The coup in 1975 needs to be examined further, says investigative journalist Lawrence Lifschultz
Investigative journalist and former South Asia correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review, Lawrence Lifschultz, has said in his view, psychologically General Ziaur Rahman was something of a ‘psychopath’ in his capability to use and betray others and use violence.
Describing the atmosphere after the coup and chaos in 1975, he suggested the whole thing be investigated further.
Lifschultz said the men behind that assassination would not move without Zia’s backing.
And, he said, Zia would not move without American backing. "In my view, it needs to be further investigated."
Lifschultz lauded the judicial process of holding those involved to account and said that was an essential part in moving forward.
He was addressing an evidence-based insightful discussion on the ramifications of the killings during the early hours of August 15, 1975, titled "Bangladesh 1975: Setting the clock back", hosted by the Centre for Research and Information (CRI) on Thursday night.
The assassination of the first President of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was unique and strategically plotted. It was the first coup assassination in South Asia.
Salil Tripathi, historian and visiting scholar at New York University; Nasreen Ahmed, academic and former pro-VC at University of Dhaka; Mohammed Farashuddin, economist and former civil servant, visiting professor at East West University; and Syed Badrul Ahsan, journalist and biographer, fellow at Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, also spoke at the discussion moderated by Zafar Sobhan, columnist and editor of Dhaka Tribune.
He said he later came to full realization that Ziaur Rahman was holding things together.
The US connection
Weeks before the coup, Lifschultz said, Zia was meeting with the senior member of the US embassy.
"We also know he was with the CIA station chief in a private meeting in Dhaka and we also know that there was tremendous tension within the American embassy over it. The American ambassador Davis Eugene Boster was very disturbed and stressed as he had given instructions that all the embassy staff would have no contact with anyone planning and thinking about coup," said the journalist.
He articulated those six months before the events occurred, Lifschultz said.
However, he said, Zia had met the CIA station chief at a Bangladeshi businessman’s house in Dhaka at a dinner week before that had been set up precisely so that they could meet.
Lifschultz said Zia’s involvement in this and his eventual emergence as the leading figure and the path of blood that led to that.
Zia did that as they now know because he had the meeting with Colonel Rashid and Colonel Faruk planning the coup and it was Zia’s job to make sure the army did not intervene against them, he said.
Lifschultz said the consolidation of power in the hands of Ziaur Rahman and it became increasingly violent and particularly the event of October 1977. Those who were in the army and were saying that Zia was involved in August 15.
He said it was indicated that Zia maintained strong connections with Pakistan and others during the uprising that took place and later. "We moved into a real military dictatorship which was even more violent than Pakistan."
At the time of the coup in 1975, the Indian government and the number of communist parties in India and Bangladesh all immediately alleged that the United States was behind the coup and was aligned with other countries in doing so, according to CRI.
"Although I was open to hearing all points of view, that [US’s involvement] was one I categorically rejected because in the context of American politics of that time, it seemed quite far-fetched," Lifschultz said.
"However, in mid-November in 1975 when I came in and I met a Bangladeshi acquaintance who I know, I never identified the person, and he sat me down and said he was not particularly friendly to Sheikh Mujib and there has been tension between Sheikh Mujib and himself," he said.
"But he was disturbed at what had happened in the coup and the extent of murder and deaths. He said to me put the word conspiracy aside. Coups are planned," Lifschultz added.
‘There would’ve been a dynasty had Sheikh Russel not been killed’
Salil Tripathi interviewed self-confessed killer Colonel Faruk when he came to Bangladesh for the first time in 1986 as a young reporter.
He said he was nine years old growing up in India during 1971.
“In 1986, I had just finished my graduate studies in the US and I was back in India and came to Bangladesh essentially to figure out what was going on and what went wrong that was my question and why a country which started the trajectory of democracy, secularism, and liberalism ended up having essentially one party state leading to the assassination of Sheikh Mujib, jail killing, coups, and counter coups?,” he said.
Salil said, "I grew up with stories read from India."
But he said when he came to Dhaka he found it something that “only a fiction writer could dream of” that the man [Colonel Faruk] who was an assassin confessed to leading the conspiracy and declared himself as a presidential candidate in the election.
"So, I was curious about the man and when I approached him when I was in Dhaka and he very readily agreed to meet me. Well-guarded house in a nice part of the city and guarded by security forces and so on and wearing a Pathani outfit which is not traditionally associated with folks of the east side of the country that itself was revealing. He told me he was in Libya. He was incredibly confident," Salil said.
"When he was talking about how [Sheikh] Russel was killed, I said ‘was it necessary’ that was my question as he was a 10-year-old kid," Salil said.
"He too had to go," Faruk replied to him.
Salil wanted to know why? “There would have been a dynasty and it would have gone on and on,” Faruk replied.
“We had to put an end. And we had to do everything to save Bangladesh because we know we’re the real freedom fighters and our freedom was taken away. It was becoming a muscle of India," Salil quoted Faruk.