The Diplomatic Front of the Bangladesh Liberation War 1971
The story of Bangladesh’s birth is that of pride and pain, of valor and sacrifice, of blood and tears. No people have sacrificed so much for freedom, for dignity. Our war of liberation was the climax of an epic struggle of our people for freedom against the thousand years of oppression by colonial rulers. People of all walks of life from all corners of the land responded to the clarion call of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for freedom and to end the decades’ of oppression of Pakistan. His voice touched everyone – in every field: while guerillas fought the war in the battlefield, professionals fought it through the campaign against genocide that was unleashed upon the thousands of innocents. Bengali diplomats working in the Pakistani missions abroad were no exception. And thus, the Foreign Ministry was born, even before country could have complete control over its own territory from the occupying forces.
On 06 April 1971, two young Bengali diplomats, K. M. Shehabuddin, Second Secretary of the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi and Amzadul Haq, Assistant Press Attaché of the same mission defected and declared their allegiance to Bangladesh. That again, even before the Bangladesh Government in exile (the Mujibnagar Government) took its oath. With them, began the glorious journey of Bangladeshi diplomats. Many termed it as, ‘Opening the Diplomatic Front of the Liberation War.’
The first Bangladesh Mission was established on 18 April 1971, just one day after the government in exile took Office. This time, a group of Bangladeshi diplomats and officials, led by Deputy High Commissioner Md. Hosen Ali and Third Secretary Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, en mass declared their allegiance to Bangladesh, and took possession of the premise of the Pakistani Deputy High Commission in Kolkata, India, and declared it ‘Bangladesh Diplomatic Mission’, which eventually transformed itself effectively to ‘Bangladesh Foreign Office’ in Kolkata. This is the first ever mission of Bangladesh and for the first time, Bangladesh flag was officially hoisted on foreign soil. The other officers who also defected in Kolkata on 18 April 1971 were Third Secretary Kazi Nazrul Islam, Assistant Press Attaché Maksud Ali, and First Secretary Rafiqul Islam Chowdhury.
Mr. A H Mahmood Ali, a vice consul at the Pakistan Consulate in New York, on his own volition, resigned from the Pakistan Foreign Service and transferred allegiance to Bangladesh on 25 April, thus became the first diplomat in USA to defect for Bangladesh. He became an instant hero and his wife took up a small job to support the family. Mahmood Ali had openly opposed the Pakistani crackdown in Bangladesh on 25 March and was even suspended by the Pakistani authorities for hoisting a Bangladesh flag. Even before the crackdown of 25 March 1971, he engaged himself in organizing Bengali community living in and around New York and protesting unjust acts of Pakistani rulers against Bengalis. Mahmood Ali was appointed a representative by the provisional Mujibnagar Government which enabled him to create and maintain useful contacts with American officials, particularly at the Department of Justice and also with the US Congress and expatriate Bengali community.
On 30 June, Counsellor (Economic) at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington D.C. A. M. A. Muhith joined the Liberation War. He was the first diplomat in US capital to defect for Bangladesh and inspired many others to join him later on. Mohiuddin Ahmed, a Second Secretary at Pakistan High Commission in London, expressed his allegiance to Bangladesh through addressing a public gathering at Trafalgar Square on the first day of August 1971. It was a huge protest rally that was held under the banner, ‘Stop Genocide: Recognize Bangladesh’. The large gathering was addressed by Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhry and demanded peace and justice in Bangladesh. Mohiuddin Ahmed had maintained close contact with Justice Chowdhury since April, and worked according to his advice even when remained within the fold of the Pakistan Government. Under the inspiring guidance of Justice Chowdhury, he played a crucial role in galvanizing the expatriate Bengali community in England. Mohiuddin’s defection was quickly followed by the same from Director of Audit & Accounts Mohammed Akbar Lutful Matin on 04 August, Assistant Education Attaché Abdur Rouf, Education Officer Habibur Rahman and Assistant Press Attaché Fazlul Haq Chowdhury in September.
All these had a ripple effect all over the world. Pakistani Embassies Abroad imposed stringent surveillance on Bengali diplomats watching them round the clock to avoid any further defection, more suspected ones were even sent back to Pakistan long before their tenure was over and being questioned. That could hardly stop the flood, more and more Bengali diplomats began defecting, and chose a life of uncertainty over that of a sure and settled one.
