Bengali nationalist and president of Bangladesh (1977–81). A master of political intrigue, he rose to power on a wave of coups and countercoups, yet managed to win popular support despite his reputation as an authoritarian leader. He was assassinated during a military coup.
Born in Sylhet (then in East Bengal), Ziaur enlisted in the Pakistan army in 1953, at the age of seventeen, shortly after finishing school. He was commissioned two years later and served as a company commander during the Indian-Pakistani War (1965). He then became a military instructor and was involved in the Bengali nationalist movement. In 1971, having risen to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, he led the mass uprising against Pakistan that resulted in the independence of Bangladesh.
Ziaur was appointed to a senior rank in the newly established Bangladesh army under Sheik Mujibur Rahman. Following Mujibur's assassination in 1975, he became chief of the army staff under President Ahmed's successor, Sayem. In 1976 he was appointed chief martial law administrator and president after a national referendum (1977). A year later he founded the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and organized the country's first general election, in which his rule was endorsed. He remained in this post until 1981, when he was assassinated during a military coup led by General Hussain Mohammed Ershad (1930– ).
Ziaur's widow, Khaleda Zia (1944– ), took over the leadership of the BNP in 1984 and, following the downfall of Ershad's regime, became prime minister in 1991. Her attempts to implement radical privatization policies caused a political and constitutional crisis leading to her resignation in 1996.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).