Ziaur Rahman

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Ziaur Rahman
President of Bangladesh
Missing image
Ziaur Rahman

Became President:April 21, 1977
Predecessor:Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem
Successor:Abdus Sattar
Date of Birth:1936
Place of Birth:Gabtoli, Bogra, Bangladesh

Ziaur Rahman (January 19, 1936 - May 30, 1981) was Bangladesh's President. Born in the northern district of Bogra, he came to prominence when he fought in the Bangladesh Liberation War against Pakistan in 1971. He became President of Bangladesh in 1976 and rose to prominence through his efforts for the country's economic development and self-reliance.

In his lifetime he enjoyed great popularity and at the same time he was infamous as a dictator. Rahman was assassinated in Chittagong by army officials in May 1981. Rahman is very popular in Bangladesh; it is worth noting that the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Khaleda Zia, was his wife.


Early life

Ziaur Rahman was born on 19 January 1936 at Bagbari in Bogra district in North-West Bangladesh. His father was Mansur Rahman, a chemist in public service in Kolkata. After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, his father moved to Karachi.

Rahman joined the Pakistani Army in 1953 as a cadet and was commissioned in 1955 to second lieutenant's post. Two years later, in 1957, he was transferred to East Bengal Regiment. Between 1959 and 1964, he worked with the military intelligence. In 1965, during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, he fought in the Khemkaran sector as the commander of the company that was awarded the maximum number of gallantry awards for war performance. He was then appointed as a professional instructor in the Pakistan Military Academy in 1966. Later, he was sent to the Staff College in Quetta, West Pakistan for attending a command course. In 1969, he joined the 2nd East Bengal Regiment as its second-in-command at Joydevpur, then in East Pakistan.After this, he was sent to West Germany for higher training. After returning back in 1970, Ziaur Rahman was promoted to the rank of Major and was transferred to the 8th East Bengal Regiment at Chittagong, as the second in command.

Military Revolt

After the military crackdown by the Pakistani army at 25 March in East Pakistan, Major Ziaur Rahman sided with the rebels and joined Mukti Bahini (freedom fighters). At that time, Awami League (AL) Chief, Mujibur Rahman, was politically active in this movement and was arrested by the Central Government of Pakistan for various charges of conspiracy and treason against the West.

East Bengal Regiment under Major Zia captured one radio broadcast centre in Kalurghat, Chittagong (Shadin Bangla Betar Kendro) and Major Zia read the independence declaration, which officially started the Liberation War. There is an on-going political dispute as to whether this was a declaration or an announcement. However, all groups agree that on 26 March 1971 Major Ziaur Rahman declared the independence of Bangladesh and declared himself as temporary Head of the Republic and made a broadcast using Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s name:

This is Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendro. I, Major Ziaur Rahman, at the direction of Bangobondhu Mujibur Rahman, hereby declare that the independent People's Republic of Bangladesh has been established. At his direction, I have taken command as the temporary Head of the Republic. In the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, I call upon all Bengalis to rise against the attack by the West Pakistani Army. We shall fight to the last to free our Motherland. By the grace of Allah, victory is ours. Joy Bangla.

Later Military Role

Ziaur Rahman was offered the gallantry award of Bir Uttam for his bravery in the liberation war. After independence, he was appointed brigade commander in Comilla. In June 1972, he was made Deputy Chief of Staff of the armed forces of Bangladesh. He was later promoted to a Brigadier in 1973 and to a Major General by the end of the same year.

Coup of 1975 and its aftermath

On 15 August 1975, the then President of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who is also frequently called Bongobondhu (Friend of Bengal) and Jatir Jonok (Father of the Nation), was killed along with several of his family members in a military coup. Khandakar Moshtaq Ahmad replaced Mujibur Rahman and on 25 August 1975, Ziaur Rahman was made the chief of army staff.

When Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf and Dhaka Brigade under Colonel Shafat Jamil made a counter-coup on 3 November 1975, Ziaur Rahman was forced to resign was put under house arrest by Khaled Mosharraf.

Colonel Abu Taher, a left-wing supporter, staged a third successful coup with the help of army soldiers who believed in socialism and a left-wing party, the National Socialist Party (Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal), on 7 November, Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf was killed and Colonel Shafat Jamil was arrested. Colonel Taher freed Ziaur Rahman and restored him to the post of army chief. Zia proclaimed himself Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) on 7 November 1975. On the same day, at a meeting in army headquarters, and interim government was created with:

  • Chief Martial Law Administrator - Justice Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem
  • Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrators - Major General Ziaur Rahman, Air Vice Marshal MG Tawab and Rear Admiral MH Khan

Colonel Taher was soon arrested, because of possible fears of revolt and was hanged later, on 21 July 1976.

