Thousands of miles away in different continents and foreign surroundings, Bengali diplomats were presented with an agonising dilemma - do they keep silent on the genocide carried out on their own people and carry on with their privileged lifestyle or do they fight for justice and risk their and their family's lives?
It was quite terrifying for my family because I could not alert them earlier. They were in mortal fear of what would happen to them because I'd given up my job and put them at great risk. My father, younger brothers and mother were moving from one place to another, taking shelter and I remember there was a case filed against me for treason. But they couldn't prosecute me because Bangladesh became independent before they could get hold of me.
Mohiuddin Ahmed, first diplomat in Europe to switch allegiance, on the threat on his family back in Bangladesh
The vast majority of the diplomats came from modest background and fought ethnic discrimination to rise to the pinnacle of their bureaucratic career. They had to strive to be candidate per excellence in order to excel in an environment with a pro-Punjabi bias. Little did they know that everything in their lives were about to change after an uprising, and subsequent army action, in Bangladesh.
Writing about his early days as probationer, Shehabuddin feels that General Ayub Khan did great harm to the service by disallowing young trainees from going to the Fletcher School of International Law and Diplomacy in Massachusetts, USA. According to him, this was due to Ayub Khan’s “poor educational background” and so he could not appreciate the value of learning.
Having undertaken such an ardous career journey, it would've been mutually beneficial to stay in alliance with the Pakistanis. They (the diplomat) could continue with their comfortable existence with all its perk whilst in return the Pakistani government would reward them and point to these 'loyal' Bengalis as proof that all is OK within East Pakistan. Everything, as Pakistani propaganda machine was keen to show, was just plain "mischief making by fifth element".
Instead, a handful of these brave sons of the soil decided to take the lonely and heroic step and show leadership when their motherland needed it most. It was a time of uncertainty and chaos. The world did not know if Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had made his way out of Dhaka or had been abducted by the Pakistan Army. With the fate of their long-standing, charismatic leader uncertain and with reports of widespread atrocities in Bangladesh filtering out to the outside world, the time came for the Bengali diplomats to stand up. It was now or never.
They risked the wrath of the Pakistan government even at the cost of jeopardizing the security of their near and dear ones back home, not to mention their own 'accidental' death if their defection was detected early. Such 'unfortunate incidents' could be easily arranged in foreign land as most countries had not openly supported the Bengali cause. With such gloomy fate looming over them, the vast majority of the Bengali diplomats posted in Pakistani Embassies abroad did not "defect" but the contributions of the few who did were invaluable. As it was, fortune indeed favoured the brave.
In this post-cold war, globalizing era, we see so much international concern for democracy; freedom and human rights. Alas, only four decades ago when our people wanted to establish their inalienable democratic and national rights, today’s "champions" of democracy and human rights did nothing to uphold our legitimate aspirations or to stop the genocide. They had simply viewed our war of independence in the context of their East- West ideological rivalry.
The path which the Bengali diplomats trode had victory and failure divided by a thin barrier. They left their comfortable and highly coveted job for an uncertain future and joined the Bangladesh liberation movement, in most instances, barely few years after joining Pakistan's diplomatic service. Those who switched their allegiance were considered by many as brave patriots, whilst others, notably Pakistani loyalist, accused them of high treason. Each had a gripping story of their own. Dramatic, eventful, and tense.
We did not join the front [line] with arms in hand, but what we did was create news and awareness. [Nevertheless] There were people who were sacrificing their lives so I did the least I could do. I was never in danger of losing my life so I still don't consider myself a real freedom fighter though I have been given that honour. It was a very exciting time for us and I am humbled and honoured that I had a small role in the Liberation War.
Mohiuddin Ahmed, the first diplomat in Europe to switch allegiance
I told him [Ziaur Rahman] you are a great hero, and he replied "it is true…we fought here but you also fought for Bangladesh on foreign land". He told me it encouraged them when we changed our side and expressed loyalty to Bangladesh.
