Monday, January 17, 2011

Taher A PoliticalL Victim

A BNP policymaker, Moudud Ahmed, pointed at his current party's founder for one of the most controversial trials in Bangladesh's history.

Moudud wrote in his memoirs that former president and military strongman, Ziaur Rahman was behind Col Taher's trial to strengthen his position among army officers.

BNP leader Moudud Ahmed was a member of deposed military dictator Ershad's Jatiya Party when his book 'Democracy and the Challenge of Development' was published in 1995.

'The Trial of Taher' — a revealing chapter in this book, gives account of the trial and Zia's role into the trial.

In the chapter, Moudud said Zia hung Taher with the support of repatriated army officers.

Taher's brother, Anwar Hossain, a professor of Dhaka University, believes interrogating Moudud might elicit many an answer to the Taher's court martial which sentenced the this sector commander of the Independence War to death.

Moudud himself has had a chequered political past. His political career extends to even before the Independence War of 1971. He was involved in organising Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's defence in the Agartala Conspiracy Case of the late 1960's where Mujib was charged with sedition.

After the war, Moudud was made the first Post Master General of the country in 1972.

He joined BNP when it was founded and became a minister and deputy-prime minister in military strongman Ziaur Rahman's cabinet.

During the nine-year tenure of the deposed military dictator Hussein Muhammad Ershad, he served as minister, deputy-prime minister, prime minister and vice-president.

He ran in the seventh parliamentary elections in 1996 from Jatiya Party, but lost, after which he joined the BNP again and ran in the by-elections from a Lakkhipur constituency, which BNP chief Khaleda Zia had carried and later gave up to accommodate the former BNP man's return.

However, Moudud lost the by-elections too. In the eighth parliamentary elections of 2001, he won and served the BNP-led government as law minister.


Seventeen civilians and former military personnel, including Taher, were punished in 1976 and 1977 during Zia's rule in the sedition case.

Taher and M A Jalil were sentenced to death while the others were sentenced to different terms in prison.

Taher was executed on July 21, 1976 and Jalil got life sentence instead of death sentence concerning his role in the Independence War.

Taher's wife Lutfa Taher, his brother Anwar Hossain, incumbent president of Dhaka University Teachers' Association, Fatema Yusuf, wife of Ft Sgt Yusuf Ali Khan, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in the same trial, jointly filed a petition challenging the legality of the court martial on August 23, 2010.

On the same day, the High Court asked the government to produce records of the court martial within three weeks.

The court also directed the government to explain why Martial Law Regulation No.16 of 1976, under which Taher was tried for sedition and executed 34 years ago, should not be declared illegal and unconstitutional.


"In our history there is only one example of such treachery. It was the treachery of Mir Zafar who betrayed the people of Bangladesh and the sub-continent and led us into slavery for a period of 200 years," Moudud wrote.

He said on the night of Nov 23, only two weeks after their release, M A Jalil, A S M A Rab and other leaders of Jatiya Somajtantrik Dal were arrested. On the following day, paramilitary forces surrounded the house of Taher and took him into custody, he added.

It took the government more than six months to prepare the case.

According to Moudud, in May 1976, Taher was brought back from Rajshahi to Dhaka by helicopter and placed in solitary confinement in the Dhaka Central Jail.

Within three weeks, an ordinance creating a special Military Tribunal was issued and soon a tribunal was constituted with Col Yusuf Haider, a repatriated army officer, as chairman.

The trial began inside the jail on Jun 21 1976 "with unprecedented security arrangements". It ended on Jul 17 the same year.

This did not create a political storm in the country, mainly because of the strict secrecy surrounding the trial and press censorship and secondly with all its leaders in jail, the JSD was crushed, claimed Moudud in his book.

In the book, he raised the question why Zia allowed hanging Taher, the person who freed him from captivity and installed him in power.

During the Liberation War, they fought in the same sector and were known to be very close friends for a long time, Moudud claimed.

Moudud answered the question himself, "In the difficult situation after independence, Zia had to strike a balance with the repatriated officers to strengthen his own power within the army."

"The officers who had not taken part in the war, had found a new ally in Zia after the killing of Mujib and removal of Mostaq. They needed each other in order to survive both as class and a force in the civil-military structure of the country," he added.

He also said, "When it came to the sentencing of Taher, the repatriated officers wanted him hanged – out of forty-six senior army officers summoned by Zia to discuss the issue, all were in favour of this ultimate and final form of punishment."

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