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The past is never dead - Lawrence Lifschultz

The past is never dead

Lawrence Lifschultz

The Daily Star

Was the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members on August 15, 1975 merely the result of personal malice and an act out of sudden fury of some army officers?
Long investigation by veteran US journalist Lawrence Lifschultz has made it clear that there was a deep-rooted conspiracy behind the dark episode of August 15.

Lifschultz in a number of investigative reports published in newspapers made it clear that Khandaker Moshtaque and a quarter of US embassy officials in Dhaka were closely involved with the small section of army officers in the August 15 coup.

At long last, Lifschultz disclosed the name of his "very reliable source", the then US ambassador in Dhaka Eugene Booster with whom he has maintained close communication for the 30 years.

Booster repeatedly objected to the conspiracy leading to the August 15 assassination, even issued written instruction in this regard, but failed to prevent the then station chief Philip Cherry of US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Dhaka office from doing the conspiracy.

Lifschultz's plan to publish an interview of Eugene Booster in this regard remained unfulfilled as Booster passed away on July 7 last.

The new-born Bangladesh could not save herself from the wrath of then foreign secretary Henry Kissinger who could never forget that Bangladesh was born in opposition to his suggestion.

Along with Salvador Allende of Chile and Taiyoo of Vietnam, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was in Kissinger's political vendetta.

What USA started during the Liberation War in 1971 with attempt to split the Awami League using Khandaker Moshtaque and his accomplices continued after the independence following a direct US instigation, resulting in the carnage on August 15, 1975.

On basis of his 30 years' investigation that included interviews with the US sources, Moshtaque and others concerned, Lifschultz has written a series of that tale.



