Ziaur Rahman declines Farook's request for "support and leadership"

Given their lack of experience and limited support system, Farook and Rashid looked at potential suitors to formally lead the country. For Farook 39-year-old Deputy Chief of Army Staff General Ziaur Rahman was the "first and obvious choice" as he was "not tarnished and a lot of junior officers" sought his advice. With his glowing military accompolishment before and after independence, General Zia was a popular figure in the Bangladesh Army and Farook had "strong respect and affection" for him.

After much effort, Farook managed to get an interview with General Zia on 20 March 1975. He reported to his bungalow at 7.30pm and was cautious in bringing up the subject.

I was meeting the Deputy Chief of Army Staff and a Major-General. If I bluntly told him that I wanted to overthrow the President of the country straightaway like that there was very good chance that he would have arrested me with his own guards, there and then, and put me in jail. I had to go about it in a roundabout way.

Actually we came around to it by discussing the corruption and everything that was going wrong. I said the country required a change. Zia said "Yes, Yes. Let's go outside and talk" and then he took me on the lawn. As we walked on the lawn I told him that we were professional soldiers who served the country and not an individual. The army and the civil government, everybody, was going down the drain. We have to have a change. We, the junior officers, have already worked it out. We want your support and your leadership. General Zia's answer was "I am sorry I would not like to get involved in anything like this. If you want to do something you junior officers should do it yourself. Leave me out of it.

Farook recalls his encounter with General Zia

Though Ziaur Rahman declined to take part in Farook's plan to oust Sheikh Mujib, he did not act upon his new knowledge and took a back seat on the dramatic events that were to follow in the coming days, weeks and months.

Curiously the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Bangladesh Army, when informed about the impending mutiny, did not lift a little finger to protect the legally appointed President of the country. Though General Zia did not fall in with the plot he also did not arrest Farook. Instead he quietly turned a blind eye to the plotting while taking steps to secure himself. According to Farook Zia instructed his ADC that the major should on no account be allowed to see him again.

In July 1976 while doing a TV programme in London on the killing of Sheikh Mujib I confronted Zia with what Farook had said. Zia did not deny it - nor did he confirm it. Instead he put off giving me an answer and when I persisted did his best to keep me out of the country for many years.

Veteran journalist Anthony Mascarenhas on General Zia's silence leading to Sheikh Mujib's killing

With his failure to recruit General Zia for the coup, at the end of March 1975 an impatient Farook decided to abandon his months of meticulous planning and make his move. He approached Squadron Leader Liaquat, flight control officer at Dhaka, and asked him to participate - "what about taking off in some MiGs and doing a bit of strafing on his [Sheikh Mujib's] house? I'll surround the house and you can control the whole thing with your aircraft". Liaquat's answer was equally casual and impulsive - "Let's go". Farook quickly outlined the operation scheduled for dawn next day, the 30 March 1975. He went to brief others but was about the receive "the greatest disillusionment of my life". To his shock people like Major Hafiz, Colonel Amin and Ahmed Chowdhury and others backed out.

Everything went black for Farook. The sleepless nights, the foot-slogging, the months of surveillance, all seemed to have been wasted. The great coup had failed to get off the ground because of an unsuspected human factor; when faced with the reality of killing Mujib the other plotters got cold feet!

Farook's shock when other conspirators back out

Though Sheikh Mujib had escaped the aborted plot, he did suffer one heartbreaking grief on that day - his father Sheikh Lutfar Rahman passed away.

'Andha Hafiz' gives Farook green signal for D-Day

Around this time Farook decided to seek spiritual sanction for his dark task. He sought out in the crowded Halishar quarter of Chittagong a Bihari holy man who would have a powerful influence on the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Andha Hafiz (blind holy man) as he was known, was born without sight. His piety and austere life, however, had brought him the blessing of a phenomenal extrasensory perception and the gift of foretelling. The accuracy of his predictions had won him a sizeable following, among them the Khans of Chittagong, Major Farook's in-laws. Farook decided to consult him - and found an early opportunity to do so. The Bengal Lancers were scheduled to go to Hat Hazari near Chittagong for range firing between 7-11 April 1975. When this exercise was put back by two days, Farook took time off for a quick trip to Chittagong on 2 April 1975 to see Andha Hafiz.

Squatting on the floor of the hut Farook placed his hands in the hands of the holy man. Andha Hafiz held them gently for a long time. Clearly he was disturbed by the vibrations he was getting. Before Farook could confide the dark secret, Andha Hafiz told him: "I know you are going to do something very dangerous. Do whatever you have to do, but if you do not follow the principles I give you, you will be destroyed".

Andha Hafiz told Farook he must faithfully observe three things:

  1. Don't do anything for personal gain but only to serve the cause of Allah and Islam.
  2. Have courage.
  3. Select the correct timing.

He also advised the major "Wait three months. After that chances of success are good though there will be difficulties".

Farook was deeply moved. Even the heavens were pointing to the direction in which he was moving. The three months Andha Hafiz told him to wait also coincided with his own evaluation of the best time for the coup. In his heart he knew that this time he would not fail.

Anthony Mascarenhas