USA's & UK's growing presence

Shift from India-dependence to closer ties with Muslim countries including Pakistan

Post independence Bangladesh found itself more reliant on India then before. Thus when the military elite took over Bangladesh post 7 November 1975 they took every measure to get the country out of the position of dependence on India, reflecting the change mood of the people of Bangladesh.

The Indian government retaliated with strong measures to make Bangladesh subservient again. Firstly, they diverted the Ganges water at Farraka without prior consultation with the Bangladesh government, contrary to the April 1974 agreement. Secondly, the Indian Government began to shelter the diehard Mujibites (followers of Sheikh Mujib) led by Kader Siddiqui, a tough guerrilla leader of the 1971 liberation war who opened camps for training in guerrilla warfare and subversion. Since January 1976, these Bangladeshi dissenters have launched raids on Bangladesh border posts with the support of the Indian Border Security Force. In the latter part of the year some of the dissenters infiltrated into Bangladesh in order to carry on sabotage activities.

After the downfall of Indira Gandhi there was a deal between Zia and the new Desai administration whereby Bangladesh had to accept those pro-Mujib elements who wanted to return and New Delhi offered those who preferred to stay in India political asylum but restricted their insurgent activities. Bangladesh authorities called upon the returnees to behave, but later some of them were allegedly involved in the abortive October insurrection.

Mohammad Rashiduzzaman, author of "Bangladesh in 1977: Dilemmas of the Military Rulers" (1978)

Relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan also improved considerably during the year. The two countries signed a 3-year trade agreement - the first to be signed between the two countries - in early May 1976. A return to Islamic principles under Ziaur Rahman leadership helped to strengthen tie with wealthy Muslim states, which energised Bangladesh's fluctuating economy by the injections of valuable foreign exchange. Bangladeshi economic and goodwill delegations visited most of the Islamic countries to strengthen Bangladesh relations with the latter.

I can assure you that today we are not alone or friendless. I want to tell everyone that we do not want friendship at the cost of our independence, sovereignty and integrity.

Ziaur Rahman in his address on radio and television on 1 December 1976

The pro-America stance is believed to have been fostered by the main political powers who benefited immediately after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's assassination on 15 August 1975 - namely Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed (Commerce Minister in Mujib's administration), Mahbubul Alam Chashi (a former Pakistan foreign service officer) and Taheruddin Takur (Mujib's Information Minister). Since Bangladesh's emergence as an independent state in 1971 major foreign powers such as the United States, India and the Soviet Union have contended for a position of dominance in this remote but strategic corner of South Asia.

Ziaur Rahman made a trip to China early in 1977 where he was warmly received and economic aid was promised. According to some reports, China also provided Bangladesh with some military assistance. Later Zia went to Burma, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Substantial aid came from the Middle East. An official delegation visited Pakistan to explore the possibilities of closer cooperation.

The fall of Mujib brought a shift in Bangladesh's international alignment away from the Soviet and Indian axis which had vigorously supported the national independence struggle during 1971.

The new regime under Moshtaque and subsequently Ziaur Rahman swivelled the country's international orientation towards the American and the British governments in the West and secondarily towards the Islamic bloc, principally Saudi Arabia. It still remains an uncertain and open question of what involvement any of these governments had in Sheikh Mujib's overthrow.

N. M. J. , author of "Murder in Dacca - Ziaur Rahman's Second Round" (1978)

USA and UK funding and spying mission

Immediately after Sheikh Mujib's demise important internal security, telecommunications and military training programmes which had been linked to the American and British governments prior to independence were suddenly resumed. These had remained suspended during Sheikh Mujib's regime. Shekih Mujib had accepted Indian military assistance in setting up his paramilitary Rakkhi Bahini force who were secretly trained at the Indian military staff college at Dehradun. However, after his assassination, all military links were broken with India and the Rakkhi Bahini was dissolved. Top positions in the Bangladesh police, intelligence agencies, and Home Ministry were filled by men with historically strong links to the United States, Britain and Pakistan. In 1971 many had been accused of active collaboration with the Pakistan Army.

