Saturday, July 07, 2007

Is nemesis catching up with Mohiuddin?

B. RAMAN

A Lancer in the Bangladesh Army, Major AQM Mohiuddin Ahmed, had played a lead role in carrying out the military putsch and killing of the country’s founding father and President, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in the small hours of 15 August, 1975.

A host of other innocent men, women and children in Dhaka were also killed in the same catastrophic event. In the resultant regime change, Khandokar Mushtaque Ahmed, the traitorous minister in the Mujib cabinet, was anointed as the successor of the assassinated President.

Three months through Khandokar Mushtaque’s regime, as a counter-coup by Brigadier Khaled Musharraf was underway on 3 November, conspirators responsible for the 15 August massacre raided the Dhaka Central Jail and butchered four top national leaders, namely, Tajuddin Ahmed, Nazrul Islam, Captain Mansur Ali and Kamaruz Zaman who had been detained there as political prisoners.

As the political instability triggered by the second coup and the jail killings deepened, in a bizarre act the Mushtaque government by an ordinance indemnified the killer military officers from trial and punishment for their crimes and sent them, including Major Mohiuddin, to exile in Bangkok. They were later dispersed to different foreign countries either in exile or on diplomatic assignments. Later, military ruler General Ziaur Rehman, through an amendment of the constitution, validated the indemnity law. Mohiuddin and a few other killer majors were absorbed in the Bangladesh Foreign Service.

During the 16 years of military rule under Zia and Ershad as well as during the five-year BNP rule under Begum Khaleda Zia the killer majors were not touched. Those on diplomatic assignments continued to enjoy life abroad, while Colonels Farooq and Abdur Rashid, the two masterminds of the 15 August insurrection, after spending about a decade in Libya in manpower supply business, returned home and with the active support of Ershad floated the Freedom Party and a daily called Millat. This party and its mouthpiece campaigned against the Awami League and India to Ershad’s political advantage.

With the Awami League coming to power in the June 1996 election, Sheikh Hasina scrapped the indemnity law and put the perpetrators of the bloody coup of 15 August on trial. While those available in the country were arrested and put in jail custody pending completion of their trial, others were tried in absentia. Seventeen of the accused convicted by the court, including Mohiuddin, were sentenced to death, but owing to flimsy legal technicalities, the convicts’ appeal to the High Court has not been heard yet. The present interim government too has not taken any initiative to have the appeals disposed of.

Sensing trouble ahead, in 1996 AQM Mohiuddin Ahmed ran away to the US on a tourist visa with his family and sought political asylum in that country. While the US administration rejected his prayer, he managed to remain in that country, fighting his case from court to court during the next eleven years. At the political level, he succeeded in mobilising some support, including from Congressman Dana Rohrabracher. In a last-ditch effort to save him, Rohrabracher pleaded that as he was likely to be executed on his return to Bangladesh, he should be sent to Canada or some other destination where he could live safely, but to no avail. The US authorities finally handed him over to the Bangladesh police on 17 June, 2007.

In the US, Mohiuddin had pleaded that he was a staunch humanist, totally committed to the rule of law and in no way involved in the killings in Dhaka on 15 August, 1975. At the time of the military coup, he claimed, he was engaged in managing a road block away from the theatre of violence and carnage, but during the court trial eye-witnesses provided clinching evidence that he had participated in the coup and the killing spree. In his meticulously researched book Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood, Anthony Mascarenhas has given a vivid account of Mohiuddin’s role in the killing of Sheikh Mujib and his family members, based on the disclosures made by the coup masterminds Farooq and Rashid in TV interviews in London. As planned by the duo, ex-Major Noor and Major Mohiuddin with one company of Lancers were assigned the task of killing Sheikh Mujib. Farooq’s trusted NCO, Risaldar Muslehuddin, was to lead the assault on Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni, nephew and powerful chief of the Awami Youth League.