1. The long shadow of the August 1975 coup (NewsPaper Link)

The 30th anniversary of the August 15th military coup in Bangladesh powerfully illustrates the dictum of William Faulkner that the past is never dead, it is not even past. For those of us who lived through the years of Bangladesh's 'War of Independence' and the decade of the 1970s, we remember these dates as milestones of an era. They are markers on a road we traveled to a destination many did not reach.
After thirty years Bangladesh still lives with the legacy of the violent night of August 15th. Just over four years from that dark March night in 1971 when Pakistani Army troops rolled their tanks and armoured vehicles through the streets of Dhaka slaughtering their fellow countrymen instead of accepting the outcome of national elections they had agreed to accept, a small unit of the new Bangladesh Army invoking the sordid tradition of Pakistan Army staged a traditional military putsch.
Within hours, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, symbol for many of an ideal of liberation, was dead in a military coup d'etat that had run amok in a frenzy of killing. Mujib and almost his entire family were slaughtered including his wife and sons, the youngest only twelve. On that deadly night groups of soldiers broke into squads and traveled around the city killing relatives of Mujib's family.
The pregnant wife of one relation who attempted to intercede to save her husband's life was herself killed for her efforts. Mujib's two daughters were abroad and they survived with Sheikh Hasina years later becoming Prime Minister. Yet, only a year ago, she too was nearly assassinated in broad daylight by a hit squad that still "eludes" capture, demonstrating yet again Faulkner's insightthe past is not even past. It is very much present.
The political configuration that exists today is a direct descendant of August 15, 1975. The current Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, was the wife of the late General Ziaur Rahman, the Deputy Chief of Army Staff in 1975, who played a crucial behind scenes role in the plotting that preceded the coup and in the events which followed.
At the American Embassy that night political and intelligence officers tried to monitor the unfolding events. But, there was one figure at the Embassy in the days that followed the coup who was particularly unsettled. A small knot had settled in his stomach. The events were an echo of what he had feared might happen months earlier and which he had made strenuous efforts to prevent.
I would meet this man in Washington three years later. He became a critical source for me and clearly hoped the information that he provided would one day lead to uncomfortable truths being revealed and those responsible being held accountable. For the first time in nearly thirty years I can identify this individual. I have been freed from a restraint of confidentiality that I have adhered to for almost three decades. But, be patient, with me a bit longer while I explain how and why I came to meet this individual.
I was one among many foreign correspondents covering the coup. Yet, I was the only journalist reporting these events for a major publication who had actually lived in Bangladesh as a journalist. I was the Dhaka correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong) in 1974. The following year I moved to New Delhi and took up a new position as South Asia Correspondent for the Review. The violent death of Mujib would draw me into an inquiry that I could never have anticipated would, again and again, hold me in its sway at different stages of my life.
My unusual source who worked at the American Embassy that night would encourage me forward by his own honesty and quality of integrity. He was one of those unusual individuals one occasionally finds inhabiting an official bureaucracy. He was deeply distressed about the coup and the subsequent killings. He was a man with a conscience. Unlike the rest of us he knew something others did not and that knowledge tore at his conscience. It was this sense of ethical responsibility that brought us face-to-face in one of the more memorable encounters I had as young reporter.
After the coup against Mujib the official story put about by the successor regime and its minions in the Bangladesh press disturbed me. It didn't hold together. Moreover, the cracks began to reveal rather curious links and antecedents.
The version of events which emerged at the time was that six junior officers, with three hundred men under their command, had acted exclusively on their own in overthrowing Mujib. The motives for the coup were attributed to a combination of personal grudges held by certain of the officers against Mujib and his associates, together with a general mood of frustration at the widespread corruption that had come to characterize certain elements of Mujib's regime. In short, according to this view of events the coup was an ad hoc affair not a thought out plan a year or more in the making.
The morning Mujib and his family were killed, the figure installed by the young majors as President was Khandakar Mustaque Ahmed, generally considered to be the representative of a rightist faction within Mujib's own party, the Awami League. After the putsch, Mustaque remained impeccably reticent about any part he personally might have played in Mujib's downfall. He neither confirmed nor denied his prior involvement. He simply avoided any public discussion of the question and desperately attempted to stabilize his regime.
A year following the coup, after he had himself been toppled from power and before his own arrest on corruption charges, Mustaque denied to me in an interview at his home in the "Old City" of Dhaka that he had any prior knowledge of the coup plan or piror meetings with the army majors, who carried out the action. However, the majors who staged the military part of the coup and were forced into exile within four months by upheavals within the Bangladesh Army began to tell a different tale.
In interviews with journalists in Bangkok and elsewhere, bitter at their abandonment by their erstwhile sponsors and allies, the majors began to talk out of school. They confirmed prior meetings with Mustaque and his associates. A story began to emerge that Mustaque and his political friends had been involved for more than a year in a web of secret planning that would lead to the overthrow and death of Mujib.
A few months after the coup, a mid-level official at the U.S. Embassy told me that he was aware of serious tensions within the U.S. Embassy over what had happened in August. He said that there were stories circulating inside the Embassy that the CIA's Station Chief, Philip Cherry, had somehow been involved in the coup and that there was specific tension between Cherry and Eugene Boster, the American Ambassador. He had no specific details about the nature of this "tension" only that there were problems. "I understand," he said, "something happened that should not have happened." He urged me to dig further.
American involvement in the coup didn't make sense to me. In the United States, two Congressional Committees were gearing up to investigate illegal covert actions of the Central Intelligence Agency. The so-called Church and Pike Committee hearings in Washington on CIA assassinations of foreign leaders had begun. The committee hearings were having their own impact within the American diplomatic and intelligence bureaucracies creating great nervousness and anxiety. The American press was openly speculating that senior American intelligence officials might face imprisonment for illegal clandestine action in Chile and elsewhere.
It was the summer when citizens of the United States first heard acronyms like MONGOOSE, COINTELPRO, AM/LASH and elaborate details of assassination plots against Lumumba in the Congo, Castro in Cuba and Allende in Chile. The covert hand of American power had touched far and wide. Now the tip of the iceberg was publicly emerging so that for the first time Americans could take a clear look. Yet, all that was happening far away in Washington, in a muggy heat as sultry as any South Asian monsoon.
In India, Indira Gandhi, speaking of the tragedy of Mujib's death, spoke of the sure hand of foreign involvement. As usual, Mrs. Gandhi was graphically lacking in details or specifics. However, her avid supporters during those first nuptial days of India's Emergency, the pro-Moscow Communist Party of India (C.P.I.) were more explicit: the CIA said the CPI was behind the coup. I dismissed this as propaganda based on no specific evidence.
Yet, how had the coup happened? There were still huge gaps in my knowledge of how specific actors had traveled through the various mazes they had constructed to disguise their movements yet which ultimately led to August 15th. I was living in England nearly three years after the coup when I decided to make a trip to Washington to visit a colleague of mine, Kai Bird, who was then an editor with The Nation magazine, published from New York. Today he is a prominent American author.

