Following the failure of last-ditch talks, Yahya Khan declared martial law and ordered the army to crack down on Bengali political activities and arrested Sheikh Mujib on the early mornings of 26 March 1971. Zia who already by then revolted made announced the Declaration of Independence on the early morning hours of 27 March 1971 at the Kalurghat radio station in Chittagong. In that declaration Zia also declared himself head of the provisional revolutionary government of Bangladesh, against the Pakistani occupation army. Later again on 27 March he again repeated the declaration which read:
This is Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendro. I, Major Ziaur Rahman, the Provisional Head of the Government of Sovereign State of Bangladesh, on behalf of our Great National Leader, the Supreme Commander of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, do hereby proclaim the Independence of Bangladesh.
Zia organised an infantry unit gathering all Bengali soldiers from military and EPR units in Chittagong. He designated it Sector No. 1 with its HQ in Sabroom. A few weeks later, it was restructured officially under Bangladesh Forces as the sector in the Chittagong and Hill Tracts area, under General M. A. G. Osmani, the Supreme Commander of Bangladesh Forces, of the Provisional Government of Bangladesh HQ'd at 8 Theatre Road, Calcutta, WB, India. On 30 June 1971 Zia was appointed the commander of the first conventionalbrigade of the Bangladesh Forces, which was named "Z Force", after the first initial of his name, followed by K-forces in August and S-force in September, named after Major Khaled Musharrafand Major Shafiullah respectively. His brigade consisted of 1st, 3rd and 8th East Bengali regiments, enabling Zia to launch major attacks on Pakistani forces. Having earned a reputation for courageous leadership during the course of the war and reading the declaration of independence of Bangladesh in a critical time, Zia was awarded the Bir Uttom, the second-highest military honour by the Government of Bangladesh . He was given command of a brigade stationed in Comilla, and in 1974 June he was appointed deputy chief of arm staff. He was later promoted to the rank of Major General by 1975 and Lieutenant General in 1977. As a high-ranking commander, Zia oversaw the training and development of the army.
Coup of 1975 and its aftermath
On 15 August 1975 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family were killed by a group of military officers, fed up with the division and disenchantment with Awami League's unchecked and fascist rules, that resulted in rampant looting, rape, illegal land grabbing, civil disorder, law and order deterioration. One of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's cabinet ministers and leading conspirators Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad gained the presidency. He subsequently appointed the co-conspirator Major General Ziaur Rahman as the army chief after removal of Major General K M Shafiullah. However, the coup of 15 August caused a period of instability and unrest in Bangladesh and more so across the ranks and files of the army. Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf and the Dhaka Brigade under Colonel Shafat Jamil made a counter-coup on 3 November 1975, and Ziaur Rahman was forced to resign and was put under house arrest. A third coup was staged under Lieutenant Colonel Abu Taher and a group of socialist military officers and supporters of the left-wing National Socialist Party on 7 November, called the "National Revolution and Solidarity Day" (Sipoy-Janata Biplob) (Soldiers and People's Coup). Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf was killed and Colonel Jamil arrested, while Lt. Colonel Taher freed Ziaur Rahman and re-appointed him as army chief. Following a major meeting at the army headquarters, an interim government was formed with Justice Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem as chief martial law administrator and Zia, Air Vice Marshal M. G. Tawab and Rear Admiral M. H. Khan as his deputies. Zia also took on the portfolios of home affairs, finance, industry and information along with becoming the chief of army staff. However, discipline in the army had totally collapsed and it was difficult to disarm the soldiers and put them back to the barracks. Fearing that Abu Taher, who in fact rescued him few months earlier, would attempt to organise another revolt, Zia ordered his arrest. Following a secret trial in a military court, Zia authorised the execution of Taher on 21 July 1976. Zia became the chief martial law administrator following Justice Sayem's elevation to the presidency on 19 November 1976. He tried to integrate the armed forces, giving repatriates a status appropriate to their qualifications and seniority. While this angered some veterans of the Mukti Bahini, who had rapidly reached high positions following liberation in 1971, Zia defused potential threats from discontented officers by sending them on diplomatic missions abroad.
President of Bangladesh
Major General Ziaur Rahman became the 7th President of Bangladesh on 21 April 1977 following Justice Sayem's resignation on grounds of "ill health", which many believed was simply a pretext for Zia's rise to power with army's backing. Although Sayem had held the title of president, historians believe it was Zia who exercised real power from the cantonment. Sayem had promised early elections, but Zia postponed the plans. The years of disorder had left most of Bangladesh's state institutions in disarray, with constant threats of military coups amidst strikes and protests. Assuming full control of the state, Zia banned political parties, censored the media, re-imposed martial law and ordered the army to arrest dissidents. Martial law restored order across the country to a large measure and as Zia crushed several attempted uprisings with ruthless measures, discipline was finally restored in the army.