The instruction for the rebel army officers was that they should kill Sheikh Mujib, Moni and Abdur Rob Sherniabat, Mujib’s brother-in-law and cabinet minister; Mujib’s sons, Kamal and Jamal, were to be taken prisoner. No one else was to be harmed, but the rebel soldiers carried out a big massacre, killing innocent men, women and children.

The commotion caused by the attack on Mujib’s house at 32 Dhanmondi Road woke up his security guards who opened fire on the assailants, but soon one of them was killed and another seriously injured. Mujib’s two newly married sons, Kamal and Jamal, opened fire on the lancers, but were quickly killed. Failing to contact any senior officers of the Rakhi Bahini, the force specially raised for his protection, Mujib telephoned the Chief of Army Staff, General Shafiullah, his Military Secretary, Brigadier Masharul Haq, and Col. Jamil, Director of Military Intelligence, for help. Jamil rushed to the President’s residence, only to be gunned down as soon as he arrived.

Mohiuddin, Major Huda and Noor searched room after room for Mujib. Mohiuddin unexpectedly found Mujib standing on the first floor near the staircase. Face to face with the country’s President, he was thoroughly demoralised and could only stammer “Sir, apni ashun” (Sir, please come).

To kill time, Mujib began haranguing him about their mission, hoping help would arrive from some quarter. Noor, who stopped on the landing gun in hand, sensed Mujib was stalling and fired a burst, riddling the right side of his chest with bullets. Thus ended at 5.40 am on 15 August, 1975 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s “tempestuous love affair with the Bengalis”.

The rebels killed Begum Mujib, her two young daughters-in-law and his 10-year-old son Russel. Mujib’s younger brother Abu Nasser was also killed. Muslehuddin killed Moni and his pregnant wife. Sherniabat was killed in his house with his two teenaged daughters, a minor son and five-year-old grandson, son of Abul Hasnat Abdullah who managed to flee. Begun Sherniabat was grievously wounded.

In July 1986, shortly after I had joined the Indian embassy in Bangkok, on transfer from our High Commission in Dhaka, I met Mohiuddin at a dinner at the residence of a colleague. Finding a Mujib killer, I couldn’t check the temptation of steering the conversation to the fateful events of 15 August, 1975.

At one point, I asked him why, despite clear orders from the coup leaders that none other than Mujib, Moni and Sherniabat should be killed, his group and other rebels massacred so many innocent people. The man’s facile reply was: “In a war situation such things are unavoidable.”
Aghast at the answer, I retorted: “If attacking and killing unarmed innocent people without any provocation is a war situation, God save Bangladesh.” I added: “You are enjoying indemnity granted by your co-conspirators, but one day, here on this bank and shoal of time, you shall pay for your heinous crime; don’t make any mistake about it”.

I wonder if in his solitary condemned prisoner’s cell in Dhaka jail Mohiuddin ever recalls my encounter with him, one evening in Bangkok twenty-one years back.

Moinul Hussein, the law and information adviser of the incumbent army-backed interim government, has said in a TV interview that Mohiuddin has the right to appeal to higher courts against his punishment. But, under the Bangladesh law, the right to appeal does not extend beyond one month from the date of awarding punishment. In strictly legal terms, Mohiuddin can only pray to the country’s President for sparing his life, but in Bangladesh today, fair is foul and foul is fair and any thing can happen.

In 1975, civilian conspirators against Mujib like Khandokar Mushtaque Ahmed and Taheruddin Thakur, cabinet minister and minister of state, respectively, in the then Mujib cabinet, were seen frequently engaged in conclaves with a barrister at the office of a newspaper owned by his family. During my posting in Dhaka, I chanced upon some secret official papers that alluded to involvement of the said barrister in the anti-Mujib military coup conspiracy.

To know the barrister’s identity, one has to quiz Moinul Hussein. #

B. Raman is former Additional Secretary, Research and Analysis Wing, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com