The two Bengali diplomats who declared their allegiance to Bangladesh on 6 April 1971 - four days before the formation of the Mujibnagar Shorkar and eleven days before its official announcement at Baidyanathtala - were K.M. Shehabuddin, Second Secretary, and Amjadul Huq, Assistant Press Attaché at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi. Both men were young, junior diplomats. When the news of the mass killing filtered in from East Pakistan both men renounced their allegiance to Pakistan and formally pledged loyalty to the unborn state of Bangladesh.
Shehabuddin joined the Bangladesh movement on 26 March 1971, when he was the third secretary based in New Delhi. Some foreign correspondents told him about all that had happened in Dhaka the night before and how the Pakistani army terrorised young Bengali men and women. Deceiving the ever-watchful eyes of the ISI at a Pakistani mission in Delhi, he finally managed to leave his official residence with his wife and two girls on 6 April 1971. The author was granted asylum after talks with Indian foreign office officials and also with the then prime minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi.
K. M. Shehabuddin and Amjadul Huq were granted asylum in India and the government of India refused to hand over the two diplomats to the Pakistan High Commission.
The two diplomats read out a statement seeking international cooperation and appealed to 'all the decent and civilised people everywhere in the world for sympathy'.
In a statement before the international media, they [K. M. Shehabuddin and Amjadul Huq] denounced the brutal onslaught by Pakistan on the civilian population of Bangladesh and announced their resignation from the Pakistan Foreign Service to work for Independent Bangladesh. They also appealed to the nations of the world to recognise the sovereign state of Bangladesh. Shehabuddin's brave action, even before a government for Bangladesh was formally constituted, was an unique event and provided a flashpoint that inspired the suppressed people of Bangladesh.
In subsequent months, both K. M. Shehabuddin and Amjadul Huq played a leading role on the diplomatic front and were able to witness at first-hand India's participation in the liberation war. Their bold step had inspired other diplomats to switch allegiance and they were joined in New Delhi by Humayun Rasid Choudhury, Counsellor, and some members of the staff in November 1971.
However, the epicenter of the Bengali diplomatic activity in India was in Kolkata where the Probashi Shorkar was based.
Mohammad Hossain Ali had served Pakistan Foreign Service for 22 years. In 1971 he was the Bengali Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan in Kolkata, India. After the March crackdown, when it was agreed a new government of Bangladesh would be formed, Hossain Ali was asked to join this new government. He responded by saying he'd only join if Tajuddin Ahmad asked him. Thus a meeting was arranged at the Gaylord restaurant beside the Ganges River where both men met after darkness and talked face-to-face. Tajuddin Ahmad told Hossain Ali to join and he confirmed his allegiance. A day was fixed and preparation were undertaken to hoist the flag of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.
On 18 April 1971 at 12:41pm, Hossain Ali brought down Pakistan's National Flag from the High Commission Office and officially hoisted the green-and-gold flag of Bangladesh on top of the mission building and pledged his allegiance to the newly formed provisional Government of Bangladesh along with 65 other official and staff who also switched allegiance. After renouncing his loyalty he also declared that the Pakistani High Commission Office will henceforth be known as "Diplomatic Mission of Bangla Desh". Hoping to arouse "whatever is left of the conscience of mankind", he appealed to the world to extend all possible help to Bangladesh. This was a very courageous feat as it was only a day after the Mujibnagar Shorkar was formed at Baidyanathtala. First Secretary Rafiqul Islam Chowdhury, Third Secretaries Anwarul Karim Chowdhury and Kazi Nazrul Islam and Assistant Press Attaché M. Maqsood Ali were also present in that ceremony and were negotiating with other nations for support of Bangladeshi independence.
Hossain Ali hoisted the first Bangaldeshi flag on foreign land.
The Pakistan Government reacted to Hossain Ali's defection by insisting that he and others had changed allegiance under "duress" and "coercion" of the Indians. But when the Bengalis were interviewed they confirmed they were patriots and had no desire to collaborate with the Pakistanis to annihilate their own kinsfolk.