2. Mustaque group approached US embassy in Dhaka (NewsPaper Link)

Bird had unearthed some curious files at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace left over from a major study at Carnegie concerned with American policy and Bangladesh's War of Independence. The project, headed by Roger Morris, a former aide to Kissinger at the National Security Council, had been aborted under murky circumstances. According to Morris, Kissinger himself had pressed for the project to be abandoned. However, the remaining files, mainly raw interviews with nearly a hundred and fifty American officials ranging from the State Department to the Pentagon and the CIA, was a gold mine of detail for someone with a knowledgeable eye.
During this visit to Washington I decided to contact Eugene Boster, the American Ambassador at the time of the 1975 coup, who was based at the State Department headquarters in the capital. I had met Boster on several occasions in Dhaka and had visited his home when the American Ambassador to New Delhi, Daniel Moynihan, on a brief visit to Bangladesh had asked to meet me to discuss an article I had written for The Washington Post which had been somewhat critical of Moynihan. Ambassador Boster organized a small meeting of the three of us over drinks at his residence. However, I had not met Boster since the 1975 coup. I hadn't been quite ready to see him. I wanted to be certain that when I did I was clear about the specific questions I wanted to pose.

When I reached Washington, I called Ambassador Boster and found him very receptive to a meeting. He had followed my writing on Bangladesh for years and he seemed interested in meeting. We set a time. Kai Bird and I met Boster at the State Department. After shaking hands we soon settled into a corner table in the one of the lounges for what would be a long morning of thoughtful discussion. I told Boster I had been looking into how the coup was actually organized and was troubled about what I was turning up. I had learned a good deal about prior contacts and relationships that Mustaque had with U.S. officials in Calcutta during 1971 which had led to his "house arrest" by Bangladesh's Provisional Government led by Tajuddin Ahmed with the cooperation of the Indian authorities.

Mustaque had been the contact point in Calcutta for a maneuver organized by Kissinger to try to split off a section of the Awami League government in exile that would be prepared to negotiate with the Pakistan Army for a settlement short of independence.

However, on the Pakistanis side there was no promise that Mujib and the Awami League would be allowed to govern Pakistan as the majority party. Mujib was then under arrest in West Pakistan as war raged in East Pakistan, known by then throughout the world as "Bangladesh".

Mustaque had conducted these negotiations through the Americans without the knowledge of his senior colleagues in the provisional government. When they were discovered, Mustaque was accused of betraying the independence movement and put under house arrest. I had learned about these events from a key member of Mustaque's own staff in Calcutta who had not agreed with the maneuver that Mustaque was involved in. We had also confirmed key aspects of this account in an interview with Herb Gordon, the American Consul General in Calcutta at the time.

I said to Boster that it was rather curious that Mustaque should reemerge four years later as the man who would be King in the aftermath of Mujib's death. Kai Bird and I were curious to know whether the 1971 contacts had been renewed between the United States and the Mustaque group. Was it all just a coincidence? We asked the big question: Did the Embassy have any prior contact with the group that had planned and executed the coup against Mujib? We waited for what we expected would be the standard diplomatic answer which would leave us none the wiser.

Boster looked us in the eye and told us facts that we did not expect to hear. He laid it all out. For me it was a bombshell. We would later report, "According to a highly placed U.S. Embassy diplomat, who has insisted upon strict confidentiality, officials at the U.S. Embassy were approached in late 1974 by persons intending to overthrow the government of Sheik Mujibur Rahman. According to this Embassy source a series of meetings took place with Embassy personnel between November 1974 and January 1975.

..According to [this] senior Embassy official, 'In January 1975 we came to an understanding in the Embassy that we would stay out of it and disengage from those people. I can't say whether there was any approach to the Embassy by any of these people in the period from January to August [1975]. In the period before that they did try to approach us.'"

Our source for this remarkable statement was the American Ambassador to Bangladesh in 1975, Eugene Davis Boster. Boster went further in his comments to us. He confirmed that the group that had approached the U.S. Embassy in the November 1974 to January 1975 period was in fact the Mustaque group. The Ambassador said that in January 1975 he personally had given strict instructions that no Embassy personnel were to have further contact with this or any other group contemplating a coup d'etat. This extended to the CIA Station Chief, Philip Cherry and his staff.

