Jatiyo Muktijoddha Council has recently decided to revoke the gallantry award title 'Bir Uttam' of former president Ziaur Rahman. What is your reaction?
I think this is the outcome of political vengeance of the ruling party. Jatiyo Muktijoddha Council has no jurisdiction to take this decision. Their responsibility is to make a list of genuine freedom fighters and ensure the benefits and facilities that the state provides. It is not their function to revoke the title of an army officer. They cannot do that. If the title is revoked it will not affect Ziaur Rahman, rather those who will take this decision will be hated by the nation. The image of Ziaur Rahman in the heart of the people will remain everlasting. The propaganda that is being circulated that Ziaur Rahman was involved in the murder of Bangabandhu is a blatant lie and ill-motivated. When murderer Faruk came home in 1977 and was conspiring, Zia forced him to leave the country.
Recently you, along with some politicians, former army officers and government officials held a meeting. You called the meeting a doa mahfil. What is the significance of the meeting?
BNP is not arranging any council since 2016 and they have no movement in the streets. We are idle. Jatiyatabadi Muktijodha Dal floats some programmes.
Another ally of the 20-party alliance, Bangladesh Kalyan Party leader major general (retd) Muhammad Ibrahim, arranged this doa mahfil. Around 50 to 60 people joined. They include teachers, lawyers and other professions. As a freedom fighter, I went there.
You were the army official of Pakistan Army. How were you involved in the Liberation War in 1971?
Those who did not see 1971 will not be able to understand how that time was. The Bangali nation is a brave one and they proved that. I revolted and joined in the Liberation War. Those who were in my battalion, joined in the Liberation War. Local youth also joined. I created a force of 600 members in Jashore region. After one month of training, they joined the Liberation War defying all bullets. Democracy was the main target of independence. But democracy does not exist now. We have an independent land, but the people have no freedom.
Has the lack of democracy been created during the current government or did it occur during the rule of all governments?
Vote rigging more or less took place during the all governments. My father Azharuddin Ahmed was not allowed to submit his nomination paper in the national election in 1973. He was confined for 24 hours. Despite that Khandaker Mushtaq could not win in Cumilla. He was made winner through manipulaions. Major Jalil and Rashed Khan Menon in Barishal and Alim Al Razi won in the election, but they were forcefully defeated.
You talked about the vote rigging of 1973, vote rigging took place during Ziaur Rahman in 1979.
Irregularities took place in yes/no vote during Ziaur Rahman. But people could cast votes in the election of 1979. I know many members of parliament who could not afford to submit their deposit, but they also won.
You were not with those who carried out the massacre on 15 August. You were with Khaled Mosharraf. Say something about changes between 3 and 7 November.
My job was under brigade commander Shafayat Jamil. The killers left the country under the dictation of my commander. Shafayat Jamil did the right thing, getting the killers out of the country.
Why couldn't Khaled-Shafayat become successful?
The initiative failed due to the folly of Khaled Mosharraf. He had no political wisdom. He declared the election date. The address that Justice Sayem delivered was prepared by me. But by that time it too late. Before that, the so-called sepoy revolt took place on the night of 6 November. Colonel Taher was responsible for that.
Do you think the murder of Khaled was a conspiracy?
Certainly that was a conspiracy. The killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a conspiracy, so was the murder of Khaled. There was a big power behind this. It was a cold war during that time. Some 13 innocent officers were killed in the incident of 7 November.
They chanted slogans 'sepai sepai bhai bhai/officers der kalla chai'. Zia strictly handled the revolt. If he did not take strong steps, Bangladesh Army would not exist.
You are a valiant freedom fighter. You were a player in the national team. How much are you successful as a politician?
I have been elected members of parliament for the sixth times. As a politician my popularity had been proved in 1991. The candidates of Awami League and BNP were against me. My two thanas Lalmohan and Tojumoddin are highly neglected. I protected Tojumoddin from erosion of Meghna. Electricity reached there during my tenure. Many roads have been constructed. I knew the prime minister Khaleda Zia from before hand. I asked her and she agreed to give money. I have established five colleges in the name of my parents and also established many schools. The people of my locality are very pleased with me.
How do you evaluate current politics?
Politicians have damaged the spirit of the Liberation War. Now politics is power-centric. The main aim is to go to power and stay in power, not the welfare of the people. I am vice chairman of BNP for 22 years. I don't want the post, I want respect in the party. I said the council should be arranged in March. It does not seem the leadership is giving priority in this opinion. I think it is disrespectful. The statements I made through a press conference that reflect the views of the grassroots leaders and activists of BNP. The council is the highest forum to talk about the party.
Who is now leading BNP?
I am too little to know who is leading the party. I assume the acting vice chairman discusses matters with the members of the standing committee.
You are the vice chairman of the party. When did the central committee sit last?
Four years ago.
Do you see any difference in BNP during its tenure between 1991-96 and 2001-06?
The BNP government was much better in 1991-96. No allegation of corruption was raised. Ministers were competent. During the tenure of 2001-06, that reputation could not be maintained. You know the cause of it and people of the country also know it. I don't want to say. But the cause should be found out. We did not go against the way the election took place in 2018. If we 300 candidates would march towards the election commission, people would see we were protesting and did not accept vote rigging.
What is the way to come out of the current political crisis?
Misrule must end. It would be good for all if that happens through voting. But if that happens in Taliban style like in Pakistan, that would be very bad for Bangladesh.
But extremism in Bangladesh is now under control to a great extent.
There is not too much fear of rising extremism. Fundamentalist groups in many countries including Egypt, Turkey and Algeria have gone to power through voting. If BNP fails, that may happen too in Bangladesh.
Is Jamaat-e-Islam, one of the allies of BNP-led 20-party alliance, a blessing or burden for BNP?
BNP should proceed alone as there is a negative concept about Jamaat in the international arena. I think there should not be any alliance with Jamaat except in electoral negotiations.
The present government claims massive development took place during their tenure. Padma bridge is being built with their own funds.
These are political rhetoric. There is nothing to say if a Padma bridge or some flyovers is indicator of development. We have to see if the purchasing power of general people has increased or not, discrimination has decreased or not. The weakness of management is acute. The health sector is very important for common people. In the beginning of coronavirus outbreak, we noticed the patients were suffering from hospital to hospital. They are unable to get admission. There is no necessary equipment. Look at the education sector. Automatic promotion is not given in any country. There is none in the government to think how the examination can be taken under this circumstance. Everybody is busy to make money. Think about the standard of a degree during the Pakistan period, the standard has plunged. Compare a vice chancellor of a university of 1975 with the vice chancellor of today. They were respected in the society. Now a vice chancellor is eager to become a Jubo League leader.
*This interview, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.