Vol. 5 Num 1027 Sun. April 22, 2007  
Front Page

Khaleda sets out for exile any moment
Dozen others to accompany the ex-premier; She meets Tarique at undisclosed location

With around a dozen members of her family and house staff, former prime minister Khaleda Zia was all set to leave the country for Saudi Arabia.

That she was going into exile anytime appeared quite obvious after she met her detained son Tarique Rahman early yesterday morning at a place not disclosed officially.

A family source told The Daily Star late at night that everybody was waiting as the flight or time of departure was yet to be set.

"Madam prefers passenger plane while the authorities want her to take a special flight," it added.

None however could confirm exactly when and in which flight she would be leaving. Some sources hinted that the departure would be shortly before or after the dawn today.

A Kuwait Airways flight is scheduled to leave at 5:30am, Gulf Air at 6:10am, Qatar Airways at 8:30am, and Emirates at 10:15am.

An intelligence source told The Daily Star that a special airliner sent by the Saudi government would fly back to Jeddah with the BNP chairperson at around 5:00am.

She would be accompanied by her younger son Arafat Rahman, his wife Sharmila Rahman and daughters Jafia and Zahia, Tarique's wife Dr Zobaida Rahman, his daughter Zaima and mother-in-law Iqbal Mand Banu, and at least three domestic helps.

Meanwhile, the government will have to inform the High Court (HC) today if Khaleda is confined or not.

The HC Thursday ordered them to inform it about the present state of the BNP chief.

The directive came in response to a petition challenging the reported confinement of Khaleda, and seeking a court directive so the authorities do not send her abroad.

An official of the Attorney General's Office told The Daily Star at 9:30 last night that their report was not ready yet. They would receive a briefing from the government on her latest condition about an hour before going to the court.

Of the members of Zia family, Zobaida had all along been refusing to go abroad. She argued that her husband would still be here and so would her mother and family members. And that's why she should be allowed to stay back.

But the government side did not accept her arguments and pressure kept mounting on her. Eventually, she gave in but it all left her reeling with sheer emotional turmoil, said sources following the developments from close quarters.

Worried over her daughter's condition, Iqbal Mand Banu has decided to go with her and all necessary travel documents were arranged by yesterday.

Saiful Islam Duke, an ex-naval officer and private secretary (PS) to the former prime minister, might also be travelling with Khaleda.

When contacted by The Daily Star last night, he declined to confirm whether he too was going. He said he does not know anything about the family as he has not been allowed in the cantonment.

Duke had become estranged from the Zia family after the present caretaker government took over. Still, he might be included in the team, given that his experience as the PS might come in handy for Khaleda overseas, the family source observed.

As of last night, nothing could be known about where the family would be based in the Middle Eastern monarchy. It is however certain that for the time being Saudi government will treat Khaleda and her family as Umrah (a pilgrimage to Mecca) hajji.

A source told The Daily Star at 6:00am yesterday that the former prime minister was to meet her son at around 6:30am. But it did not say if they would get together on the jail premises or somewhere else.

Khaleda came out of her Shahid Moinul Road residence at around 6:15am but nobody knew where she was going. Tarique's wife was with her, said sources close to the family.

A team of the central jail authorities started for Kashimpur jail with Tarique, also senior joint secretary general of BNP, at around 5:30am. On the way, he was taken to somewhere in Dhaka Cantonment and there, he met his mother.

Another source claimed that the meeting took place at Kashimpur jail.

The authorities managed to bring Tarique out of the prison, dodging a large scrum of journalists who waited at the jail gate throughout Friday night.

Despite repeated attempts, The Daily Star could not reach Kashimpur jail authorities over phone.

Contacted, a central jail official declined to say if Tarique was shifted from this prison, and advised the correspondent to contact higher authorities.

But neither the office of inspector general of police nor that of the deputy inspector general (prisons) responded to any phone calls yesterday.

The family sources said Khaleda met her son as part of an arrangement with the military-backed government. During negotiations, she had insisted that they allow her to meet Tarique.

About what would become of the house on Moinul Road, a person close to the Zia family said, "We will come to know soon how the government intends to maintain it."

Previously, a defence official speaking in return for anonymity had told The Daily Star that the forces have been asking Khaleda to leave the house since the day present government took office.

The house was allotted to Ziaur Rahman as deputy chief of army staff soon after the Liberation War. He continued to live there as army chief, and also as chief martial law administrator and then as president.

After his assassination in 1981, the Sattar government gave this house to his family at a nominal price. Since then, Khaleda and her family have been staying there. She became prime minister thrice but never left this house.