Zia, Khaleda (1946—)

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Zia, Khaleda (1946—)

Bangladeshi politician and prime minister. Name variations: Begum Khaleda Zia. Born on August 15, 1946 (some sources cite 1944 or 1945), in Dinajpur, East Bengal; daughter of Iskander and Taiyaba Majumder; attended Surendranath College, Dinajpur; married Ziaur Rahman (president of Bangladesh), in the early 1960s (assassinated 1981); children: two sons.

Khaleda Zia was born in 1946 in Dinajpur, East Bengal (formerly East Pakistan, now Bangladesh). She was still in her teens and studying at Surendranath College in Dinajpur when she married Ziaur Rahman, then a captain in the Pakistan army. They moved to West Pakistan, where her husband held several military posts. When civil war erupted in 1971, Ziaur Rahman joined the Bangladeshi liberation forces in India and, because Khaleda Zia was unable to go there with her husband, she was taken into custody by the Pakistan army. When independence was won, she was released and her husband became a war hero. Rising quickly to the rank of general in the Bangladesh army, Ziaur Rahman was elected president of Bangladesh in 1978 after a period of coups and countercoups triggered by the assassination of Bangladesh's first president, Mujibur Rahman, in 1975.

Although Khaleda Zia did not participate overtly in politics or affairs of state, she kept informed during her husband's presidency. It was the death of her husband that propelled her into political activity. After Ziaur Rahman was assassinated in Chittagong in 1981, Zia joined the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), which he had founded. In 1984, she became the leader of the organization, a position in which she coordinated repeated agitations against the autocratic regime of General Hossain Mohammad Ershad. The efforts of the BNP, including street rebellions and strikes, led to the resignation of Ershad in 1990.

General elections were held under a caretaker government in February 1991 and the BNP attained the majority of the vote. Zia took the oath of office on March 20, 1991, becoming the first woman prime minister of Bangladesh. Later that year, the constitution was changed, ending the 16 years of presidential rule and giving primary executive power to the prime minister. Some of her goals while in office included the advancement of women, ending illiteracy, and economic reform. More specifically, she took steps to encourage privatization of industry in Bangladesh. In foreign affairs, she negotiated with India regarding water use on the Ganges River, worked to resettle and repatriate Burmese and Pakistani refugees, and maintain incoming foreign aid for her country. In the midst of such activity, Zia also faced internal opposition to BNP rule, particularly from Hasina Wazed , daughter of Bangladesh's founder. In 1996, boycotted elections, a series of strikes, transport blockades, and violent demonstrations, all organized by opposition parties, threatened the stability of the country and Zia resigned in March, causing a second general election in which the opposition won.

After her resignation, Zia worked as an opposition leader, continuing with the BNP. In December 1998, as reported by Dawn Newspapers, Zia alleged that the election had been rigged and she called for another series of strikes as a means of openly protesting the results. Toward the end of the year, Zia announced the terms upon which strikes would no longer be used for political purposes. These included that the government stop oppression of the opposition and its activities, assure voting rights, allow opposing parties to speak in parliament, and refrain from preventing street demonstrations. Although Zia openly expressed her own dislike for strikes because of their negative impact on the economy, she reiterated the need for a more open political community.

In 2000, Zia was charged with corruption, reportedly having accepted $35 million in personal payments for the 1995 purchase of two Airbus planes by the state-owned airport. Released on bail, she denied the allegations, claiming them to be fabrications intended to destroy her political image. At the time of the charge, Zia headed an opposition alliance of four parties working to force the resignation of Prime Minister Sherkh Kasina. In October 2001, she was returned to power when her four-party coalition gained a two-thirds majority in Parliament after an election in which 75% of voters went to the polls. Zia was sworn in as prime minister on October 10, 2001.


Current Leaders of Nations. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1998.

Philip Yacuboski , freelance writer, Mocanaqua, Pennsylvania