A week after Hossain Ali's defection, on 26 April 1971, A. H. Mahmood Ali, Vice Consul in the Pakistani Consulate in New York, also declared his allegiance to Bangladesh - making him the first diplomat in USA to defect. He became an instant hero and his wife took up a small job to support the family.
Pakistan government was left further embarrassed and their faith in retaining an united Pakistan was shaken when a good number of diplomats en masse declared their support for the provisional government of Bangladesh in summer and autumn.
On 30 August 1971 a Bangladesh Information Centre was opened in New Delhi and headed by K.M. Shehabuddin. This, along with the work carried out by the diplomat, was able to project the real picture in East Pakistan and countered Pakistan government’s propaganda machinery.
K. M. Shehabuddin met Tajuddin Ahmad who appointed him as head of the Bangladesh Information Centre, New Delhi, and not at the Bangladesh embassy, as the state was yet to be recognised by the international community, including India.
In 2011, the Government of Bangladesh declared April 18th as 'Foreign Ministry Day' in recognition of the brave step taken by Mohammad Hossain Ali and others.
Given the complex scenario and severe resources constraints, the government in exile took some time to come out with a definitive strategy in the area of diplomacy and to arrange the necessary funds. Some brave diplomats were ready to join the liberation war and had established contacts with the Mujibnagar Government in early April 1971 but they were advised to wait for further instructions. However, soon thereafter, a policy was worked out to challenge the enemy on the diplomatic front. During the course of the war, some of the Bengali civil servants and diplomats serving Pakistan began defecting and severing links with Islamabad whilst the vast majority turned a blind eye. They subsequently joined the Mujibnagar Shorkar and formed solidarity groups called 'Bangladesh Mission', which was set up on 27 August 1971. New Delhi, Kolkata, Washington DC, New York and London emerged as the main centers of the diplomatic offensives.
Efforts continued on the diplomatic front as the ‘Bangladesh Mission’ pressed the Indian foreign ministry to accord official recognition to the newly formed state. India was still working to build up international sympathy for Bangladesh. Many Bengali officials who worked for the Pakistani mission in Calcutta had clandestine meetings with Shehabuddin at the residence of the well-known Indian political leader Dr. Triguna Sen where they urged Pakistani officials to join the liberation war.
Our provisional Mujibnagar government had earlier sent instructions to all Bengali officers and staff to resign from Pakistan government posts in foreign countries, particularly from the Pakistan missions. These Bengali members working abroad in one or another capacity with the Pakistani establishments abroad were advised to report, after their resignation, either to the government in Calcutta or to London, the second most important place in our Liberation War outside India.
Mohiuddin Ahmed, Second Secretary of Pakistani High Commission in London
A group of leading Bengali intellectuals and expatriates such as Abu Sayeed Chowdhury and Syed Anwarul Karim were appointed 'Special Envoys' by the Mujibnagar Shorkar to represent the government. They began touring western capitals advocating the Bangladesh cause and mobilising world opinion in favour of war of liberation.
Abu Sayeed Chowdhury (later the President of Bangladesh in 1972) was serving as the Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University at the time. He was attending the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland, when news of the Pakistani atrocities had reached him. He immediately resigned from his post as Vice Chancellor as protest against the genocide. From Geneva he travelled to London where worked as the Special Envoy in UK. In September 1971, Abu Sayeed Chowdhury was made Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative in New York.
Since 25 March 1971 I had been receiving regular phone calls at my flat in London from Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, the exiled Chief Justice of the High Court in Dhaka, who was to become the first President of Bangladesh. He would ring from a pay phone and always late at night.
'Chief Justice Chowdhury speaking'.
'Yes, Chief Justice'.
'At this very hour terrible and wonderful things are happening in my country. Heroic victories are being won by my people, but we are fleas against the lion'.
The pip-pip-pips of the eccentric British telephone system would invariably drown the Chief Justice's voice as his money ran out.
Meanwhile, Syed Anwarul Karim, Minister and the Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York, was appointed the Special Envoy in USA. Syed Anwarul Karim or SAK as his friends call him endearingly, had over 20 years experience in the Pakistan Foreign Service having joined them in 1950. He led the Bangladesh Mission to UN in New York during the Liberation War.