Pakistan Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Offices in New York Syed Anwarul Karim left Pakistan Permanent Mission in August. Minister Enayet Karim, Counsellor (Political) Shah A. M. S. Kibria, Counsellor (Education & Cultural Affairs) Abu Rushd Matinuddin, Second Secretary Ataur Rahman Chowdhury, Third Secretary Syed Muazzem Ali, Assistant Administrative Attaché A. M. Sharful Alam and Assistant Press Attaché Sheikh Rustam Ali - all defected on 04 August from the Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC. They formed a solidarity group called ‘Bangladesh Mission Washington’.
The first Pakistan Ambassador to join the Liberation War was Ambassador Abul Fateh of 1949 batch. He left his post as Ambassador of Pakistan to Iraq on 21 August 1971. Two other Bengali ambassadors, namely Ambassador K. K. Panni, stationed at Manila and Ambassador Abdul Momin, accredited to Argentina, joined the freedom struggle on 14 September and 11 October respectively.
Second Secretary Mustafizur Rahman, who was stationed in Kathmandu, declared allegiance to Bangladesh on 03 October and Counsellor (Political) Humayun Rasheed Chowdhury from New Delhi Mission declared his allegiance the next day. The Counsellor (local) Rezaul Karim of London Mission joined the Liberation War on 07 October, and the Second Secretary Waliur Rahman of Berne Mission joined on 02 November.
Many of the Bengali staff members, who were stationed at various Pakistan Missions Abroad, also followed the path of the brave diplomats and left the respective missions. One of them, Hossain Ali, an employee at the Defence Adviser’s Office at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, attempted to defect in August 1971. Though his family members were successful in leaving the premises safely, but Ali could not. He was severely beaten and then taken to Islamabad by force.
28 April 1971, K M Shehabuddin met Indian foreign minister and conveyed the decision of the Mujibnagar Government to open the first Bangladesh mission in New Delhi. He was made the first Chief of Bangladesh Mission in New Delhi. He was then replaced by Counsellor Humayun Rasheed Chowdhury at a later date. Syed Anwarul Karim was appointed Special Envoy in USA.
Some Bengali intellectuals and politicians also assisted the diplomats in promoting the cause of the Bangladesh Liberation War. Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, the then judge of the East Pakistan High Court and vice chancellor of the University of Dhaka, and an eminent economist Dr. Rehman Sobhan were the vanguards. Both of them were made Special Envoy by the Mujibnagar Government. Justice Chowdhury was made Ambassador-at-large for political affairs in Europe and then chief representative at the United Nations, whereas Dr. Sobhan was made Ambassador-at-large for economic affairs. Then there were Professor A R Mallick, who later on became the first High Commissioner of Bangladesh to India in 1972. He organized a number of seminar, press conference etc in India to organize public opinion in favour of Bangladesh Liberation War.
The patriotism and valour demonstrated by diplomats, staff members, their family members, were no different from those of Bengali nation. The Bangladesh diplomats concentrated their works mainly in five different cities, New Delhi, Kolkata, Washington DC, New York and London. Their main focus was, (a) to build international public opinion in favour of the cause of Bangladesh and ensure international assistance to our people who had taken shelter across the border, (b) to isolate the Pakistani regime by projecting the atrocities and crimes against humanity which they were committing in Bangladesh with a view to cutting off all foreign economic and military assistance to the Yahya regime, and (c) to create the necessary condition so that the friendly countries who were supporting the cause of Bangladesh could take a more firm and decisive action to expedite the independence of Bangladesh and to advance recognition of Bangladesh as an independent and sovereign state.
There cannot be any match to the supreme sacrifice of many individual freedom fighters, who, at the call of the nation, left everything but did everything to uphold the freedom of the nation, and therefore, they should be remembered during each and every steps the nation takes. It is a matter of pride that our nation has given birth to those brave soldiers, those valiant students, peasants, professionals, individuals. At the same time, it is also a pride that many of our diplomats did not hesitate to join the ranks of the freedom fighters with the same spirit of sacrifice and courage for the independence of the motherland.