Nation's silent reaction to massacre

There were little outward expression of grief after the assassination of Sheikh Mujib and his family. This was partly due to disillusionment with freedom. One reason for Awami League's emphatic win in December 1970 General Election in Pakistan was because the federal government had failed miserably in providing relief to its eastern wing after the devastating Bhola Cyclone which had killed many in the previous month. Yet, following nine months of brutal independence war, there was growing mass starvation in Bangladesh and famine had devastated the country once again. Awami League rule also became increasingly authoritarian. Sheikh Mujib clamped down on dissent, abolished political parties, created one party system and a private army, nationalised newspapers (closing most), and made constitutional changes with minimal debate. This outraged the nation. It became unbearable for many.

Climate of fear and uncertainty

The nation's silence was also partly due to fear.

When the new president Khandaker Mushtaque Ahmed called the assassins 'Shurjo sontan' the signal was clear. Though many Bengalis felt disgusted by the brutality of the killing of Sheikh Mujib and his family, there was a climate of aggression by the men in power which meant anybody could be silenced. Bangladesh experienced martial law for the first time in its history and the young men leading the country were not to be messed with. Ordinary civilians dare not revolt and create another uprising.

As such normal people carried on with their daily lives while the country plundered further into abyss.

International reaction to new development

Pakistan first country to recognise regime, followed by other Muslim nations

Pakistan was the first country to recognise the new regime on the evening of 15 August 1975. Pakistan's Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was so delighted by the change in Bangladesh that he hastened to recognize the new government and urged all Arab and Third World countries to do likewise. In addition, he offered Bangladesh 50,000 tons of grain and 15 million yards of fabric.

Taking over the office of presidency, Khandakar Moshtaque, as a conservative political leader who always opposed secularism (non-religion or freedom of religion), said Bangladesh would continue to support the "brother (of) Arab countries" struggling to recover Israeli occupied territory.

This Islamic stance of the new regime were looked upon favourably by the Muslim world. Countries such as Sudan, Omen, Jordan, Yemen, and notably the powerful Saudi Arabia were quick to congratulate the new government. Saudi Arabia, which had withheld recognition of newly born Bangladesh for nearly four years after the liberation, mainly due to Bangladesh's 'secular' stance, recognised the new government on the second day of the changeover.

Chinese and American recognition

Other major nations were quick to follow. US, Japan and Soviet Union too recognised Bangladesh's independence few days later. China, which had prevented Bangladesh from joining the United Nations since 1971, recognised Bangladesh on 31 August 1975 - sixteen days after the Moshtaque-led government was installed. The Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-lai sent a message to President Moshtaque extending recognition to Bangladesh and on 4 October 1975 an agreement was reached between Bangladesh and China to establish diplomatic relations at ambassadorial level.

China and US - both allies of West Pakistan during Swadhinata Juddho (Bangladesh Liberation War) - were now 'prepared to conduct normal diplomatic ties with the new government'. They both declared their support and went to the extent of threatening any potential counter-plotters looking to overthrow the new regime.

The political change in Bangladesh is an internal affair and no out side intervention would be tolerated by Peoples Republic Of China and United States of America. Such intervention would be considered as a destabilizing factor and hence, People's Republic of China and USA would not remain silent.

To maintain stability all necessary measures would be taken.

Beijing Radio's and Voice of America's (VOA) special broadcast warning potential counter-plotters of the new regime

The USA opposed the very birth of Bangladesh. But immediately after liberation - and under the changed circumstances - independent Bangladesh, on strategic compulsions, had to make adjustment with the USA. The same happened with the Arab world - and, of course, with China. While adjusting we had to keep them at arm's length. We failed in this delicate exercise and made a mess.

The pull and push, moves and counter-moves and manoeuvres created a huge confusion. The culture of negative, divisive and destructive politics raised its dirty heads in the political horizon of the independent Bangladesh. Even after 40 years of independence there is hardly any improvement.

Amin Ahmed Chowdhury ,

India silent

In contrast, India - a staunch supporter of Sheikh Mujib and his movement - declined from making any formal rejection of the new regime. Khandakar Moshtaque was widely known for his pro-Western sympathies and anti-Indian attitudes. Thus India maintained a silence immediately after the assassination, even though President Moshtaque had assured Indira Gandhi on 25 August 1975 that Bangladesh would maintain friendly relations and co-operation with India. Two days later, India became the 39th nation to recognise Bangladesh - twelve days after the massacre. However, Indira Gandhi took a stiff policy towards the legitimate interests of Bangladesh. She gave political asylum and support to the Bangladeshi rebels who were allowed to operate their own programmes from India. She also refused to negotiate with Bangladesh on such vital matters as the sharing of the river waters.

Britain was reported to have viewed the slaining of Sheikh Mujib and the political shift in the country 'with regret'.

Apparently, the officers who overthrew Mujib timed their coup for August 15, the anniversary of Indian independence. They figured that the New Delhi government would be preoccupied that day — "a sort of Yom Kippur War situation," as a Western diplomat put it. The coup was over so quickly that New Delhi had no time to respond militarily.

Later, however, when New Delhi warned that it could not "remain unaffected by these political developments in a neighboring country," the new rulers of Bangladesh appealed to India for "friendship and cooperation".

TIME Magazine