Condemned Bangabandhu killer Khandaker Abdur Rashid has told a private satellite television channel that leader of the country's independence Sheikh Mujibur Rahman should be the father of the nation.(Daily StarBD)
"Those who are trying to glorify the role of Ziaur Rahman to match the stature of Sheikh Mujib are mean minded," Lt Col (retd) Rashid said during an interview aired on Channel i on Wednesday night.
Rashid also said Zia's radio speech encouraged the people during the Liberation War in 1971.
Channel i did not disclose where it recorded the interview of Rashid, who has remained a fugitive for about a decade.
In 1998, a trial court awarded death penalty to 15 former army officers, including Rashid, in the Bangabandhu murder case. Later in 2001, the High Court upheld the death sentences of 12 and Rashid is among those living abroad.
Earlier, the TV channel announced that it would broadcast a five-part series of the interview but yesterday it said it cannot air the programme for "problems" in the tape.
Following is the translation of the interview.
How are you?
"I am well. But I always remember the people of Bangladesh. Thank you for organising today's programme, because people of Bangladesh as of now do not know clearly about the events of August 15, --how it was organised and what happened, like betrayal, later. And those truths could not be told for want of time and opportunity.
"The current situation in Bangladesh, I think, has totally unmasked all those who have done politics in Bangladesh till date. So, I think it is an opportunity and it is time to speak the truth, and I believe the people of Bangladesh will benefit from it. I have never done anything or said anything in my own interest."
How can you stay well with the accusation of a murder and with death sentence in a life quite like a fugitive?
"I feel, and I believe, I am responsible to Allah for everything. I have not done anything so far that might harm the country or the people. And I have confidence that I can justify my actions before Allah--that I was true and sincere in my purpose and actions. I feel I am well even after the damage done to me in different ways because I have confidence and inner strength and because I always work for truth and because the people of Bangladesh love me."
Don't you now feel any tension and think such obstacles come in everyone's life?
"Yes, I have the strength by the grace of Allah. I rather took more risks earlier when I went to the Liberation War because I did not know whether I would survive or not. Even on August 15 I was not certain whether we would survive or not or whether the mission would be successful or not. If compared, the risk is much less now. So, I am not at all worried although you have mentioned that I have been condemned to death. But I believe no one can do anything to anyone for doing anything. Everything will happen according to Allah's desire."
How many times have you appeared on television since 1975?
"On a CNN interview in 1979. Before that, Anthony Mascarenhas was scheduled to do a small interview. [Col] Faruk contacted him and gave an interview. But I did not like him personally when I first talked to him. So, I did not think it would be a good idea to talk [with Mascarenhas] freely and refrained from doing that. That was a special programme of 'World in Action'. When he wrote a book, 'Legacy of Blood', he also did not write a lot about me. He wrote about Faruk and mostly his own opinion."
When did that interview take place? Have you talked with any other TV channel since then or with any Bangladeshi TV channel?
"No, I have not talked with any TV channel since then. This is the first time that I am talking with any Bangladeshi TV channel."
Have you spoken with any newspaper about August 15?
"As a matter of fact, no newspaper came up to ask me for a detail interview although I have held press conferences on contemporary politics when I was involved in politics in Bangladesh. But I did not talk about August 15, nor did anyone show interest to ask me about it."
When were you born?
"I was born on December 6, 1946 at Chhayghoria village in Chandina, Comilla."
Would you tell something about your childhood, your parents?
"My father was a schoolteacher. In my childhood, I studied in my village school--I would go to school with my father. I appeared in matriculation examinations from Chandina, then studied at Dhaka College, then studied soil science at Dhaka University. I could not complete my master degree because I joined the Pakistan Army after the 1965 war. I was commissioned in 1966. I am the younger of us two brothers. My brother lives in Bangladesh."
When did you marry?
When did you first come to know Col Faruk Rahman, the other condemned in Bangabandhu murder case?
"We lived close in Pakistan Military Academy. He was in the second war course and I was on the fourth war course. He was senior to me. Then we met again during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Faruk defected [from Pakistan Army] and went to Dubai first and then to India...I also went to India. Later, when we were in Bangladesh Army we used to meet always."
When did he marry?
"In 1973. He used to come to my house as a friend and got to know my sister-in-law. And then they married."
You joined the Liberation War in November 1971 and Col Faruk Rahman on December 12. Why did you delay?
"My posting was in Pakistan at that time and it was not an easy job to join the Liberation War from there. So, you see, most of those posted in Pakistan did not go back after coming to Bangladesh, and a few--five or six--went back but were not in a good condition. So, I think I am lucky that I could join the Liberation War although late."
How did you come from Pakistan and join the Liberation War?
"I went on leave in October and went to India not to go back. Then I joined the Liberation War. I was in Z Sector; Ziaur Rahman was the sector commander. Khaled Mosharraf was also in the camp. He was injured and was in hospital."