However, Boster believed an "end run" may have been carried out circumventing his authority as Ambassador. He found it more than a simple coincidence that the same men he had ordered all contact broken with had turned up the day of the coup, amidst great bloodshed, announcing they had taken power. When we asked him if he thought Phil Cherry or the CIA staff had continued contact with those planning to overthrow Mujib without the knowledge of the Ambassador, Boster replied, "Let me answer this question theoretically, outside the context of Bangladesh. No, this kind of thing is not done by the Station Chief, But, as one American to another, it has been done. There have been lapses. We should always be informed by the Station Chief about his activities or contacts. But, I cannot guarantee that Cherry was not making contacts that were not approved by the Ambassador." We agreed on this phrasing where he referred to himself in the third person. However, Boster was convinced that contact had continued and the men who carried out the coup correctly or wrongly believed they would be accepted by the United States once Mujib was gone. If they failed, we wouldn't know who they were. If they succeeded, the United States would quietly back the regime.

It was an extraordinary moment. The American Ambassador was alleging to two American journalists that his CIA Station Chief had aided and abetted the coup against the explicit instructions of the Ambassador.

Together we speculated on whom in Washington or Langley would have had the authority to give a "green light" and countermand the Ambassador's instructions. Following Richard Nixon's resignation a year earlier and the emergence of Gerald Ford, as a weak presidential figure, there was only one "President of Foreign Policy" in Washington and this was Henry Kissinger. But, would Kissinger who distained the smaller nations in favor of the mighty powers have even bothered with a peripheral coup on the fringe of his very grand horizon?

Personally, I was then skeptical about Kissinger covertly reaching into obscure details of military plotting in far off Bangladesh. I maintained this view for quite awhile even after interviewing one of Kissinger's former aides on the National Security Council, Roger Morris, who wrote a highly critical biography of his former employer entitled Uncertain Greatness: Henry Kissinger & American Foreign Policy.

In September 1978 I sat down with Morris to talk about Bangladesh and Henry Kissinger. Whether one agrees with him or not, his comments were particularly cogent. Morris had the following observation:

"In early 1975 I was interviewing for my book a man who was then one of Kissinger's closest aides and most senior confidants. I have known him well. In utter seriousness, and not at all as a criticism of Kissinger's policy he said there had been three nemeses of American foreign policy in the Kissinger era. These were the three 'most hated men' on Kissinger's 'foreign enemies list'. He said they were Allende, Thieu and Mujib. It was not a matter of having allies or having enemies or adversaries, but simply these people had upset the apple cart in various ways. Allende is clear enough. Obviously he though Thieu, as the record now shows, was an obstruction to the deal he was trying to cut with the North Vietnamese. He was always having to go back to Saigon to bomb or to do something to get Thieu to agree.

Mujib, however, I would have thought, wasn't quite in that league. Nevertheless, Kissinger did feel at the time [1971] that the events in East Pakistan were so damaging, so distracting, and so potentially disastrous for his China diplomacy on which so much else restedincluding the Vietnam negotiations; and here was this unnecessary irritationon the flankof an obstreperous politician who was not behaving in the proper way...Instead of understanding that these forces were outside his control and it wasn't a matter of thwarting Henry Kissinger or his plans for the world, there was a highly personal element in Kissinger's diplomacy and therefore an element of revenge...

3. Nixon and Kissinger know everything, said Mustaque (NewsPaper Link)

"One thinks of Henry Kissinger as being a traditional 19th century diplomat.," Morris continued. "His mentors, models and heroes are all 19th century. One would then think the adage would be, 'No permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.' This would have dictated that the United States immediately welcome Mujib and embrace the regime; to try to keep it within the camp. But, there was, as I have said, Kissinger's vindictive streak. It ran through it, in the sense, he [Mujib] is not our man.
And, if he is not our man, there is no such thing as permanent interests. Now it is a matter of getting our people in and their people out...If one is looking for any elements of shame or hesitation, one will not find it in the record of the period. The Bangladesh thing is much less prominent; much more quiet; much easier to do."

Although I still remained skeptical of Morris' thesis, in April 1979, Kai Bird and I wrote Henry Kissinger and asked him seven questions about secret contacts with the Mustaque group in 1971 and whether or not, as Secretary of State he personally had prior knowledge of the 1974-75 contacts between U.S. Embassy personnel and the Mustaque group in the months prior to the coup against Mujib. Kissinger was Secretary of State in 1974 at the time of the renewed contacts with the Mustaque circle and at the time of the coup against Mujib. By virtue of his position he had access to all the correspondence concerning Ambassador Boster having ordered contacts with Mustaque and his coup planners be terminated.