British government gave a grant of £720,000 to develop Bangladesh's police telecommunication which had been constructed using American help prior to 1971 as part of their Office of Public Safety (OPS) AID Programme in the country. The OPS programmed was dismantled by the US Congress in 1973-74 after it the CIA Director William Colby acknowledged that the Agency had worked with OPS contacts "for the purpose of obtaining foreign intelligence information". The Senate concluded that the programme had developed such close ties with the local security forces that inevitably the US had become "politically identified with police terrorism" in the recipient countries. Therefore the programme was abolished declaring the object was to cease the US making "repressive regimes even more repressive".

The British picked up from where the American left off. In July 1977 an 8-man British military advisory team commanded by Colonel T. A. Gibson arrived in Dhaka with the object of setting up a Military Staff College at Savar, where ironically Indian military advisors had trained Sheikh Mujib's Rakkhi Bahini in 1972. These 8 senior military officers included 6 soldiers (including one colonel in the elite SAS or Special Air Services Brigage), a sailor and an air force officer.

  • T. A. Gibson ()

The Sepoy Mutiny in Bogra and Dhaka in September and October 1977 are believed to have been in part connected to objections to this British Military Mission. Of the 'Twelve Demands' which constituted the principles of the Soldier's Mutiny of 7 November 1975 the "complete abolition of British colonial practices withing the armed forces" had been one of the fundamentals of the uprising. Now within a year and half of the revolt a British military training mission was setting up permanent shop in Bangladesh. The more serious objections to the Gibson Mission was that its main alleged purpose was not training but military intelligence.

The November 1975 uprising took the Western countries by complete surprise here. They realised how poor their intelligence was having historically based it on [West] Pakistan contacts. Within the government and the armed forces it is generally believed, and privately discussed that the real purpose for the British Military Mission is to prepare dossiers for Western intelligence on the entire officer corps forces and the Bangladesh Army in particular. They want to know when Zia falls, who can be the next pro-Western Ayub Khan. But they also want to be able to spot any Marxists like Abu Taher. They want to know who is politically reliable. You can't do that sitting in London or in an office in the Pentagon. Computers will not tell you. Personal contact might.

A well-informed Bengali

Britain also participated in a controversial development programme in a remote hill region near the Burmese border which further heightened suspicion. Opponents criticised Britain for not helping the poor first but helping to support a regime which practises detention without trial, summary execution and suppression of free speech.

Britain seems to have this obsession with law and order. It seems to think that unless you have a police force that can be mobilised at the flick of a switch, or army that is well up on contemporary counter-insurgency techniques, there is no point n pouring out money for food or shelter or clothing. Well we disagree. Food for the hungry is truly vital. Radios for the police and roads for the army can come later. At least the tax payers in England should have a chance to decide.

A senior officer of an English aid organisation

Against the background of these various developments a highly significant event emerged on Bangladesh's foreign investment. At the time of independence in 1971 there was almost no foreign capital investment in the country. Outside a General Motors assembly unit in Chittagong, a few pharmaceutical multinationals, insurance, banks, and the old colonial tea estates, foreign investment was almost non-existent and totalled less than 30 million dollars.

In 1977 American investors were contemplating what will be their largest foreign investment in the entire South Asia sub-continent. In the asset value it will be greater than all American investments in India and Pakistan combined.

Last spring [1977] it was announced that International Systems and Controls Corporation of Houston, Texas (USA) was negotiating an 800 million dollar investment deal to exploit Bangladesh's extensive natural gas reserves. The American company finalised arrangements to sign an agreement with Bangladesh government for the construction of a massive Liquefied Natural Gas complex to export gas from the Bakhrahad/Bakhrabad fields. Bangladesh has known reserves of 30 trillion cubic feet of high quality gas with over 94% hydrocarbon content.

N. M. J.

A number of Bangladesh Marxists believe the arrival of British Military Advisory Team was seen to secure a confident "stable" environment agreeable to foreign investing interests. The visit of British Prime Minister James Callaghan to Dhaka in the New Year was financially of much greater importance to British interests than the much better publicised visits to India and Pakistan.

The issue now for the West is whether he [Major-General Ziaur Rahman] can become Bangladesh's General Suharto, the Indonesian military figure whose American backed counter-coup ended in the massacre of an estimated half-million members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), and securely opened the country to the Pertamina oil export boom of the next decade. A number of Western observers see an Indonesian style solution as the only answer to Bangladesh's radical traditions. Whether Ziaur Rahman is the man for the job is the question.

N. M. J.