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Taher, Zia and us

by Asif Nazrul

I had an opportunity of meeting Lawrence Lifshcultz two days ago at a dinner where we had plenty of time to talk. I asked Lifshcultz what the charges were against Col. Taher? I asked him, what penalty would any other country impose on him for such charges? During the tumultuous days of 1975, the leaflet of the Biplobi Sainik Sangstha or revolutionary soldiers’ organization, called for the creation of a classless armed force. This led to the killing of a large number of senior army officers of the Bangladesh Armed Forces. If Col. Taher was involved in this operation, then indeed he would be guilty of treason and could be punished accordingly. Lawrence listened to what I had to say. He did not disagree with me outright, but questioned the manner in which the trial was conducted. A camera trial, or secret trial, could in no way be condoned and nor could the camera trial of Col. Taher.

From what little I understand, Col. Taher did not even have a secret trial. A trial means the defendant has adequate opportunity to defend himself, the verdict must clarify why the defence is not acceptable. In the case of Col. Taher that probably did not happen. He called for the then President Sayem, General Osmany, General Zia and s few others to be summoned before the tribunal to examine whether his defence was true or not. That was not done. In his testimony, Col. Taher said he believed in the concept of a people’s army. About the fact that army officers were killed, he said, “My orders to the soldiers who took part in the rebellion was that no officers should be injured in that manner.” This proves that he had connection with those taking part in the rebellion, but it does not prove that he had supported the killings. We have not found any documents that indicate that this {his involvement in the killing was proven in the tribunal.

He was actually killed in the name of a trial. From Che Guevara down to our Masterda Surja Sen, so many revolutionaries of this world were similarly killed (without any trial or by means of farcical trials). Che Guevara and Surja Sen fought against imperialism. Their struggles did not succeed right then. They had to give their lives. We also see many successful revolutionaries in history. About 200 years ago Simone Bolivar fought against Spanish imperialism and freed six Hispanic American states. His highest reward was being able to build up the state of his own creation.

Revolution or freedom struggle means to wage war against an existing system. There failure means death, success means the highest glory. Had our Bangabandhu, the leaders of Mujibnagar and our sector commanders failed to liberate the country, perhaps they would have been hanged. It was because they succeeded that they are lauded by the people of the land, placed in position of high honour.

My question is, who was Col. Taher fighting against? He was, at least towards the end, involved with JSD. Do we believe in JSD’s scientific socialism or the People’s Army of the Biplobi Sainik Sangstha? Did the people of Bangladesh ever pass a mandate in favour of this? The dream which he had of an exploitation-free society, his readiness to sacrifice himself, will keep him alive in the minds of many. But was his method right? What other consequence could he have met since his method failed? What actually was his method, his ideology?

The investigations of the trial in High Court now do not touch on any of these questions. Only the manner in which he was tried has been questioned, and it is right to question this. Questions could have been raised whether it was even necessary to give such a man any trial. He had to leave the army during Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s rule due to the ideals in which he believed. Bangabandhu did not try him for this, but appointed him to another post. In the post-75 scenario did this Taher become so popular amongst a section of the troops, did the firmness of this resolve become so dangerous that there was no alternative but to place him on trial? We never find any concrete discussion based on real fact in this regard.

Speaking at a programme on the occasion of Taher’s death anniversary, Lawrence Lifschultz said he was not neutral about Taher, but he was objective. Given the political beliefs of Lifschultz, I feel it would indeed be difficult for him to be neutral about Taher. He may not have been neutral, but that does not exempt others from being neutral. My personal belief is that unless we want to view the entire canvas concerning the debate over Col. Taher, this will not be a learning experience and it will not be acceptable. In order to see the entire canvas, it is not enough to simply focus on his trial; one must discuss his ideology, the acceptability of his programmes and the political background of the time.

2.