Kissinger wrote us back the following month complaining of our "astonishing letter" saying our press deadline did not afford him the time to respond. He added, "I cannot deal with the extraordinary mixture of allegations and innuendos contained in your letter, except to say that in substance they are so far from the truth that I am impelled to question the motives of your informants." We wrote back in June telling Kissinger that we certainly intended to write future articles and that he should not be concerned about our earlier press deadline. We would be patient. He should simply answer the questions.

In our June reply we wrote Kissinger the following: "We do not consider the questions we have put to be, as you say, 'far from the truth'. Indeed, as questions they are designed precisely to get at the truth. We know of no other method, but to ask with as much precision as possible. If there are details, facts, names or sequences with which you disagree, this is exactly what we would like to know. What is your version of the 1971 contacts and the 1974 contacts? In our view, to be 'astonished' is not to be specific in response." Twenty-six years later Kissinger has yet to frame a response despite several press deadlines having come and gone.

What I failed to mention to Kissinger in our original letter was that many of the same questions that we had posed to Kissinger I had earlier posed in 1976 to Khondhaker Mustaque Ahmed over tea at his home in Old Dhaka months after the coup that killed Mujib and after Mustaque had himself been kicked out of power by Ziaur Rahman.. Mustaque snarled at me saying that I should not ask him about such things. He told me to go ask Nixon and Kissinger these questions. He said they knew everything. Indeed, Kissinger might have been "astonished" to know Mustaque's view of these matters. Yet, somehow I doubt it would have made much of a difference in our being able to secure from him any specific answers to our questions.

Due to his own reasons, Eugene Boster did not wish to publicly go on record at that stage. Perhaps, going up against Kissinger who was master of the dark arts held no promise so close to the events. Over the years I kept in contact with Ambassador Boster sending him copies of periodic articles or correspondence on some new twist or development in the story. He seemed open to the possibility of being publicly quoted at some appropriate stage if he could be persuaded that it might make a difference.

He observed my periodic efforts to spark a Congressional inquiry into events in Dhaka in 1975. We noted that Bangladesh wasn't Chile, Vietnam or Iran in American politics. I called him once a few years ago when I was in Washington. Our schedules didn't mesh on that occasion but I told him I thought going public would be important. He didn't rule it out but for the moment his position was "not in my lifetime". I understood this to mean that should he pass away the path would be clear for me to reveal my source.

I had planned this year to go to Virginia to visit him. I had scheduled a trip in the third week in July hoping to persuade him that as the 30th anniversary of the coup approached we should do an "on the record" interview and I would have it published. It was not to be. On July 7th, Eugene Boster, passed away after a heart attack. I missed meeting him again by two weeks.

There are very few "on the record" interviews with a serving CIA Station Chief regarding events he lived through and in which he may have been involved. These were unusual times and today it is inconceivable that a reporter and a CIA official could have such an open and frank conversation. In September 1978, Phil Cherry, the CIA Station Chief in Dhaka during August 1975 coup spoke with me by phone from Lagos where he was then based. I wanted his response to the allegations that had been presented to us by State Department sources. We spoke for about twenty minutes.

Cherry categorically denied the accusation that he or any member of his section had maintained contact with any group planning the overthrow of the Mujib government. "The Bangladeshis were doing it themselves," said Cherry. "It's a great canard to think any coup takes place because of an [outside] government involvement. Almost always coups take place because of the people themselves."

When asked about the Mustaque network's previous history of confidential contacts with the United States, Cherry stated: "There are politicians who frequently approach embassies and perhaps have contacts there. They think they may have contacts but that's a far cry from any of those embassies involved in assisting them in involvement in a coup." Cherry insisted that he had been completely under the supervision of the U.S. Ambassador, Eugene Boster, "We knew that Mujib was in trouble. We also knew that no matter what happened there, no matter who overthrew Mujib, or what overthrew Mujib, we also knew we would be blamed for it...So we were extra careful to be super clean. To make sure all of us were directed by Ambassador Boster. To cut any contact which would possibly give credence to the theory we knew was going to come about. We indeed followed Ambassador Boster's instructions."