K. M. Shehabuddin was appointed the first Chief of Bangladesh Mission at New Delhi and later replaced by Humayun Rashid Choudhury. Mohammad Hossain Ali became Chief of Bangladesh Mission at Kolkata, whilst Mustafizur Rahman Siddiqui, then Second Secretary in the Pakistan Embassy in Kathmandu (Nepal) who had previously experienced the Bengali officer's revolt in Chittagong on 25 March 1971, became Chief of Bangladesh Mission at Washington, USA, on 19 October 1971.
In 1971, as is the case now, the largest concentration of probashis were based in UK. Here the community rose to sensitize the British Government and public opinion in favour of the Bengali cause. However, with the Bengali Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan refusing to switch his allegiance, it was left to 50-year-old Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury to rise to the occasion. He was designated as the principal overseas spokesman of the Mujibnagar Shorkar and appointed as Ambassador-at-large. Once other Ambassadors were gradually appointed, he was given the specific task of leading the diplomatic offensive in UK, West European countries and at the UN in New York with his headquarter in 11 Goring Street, Aldgate, London.
On Sunday 1 August 1971 a "Stop Genocide Recognise Bangladesh" protest rally was held in the historic Trafalgar Square, London. It was attended by thousands of people demanding peace and justice in Bangladesh and recognition of the new nation.
Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury gave a 15-minute opening speech which was followed by showcase of an eye witness tape. Following this, speeches were delivered by prominent politicians and activists including Reginald Ernest Prentice MP (one of the 4 MPs who visited both Pakistan and Bangladesh), Reverend Kenyon Wright (who lived 15 years in West Bengal and visited Bengali refugee camps in India), John Stonehouse MP (then a Labour MP who made two visits to refugee camps in India and also visited Bangladesh), Lord Fenner Brockway (one of the first people to condemn the Pakistani atrocities), MP Thomas Williams MP (who defended Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the Agartala Conspiracy Case in 1969), and Paul Connett (spokesman for Action Bangladesh), amongst others.
The event culminated with a protest march to 10 Downing Street, the home of the British Prime Minister, where a petition letter was delivered to PM Edward Heath requesting British reparation in the event in Bangladesh. The letter was signed by over 200 Members of Parliament including 11 Privy Councilors and over 30 former ministers.
Whilst we all applaud your decision not to send further economic aid to Pakistan until a political settlement is reached in East Bengal, it is clear that this act alone has not deterred the Pakistan military regime from its mad attempt to suppress militarily the democratic will of the 75 million Bengali people.
We therefore appeal to you to take the following positive steps to stop Pakistan's genocide of the Bengali people.
Firstly we ask you to honor Britain's commitment to International Law by bringing Pakistan's military action against the unarmed Bengali people before the United Nations Security Council as a contravention of the UN Genocide Convention Article II, Subsections (a), (b) and (c). (Britain added her name to the Convention in 1970).
Secondly we ask you to use your influence with the American government to get them to discontinue their arms shipments to West Pakistan.
Thirdly we ask you to recognize the provisional government of the Republic of Bangladesh since it is clear that this is the only peaceful and diplomatic method left to bring the West Pakistan regime to its senses.
...We ask these things not only in the name of the 100,000 Bengali residents of Great Britain, whose friends and families are being terrorized and slaughtered, but also in the name of every human being, because if this policy of genocide is allowed to continue unopposed it will change the kind of world we live in.
Finally. Mr. Heath, we ask you to do these things because Britain bears a special responsibility to the Indian sub-continent in this matter since it was Britain who played a major part in the establishment of Pakistan some 23 years ago. If India is forced to go to war in order to solve the massive problem confronting her, Britain will share the blame if we have failed to take these elementary steps.
Whilst we appreciate any government's reluctance to sanction further 'fragmentation' we hope that you agree that the physical elimination and suppression of peoples, if accepted, will endanger our planet far more than the realistic rearrangement of arbitrary boundaries in response to the clearly expressed will of the people who live within them.
