Amin Ahmed Chowdhury, Bir Bikram
In 1976, although General Ziaur Rahman was the only rallying force, yet he like other Forces’ Chiefs of the Bangladesh Navy and Bangladesh Air Force, was one of the three Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrators and not the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) as reported in the newspapers. It apparently looks like a minor mistake but it needs to be corrected because it has a bigger connotation. The then President Justice ASM Sayem was the CMLA, who as the President and CMLA as well, confirmed the death sentence of Col Taher. As an eminent jurist he could have at least resigned. He did not do so. The entire command structure of the Bangladesh Armed Forces were then shaken so much that almost all the commanders of the Armed Forces were of the opinion that if Taher remained alive they would not be able to command their troops; rather, they might be killed as it already happened with so many other officers. In that case they were ready to resign almost en-masse – let Ziaur Rahman and Taher command the Armed Forces.
The court proceedings and chargesheet of Taher Trial were not published. But Col Taher’s final statement was published in some of the newspapers. In that memorable statement, the immortal Taher frankly said that he wanted Zia to take over as the President and CMLA of the country which Zia politely refused and he (Zia) rather insisted that the government. must continue and let Justice Sayem continue as the President and CMLA. Tactfully, Zia ousted Khandker Mustaque who, with the support of 1st Bengal Lancers and 2nd Field Artillery Regiment wanted to remain as the President and CMLA of the country, dislodging Justice Sayem, the nominee of Gen Khaled Musharraf and Col Shaffat Jamil. The troops of Lancer and Artillery also wanted that Col. Farook and Col. Rashid be brought back from abroad and posted to their original battalions that is 1st Bengal Lancer and 2nd Field Artillery respectively.
Later on, in 1980 Gen. Zia dismissed Col Farook and Col. Rashid from the Army. That means Zia did not use Taher to capture power for himself but requested Col Taher to rescue him from the house arrest where Col Taher wanted to capture power by using the goodwill of Gen. Zia which Zia used to enjoy tremendously both among the troops and the civilian population. In fact, using the excuse of rescuing Zia from house arrest, Col Taher wanted to capture power by force. It was evident by his statement when he mentioned that his troops in the Radio Station were not allowing Zia and Mustaque to enter the Radio Station until Zia succumbed to the demands of the soldiers. Although Col Taher never liked Mustaque, yet he allowed Mustaque to deliver his speech for smooth transition of power to Justice Sayem so that Col Taher could be more assertive. Later on, Zia arrested Mustaque for his mischievous activities.
It was interesting to note that after August 15, especially during the first week of October, 1975, Col Taher fixed the date of his revolution on the night of 6/7 November, 1975 to commemorate the Bolshevic Revolution. To him to be at par with the Bolshevic Revolution was more important than any individual, be it Zia, Khaled Musharraf or Gen MAG Osmany. The November 03 1975 coup gave him a God-gifted opportunity to execute easily his dreamy revolution by motivating loyal troops on a common objective of getting Ziaur Rahman out of house arrest and thereby initiating the Bolshevic-type revolution. Obviously, he did not initiate the revolution immediately but on November 07, 1975, Col Taher was expecting immediate help from Mao Tse Tung of China — how it is anybody’s guess. Ultimately his brave innocent younger brothers Freedom Fighters Bahar, Bir Pratik and Belal, Bir Pratik made a desperate attempt to kidnap Samar Sen to use him as a bargaining chip for rescuing Taher from the gallows. Belal could escape death but on the spot Bahar was killed by on-duty police. These are historical facts.
Since 1974, Col Taher had been looking for an opportune moment to carry out hurricane raids to capture power. It was his dreamy idea which he used to propagate every now and then though nobody took it seriously. Once after August 15, 1975, Col Taher threatened the August coup leaders, by saying that they, posing as heroes, should not fly high because they just highjacked his plan and executed it before he himself could. He was ousted summarily from the Army because of his revolutionary ideas. Yet he used to feel that it was Gen. Khaled who was instrumental in removing him from the Army. Col Taher also said that he warned his troops not to kill/injure officers; yet he expected that while entering the Radio Station or the domain of Col Taher, Zia without hesitation should have endorsed what troops were demanding; otherwise troops might have become violent. He referred that Zia is a traitor — the other side of the coin of Khaled Musharraf. Why was Khaled’s name brought in? Perhaps because in the court proceedings, Khaled’s tragic death came in as because he was killed on the first hour of the so-called revolution allegedly by the soldiers loyal to Col Taher, who masterminded the so-called revolution. Was it his last minute justification of that cold-blooded brutal murder of Khaled Musharraf, a legendary war hero and a patriot of the highest order by the people who once served under Khaled so loyally and yet were motivated by the revolutionary ideas of Col Taher to carry out such a heinous crime? How a well-trained commissioned officer could instigate troops in chanting slogans “Sepoy Sepoy Bhai Bhai officerer roktao chai” (All sepoys are brothers and we want the blood of officers). Col Taher’s own brother was a corporal; yet he did not kill Col Taher whereas innocent officers of even 19 and 21 years of age or so, including young maiden medical officers and housewives were killed, along with senior officers.