Do you know anything about Col Faruk's delay? How did he join?
"He was in Abu Dhabi on deputation. I do not know why he delayed coming to India from Abu Dhabi. He found a way because he had the will to do it. I cannot recall clearly. Major Jalil raised the armour unit and I do not know when exactly Faruk joined."
What was your thought about Bangladesh's Liberation War then?
"Many thoughts came to my mind--I should be a freedom fighter, whether Bangladesh should get freedom. Both Faruk Rahman and I were captain then.
"The war for freedom was a necessity. Once it starts, it should not be let fail. It became a responsibility of all Bangladeshi people to join and fight the war until independence. And I believe the people had the same feeling and so we succeeded to emerge victorious. I was looking for opportunity and joined the war as soon as I got it."
Do you think the war was inevitable? Do you think any special incident stirred it?
"The situation took such a turn that there was no alternative to war. Political struggle reached a final stage where people from all walks of life joined it after Awami League was denied power even after winning majority. It was seen as denial of democratic rights. It was a suitable time to march forward as far as is necessary to establish democracy and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did so.
"As no agreement could be reached, he made it clear in the March 7 speech that the fight would be a war for freedom. I was present at the Dhaka racecourse [ground] on that day. The spirit of people on the day demonstrated that they were ready for the war for complete freedom.
"After the March 7 meeting, I, then serving in the EPI, was asked to join my old unit in Pakistan. So, I had to go. During my six-month job in EPI, I felt that Bangladesh was going towards the Liberation War and I also felt that Bangladesh this time will be liberated."
Did you talk among yourselves? Did you think that there could a federation with East and West Pakistan to ensure unity?
"Yes, we Banglaee army officers used to talk among ourselves. At first, many of the army officers believed that such an understanding would not be bad, many were hopeful that it would happen but it did not happen. Even though it was the responsibility of the then Pakistani government to implement it, it was clear that no understanding was possible after the party that won majority was denied power."
Do you think such a solution would have been good?
"I think that would not have been bad. After all, we were Muslims in both East and West Pakistan. A good cooperation would have been there between the two parts. In a confederation, Bangladesh would have had indirect independence and that would not have been that bad. But, when the war started there was no alternative."
Do you think Pakistan forced us to the war? What do you think about Oli Ahmed's statement in his doctoral thesis that the skirmishes during March 25-April 17 was controlled by a military leadership?
"In my judgement, such claims are only made by people who want to glorify themselves. There is no truth in that statement. If the army thinks they are going to start a war inside the country it becomes a revolt, a defection not Liberation War. It would also be wrong if they say there was no role of politicians or the people in it. The country marched towards the Independence War gradually because people's democratic rights were denied.
"Many, nowadays, try to glorify the role of Ziaur Rahman to match the stature of Sheikh Mujib and it has truly no legal validity. Even though many want to say that he delivered the speech on radio in Chittagong but what happened earlier--the events of several days after March 7, the Pakistan army's threat on Mujib and his arrest? Did te Pakistan army fight with the Bangladesh army or the Awami League workers or people? Who barricaded the roads, army or the people?
"And who delivered the historic March 7 speech at Suhrawardy Uddyan? Was it Zia or Mujib? It is mean-minded to portray Zia this way. I do not deny that Zia has a contribution. Sheikh Mujib has contribution, Zia also has contribution. So, we should give the respect Sheikh Mujib deserves, and also what Zia deserves."
What do they deserve? Many say Mujib proclaimed it, many say Zia while many say Zia's proclamation as an army officer gave people courage while many say it was done earlier? How do you want to respect them?
"The Awami League thinks Sheikh Mujib is the father of the nation as he won the Liberation War, and I also believe this. He should be respected for his role in earning the independence. I do not have any objection to term him father of the nation."
"And what Ziaur Rahman had said played a role to strengthen it. Most of those who firstly defected and went to India are students, Awami League workers or elected MPs. They went there fearing the Pakistan army's wreath. It might have been possible for them to form a liberation army but that would have taken a long time. At that moment, when Major Zia expressed his keenness to join the Liberation War in his speech, all in Bangladesh army did a united defection and it gave courage to the students and politicians who left the country."
"It is true that there were many senior officers in the army including Major Shafiullah, General Osmani, Khaled Mosharraf, and then Major Zia. But if compared, Major Zia should be respected for his one-minute radio speech, which provided a supplementary force. People and the BNP will decided what to call him for this.ï¿½
Did army officer or jawans take part in the war willingly or were they forced to? Were the Bangalees in the army deprived?
