Abdul Qadir (Shaheed) --- most loving fellow junior officer along with retired Lieutenant General M. Noor Uddin Khan, late Major General Mozzamel Hussain and late General Mustafizur Rahman --- all from the Corps of Engineers.

It is a book of some collected columns he had written over the past years and some new pieces, but I think they have important historical information in a very easy-going use of words and style. What drew my attention is the fact that nowhere in his book he has bad-mouthed anyone he had come across, but wrote of his great respect for both Bangabandhu Sheiklh Mujibur Rahman, whom he never met, and General Ziaur Rahman, under whom he served. He could have, as he has seen many incidents from close proximity because of his position in the army, besides his keen interest to know in-depth anything significant that happened in his dear Bangladesh.

General Mahbubur Rahman took over as the army chief in a critical moment of history on 20 May 1996 ahead of the second democratic elections of Bangladesh after an attempted coup led by the then chief General Mohammad Nasim. He made the rebellious general, cooped up in his room in the army headquarters, calm and brought the situation under control to allow elections to take place eventually.

In his book, he mentions Bangabandhu as the "Founding Leader" of Bangladesh and how "the firebrand" young leader of that time inspired and motivated him for a movement to make East Pakistan independent for the Bengalis.

He narrates how the Bengali officers in the Pakistan Army were treated and looked down, which made him very angry. Those were beyond dignity and he writes "I knew for sure that the Bengalis will win freedom after a bloody struggle."

He was more drawn to Bangabandhu when he learned from some senior officers working secretly for the eventual push to get freedom, that it was this leader who was guiding them from behind.Genertal Mahbubur Rahman got involved in the secret group working for freedom under Captain Shawkat Ali of the Corps of Ordinance (Later colonel and deputy parliament speaker). He believed that if not through a revolution, freedom will be achieved upholding the ideals of Bangabandhu.

He relentlessly worked to inspire and recruit young Bengali army officers and soldiers in favour of the struggle for independence from the late 1960s. When Captain Shawkat Ali along with others were arrested for conspiring to break up Pakistan, he was worried of going behind the bars, but saved as they did not give out his name to the intelligence grilling them.

"I was absolutely confident that Bangladesh can be independent under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ... Everybody understood at that time that he was truly the undisputed leader of the Bengalis," he writes in page 35.General Mahbubur Rahman regrets that he could not join the 1971 Independence War as he was posted at that time in the then West Pakistan and never thought it would be so short.

His love for Bangladesh and Bangabandhu is clear (page 37) when he writes about turning the room of the Special Court trying Sheikh Mujib in the Agartala Conspiracy Case into a museum when he became the army chief. It has been named "Bijoyketon." Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina cut the tape of the museum in 1996, when the author was her first army chief.

Describing General Ziaur Rahman as a "charismatic" military leader who gave "confidence and courage" to other military officers in Bangladesh at that time by reading the proclamation of Independence on 27 March 1971 first in his name and later in the name of Bangabandhu.

Zia, according to him was a great patriot, took charge of the nation at a critical time following the Sepoy Mutiny of 07 November 1975. He pacified and sent back to barracks the mutinous armed soldiers.General Mahbubur Rahman, currently a standing committee member of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) founded by Zia, added that General Ziaur Rahman was hurt when a junior officer named Major General K.M. Shafiullah was appointed as the army chief superseding him. Gen Shafiullah stepped down after the 1975 assassination of Bangabandhu taking all responsibilities of the failures at that time in Bangladesh's turbulent history.

A pertinent question remains unanswered is 'was this a reason why Zia kept silent knowing about the plot to kill Bangabandhu'. Interestingly, the author skipped any controversial or negative issues while narrating many historical developments keeping true to his reputation of a "perfect gentleman."

The 248-page book, published by BehulaBangla and priced at US$ 15, has also chapters containing his meetings with dignitaries like the late Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam, former Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, along with his idols like late Finance Minister Saifur Rahman, Dr. Muhammad Yunus and late Major General and BNP leader, Majid-ul-Huq.

Surprisingly, the former tough army chief has also displayed his soft corner for popular writer late Humayun Ahmed and his school headmaster Kazi Kader Newaz.There are unfortunately few photographs with some spelling errors in the book, which is otherwise impressive.

It is worth keeping in collection as a general-turned-politician gives the readers not only some unknown episodes of history, but also shows that despite ideological differences he has respect for all who crossed his path and that one need not distort history for any reason.

To end, my final words after going through "Kichhu Sriti Kichhu Katha" with an elegant cover by Dewan Atikur Rahman, is that General Mahbubur Rahman is inside-out a man of great heights who has no problem in recognising Bangabandhu as the "firebrand founding leader" of Bangladesh and at the same time Genertal Zia's important role in our Independence War.

He apparently stayed away from controversial issues or debates and opted for those that are universal facts. The words and adjectives have been used very careful, while there is not much to debate on the information contained in this book.

The reviewer is the Roving Editor,The Asian Age

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