Ziaur Rahman reinstated himself as Chief Martial Law Administrator on 19 November 1976, when Justice Sayem relinquished his position. When President Sayem resigned on 21 April 1977, Rahman declared himself as President of Bangladesh and ordered martial law in the country, which lasted until 1979.

Life as President

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Ziaur Rahman

Foreign relations

After assuming office as head of the state, Ziaur Rahman began to strengthen his foreign policy with more attention towards Western countries, moving away from the Soviet bloc as well as India. The U.S. helped the country with wheat under PL 480 law and many other economic aids.

Zia also later proposed a South Asian organization which includes seven South Asian nations. This organization was created in 1985 as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, more popularly known as SAARC.

Changes to defence

Zia started to make changes to the country's infrastructures with these aids. He also actively strengthened the police by taking the number of officers from from 40,000 to 70,000 and arranging for re-training. Armed forces' size was also boosted from less than 50,000 in 1974-75 to about 90,000 in 1976-77.

Promotion of Bangladeshi nationalism

Until Ziaur Rahman's arrival, Bengali nationalism overwhelmingly dominated the political scene. Ziaur Rahman took the step of promoting a Bangladeshi nationalism, especially in the light of the fact that all Bangladeshis were not Bengalis. Roughly 1-2% are non-Bengalis. He also stated existence of sizeable non-Muslim populations (15% Hindus) as a reason to promote the Bangladeshi nationalism.

Amendments to constitution and move away from secularism

As Head of the State Ziaur Rahman carried out the following edits to the Constitution:

  • Insertion of Bismiliah-ir-Rahmanir Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful) in the Preamble of the Constitution;
  • Addition of 'absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah' to Articles 8(1) and 8(1A);
  • Redefinition of socialism as 'economic and social justice' in Article 8(1); and
  • Provision that "the state shall endeavour to consolidate, preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity" in Article 25(2).

He also allowed Jamaat-e-Islami to start its activities for the first time in independent Bangladesh. Jamaat-e-Islami (JIB), which is frequently associated with the abetters of Pakistani occupying army in 1971 war, was banned along with several other parties soon after independence on grounds of secularism and abolition of all religious parties.

Golam Azam, Chief of the JIB, was allowed to come back in July, 1978 with a Pakistani passport. He was not tried for either war crimes or staying in the country without a visa. 16 years later, Begum Khaleda Zia's government gave Azam his Bangladeshi citizenship in 1994. Such moves are held against Ziaur Rahman and his party, BNP, by opponents.


As President, Zia announced a 19-point programme of economic reform and began dismantling the MLA. In February 1978, Jatiyatabadi Ganatantric Dal (Nationalist Democratic Party) was created with Vice President Justice Abdus Sattar as its head. Ziaur Rahman himself became the nominee of the Nationalist Front consisting of six political parties in the presidential election and won after securing 76.67% of the votes.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party

On 1 September 1978, Ziaur Rahman launched a party named the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) with himself as the head. In November 1978, remaining restrictions on political party activities were removed in time for parliamentary elections in February 1979.

Parliamentary elections

Parliamentary elections were held in February 1979 and Zia's party, the BNP, won 207 seats out of 300. The first session of the National Parliament was held on 1 April. On 9 April, martial law was lifted.

After having a two-thirds majority in parliament, Zia passed a bill called Indemnity Bill, which stated that no trial will happen and no case can be made for assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Zia also gave Major Dalim, Major Rashid, and Major Faruk, alleged assassins of Sheikh Mujib, jobs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; again, these moves are held against Ziaur Rahman's regime by his critiques.

Last days

Many coups occurred against Zia’s rule but Zia brutally suppressed them and many military personnel were hanged under his regime. Most of them were former Mukti bahini (freedom fighters) who joined the military after the liberation war. 600 to 700 military personnel were executed under his regime in 1977 while failed coup initiated by some members of Bangladesh Air Force.

Zia was assassinated in Chittagong on 30 May 1981 by a small army group, alleged to have been ordered by Major General Monjur, head of Chittagong division army. Later, Monjur was captured in a tea garden in Chittagong hilly area and killed by army personnel.

Zia was buried at Chandrima Uddan in Sher-e-Banglanagar, Dhaka. Bangladesh's former president Ziaur Rahman, the brain behind the SAARC grouping, was honoured posthumously with the grouping's first award during the Dhaka summit. The award includes 25,000 dollars, a gold medal and a certificate. The international airport in Dhaka has been named in his honour as Zia International Airport. The Chittagong Circuit House, where Zia was assassinated, has been converted to a museum to preserve his memory.

Following Zia's death, his widow, Khaleda Zia, became leader of Bangladesh Nationalist Party and became prime minister during 1991-1996 and later from 2001-present.fr:Ziaur Rahman


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