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Bangladesh Independence War on the diplomatic

 Bangladesh Independence War on the diplomatic front

Syed Muazzem Ali

Our Independence war is the finest moment in thousand years of our history, when the peace-loving and unarmed Bengali, through indomitable spirit and courage, fought and achieved freedom and independence from alien rule. Our people from all walks of life, in response to the clarion call by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, fought the war on every front. While our valiant soldiers and freedom fighters fought the war on the battlefield, our journalists, educationists, film makers, singers, actors, cultural activists, civil servants and administrators confronted the challenges in their respective areas.

Far away from home, some courageous Bengali diplomats posted in Pakistani Missions abroad also joined the liberation war, publicly severing their links with the Pakistani authorities and declaring their allegiance to Bangladesh. Diplomats, who live in their insular world, normally do not take such steps which invariably jeopardize security of their near and dear ones back home. However, some bold sons of the soil, commonly known as “defecting” diplomats, had opened a diplomatic front to our national struggle.

The diplomatic offensive had three specific goals: first, to build international public opinion in favour of our cause of independence and to ensure international assistance to our suffering humanity who had taken shelter across the border; second, to isolate the Pakistani regime by projecting the atrocities and crimes against the humanity which they were committing in Bangladesh with a view to cutting off all foreign economic and military assistance to the Yahya regime; and third, to create the necessary condition so that the friendly countries who were supporting our cause could take a more firm and decisive action to expedite our independence process.

In this era of globalisation, we see renewed global concern for democracy, freedom and human rights. But only three and half decades ago when our people wanted to establish their inalienable democratic and national rights, they had to suffer worst crimes against humanity. Despite sympathy at the public level, there was no global action to stop the genocide in Bangladesh. China had viewed it as a “dismemberment” of their ally Pakistan, while the Arab countries had viewed it as a “break up” of the largest Muslim state. Even some South Asian neighbors were apprehensive that our independence might jeopardise the “strategic balance” in the region. The Nixon administration, unfortunately, had viewed it in the context of their cold war rivalry with the then Soviet Union which had supported our cause. Further, President Nixon and his National Security Advisor Dr. Henry Kissinger were using Islamabad as a conduit for establishing diplomatic ties with Beijing, and they were not concerned about the sufferings of the people of Bangladesh.
Given these complex scenario and severe resources constraints, our government in exile, took some time to come out with a definitive strategy in the area of diplomacy. However, soon thereafter, a policy was worked out to challenge our enemy on the diplomatic front, and New Delhi, Calcutta, Washington DC, New York and London emerged as the main centers of our diplomatic offensives.The two Bengali diplomats who declared their allegiance to Bangladesh on 6 April 1971, even before the formation of our Government, were two junior diplomats, K.M. Shehabuddin, Second Secretary and Amjadul Huq, Assistant Press Attaché at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi. Later, Humayun Rasheed Chowdhury, Counsellor, and all other members of the staff joined the Bangladesh Mission in New Delhi.
The main center of our activity in India, however, was in Calcutta. Mohammad Hossain Ali, who was posted at that time as Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan in Calcutta, led all his officers and members of the staff, numbering about seventy, raised our national flag at the Mission premises and officially declared allegiance to Bangladesh on 18 April 1971, just a day after the formation of the provisional government in Mujibnagar. As the Chief of Mission, Hossain Ali played a crucial role during our liberation war. The other officers who joined him are Rafiqul Islam, First Secretary, Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, Third Secretary, Kazi Nazrul Islam, and Maqsood Ali, Assistant Press Attaché.

The largest concentration of our expatriates at that time was in the UK, and naturally, they rose to the occasion to sensitise the British Government and public opinion in favour of our cause. The man who steered the entire movement in London was Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury. On 26 March 1971, he was serving as the Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University and was also attending the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. On arrival in London on 10 April, he severed all links with the Pakistani authorities and declared his allegiance to Bangladesh. The Mujibnagar Government appointed him roving Ambassador on 21 April.

Subsequently, as other Ambassadors were appointed, Justice Chowdhury was given the task to lead the diplomatic offensive in UK and in other West European countries. He also represented Bangladesh at the UN in New York.

Among the Bengali diplomats in the Pakistani High Commission in London, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Second Secretary was the first to declare his allegiance to Bangladesh on 1 August.

Bangladesh Mission was set up on 27 August and other High Commission officers who joined the Mission were Habibur Rahman, Education Officer, Lutful Matin, Finance and Accounts Officer, and Fazlul Huq Chowdhury, Assistant Press Attaché. Afterwards, Counsellor M. M. Rezaul Karim joined the Mission.