Then again, did Zia alone kill Taher? Let alone the question of persons involved in the trial, what about those who were in the top ranks of the army at that time, such as General Manzur, General Ershad, General Nurul Islam Shishu or the retired General Osmany? Did they at any later point of time openly protest against the incident? Did Awami League itself ever condemn this killing or protest against it? Even during the last Awami League government we saw initiative being taken for the trial of certain killings, but not that of Col. Taher. This time too the court investigations for this case have been taken by personal initiative, not from a government level. The court is showing a lot of interest in this case. It would be very good if the court showed such interest in investigating all killings. If we find the court in Awami League’s time interested in investigating Taher’s killing, then during any BNP government’s time we find the court eager to investigate the killing of Siraj Sikder, it would be quite confusing.

Lawrence Lifschultz has done his work as a writer. Now beyond that, some deeper investigations must be carried out. Hundreds of books have been written about President Kennedy’s assasination in the US. None of them are really hundred percent correct in analysis. It is not possible for any analyst to get things 100 percent correct. Only math can be done a hundred percent accurately. Political analysis and the application of law is not math. We saw two different verdicts in court regarding the same caretaker government. So there needs to be a thorough analysis of the events of 1975.

Another danger of factual discussions is the sole dependence on newspaper reports. Over the last two years the manner in which the media has been focusing on Zia, one would think that he alone was the root of all political and constitution related anarchies. A similar propaganda was done for the six to seven years after Bangabandhu’s death. It was wrong to demonize Bangabandhu in such a manner and it is wrong to demonize anyone else in such a manner now.

Taher, in his last testimony, has spoken in a praiseworthy manner of the contribution made by Ziaur Rahman in the Liberation War and after. He speaks of the Bangabandhu killing case and says the US, Pakistan, certain elements within the army and within Awami League were responsible for this. Nowhere does he speak of Ziaur Rahman’s involvement in the killing of Bangabandu.

Given the circumstances, Taher himself suggested that martial law be imposed after August 15, 1975 and that the Constitution be suspended. He also called for the release of the prisoners and for elections to be held. In November he asked Zia to become the Chief Martial Law Administrator (according to his own discourse, Zia at one point agreed). Taher called Zia a betrayer in regard to his own trial. But nowhere in his discourse, has Taher pointed to Zia as being solely responsible for his trial, although now Zia is being singled out in this regard. Some papers are doing this.  Even the court is glossing over anyone else’s responsibility for certain events in our nation’s history, simply focusing on Zia for the various failures.

3.

Ziaur Rahman had his faults, but can we accept the words supposedly of a deceased man (General Manzur) to affirm that it was Zia who took the decision to kill Taher? Lawrence is now saying that Zia was indirectly responsible for Bangabandhu’s killing. If he was responsible, then why should General Shafiullah and the heads of the other forces at the time not be responsible too?  What about several Awami League leaders? Why was Zia not accused during the trial of the Banabandhu killing case? Why should certain selected papers released by the US be taken as the basis of our beliefs in this case, when the US itself is being accused of being behind Bangabandhu’s killing?

We collectively failed to prevent the killing of Bangabandhu. We collectively pushed him towards adopting the suicidal Fourth Amendment. This is the sad picture he highlighted in his speech the day the Fourth Amendment was passed in parliament. I believe he was a man much larger than life – if the others were five feet, he was ten. Four other National Leaders,  Zia, Taher, Khaled Musharraf and Manzur, they all were more than five feet in their stature and contributions. Lilliputians are never at ease with Gullivers. That is why we have killed,  or facilitated the killing of all our Gullivers. We have kept Ershad alive with honour as he is the same size as us.

We have not stopped at killing of the big men. During various regimes, we tried to kill them in many other ways. We must learn to respect these big men. We must be able to analyse their faults and their contributions objectively and wisely.

These big men are bright stars in the sky of our dreams, hopes and achievements. Some are brighter than the others, but they all are stars. If we want to conceal them in the dark clouds of petty politics, motivated character assassination and cowardly silence, we will be brining up a confused new generation bereft of honur and self-respect. That does not bode well for any of us.

Dr. Asif Nazrul is a researcher, political analust and professor of law. This article is translated by PROBE from the original one published in the Prothom-Alo on March 18, 2011.

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