Ziaur Rahman (19 January 1936-May 30, 1981)

Shaheed President Ziaur Rahman was born at village Bagmari in the district of Bogra on 19 January 1936. He was the second son of Mansur Rahman and Jahanara Khatun. His father was a chemist who specialised in paper and ink chemistry and worked for a government department at Writer’s Building in Kolkata. As a child Ziaur Rahman, nicknamed Komol, was reserved, shy, quietly spoken, and intense in many respects. He was raised in Bagbari village, Bogra and studied in Bogra Zilla School.

In 1946, Mansur Rahman enrolled Zia for a short stint in one of the leading boys schools of Calcutta, Hare School, where Zia studied until the dissolution of the British Empire in South Asia and creation of India in 1947. With the Partition of India, Mansur Rahman exercised his option to become a citizen of a Muslim majority Pakistan and in August 1947 moved to Karachi, the first capital of Pakistan located in Sindh, West Pakistan. Zia, at the age of 11, had become a student in class six at the Academy School in Karachi in 1947. Zia spent his adolescent years in Karachi and by age 16 completed his secondary education from that School in 1952.

While studying at D. J. College, Zia joined the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) in 1953 as a cadet. He was commissioned in 1955. In the army, he received commando training, became a paratrooper and received training in a special intelligence course. He fought valiantly as a company commander in the Khemkaran sector in 1965 Indo-Pak War and in 1966 was made an Instructor at the PMA, Kakul. In the same year, he joined the Staff College, Quetta. Towards the end of 1969, he was sent to West Germany for training and later on spent a few months with the British Army. In October 1970, Major Zia was transferred to the newly raised 8th EB Regiment at Chittagong. Following the crackdown on unarmed civilians on the midnight of 25 March 1971, he led the revolt against the Pakistan Army and later announced the historic declaration of independence on behalf of the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, from the Kalurghat radio station. Zia became a sector commander of the liberation forces in April 1971 and raised the first Brigade of the Bangladesh Army at Raumari (in Kurigram district) with the help of First, Second and Eighth Bengal Regiment Jawans. The Brigade came to be known as ‘Z’ force. Zia was promoted to the rank of Lt. Col. in the same month. For distinguished services in the War, Zia was decorated with the gallantry award “Bir Uttam”.

After liberation of the country, Zia was promoted to the rank of Colonel in February 1972 and commanded a Brigade in Comilla. In June 1972, Zia was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army. He became Brigadier in 1973 and on 10 October of the same year was promoted to the rank of Major General. On 25 August 1975, Ziaur Rahman, B.U., psc was promoted to the rank of Lt. General and assumed the responsibility of Chief of Army Staff. In a coup d’etat on 3 November 1975, he was, however, removed from his command and was put under house arrest. ‘Sepoy-Janata Biplob’ followed this event on 7 November 1975, leading to Zia’s release and reinstatement. He became one of the Deputy CMLAs, and on 29 November 1976 became the CMLA. The Chief Justice of SC, Justice Syed A. B. Mahmood Hussain on 21 April 1977, swore in Lt. General Ziaur Rahman as President of the Republic.

Late President Zia floated a new political party called the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) on 1 September 1978. He became its Chairman. Election to Jatiya Sangsadn (National Assembly) was held on 18 February 1979 and BNP won 207 seats out of 300. In the very first session of Parliament held in April, Martial Law was lifted (6 April 1979) after the passage of the Fifth Amendment Bill. Believing in free flow of information, he also lifted all restrictions relating to printing and publication of news and views. Following his orders, the recruitment of women in the police force started on 8 March 1976. In November 1977, Zia started a programme of canal digging for increasing agricultural output. He set up Women’s Affairs Ministry on 11 December 1977. He also increased the number of reserved seats for women in the Jatiya Sangsad from 15 to 30 and raised the quota for women in government jobs. In February 1980, Zia set up organizations at village level called Gram Sarkar with a view to uplifting the social and economic condition of villagers. An anti-dowry act was also passed on 12 December 1980. Besides, he set up the Ministry of Youth Development, which was later merged with the Ministry of Sports.

Ziaur Rahman rejuvenated the cultural life of Bangladesh. In 1976, he introduced the annual ‘Ekusay Padak’ to give recognition to renowned litterateurs, artists, educationists and prominent personalities who had taken part in the Language Movement and in other walks of national life. In 1977 Swadhinata Puraskar (Independence Award) – the highest national award – was also introduced to recognize significant contributions of persons/organizations in various fields. He set up the Shishu Academy and Shishu Park.

He was the initiator of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which became a reality in 1985. Zia became one of the members of the Al Quds, Committee on the liberation of Jerusalem (1981) and a member of the Peace Mission to end the Iran-Iraq War (1981). At home, he established the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) in 1978.

Ziaur Rahman married Begum Khaleda Zia in 1960. Khaleda Zia is the Chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). She had been the Prime Minister of Bangladesh twice. They have two sons, Tareq Rahman, and Arafat Rahman.

During his term of power, Zia was criticised for ruthless treatment of his army opposition. Although he enjoyed overall popularity and public confidence, Zia’s rehabilitation of some of the most controversial anti-Bangladesh independence men in Bangladesh aroused fierce opposition from the supporters of the Awami League and veterans of its Mukti Bahini. Amidst speculation and fears of unrest, Zia went on tour to Chittagong on 29 May 1981 to help resolve an intra-party political dispute in the regional BNP. Zia and his entourage stayed overnight at the Chittagong Circuit House. In the early hours of the morning of 30 May, he was assassinated by a group of army officers. Also killed were six of his bodyguards and two aides.Nearly two million people are estimated to have attended the funeral held at the Parliament Square.

Zia has been honoured by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation for his statesmanship and vision. Ziaur Rahman was also honoured with Egypt’s highest state honour Order of the Nile; Order of the Yugoslav Star, the highest state honour of former Yugoslavia and the Hero Of The Republic from North Korea during his lifetime for his leadership. Zia has been the namesake of many public institutions, such as formerly the Zia International Airport in Dhaka, which is the busiest airport in the nation. Turkey has named an important road in Ankara as Ziaur Rahman Caddesi after his death to honour him.