Another event took place within the Trafalgar Square rally on 1 August 1971 which was to have a profound effect and reverberate worldwide.
In a dramatic move, 27-year-old Mohiuddin Ahmed, Second Secretary in Pakistan High Commission in London became the first diplomat in Europe to declare his allegiance to Bangladesh when he openly resigned front of the grand rally at Trafalgar Square. Mohiuddin Ahmed delivered a riveting speech to tell people around the world why Bangladesh was waging war to be free. He had intended to switch allegiance on 10 April 1971 - the day the Mujibnagar Shorkar was originally formed - however, Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury told him to wait "until more things were put into place". Now, three-and-half-months later, the time had come. Immediately after resigning, Mohiuddin Ahmed spent some time with his heavily pregnant wife and awaited further instructions.
I had wanted to resign much earlier, on 10 April 1971 to be precise, when I had first met Justice Chowdhury at BBC's Bush House, where he had gone to give his first interview to Peter Gill of the Daily Telegraph. Justice Chowdhury had restrained me saying that he had to orgainse himself first and then at an appropriate time he would send me the signal to join him.
The next morning [i.e. 2 August 1971] the Pakistan High Commissioner [Salman Ali] called me and told me "forget what happened yesterday, come back, join us" and I very politely but strongly declined. But then he called me again after two hours and asked me to return my diplomatic passport as well as that of my wife's. They even wrote to the London Transport Authority advising them to take back my diplomatic licence because I was no longer a diplomat. And it’s true that yes, once I left the Pakistan High Commission, I did not hold diplomatic status anymore because Bangladesh was not recognised.
Mohiuddin Ahmed's high profile switch caused a media stir and great excitement in UK and inspired other Bengalis to follow suit. Mohammed Akbar Lutful Matin, Director of Audit and Accounts switched allegiance on 4 August 1971, three days after Mohiuddin Ahmed. Five Bengalis at the High Commission in London also followed his example in the following months and resigned. These included Habibur Rahman (Education Officer) and Fazlul Huq Chowdhury (Assistant Press Attaché) who joined the Mission in London.
The only high profile Bengali member to continue working for the Pakistani government was the Deputy High Commissioner.
Elsewhere, Fazlul Karim (Second Secretary in Cairo), Mohiuddin Ahmed Jaigirdar (Third Secretary in Lagos), Syed Amirul Islam (Third Secretary in Tunis), Abul Fateh (Pakistan's Ambassador to Iraq) severed links with Pakistan Government and travelled to London and joined the Mission. Counsellor M. M. Rezaul Karim - who would famously receive Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in London after his release in January 1972 - also became a member on 7 October 1971, as did Pakistan's Ambassador to Argentina, Abdul Momen on 11 October 1971.
By the end of 1971 about 20 Bengali officers and staff had joined the mission in London including Abdur Rouf, Deputy Director, Films and Publication who joined on 8 August 1971.
For a short time, these brave individuals were men without a country.
I was not a Pakistan citizen, or a Bangladeshi at the time, and I was not British. We used to call ourselves the 'beggar's brigade' in London with no citizenship. It didn’t worry us really and I didn’t fear being deported. We were aware that while the UK was not openly supporting us, they had all their sympathies for us.
Though more and more diplomats were encouraged to resign by October 1971 this was not always possible due to lack of funding that was available to the government-in-exile and the paucity of foreign exchange.
Around mid-August, Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury summoned Mohiuddin Ahmed in one evening at his home in north London to collect some fund which was to be put towards the functioning of the proposed Bangladesh mission in London. The cost of running the mission was calculated to be £2,500 per month - a huge sum even by today's standard. Thankfully, a very generous silent donator, referred to as 'Mr Subid Ali', gave the mission £5,000 cash to fund it for two months.
Mr Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury had the personnel for his proposed diplomatic mission, he had a venue also, but where to find the fund to run the mission? At his instruction we had made an estimate of the barest minimum costs for rent, telephone, stationary and subsistence allowance for the skeleton staff, and it came to about £2,500 a month.