At the Ambassador level, AFM Abul Fateh was the first Bengali Ambassador to declare allegiance to Bangladesh, on 29 August. He was posted in Baghdad at that time. Initially, he joined the London Mission but was later called to Headquarters. Fazlul Karim, Second Secretary in Cairo, M. U. A. Jaigirdar, Third Secretary in Lagos, and Syed Amirul Islam, Third Secretary in Tunis, severed links with Pakistan Government and were asked to move to London.

Ambassadors Khurrom Khan Panni and Abdul Momen, who were heading the Pakistani Embassies in Manila and Buenos Aires respectively, declared allegiance to Bangladesh in September and October, and were given special assignments by the Government. Mustafizur Rahman, Second Secretary in Katmandu, Waliur Rahman, Second Secretary in Geneva, S.M. Maswood, Press Attaché, Q.A.M.A Rahim, Third Secretary in Tokyo and Mohiuddin Ahmed, Acting Trade Commissioner in Hong Kong, declared allegiance to Bangladesh and were asked to open Bangladesh Missions in those capitals.

However, the largest diplomatic offensive, other than in Calcutta occurred in Washington DC. On 4 August 1971, all the Bengali diplomats and members of the staff of the Pakistan Embassy en masse severed links with Pakistan and declared their allegiance to Bangladesh. They also worked as a team for the cause of the independence of Bangladesh. In this group were Enayet Karim, Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission, S.A.M.S. Kibria, Political Counsellor, A. M. A. Muhith, Economic Counsellor, Abu Rushd Matinuddin, Counsellor (Education), Ataur Rahman Chowdhury, Finance and Accounts Officer, and Syed Muazzem Ali, Third Secretary. The three locally recruited Bengali officials, Sharful Alam, Sheikh Rustom Ali, and Abdur Razzaque Khan, and all Bengali members of the staff joined this group. With their “defection”, not a single Bengali was left in that Embassy.

Syed Anwarul Karim, who was Minister and the Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York, also decided to join the Washington group, and, being the senior most among the lot, led the group at the Press Conference at the Washington National Press Club. Subsequently, he headed the Bangladesh Mission to the UN in New York. But the man who “defected” first in the USA was A H Mahmood Ali, Vice Consul in the Pakistani Consulate in New York. Ali had declared his allegiance to Bangladesh on 26 April 1971.

The “Mass Defection” had profound impact in Washington DC and beyond, especially in view of the fact that the Nixon administration had fully sided with the military regime of Yahya Khan. The US Congress and the vast majority of American people, however, did not share the apathy of their administration and openly supported the Bangladesh cause.

On 12 August, 1971, the Mujibnagar Government sent a ranking elected Member of the National Assembly, Mustafizur Rahman Siddiky, to head the Mission in Washington DC. The Bangladesh Mission was soon set up in downtown Washington DC. Its main job was to lobby with US Senators and Congressmen to stop all military and economic assistance to Pakistan and they succeeded in their mission when the Saxbe-Church amendment was adopted by the US Senate in November 1971. Earlier, with the Gallagher amendment, the Congress also adopted a similar bill to suspend all assistance to Pakistan.

The other principal jobs were to regularly brief members of Washington press corps, address various educational institutions and think tanks, appear on radio and television interviews, and coordinate with our most articulate American friends who had set up the Bangladesh Information Center in Washington DC. The Center was founded by William B. Greenhough and other doctors who had been working at the SEATO Cholera Research Laboratory (CRL) in Dhaka and some of them were eyewitnesses to the carnage that took place in Dhaka.

The Mission also coordinated with various Associations formed by our expatriates in various cities. The largest concentration of our expatriates was in New York and they played a crucial role throughout the war. The Mission also maintained “unofficial” contacts with the State Department, AID and World Bank officials and worked round the clock.

Justice Chowdhury led a 12-member high-level delegation to the UN General Assembly in September-October 71. They met a large number of delegations and many of them referred to the humanitarian aspects of the Bangladesh issue in their statements. When the Bangladesh war started in December 71, Justice Chowdhury once again sought to sensitise the UN Security Council member about our cause. There was a Western draft at the Security Council which had, inter alia, called for the withdrawal of Indian and Pakistani forces to internationally recognised boundaries without making any reference to political resolution of the conflict. It was the Soviet Union which vetoed the Western move to bail out the Pakistanis.

As the Pakistani army was collapsing, Nixon made a last ditch effort to bolster the Pakistani's morale by dispatching the Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal and he had also urged Beijing to put pressure on the north by deploying additional troops on Sino-Indian border. Although Beijing had also supported the Pakistanis, it refused to get militarily involved in the war. Nixon's strategy to hold out the war did not work. The Pakistani forces could not sustain the war even for two weeks in the face of blitzkrieg type of attacks launched by our freedom fighters and Indo-Bangladesh joint forces, on them. Bangladesh was born.