However, it was Boster himself, who had expressed the view that such contacts had not been broken by the CIA Station in defiance of the instructions he had issued in early 1975. This was clearly Boster's view. When I asked Cherry why a person at the highest levels of the Embassy would make such a claim, he insisted the claim was "absolutely false". He went on to argue, "There may be somebody who has a grudge against somebody there, and is now making these statements but I wish I would have the opportunity to confront him and discuss this with him in your presence."

In fairness to Philip Cherry he did not have such an opportunity. Ambassador Boster when he spoke with us was unwilling to be quoted and identified "on the record". The Ambassador, in my view hoped, that in the atmosphere then existing in the United States an inquiry into what happened might actually come about. Of course, it was not a certainty, only a possibility. In the aftermath of the Church and Pike Committee reports the mood of the country appeared to favor accountability. If a Congressional inquiry had been held, it is my belief that Ambassador Boster would have been prepared to step forward and give testimony under oath.

The difficulty with statements made by Cherry in the 1978 interview that he gave me was that in 1980 the State Department admitted to U.S. Congressman Stephen Solarz that meetings had indeed taken place in the period between November 1974 and January 1975, exactly as one of our key Embassy sources (Eugene Boster) had reported accurately to us several years earlier. The State Department's admission to Solarz flatly contradicted Cherry's statement that "we had no Bangladeshi come into the office and tell us anything about any plans for coups or anything like that."

At first sight there appears to exist only one of two possible alternatives. Either contacts with the Mustaque group by officials in the U.S. Embassy continued in the period after January as Boster believed or they did not as Cherry claimed. However, there is a third possibility. If Cherry was telling the truth which remains rather unclear, it is possible that Mustaque's entourage could have established an independent channel to authorities in Washington that circumvented Embassy channels or used channels other than the CIA.

4. Fearing a Leftist challenge, Rightists struck (NewsPaper Link)

Thus, Cherry may have followed Boster's instructions and yet contacts could have continued outside of pre-January channels. It is conceivable that one of Mustaque's aides may have travelled to the US or to another meeting point to discuss plans for the coup. It is also possible that military attaches or officers of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) which has had history of strong historical links with Pakistan's military might have been involved in monitoring plans for the coup.

Only a Congressional inquiry with subpoena power at its disposal could sort through these conflicting claims. Despite some efforts on the part of Congressman Stephen Solarz and his staff associate, Stanley Roth, an inquiry into the Bangladesh coup never happened. In a detailed report in Prothom Alo and The Daily Star published on 24 August 2000 I described how Solarz's efforts were systematically derailed.

Additional evidence from the Bangladesh side exists that American officials were in contact with those planning the coup and were monitoring plans for the coup before it occurred. In 1997, I met an authoritative source with intimate and direct knowledge of the planning which took place for the August coup. This individual, a retired Bangladesh military officer, was the consummate "insider" to the events of August 1975 and the step-by-step planning that preceded it. I had met this individual briefly in 1975 and had hoped to meet him again.

However, more than two decades would elapse before a meeting between the two of us occurred once again. A request came from this individual through intermediaries asking if he could meet me. He had his own reasons for wanting to see me. After prolonged negotiations through intermediaries who I trusted I flew from the United States and made contact with this individual in a European capital. He also flew in from another continent. Our meeting lasted five hours.

Among the many things that this individual discussed with me one important point concerned his description of how both Mustaque and General Ziaur Rhaman had been in contact and in discussions with the Majors for more than six months prior to the actual coup. This individual had personally attended numerous meetings that Major Rashid had separately held with Zia and Mustaque. In a British television interview in August 1976 with The Sunday Times' journalist, Anthony Mascarenhas, Rashid described a meeting with General Zia on March 20, 1975, in which a coup was discussed in detail. This meeting took place five months before the coup. My source attended this meeting with General Zia but claimed it was not the first in which plans for a coup were discussed.

General Zia, who was then Deputy Chief of the Army, expressed reluctance to take the lead in the required military action but made clear about his interest in the matter. The junior officers had already worked out a plan, Rashid told Zia, and they wanted his support and leadership. Zia temporized. According to the account given by Rashid to Mascarenhas and confirmed by my source, Zia told him that as a senior officer he could not be directly involved but if the junior officers were prepared, they should go ahead.

