Diplomacy looks simple but demanding
Sometime in late December of 1971, just after the independence of Bangladesh, I decided to meet the veteran American journalist Edgar Snow. He spent his last days in Eysins on Lac Lemon, not far from Geneva. Snow aged above 60 years looked a bit tired. The purpose of my visit was to thank him. He called me on December 16 to congratulate me and Bangabandhu. He was closely following our Liberation War. Edgar Snow is the first American journalist to follow Mao Tse Tung in his Long March.
He gave me a cup of coffee. He again congratulated me on the Independence of Bangladesh. He never met Sheikh Mujib, but he read about him. He regretted that his health would not permit him to go.
Mao-Tse-Tung, he said, believed in the national interest of China, he believed in having a people’s government, unlike the Kuomintang Government. People’s Government which understands better the interest of the country, he believed.
When the British Foreign Secretary, later Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston declared, ‘We have no permanent friend, permanent enemy.' Only our national interest is our permanent friend.
The founder of Bangladesh, the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujib strongly believed in this. He would very often talk to me about this when in Geneva, how we move, why China was not recognizing Bangladesh. He looked anguished. He said he got to know Premier Chou En Lai in Beijing, why China is not recognizing us! Later, when China vetoed Bangladesh's membership in the UN – twice – Bangabandhu called me and asked me to contact one of his friends, who could be useful. He wondered why China would go with Pakistan which killed three million people in Bangladesh and committed genocide.
He talked quite sarcastically about the concert of Europe! How the powers of the day divided Europe to suit their national interest!
Bangabandhu dreamt of a Sonar Bangla which will be free and the decision-making process will remain in the hands of the Bangalees. His historic six-point demand was essential for preserving, protecting and safeguarding the interest of the Banglees. Everything of Bengal, once the most fertile land of India, was looted and the successive rulers destroyed everything that was known as factors to production. Bangabandhu’s dream was to restore the stolen days for the Bangalees.
He declared Independence of Bangladesh on March 26, 1971. A brutal mayhem and murder was perpetrated on the unarmed Bangalees by the Pakistanis. As per the words of Lt. Gen. Gul Hassan Khan, Pakistan considered Bengal as their ‘Colony’- (Memoirs of Lt. Gen Gul Hassan Khan). Bangabandhu had only three and a half years to run the country. In spite of the problems and setbacks Bangladesh has now achieved 7.5 GDP growths, according to World Bank.
Tragically, a conspiracy hatched by Pakistan in particular and some of the countries, friendly to Pakistan, promoted a group of young army officers to launch attack on the undefended residence of Bangabandhu on August 15, 1975.
The Father of the Nation was murdered. Begum Mujib was murdered. The entire family, 18 of them, was mowed down. The murderers were hanged to death after 21 years. They were convicted. Six of them have been brought to justice while others are, perhaps, hiding in Pakistan, Kenya and Libya.
August 15, therefore, is a day of mourning, when the entire nation remembers the life of Sheikh Mujib and his contribution to the creation of Bangladesh with solemnity. On this day, we, the Bangladeshis, pray for his eternal peace. In the early morning, the national flag was kept half-mast’ and visits were paid to Bangabandhu's residence for prayers. We mourn all day long. We organize a small get-together, webinars and discuss his hope and the creation of a homeland for the Bangladeshis. It is a day to cry, to remember and gather strength from his demise.
Begum Zia celebrates this day, August 15, as her birthday! Its mean, small and behavioral pattern of the insects – as John Lewis described in his book. Begum Zia was not born on August 15. She has a number of birthdays. When she visited Rome, her passport had a different date. Others suggested September 5, 1946. Begum Zia’s celebration of August 15 is the ultimate gesture of insensitivity in dishonoring the Father of the Nation. It is done with cool deliberation.
Adults change the date of birth, some genuine and some are not. But Begum Zia, like a chameleon, changes birthday to August 15 to show her inability to understand the basic moral necessity of humanity.
August 15 of this year 2020, some embassies are reported to have sent birthday gifts to Begum Zia– a birthday that is fake and fraudulent. I understand a birthday gift was sent to Begum Khaleda Zia by the Chinese Embassy. China is a friend of Bangladesh.
Since the UN veto days, our relationship with China has grown in many areas. We thank China. Bangladesh emerged as an independent country together with the blood and tears of our Indian friends. The blood of the brave fighters of the two countries mingled together on the green field of Bangladesh will remain forever as indelible.
On that fateful night, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana were in Germany. They survived. Hon’ble Sheikh Hasina is now the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The darkness is lifting but slowly.
We observed the magnanimity, leadership and kindness of Bangabandhu.
On January 16 in 1997, I called on South African President Nelson Mandela as Special Envoy of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to invite him to our Silver Jubilee celebration. He graciously accepted the invitation. When I was about to leave, he said, ‘Sheikh Mujib was greater than me as a leader. Why did you kill him?’ I was breathless, standing on, slowly tiptoed out into the crisp whispering air and wondering an answer of ‘why?’. At that time, I found no word but silence to reply.
The past is never dead. Every year, August 15 reminds us of the shocking chapter of Bangladesh. People mourn this day to remember the brutal assassination of the Father of Nation, who gave them an Independent Bangladesh; they mourn and pay their deep homage; they arrange mourning meeting to express their grief; they go to Mosque, Mandir or other sacred places to pray for Bangabandhu to Almighty Allah. This is the national Mourning Day! The mourning on this day is a show of respect to the nation: on this day of mourning, if China had sent a gift to Begum Khaleda Zia, it was a mistake. I urge China not to do this, even as a simple friendly gesture ever again.
Writer: Former Foreign Secretary and Chairman, Bangladesh Heritage Foundation