We had Bangladesh Fund where to, so to say, all Bengalis of erstwhile East Pakistan were donating on a weekly basis. This fund by then had accumulated several hundred thousand pounds. But Justice Chowdhury would not make any expenditure out of this fund except for war purposes. He had assured me earlier that he would raise the fund for the diplomatic mission separately.
Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury had instructed me to ask Lutful Matin also to be present that evening at his residence.
At the appointed time of the day, we made it to his house separately from our houses in two different locations of London. Justice Chowdhury was living in this temporary house with his wife and their three minor children.
That evening we found another guest, Dr. Musharraf Hossain Joarder, apparently waiting for us at the residence of Justice Chowdhury. In between tea and snacks, Justice Chowdhury gave me in a sheaf of high denomination notes £5,000 to meet the expenses of the diplomatic mission for about two months and asked Matin to give a receipt to Dr. Joarder for this amount. When I asked him who the donor of this amount we should mention in the receipt, he replied that it would be in the name of Mr Subid Ali.
The name, quite unknown to me and Matin, made us stare at each other for a few brief moments. Then I mustered some courage and politely sought some further information of this Mr Subid Ali from Justice Chowdhury. He dismissed us in one brief sentence, 'you will know about him in course of time.' So that was the end of the discussion on Mr. Subid Ali. Neither I nor Matin raised the subject again with Justice Chowdhury.
In the morning of Friday 27 August 1971 the 'Bangladesh Mission' was set up clandestinely at 24 Pembridge Garden, Notting Hill Gate, London. A large crowd were present to bless it, including Bengali members of staff who were still working with the Pakistan High Commission. The inaugural function was presided over by Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury and key speakers included Peter Shore MP, John Stonehouse MP, journalist Anthony Mascarenhas who famously published his published his 'Genocide' article two months earlier in the Sunday Times and prayed for the success of the mission, and Simon Dring who was the first journalist to give an eyewitness account on the scale of terror and mass killing during Operation Searchlight and published a long report in the Daily Telegraph on 30 March 1971.
The Bangladesh Mission in London became the first overseas mission (after Kolkata) and was tasked with coordinating the activities of Bengalis throughout Europe and America. It became the address of all Bengali diplomats around the world who were resigning from their posts.
It brings tears to my eyes when I remember that some Bengali members of staff who were still with the Pakistan High Commission in London had the courage and patriotism to be present in that August morning to express their solidarity with us.
...When in the middle of 1971, our Liberation War had gained momentum, he [Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury] decided on the course of the diplomatic offensive in London where most countries of the world had representations and therefore a fitting place to project our cause and our sufferings in the hands of the Pakistan occupation army in Bangladesh.
... It [Bangladesh Mission at Notting Hill Gate] was well connected by bus and underground train services and therefore easily accessible to our people coming from other areas of London and beyond. In the selection of this venue which subsequently became the Bangladesh centre and continues to be so as our acquired property, Mr Donald Chesworth, then the president of War on Want and one of the three trustees of our Bangladesh fund, played a mighty big role. The other two trustees were Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury and Mr. John Stonehouse then a Member of the British House of Commons. He was one of our British heroes in 1971.
In a last ditch attempt to scupper development, Pakistan's High Commissioner in UK, Salman Ali, a Punjabi, had gone to the British Foreign and Commonwealth office on that same morning to protest the opening of Bangladesh Mission. However, he was left deeply ashamed when the British Minister of State, Joseph Godber, dismissed him saying that the Bengalis were not violating any British law and the British government was not recognising the Bangladesh Mission therefore the Pakistani High Commissioner did not have any point to complain about. This, along with the formation of the Bangladesh Mission, received good coverage in the British newspapers the following day, adding to the embarrassment of the Pakistani government whilst boosting the morale of an anxious Bengali community thousands of miles away from their ancestral home.
Few weeks after the establishment of the Mission, Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury led a 12-member high-level delegation to the UN General Assembly to lobby the Bangladesh cause. Professor Rehman Sobhan was one of those members. The eminent Bengali economist had toured Europe and America as representative of the provisional government. In Washington, he met with officials of the World Bank and media personalities and in Paris he met with members of aid consortium urging them to stop financing Pakistan government in view of inhuman activities carried out by Pakistan government in Bangladesh.
