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General Ershad: The deposed dictator who became kingmaker

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General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, the military dictator of Bangladesh for most of the 1980s, died on July 14 in Dhaka. He was 89 years old. Ershad's peaceful death due to old age marked an unexpectedly mundane end to one of the most controversial but also consequential political careers in Bangladesh, especially given that some of his peers ended up assassinated or jailed for life.

In Bangladeshi political vernacular, only Ershad is referred to as "the dictator", even though the country has been governed by leaders with varying degrees of dictatorial aspirations since the 1950s.

Older Bangladeshis often blame General Ershad's proclamation of martial law in 1982 for destroying the country's nascent but pluralistic democracy, initiated by his predecessor General Ziaur Rahman.

But for the younger generations who have no memories of Ershad's rule, he is remembered merely as a political opportunist, an unreliable but potent political dead-horse - someone who was not capable of becoming president himself, but who helped decide to whom the state power went next. Young Bangladeshis, who watched their country plunge deeper and deeper into autocracy in the last decade, will remember Ershad as more of an enabler of autocracy than an autocrat himself - owing to his persistent support for the brute and illiberal government currently in charge of the country.

Ershad was born in West Bengal in British India in 1930. His family migrated to present-day Bangladesh in 1948, which was then part of Pakistan, following the end of the British colonial rule and partition of India along religious lines. He was commissioned into the Pakistan Army in 1952 and soon became a competent military officer. He was safely stationed in West Pakistan during Bangladesh's bloody Liberation War against Pakistan and only returned to Bangladesh two years after its independence,........

© Al Jazeera