Ashraf’s Column

Friday, June 16, 2006

An Encounter With General Zia

In late 1975 as a major I was posted at the AHQ as a staff officer. The country was under martial law (ML). Like many of my colleagues I was given some additional ML assignments to perform. Every Friday at 0830 hours I had to report directly to the then Chief of Army Staff (CAS) Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman, BU to brief him on the job I was doing. I was allotted a civil jeep to perform the ML duties. I made it a routine to leave my residence at Dhaka Cantonment at 08:00 in the morning for the ML office near the city center. I used to return to the cantonment around midday to attend my office at the AHQ. On a Thursday when I came to the AHQ office my immediate boss summoned me to his office. He told me that the Adjutant General (AG) had been looking for an officer who failed to salute the CAS that morning while the Chief was moving in his staff car towards the city and the defaulting officer crossed him in a civil jeep in front of the cantonment post office. The Chief personally noted the matter and asked the AG to find and sort out the concerned officer. The AG, after having enquired from many other officers, talked to my boss on telephone and enquired if it was I. My boss, as he had known me very well since I was a cadet at Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, told the AG that a well-disciplined officer like me could never do that. He should look for the officer somewhere else. It may be recalled that when Gen Zia assumed the appointment of the CAS the discipline in the army was alarmingly poor. A handful of ill disciplined and politically motivated officers could not accept him as the CAS. Gen Zia thought that the defaulting officer could be one of them. The then AG was known for being ruthlessly firm. The moment I heard my boss I turned almost white in fear. Because the officer he was looking for was none but me. I told him that I was the officer the AG was looking for. I requested him to wait till the next day before he reported my name to the AG. I took a chance to explain personally my position to the CAS on the next day (Friday) when I had a scheduled appointment with him. I was pinning on the hope that the CAS might forgive me if he personally heard my explanation. Otherwise, the AG would tear me off. My boss very kindly agreed.

Next day at around 0830 hours, as per schedule, I met the CAS in his office. As usual, he was very serious and meant business while discussing official matters. After having discussed the official matters I sought his permission to raise a personal point. He said, “ Go ahead.” I said, “ Sir, I understand you are looking for an officer who did not salute you yesterday.” He very coldly and curtly said, “Yes.” I said, “ Sir, I am the officer you are looking for. Would you kindly grant me two minutes time to explain why I did so?” He nodded his head with a grim face. I told him frankly and honestly what exactly had happened that morning. I said, “ Sir, yesterday morning my wife had been groaning under severe abdominal pain. When the civil jeep came to take me to my ML office I thought, instead of calling an ambulance from the CMH, it would be better to take my wife to the CMH by the civil jeep. As my wife was almost unconscious I made her sit on left side of the front seat of the jeep and held her tightly with my left arm. Yes, I saw you crossing on the road. I saw your flag and the stars on your car. Right at that moment it flashed in my mind that it would not be proper from military discipline point of view to salute my Chief with my right arm while I was holding my wife with my left arm. I am sorry for that. Sir, if I have committed an offence, please do punish me.” He stopped me there and with all the sympathy in his voice said, “ Ashraf, it’s okay. You have not done anything wrong. How is your wife now? Forget about it. I shall tell the AG.” I said, “ Thank you sir. Can I have your kind permission to tell you that you were my direct teacher at PMA in 1967? You personally taught me discipline there. How could I, an ordinary young major, dare not to salute my Chief? Moreover, sir, I believe the relationship between a teacher and his taught is a divine one and is far more stronger than what books on protocol demands. As my teacher you will always remain respectable to me in the days to come when none of us will be holding any official position.” As I stood up to salute before leaving his office, Gen Zia, my teacher, also rose on his feet, gently walked to me with a spark of smile on his face and patted on my back and said, Thank you Ashraf, I do appreciate your sentiments, feelings and straightforwardness. Keep it up. May Allah bless you” I saluted him as smartly as a young major like me could do. He shook my hand firmly and warmly. I felt a spark of fatherly affection throughout my body and mind before I left his office. I retrospect I may mention that the AG, after that, was never found looking for the officer he wanted to hang upside down! My wife was admitted in the CMH to remove stones from her gall bladder.

Gen Zia, my teacher, is gone forever. I myself am an old man now. But whenever I remember this incident, and I do that quite often, I still feel his affectionate pat on my back. May Allah grant his soul eternal blessing in the heaven.

Syed Ashrafuzzaman


  • Unfortunately General Zia is misplaced in Bangladesh's History. I hope one day History will do justice to him and the truth will come out how he united our country as one!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 4:21 PM  

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