Professor Rehman Sobhan delivered a lecture on liberation movement in many places in London. His write-up in the Guardian gave clear picture of Yahya Khan’s genocidal activities in East Pakistan. Particularly his write-up in New Statesman entitled ‘The Corpse in the Sun’ was significant indeed. His role as roving Ambassador of the provisional government was highly appreciated.
Following the independence of Bangladesh, on 6 January 1972 Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury revealed the identity of the secret donor who had funded the formation of the Bangladesh Mission in London.
It was 6 January 1972 evening. I was doing some work at my desk in the Bangladesh mission at 24 Pembridge Garden when I was summoned by Justice Chowdhury at his office on the same ground floor.
Mr. Chowdhury would be leaving for Dhaka the following morning. In the meantime we had observed our victory day at our mission on 16th December in the presence of a huge media crowd. Mr. Chowdhury for most part of first three weeks of December was in New York, attending the Security Council and General Assembly debates of the United Nations.
When I entered his room, Mr. Chowdhury motioned me to sit. I took a chair and saw a stranger on another chair next to me.
Mr. Chowdhury opened the talk. "Do you remember you had asked me who Mr. Subid Ali was when I had handed over £5,000 to run this mission?" Yes Sir, I do member that evening in early August last year, I replied.
"Here is Mr. Subid Ali now sitting beside you. His real name is Mr. Zahurul Islam. He has been living in London for the last few months anonymously with the help of Dr. Joarder. He had fled Bangladesh feigning illness leaving behind his wife and children. Dr. Joarder has been keeping him in the Backenham Hospital under his care as a patient".
I did not member that I had seen Mr. Zahurul Islam before. But that evening, in my first ever meeting with him, I bowed my head to him in deep and profound respect for that big grant he had made for our diplomatic mission. More important than the amount was the gestures of his patriotism for Bangladesh and love and respect for Mr. Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury to whom he had extended support in many other forms in those days of our trials and tribulations in 1971 in a foreign land.
Outside of Kolkata, the largest diplomatic offensive was in Washington DC, USA. On 4 August 1971, all Bengali diplomats and members of the staff of the Pakistan Embassy en masse publicly severed their links with Pakistan and declared their allegiance to Bangladesh. They formed a solidarity group called 'Bangladesh Mission (Washington)' consisting of, amongst others, Enayet Karim (Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission), SAMS Kibria (Political Counsellor), AMA Muhith (Economic Counsellor, later Finance Minister of Bangladesh), Abu Rushd Matinuddin (Education and Cultural Counsellor), Ataur Rahman Chowdhury (Finance and Accounts Officer), and Syed Muazzem Ali (Third Secretary). In addition, three locally recruited Bangali officials, A. M. Sharful Alam (Assistant Administrative Officer), Sheikh Rustam Ali (Assistant Information), and Abdur Razzaque Khan also joined this group, as did Aftabuddin (Member of Staff), Sulaiman (Personal Assistant), M. Hoque (Personal Assistant), Nurul Islam (Assistant Defense Wing) and Mustaq Ahmed (Assistant Administrative Wing).
Remarkably, Enayet Karim, who had joined Pakistan Foreign Service in 1952 (during the height of Basha Andolon) after serving for a short period as a lecturer in Economics, Dhaka University, declared his severance from Pakistan while recovering from a massive heart attack in Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington DC - his second attack within two months.
It needs to be underlined here that Enayet Karim who had suffered two severe heart attacks in 1971 declared his allegiance from the Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) at the hospital, and was represented by his wife Hosne Ara Karim at the press conference where the announcement was made. The group had requested him to defer his defection till he was released from the hospital, but he did not agree.
Syed Anwarul Karim also decided to join the Washington group. Being the senior-most among the group, he led everyone at the Press Conference at the Washington National Press Club. Subsequently, he headed the Bangladesh Mission to the UN in New York and was aided by A. H. Mahmood Ali who organised meetings with important personalities in the United Nations and New York news media for Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury.