In late September 1977, a group of Japanese Red Army terrorists hijacked an airplane and forced it to land in Dhaka. On 30 September, while the attention of the government was riveted on this event, a mutiny broke out in Bogra. Although the mutiny was quickly quelled on the night of 2 October, a second mutiny occurred in Dhaka. The mutineers unsuccessfully attacked Zia's residence, captured Dhaka Radio for a short time and killed a number of air force officers at Dhaka international airport, where they were gathered for negotiations with the hijackers. The army quickly put down the rebellion, but the government was severely shaken. Government intelligence had failed and Zia promptly dismissed both the military and the civilian intelligence chiefs. Special tribunals dealt harshly with the large groups of bandits, smugglers and guerrilla bands operating across the country. The size of Bangladeshi police forces was doubled and the strength of the army increased from 50,000 to 90,000 soldiers.
When Ziaur Rahman assumed the presidency after legalizing military coups and the revival of the multiparty system was seen again he appointed Hussain Muhammad Ershad as the new Chief of Army Staff, promoting him to the rank of Lieutenant General. Viewed as a professional soldier with no political aspirations (because of his imprisonment in former West Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War) and having a talent for Bengali speech writing, Ershad soon became Zia's closest politico-military counselor.
Domestic and foreign policies
Zia had taken charge of a nation suffering from severe poverty, chronic unemployment, shortages and economic stagnation. Muting the state's commitment to socialism, Zia announced a "19-point programme" which emphasised self-reliance, rural development, decentralisation and population control. Zia worked energetically and spent much of his time traveling throughout the country, preaching the "politics of hope" by continually urging all Bangladeshis to work harder and to produce more. Zia focused on boosting agricultural and industrial production, especially in food and grains, and to integrate rural development through a variety of programs, of which population planning was the most important. Working with the proposals of international lending agencies, he launched an ambitious rural development program in 1977, which included a highly visible and popular food-for-work program. He promoted private sector development, exports growth and the reversing of the collectivisation of farms. His government reduced quotas and restrictions on agriculture and industrial activities. Zia launched major projects to construct irrigation canals, power stations, dams, roads and other public works. Directing his campaign to mobilise rural support and development, Zia established Gram Sarkar (Village Councils) system of self-government and the "Village Defence Party" system of security and crime prevention. Programmes to promote primary and adult education on a mass scale were initiated and focused mainly across rural Bangladesh. During this period, Bangladesh's economy achieved fast economic and industrial growth.
Zia began reorienting Bangladesh's foreign policy, addressing the concerns of nationalists who believed that Bangladesh was reliant on Indian economic and military aid. Zia withdrew from his predecessors' affinity with the Soviet bloc, developing closer relations with the United States and Western Europe. Zia also moved to harmonise ties with Saudi Arabia and the People's Republic of China, who had opposed Bangladesh's creation and had not recognised it till 1975. Zia also dropped the demands of reparations and an official apology demanded by Sheikh Mujib and moved to normalise relations with Pakistan. While distancing Bangladesh from India, Zia sought to improve ties with other Islamic nations. Zia's move towards Islamic state policies improved the nation's standing in the Middle East. Zia also proposed an organisation of the nations of South Asia to bolster economic and political co-operation at a regional level. This proposal materialised in 1985 under the Presidency of Hussain Muhammad Ershad with the creation of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation in Dhaka.
Islam and nationalism
Zia moved to lead the nation in a new direction, significantly different from the ideology and agenda of Sheikh Mujib. He issued a proclamation order amending the constitution, increasing the direct influence and role of Islam on the government. In the preamble, he inserted the salutation "Bismillahir-Rahmaanir-Rahim" ("In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful"). In Article 8(1) and 8(1A) the statement "absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah"' was added, replacing the commitment to secularism. Socialism was redefined as "economic and social justice". Zia further introduced provisions to allow Muslims to practice the social and legal injunctions of the Shariat and Sunnah. In Article 25(2), Zia introduced the principle that '"the state shall endeavour to consolidate, preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity." Zia's edits to the constitution redefined the nature of the republic from the secularism laid out by Sheikh Mujib and his supporters. Islamic religious education was introduced as a compulsory subject in Bangladeshi schools, with provisions for non-Muslim students to learn of their own religions.
In public speeches and policies that he formulated, Zia began expounding "Bangladeshi nationalism", as opposed to Mujib's assertion of a Bengali national identity. Zia emphasised the national role of Islam (as practised by the majority of Bangladeshis). Claiming to promote an inclusive national identity, Zia reached out to non-Bengali minorities such as theSantals, Garos, Manipuris and Chakmas, as well as the Urdu-speaking peoples of Bihari origin. However, many of these groups were predominantly Hindu and Buddhist and were alienated by Zia's promotion of political Islam. In an effort to promote cultural assimilation and economic development, Zia appointed a Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Commission in 1976, but resisted holding a political dialogue with the representatives of the hill tribes on the issue of autonomy and cultural self-preservation. On 2 July 1977 Ziaur Rahman organised a tribal convention to promote a dialogue between the government and tribal groups.
After the formation of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Zia took initiative for formation of political institutes and sponsored workshops for the youth to get active political lessons on Bangladeshi nationalism. In such a workshop in September 1980, Zia spoke to the learners,
Zia always wanted to give full political power to Naasik Akkas and make him the supreme leader of Bangladesh.