"The Pakistani government committed a blunder which made the defection 100 percent. Otherwise, it might have been a fraction, like some people defecting at one time and others later at different stages. But Pakistan government asked Bangalees in the army, the EPR and the police, I mean military and paramilitary, to surrender saying they have been disbanded. A trained person with arms does not surrender to anybody on a radio announcementï¿½ it never happened in history. A detailed preparation was necessary to make it successful, which they did not have. They just made a radio announcement that all Bangladeshis have been disbanded and they should surrender their arms. So, those in the army and the EPR had to defect, and that is why the army defection and the EPI defection was 100 percent."
What would have happened if the announcement had not been done?
"If the Pakistan government had not done this announcement, maybe five percent would have defected at first, then 20, 30 or 50 percent would have defected. The rest 50 percent would have continued in their jobs. There would have been a question of doubt as to how many would take part in the Liberation War and how many would remain with Pakistan Army.
Did you have any contact with politicians during the Liberation War?
"When I was in Kolkata headquarters in the beginning, I came in contact with all--General Osmani, Khondoker Mushtaq, Tajuddin, Nazrul Islam, and many others. But I did not have very intimate contact with anyone except General Osmani because, you know, army personnel do not mix up with politicians much. They normally talk with other army persons."
Do you have any relation with Khondoker Mushtaq Ahmed?
Do you think the Liberation War ended very quickly? How do you see India's role, the fact that Pakistan Army surrendered before an Indian General?
"India would definitely utilise the opportunity when they got it. Announcement of Pakistan's disarming made it easy for Banglaees in the army and paramilitary to participate in the Liberation War and the war became strong. Military, paramilitary, politicians defected, and went to India and formed a government. Asked by that government, India started helping directly. However, it was a burden on India to support all the people, provide them with shelter, food and armours. India did not have the economy to bear the burden for a few years.
"Although India and Pakistan had several wars, no one came fully victorious in that sense. So, India was thinking to take the chance to have a victory on Pakistan. Although we take it as an independence war, India had plans from the very beginning that they would intervene directly, fight with the Pakistan Army and make them surrender before the Indian Army. India had a huge psychological gain that thousands of Pakistan Army members surrendered before them for the first time.
"But it would never happen that India wins over Pakistan if we were not in the war. It became easy for the Indian Army to enter Bangladesh as Bangladeshi people allowed to do so."
Why many Bangladeshis have a negative idea about India despite their assistance during the Liberation War? How do you evaluate the role of Bangabandhu in sending back the Indian Army?
"No matter how victorious India was over Pakistan Army, they could not win among Bangladeshis. We can thank everyone including India for helping us. But it does not mean that that country would sit in my country in the name of Liberation War. If that is taken for granted, it was not Liberation War.
"So, Sheikh Mujib had no option but taking the decision to send them back. If the Indian Army had not gone, they would have had to fight with Bangladeshi people."
Did you meet Bangabandhu anytime after the independence until August 15?
"No, I did not meet him. I never had any acquaintance with him. I gave him guard of honour when a state guest from Yugoslavia once visited Bangladesh and I met him again when he went to visit each unit at Dhaka Cantonment. But we had no conversation. He was there for five minutes and talked with army chief Shafiullah and deputy chief Ziaur Rahman."
What was your attitude towards India then?
"I thank India for its help until the Liberation War. But after the war, they worked against the people of Bangladesh. They took away all the armaments left by the Pakistan Army and machinery and equipment of different industries. They should not have done this. Besides, India printed the Bangladesh taka at that time and there were many duplicate prints. That harmed our economy a lot.
"In the 25-year treaty, there was a provision for regular consultation about foreign relations, which was not right for an independent country. India did not give Bangladesh anything other countries gave us, including trucks and buses. They never wanted to see Bangladesh becoming independent economically."
Was Bangladesh any threat to India ever for any reason?
"No, and Bangladesh will never be a threat to them ever. One reason may be that India may have thought that some Indian states may bolster their suppressed movements for autonomy or freedom if they see that Bangladesh has successfully become an independently rising country."
What do you think about the government decision to forgive the anti-Liberation forces, about the war criminals and the present demand of their trial?
"Those who acted against the Liberation War did it politically. People can make mistakes and do injustice in personal life and politically. But it is always good to forgive when there is any such doubt."
Do you think Bangabandhu's amnesty was a right decision?
"I think that was a right decision. And once you have pardoned somebody, you should not want to try him for a second time. Yes, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman should have tried those war criminals then, but he did not. And as he forgave them, no one will gain by making this an issue to belittle one. The people of Bangladesh have nothing but loss to gain from it. Politicians of Bangladesh did not always work for the people of Bangladesh. They remain busy in minor issues. Leaving it, we need a unity to develop the nation. We ourselves destroy this unity by bringing such issues.
Was the start of Bangladesh as an independent nation right under the leadership of Awami League or a national government could be formed after independence?
"The Awami League started its journey well as it had won elections before the war. They were right in forming the government. Then the constitution was formulated following democratic processes. That also went in line with the spirit of Bangladesh's Liberation War. But that government faltered later and made mistakes.