This unprecedented "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. This defection also greatly encouraged our friends in the US Senate, House, press and news media and people in all walks of life to strengthen their resolve to support our cause.
Mustafizur Rahman Siddiqui, a ranking elected Member of the National Assembly, was sent by the Provisional Government to head the Washington Mission. The Mission actively lobbied with US Senators and Congressmen and succeeded in stopping all military and economic assistance to Pakistan when the Senate adopted the famous Saxbe- Church bipartisan amendment in November 1971. The Congress had also adopted a similar Gallagher amendment earlier. The American news and print media were regularly briefed and they gave prominent coverage to our war.
That by the activities of the diplomats Pakistan government was shaken had been reflected in briefing by Director General of External Publicity Wing of Pakistan Dr Moqbul Bhatti on 16 August 16 1971 in Islamabad. Dr Moqbul Bhatti regretted about the decision of his colleagues, but said that the situation would be normal in East Pakistan soon. The reason of worry of the Pakistan government was that these senior diplomats were based in American capital. In an editorial, the Guardian [British newspaper] on 9 August 1971 said "There is a powerful witness. Diplomats are normally among the last people to resign. When it happens it commands attention".
Mohammad Amjad Hossain, retired diplomat who was then an officer and present at the briefing
The Washington Mission also received important support from Dr. William B. Greenough and other Doctors who had been working at the then world leading SEATO Cholera Research Laboratory (CRL) in Dhaka (later renamed the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh or ICDDR,B). Some of these doctors were eye witness to the carnage in Dhaka and sensitized their elected representatives about the ongoing genocide in Bangladesh. The Mission also received full cooperation of 'probashis' (Bengali expatriates) who had set up Bangladesh Associations in various states and maintained pressure on their senators and congressmen.
The "unofficial" contacts with the State Department, AID and World Bank officials were fully maintained by the "defecting" diplomats and these proved extremely useful.
Enayet Karim unveiled his future plans to a group of students and newsmen in the campus of an east coast university in America. A Bengali activist in America has written an eyewitness account of that tumultuous meeting. A West Pakistani member of the audience demanded angrily of Mr. Karim, "Is Islam dead? Can it no longer keep Pakistan united?" Enayet Karim replied with his legendary eloquence, "The Islam that was born in 1947 is dead. But the Islam that was born 14 centuries ago is very much alive and will continue to live and thrive a lot better in an independent, secular and democratic Bangladesh than in a Pakistan groaning under the heels of military dictatorship".
Feroz understood that communications was the biggest tool to fight against Pakistan. He wanted to provide radio station machine. When I asked him how I could help him, he said he would hand over the machine to us and we would send it to Kolkata for setting up transmission centre there. Eventually he managed the machine in June and we handed it over to supply mission of India to send it to Kolkata. I, Harun and Razzak carried 40 tonnes of materials from airport to supply mission in Washington in our three cars...I had Mercedes 250 and other two had a Buick and a Voxwagon. It took us two to three days to carry all the material. We contacted several Bangladeshis including architect Fazlur Rahman to fund us for the machine and many of them gave us dollars.
The United States, however, was still divided along party lines - the Republicans under Richard Nixon were pro-Pakistan while the Democrats supported the Bangladesh liberation movement. Nevertheless, most Americans were sympathetic to Bangladesh’s cause.
I should not say they [the American public] were supportive to Bangladesh but they were against the US policy. Only 4 or 5 US journalists supported the US policy and the rest opposed it. Many members of Congress and Senate including Kennedy opposed the US policy. Out of 222 resolutions taken on the US policy towards Pakistan in the both Houses, only 18 were favourable to policy and rest opposed it.
The Soviet Union was highly sympathetic to the Indian stand on Bangladesh but K. M. Shehabuddin expresses shock when the Soviet ambassador to India declines talking directly to Bangladesh’s foreign secretary, Mahbub Alam Chashi, and instead wants to hold talks at the office of the Indian foreign secretary, J.N. Dixit.
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