According to my informant, the Majors hoped right up until the end that Zia would take the lead in the coup. Although they were in constant, yet discreet, contact with Mustaque, their view was that the best option would be one that did not make Mustaque head of a new government. The best option from the Majors perspective was to establish a Military Council as the commanding authority after the coup. In fact, it was largely Rashid who was in charge of defining the options for his group. It was their hope that Zia would lead such a council. While the junior officers might have preferred a senior officers' coup with Zia at the head, they secured the next best option. With General Zia's neutrality assured, the junior officers could move ahead without fear that Zia would throw his forces against them at the crucial moment.

My remarkably well-placed source made a rather interesting comment when he noted that he had been present during two different meetingsone with Zia and a separate one on a different day with Mustaquein which Major Rashid independently raised a question concerning what the attitude of the United States would be to the planned coup. "Both Zia and Mustaque independently told us that they had checked with the Americans," said this former military officer. "Their answers were almost the same. They each said it [the overthrow of Mujib] was 'not a problem' for the Americans. I then realized that both had their separate channels to the Americans. After that the subject didn't come up again."

The Majors hoped until the last that Zia would take command of a new Military Council that would be set-up in the immediate aftermath of the coup. Even on August 15th they believed this was still a possibility. But, according to this source, Zia stepped back into the shadows once it emerged that a massacre had occurred at Mujib's house and the houses of other relatives in which women and children were mercilessly killed alongside their men folk.

According to this source, Rashid himself was shocked at the killings and believed in the years that followed that there had been a "hidden plan" submerged within the coup that he neither knew about nor controlled. Nevertheless, neither Rashid nor Farooq, the two junior military principals of August 15th, publicly disowned the killing of the families. Walking on thin ice they were not about to disown the actions of the small contingent of soldiers which were solidly behind them and now deeply implicated in an action that Rashid and Farooq had led them into.

Indeed, this source claims some killings were indeed planned for August 15th. At least four Awami League leaders were to be removed from their residences and taken to a designated location where they would be executed. This plan included the killing of Sheik Mujib. However, this source claims there was no premeditated plan among the officers organizing the coup to fire weapons on the families. As in many such situations, the unpredictable ruled and brutality took command.

After the coup there was very little analysis of the contradictory phenomena which existed. Ignored was the stark juxtapositin that, in the two years prior to the coup, it was the country's organized left wing parties such as the JSD, the National Awami Party (Bhashani), and the underground organizations like the Sharbohara Party, which had developed and mobilized public sentiment against Mujib's regime; yet, when the critical moment of collapse came for Mujib, it was not from a leftist mass uprising"The Revolution"as had been feared, but from a narrowly-based conspiracy of the right.

The challenge being developed and prepared by radical nationalist forces was pre-empted by the August events. The coup itself was an inside job by right wing elements within Mujib's own party, his own cabinet, his own secretariat, his own national intelligence service, and the national army, who viewed Mujib's leadership as no longer capable of holding out against a left wing challenge to their interests.

Clearly, these conservative elements within the establishment organised themselves to act according to their own distinctive "doctrine of pre-emption" before other forces had an opportunity to act or Mujib found a path out of the deepening crisis his government faced. Some of the elements that backed the coup within the security services retained a distinct nostalgia for the days of Pakistan and would themselves constitute a force in the years ahead seeking to turn back the clock through the establishment of a new dictatorship.

Those planning the coup clearly believed that in approaching the US there were elements within the American government who might well be sympathetic to their plans. What they did not count on was an American Ambassador who decisively took a position that on his watch the US Embassy would have nothing to do with any politician or army officer planning to overthrow Mujib.

Clearly, Ambassador Boster took the view that such interventions could have dire consequences not only for the country concerned but also for the United States. This was the message of the Church and Pike Committee reports. Yet, Boster was serving directly under a Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who operated under a philosophy of imperial intervention.

Only two years earlier Kissinger had left his and Nixon's deadly mark on Chile with the overthrow of Salvador Allende. There an American Ambassador, Edward Korry, had been left in the dark when an operational decision was taken to unambiguously support a military coup. Of course, the Chile and Bangladesh cases are distinct and very different. However, the real question remains whether there were any similarities.

Eugene Boster, the American Ambassador to Bangladesh, thought that by January 1975 he had unambiguously broken and shut down all links and forms of encouragement by any member of his embassy staff who may have been or could have been involved directly or indirectly in causing a coup to take place. Yet, eight months later after Mujib's death, Boster believed an American link very probably still existed. If it did, the question is by whose authority and by what instrument did it happen. After all these years this is the question that still must be answered.



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