By: | Muhammad Ali Azlan |
Capitalizing on West Pakistani fears of East Pakistani separatism, Bhutto demanded that Sheikh Mujib form a coalition with the PPP.
The Agartala Conspiracy Case was a sedition case in Pakistan during the Ayub Regime against Awami League, brought by the government of Pakistan in 1968 against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the then leader of the Awami League and East Pakistan, and 34 other persons.
The case was filed in early 1968 and implicated Sheikh Mujibur rahman and others in conspiring with India against the stability of Pakistan. The case is officially called State vs. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and others, but is popularly known as Agartala Shoŗojontro Mamla (Agartala conspiracy case) as the main conspiracy was purported to have taken place in the Indian city of Agartala in Tripura state, where Sheikh Mujib’s associates met Indian Intelligence Bureau officials.
The government of Pakistan resolved to frame charges against 35 political personalities and high government officials under civil law. They were Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Ahmed Fazlur Rahman CSP, Steward Mujibur Rahman, Commander Moazzem Hossain, former LS Sultanuddin Ahmad, LSCDI Nur Mohammad, Flight Sergeant Mahfiz Ullah, Corporal Abdus Samad, former Havildar Dalil Uddin, Ruhul Quddus CSP, Flight Sergeant Md. Fazlul Haq, Bibhuti Bhushan Chowdhury alias Manik Chowdhury, Bidhan Krishna Sen, Subedar Abdur Razzaque, former clerk Mujibur Rahman, former Flight Sergeant Md. Abdur Razzaque, Sergeant Zahurul Haq, Benedict Dias, A.B. Khurshid, Khan Mohammad Shamsur Rahman CSP, AKM Shamsul Haque, Havildar Azizul Haq, Mahfuzul Bari, Sergeant Shamsul Haq, Shamsul Alam, Captain Mohammad Abdul Muttalib, 21 Baluch Regiment, Captain Shawkat Ali, Captain Khondkar Nazmul Huda, Captain A.N.M Nuruzzaman, Sergeant Abdul Jalil, Mahbub Uddin Chowdhury, Lt. M Rahman, former Subedar Tajul Islam, Ali Reza, Captain Khurshid Uddeen Ahmed, Master Warrant Officer Abdul Latif Mazumder, and Lt. Abdur Rauf.
The plot was allegedly conceived by Sheikh Mujib in an attempt to ignite an armed revolution against West Pakistan that would result in the secession. Two of the accused, navy steward Mujibur Rahman and the educationist Mohammad Ali Reza went to Agartala, Tripura, a city in Eastern India to seek Indian support for an independent Bangladesh.
The alleged conspiracy was uncovered by the Lieutenant Colonel Shamsul Alam, who commanded the East Pakistan Detachment of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It was during this time that an officer of the East Bengal Regiment, Rauf ur Rahman, who was in league with the conspirators made an attempt on Alam’s life. Alam displayed great bravery and chased the would-be assassins; for this Alam was awarded the Sitara-e-Basalat, the highest award for bravery in action during peacetime.
1,500 Bengalis were arrested in connection with the plot in 1967. In January 1968 the Home Department of Pakistan declared that it had detected a scheme to destabilise Pakistan and break the Eastern wing through an armed revolt, and had arrested 8 people. Later on 18 January, the Department implicated Sheikh Mujib as well. He and others were arrested on 9 May 1968, and were subsequently released, only to be arrested later.
try the accused by court-martial since a lot of the accused involved military personnel. However, this was overturned in favour of a civil trial to implicate the politicians ahead of the 1970 elections as well as to provide transparency of the trials. Hence, only 35 were finally accused. The accused were then moved from Dhaka Central Jail to the secured borders of the Dhaka Cantonment.
The penal codes were amended to benefit the prosecution of the accused, and the trial began on 19 June 1968 under a special tribunal. The hearings took place inside a secured chamber within the Dhaka Cantonment. The charge sheet of 100 paragraphs were presented before the tribunal, with 227 witnesses and 7 approvers.
The tribunal was headed by 3 judges – the chair, Justice SA Rahman was a non-Bengali; the other members MR Khan and Maksum-ul-Hakim were Bengalis. The government was represented by the Attorney General TH Khan and former Foreign Minister Manzur Quader. Thomas Williams, a British lawyer, along with local attorneys challenged the formation of the tribunal by filing a petition in favour of Sheikh Mujib. The approvers appeared in the witness box and testified that they provided false evidence under the coercion of the State.
Members of public looked at the case as a conspiracy of the Pakistan government against the political autonomy movement of East Pakistan, especially since the government was keen to prove that Sheikh Mujib was an Indian agent and a separatist. They organised mass movement and demanded immediate withdrawal of the case and release of all prisoners. According to the government decision, the final date for the case was 6 February 1969. However, because of the mass upsurge of 1969, the government had to defer the date.
In the morning of 15 February 1969, a Pakistani havaldar shot point blank at Sergeant Zahur ul Haq at the door of his jail cell, and killed him. The news of the killing led a furious mob to set fire to the State Guest House and other government buildings, where the chief lawyer for the government and the Chair of the tribunal resided. They vacated secretly. Some of the case files and evidence got burnt as a result of the arson.
In the face of mass movement, the government withdrew the Agartala Conspiracy Case on 22 February 1969.
The accused were released on the following day and the Race course Maidan saw a grand reception of the accused, where Sheikh Mujib was given his famous title Bangabandhu.
The case was withdrawn in the face of a massive popular uprising, which resulted in the 1969 uprising in East Pakistan and the fall of General Ayub Khan’s dictatorship in 1969. The case and the resulting uprising is seen as one of the major events leading to Bengali nationalism and the Bangladesh Liberation War.
Sergeant Zahur ul Haq were honoured by the naming of a students’ residential hall of the University of Dhaka after him.
In 2010, and on the anniversary of the withdrawal on 22 February 2011, surviving conspirator and Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Shawkat Ali confessed to the parliament at a point of order that the charges read out to them were accurate, stating that they formed a Shangram Parishad (Action Committee) under Sheikh Mujib for the secession of East Pakistan.
Parliamentarian Tofael Ahmed added that had the case not been filed, the plot would have culminated in the secession of East Pakistan without bloodshed, and credit the Deputy Speaker for planning the liberation of the nation.
On 15th August 1975, a group of junior army officers invaded the presidential residence with tanks and killed Mujib, his family and personal staff. Only his daughters Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Sheikh Rehana, who were visiting West Germany, escaped. They were banned from returning to Bangladesh. The coup was planned by disgruntled Awami League colleagues and military officers, which included Mujib’s colleague and former confidanté Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad, who became his immediate successor. There was intense speculation in the media accusing the US Central Intelligence Agency of having instigated the plot.
Lawrence Lifschultz has alleged that the CIA was involved in the coup and assassination, basing his assumption on statements by the then US ambassador in Dhaka Eugene Booster.
Mujib’s death plunged the nation into many years of political turmoil. The coup leaders were soon overthrown and a series of counter-coups and political assassinations paralyzed the country. Order was largely restored after a coup in 1977 gave control to the army chief Zia ur Rahman. Declaring himself President in 1978, Ziaur Rahman signed the Indemnity Ordinance, giving immunity from prosecution to the men who plotted Mujib’s assassination and overthrow.