Shahid Ziaur Rahman, (1936-1981) was the President of Bangladesh, Chief of Army Staff, leading freedom fighter, who declared the Independence of Bangladesh. Ziaur Rahman 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 early 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 became 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.
Shahid 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 he made his mark as a valiant fighter in the Khemkaran sector as the commander of a company, and incidentally, his company was one of those which were offered maximum gallantry awards for heroic performances in the war. He was appointed a professional 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 was sent to West Germany for higher training. On his return home in 1970 Ziaur Rahman, then a major, was transferred to Eighth East Bengal Regiment at Chittagong as its second in command.
After the military crackdown since the night of 25 March 1971 sheikh mujibur rahman was arrested and the political leaders dispersed. The people were at a loss. At this crucial moment when the political leadership failed to give any direction, the Eighth East Bengal Regiment under the leadership of Major Ziaur Rahman revolted against the Pakistan Army and took up the Bangladesh flag as its mainstay on the night between 26 and 27 March 1971. Then he took up the momentous decision of declaring the Independence of Bangladesh. Ziaur Rahman and his troops were in the forefront of the War of Independence. Major Zia and the armed forces under his command kept the Chittagong and Noakhali areas under control for a few days and went across the border for further preparations.
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 on 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, he 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. When Khondakar Moshtaq Ahmad assumed the office of the presidency, 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. In fact, he had to assume the responsibility of managing the affairs of Bangladesh on the crest of the Sepoy-Janata Biplob.
On 7 November 1975, Ziaur Rahman was proclaimed the Chief Martial Law Administrator. In a meeting at the army headquarters on the same day, a new administrative set-up for the running of an interim government was arranged with Justice 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 and ultimately, 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 Bismiliah-ir-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 and popularised the new concept of 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 conceptualised in terms of territory rather than language or culture. This is what he emphasised upon. Bangladeshi nationalism took firm root and shape as a unifying force with its emphasis on national unity and integration of all citizens of Bangladesh irrespective of caste, creed, gender, culture, religion 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 had to confront a number of mutinies and attempted coups forcing him to adopt certain stern actions against those who had taken part in those uprisings.
A believer in democracy Zia moved as fast as he could to democratise the polity by re-instituting the institution of election either for enabling a political party to assume power or for transferring it to other political party peacefully. As a first step, that is why, he allowed the disbanded political parties to be revived and political activities to be carried on once again. Having that in view, he also disallowed the ban on the newspapers and inaugurated the free flow of news by making the news media free. For the same purpose, he re -instituted the independence of judiciary as the bulwark of rights of the people. The prevailing situation persuaded him to take part in active politics so that he could establish democratic order in the country. In February 1978 he floated Jatiyatabadi Ganatantric Dal with Vice President Justice Abdus Sattar as its head. Zia himself became the nominee of the Nationalist Front consisting of six political parties in the presidential election. He won a comprehensive victory by securing 76.67% of the votes.
On 1 September 1978, a new political party, bangladesh nationalist party (BNP), was launched with Zia as its chairman. The parliamentary elections were held in February 1979 and BNP won 207 seats out of 300. 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.
President Zia’s dynamic economic policy laid emphasis on private sector development. A new development strategy designed to encourage the private entrepreneurs, both local and foreign, and to promote agricultural development through massive subsidies to the farmers was initiated. The process of handing over nationalised industries to their former owners began. Promotion of export of conventional and non-conventional goods became a national priority. Food production reached a new height and Bangladesh began exporting rice.
To bring in dynamism in his action plan Zia put forward a 19-point programme, and that was designed to bring rapid socio-economic transformation in the country. The main thrust of the programme was self-reliance and rural uplift through people’s participation. Its primary objectives were accelerated agricultural growth, population control, self-sufficiency in food, decentralisation of administration and greater incentives to the private sector. It was 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 bringing rapid socio-economic transformation in the country, President Zia transformed the politics of the country into a production-oriented one. He chalked out programmes of action for the purpose, terming these as revolutions and motivated his party men to realise those programmes through their devotion and commitment. 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 prevail all around using both formal and non-formal techniques all over the country. Moreover, motivational programmes were set on for the enhancement of productions both in the field and factories. The initiation of family planning programme, revolutionary as it was, was designed to stabilise population at a level which might be termed as optimum from the economic point of view. The institution of Gram Sarker aimed at enlisting the support of the people for a self-reliant Bangladesh, which president Zia advocated. Zia began executing his programme in right earnest and beneficial results were in sight. The excavation and re-excavation of more than 1,500 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 1975-78, a vigorous mass education campaign, introduction of village government (Gram Sarkar) and Village Defence Party (VDP) made deep impression in the minds of the people.
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 stabilising countervailing forces at the regional and international levels.
The foreign policy goals were thus devised anew, and dynamic international relations were set on with a view to preventing Bangladesh from hurtling down to the abyss of dependence. At the regional level, Bangladesh developed a pattern of mutuality with such states as Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives along with India so much so that it ultimately led to the forging of regional co-operation in the region for the first time in its history.
At the international level, Bangladesh, then a lonely sojourner, picked up friends from both the right, centre and left and established a kind of viable comradeship amongst them. Bangladesh was lifted from the dead end of the Indo-Soviet axis and Indian hegemonic circle. Bangladesh came closer to the Muslim world of more than fifty states, which began to take fresh look at Bangladesh and its problems. One of the superpowers of the time became a good friend of Bangladesh, though its role was not people-friendly during the Liberation War. Bangladesh developed a good working relation with China. South East Asian countries were drawn closer. The distant Europe remained no longer disinterested in the affairs of Bangladesh.
Through certain creative moves, he drew Bangladesh into the world of the liberal west, the fraternal middle East and West Asia, and the rising South East Asia. He attended many international conferences and visited dozens of countries to promote the cause of the nation’s multilateral and bilateral relations. The dividend 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. In the middle East and West Asia Bangladesh emerged as a forceful actor. It was President Zia who conceived of the idea of, and initiated actions for, regional co-operation is South Asia. For the purpose, he visited these countries during 1979-80 to speak of the need to develop a framework for mutual co-operation. 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 dream come true. He was assassinated in Chittagong on 30 May 1981 in an abortive army coup. He lies buried at Sher-e-Banglanagar, Dhaka. [Emajuddin Ahamed]