What was the purpose of such senseless killings? Nobody knows except that as it happened in recent past in the Peelkhana carnage 06, 2009, probably systematically to deprive the country of its front-ranking military leadership cadres, creating a terrible vacuum and chaos in the command structure of the troops, making room for any third party to capture power so as to plunder the country’s wealth.
Under military law, insubordination is a graver offence – short of mutiny. Putting obstacle or not allowing any superior officer to discharge his official duties is a clear-cut offence. Section 32 of the Army Act refers to that. For committing such an offence of graver nature, a soldier (including an officer) can be punished with 14 years rigorous imprisonment (RI). Under Military Law, a soldier always includes any officer. A soldier can never be a trade union leader. It is forbidden. Even two brothers together cannot submit any complaint but individually. If that is jointly submitted, it is a cognizable offence. If one does this type of grave offence amounting to gross insubordination violating the service rules and regulations, how can that be condoned? If soldiers take arms at their own and defy command, it is a mutiny, punishable with death sentence. Section 31 of the Army Act refers to that. Under the Military Law, Sections 24-58 are the clauses that deal with military offences. All offences of civil nature comes under Section 59 of MBML to be read with the relevant sections of the Penal Code of civil law. In the Penal Code, Section 132 of Civil Law clearly defines abetting mutiny which Col Taher in his own statement said troops loyal to him, defying officers’ command in many places and killing officers including their wives or lady doctors, carried out a successful revolution or an armed revolt against the prevailing establishment. If such an offence is committed under the prevailing law (under that law Col Taher used to get his pension), it is punishable with death sentence. This is what Penal Code says – sections 131-135 refers to that. How to condone such offences if allegedly committed by Col Taher as he himself admitted? Some remedial measures or condoning the offence committed must have been there some where in the law book – but that is not to my knowledge.
The military law, that is the Acts of the Army, Navy and Air Force were introduced in the British Indian Armed Forces in 1911, duly approved. After the partition of 1947, the parliaments of India and Pakistan adapted the same law, as it is, including rules regulations and Cantonment Act 1924; so was the case in Bangladesh and with its parliament. Military law is part and parcel of the prevailing civil law of the country. And civil law is always supreme; Army Act Section 94 mentions this. Exerting concurrent jurisdiction, the civil law can prevail upon military law as far as civil offences are concerned. Why did not the then President of the country prevail upon the then military authority if they were influencing court proceedings? It is not very clear. And the then President, unlike Zia who might not bother about civil rights or fundamental of the citizens, was a Chief Justice and an eminent jurist of the country.
Ignorance is bliss. In 1982, the Ministry of Defense published the military law book, titled Manual of Bangladesh Army Law. There is nothing called Army Law, but Army Act or Navy and Air Force Acts are there since the British days and together these make up the Military Law, known as Manual Of Bangladesh Military Law (MBML). Martial law originates from this nomenclature. If the Ministry of Defense does this type of silly mistake, then how is one going to establish rule of law and build traditional Armed Forces especially when we are so casual in military affairs and least bothered to take any appropriate measure? Rather we try to ignore all these silly mistakes which very often makes us a laughing stock in front of the whole world and in the process no wonder we start committing all sorts of faulty activities, creating anomalies everywhere. Let us say, for example, since1972-73 as the then JSD or Jatya Samajtrantik Dal started agitation in establishing ‘scientific socialism’ in a democratic environment which until today hardly anybody could explain what it is, because immediately they have been looking for, or switching over to, new cheap political slogans so that they could keep people busy coining the new slogans and quietly they could exploit the sentiments of innocent mass population of the country for gradually ascending onto power by any means. Similarly, within traditional Armed Forces in a democratic set-up and environment as per bright ideas of Col Taher, we started propagating about People’s Army, or say Productive Army, dismantling the existing traditional Armed Forces, so that soldiers start selling potatoes in the market and, as and when required, in the name of corruption, summarily officers get killed and in that process the Bangladesh Armed Forces are let to wither away.
(The writer, a retired Major General, is a valiant freedom fighter. In this write-up, he recollects the events that took place involving “immortal” Col. Taher and execution of his death sentence, providing, as he notes in his forwarding letter, “an objective analysis to get a factual picture”. He can be reached at e-mail: email@example.com)