Vol. 5 Num 257 Wed. February 16, 2005  

Lest We Forget
Enayet Karim--a distinguished diplomat

Thirty-one years ago today, Enayet Karim, a valiant freedom fighter, a language movement activist, and a distinguished diplomat of our times, had passed away. He was only forty-seven years old, and was serving as the country's Foreign Secretary at that time. Many people have forgotten the name of this patriot. A noted historian had once observed that Muslim Bengalis tend to forget their past history, their heritage and their heroes. Archeologists say that our long monsoon washes away our past heritage and relics. Does the monsoon also wash away our memories? Are we simply forgetful, or are we cynical?

Enayet Karim was one of our distinguished diplomats. An outstanding student, he stood first in Matriculation examination and the people of Dhaka celebrated the success of their native son through great fanfare. He went on to become a brilliant student of economics, and taught in the same department at Dhaka University before joining the Pakistan Foreign Service in 1952. He was a very loving husband to his wife Husna Karim [a Science graduate from Dhaka University, and Tagore and Nazrul-geeti singer], and an extremely caring father to his daughters Leena and Shahla. At the same time, he was an understanding senior colleague, a great friend and an extremely polite person. I never heard him use "tumi" when talking to any person in the office; whatever their age, everyone was "apni" to him.

I first met this great diplomat at the Civil Service Academy in Lahore in 1969 when he came to deliver a lecture on the complicated issue of Ganges water sharing with India. My batch-mates and I were simply impressed by his understanding of all aspects of the issue, and his overall knowledge about India.

Enayet Karim, who at that time held the key post of Director (India) in the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, had earlier served in Pakistani Missions in both Calcutta and New Delhi. One question, however, bugged me. Why did Islamabad keep such a fiercely nationalist Bangali officer in that key post? I found the answer when I went to Islamabad the next year for on-the-job training: there was simply no one to match him in his area of specialisation.

Enayet Karim left Islamabad in early 1970 to take up the post of Counsellor at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC. After his departure, his immediate boss Director General (Asia) Aftab Ahmed Khan had reportedly asked for the services of [late] Shah AMS Kibria to replace him. The latter could not be released from the Personnel desk. This was a crucial time in the Pakistani Ministry in the wake of the 1965 Indo-Pak war, and many Directors in the Ministry wanted the coveted job. However, Aftab Khan decided not to take any of the existing Directors, and instead wait for the return of a suitable Director to the Headquarters.

At that time, as probationers in the Foreign Ministry, my batch-mates and I did not have much substantive work. One fine morning the Section Officer in charge of our training, Bashir, informed us that Aftab Ahmed Khan had asked for the services of one of us to cope with the work of the India desk. To my utter amazement, I was drafted for the job. My primary job, he told me, would be to summarise the reports that he was receiving on India from various missions and government organisations. Reluctantly, and a little overwhelmed about occupying that great diplomat's office, I entered the room. What I saw there really amazed me. He had collected all important books and publications on India, and had left them for his successor. In no time, the most sensitive reports and cables surrounded me. The task, which lasted for three months, was simply mind-boggling, but it was also most rewarding, particularly since I had the opportunity of reading Enayet Karim's assessments of several key bilateral issues.

Again by a stroke of good luck, I was assigned to Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC, and reached there in November 1970. The stay in the US capital turned out to be most eventful, and I had the privilege of working closely with three outstanding civil servants. Enayet Karim, Shah AMS Kibria and AMA Muhith, during the critical days of our war of independence. At that time, Enayet Karim was the senior Political Counsellor but was soon promoted to the rank of Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission. He became my immediate boss. I got the most effective training on various aspects of political work from him and also accompanied him to meetings with high US officials. Many an evening he would take me to his home for a good Bangla Meal. [My wife was in Dhaka for her Masters, and arrived in Washington DC in end of April 1971].

The Pakistan army began the war of genocide in March 1971. The Bangali officials of the Embassy and Bangali expatriates living in the DC area regularly met to formulate course of action to propagate the cause of the independence of Bangladesh. As the senior-most Bengali officer he presided over all these meetings, and guided us in our deliberations. His expert analyses of the emerging situation were simply invaluable. Kibria, Political Counsellor at the Embassy, and Muhith, Economic Counsellor, aptly supported him during this critical time. These three stalwarts' contributions for the fight for the Bangladesh cause in the USA were crucial and invaluable.

Understandably, Enayet Karim was under tremendous mental pressure. He suffered a massive heart attack in May, and was hospitalised. The provisional Bangladesh Government, with whom we were in constant touch, had asked us to continue in the Pakistan Embassy until they were in a position to give us the green signal to sever links with the Pakistan government. The signal finally came in the end of July, and all arrangements were finalised to declare our allegiance publicly in early August. Enayet Karim and other senior officers prepared the text of our joint statement. Another senior Bangali officer, SA Karim, Pakistan's Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, also joined us.

At this time, Enayet Karim suffered a second heart attack. We were in a quandary: we were already committed to take the final step and it could not be deferred further. So the senior Bengali officers suggested to him that, given his delicate health condition, he could continue with the Pakistan Embassy for sometime more, and join us when his health condition improved. Enayet Karim flatly refused. He said that he would much rather die as a declared Bangladesh official than continue with the Pakistan government.

SAMS Kibria had been Enayet Karim's student at Dhaka University, and they had earlier served in the Calcutta Mission together. Naturally, Enayet Karim and Kibria were very close, and so were their families. However, Kibria's and the other officers' efforts to make Enayet Karim revise his decision failed.

Enayet Karim was at that time occupying the official residence for the Pakistani Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington DC, and it was necessary to shift them from there before our announcement. While he remained in the intensive care unit, a private house was rented for them in suburban Virginia, and their personal and household effects were shifted surreptitiously, and almost overnight, so as not to alert the Pakistanis. Kibria took the major initiative in this regard, and Husna Bhabi faced this tough situation with courage. As per Enayet Karim's desire, Husna Bhabi represented him at our press conference at the Washington National Press Club on 4 August 1971, when we officially severed our links with the Pakistan government.

After setting up of the Bangladesh Mission in Washington DC, the provisional government sent [late] MR Siddiky to head our Mission. Under his leadership, all of us worked tirelessly to propagate the cause of our independence. Enayet Karim, still recovering from the heart attack, was not in a position to attend office. He was, however, in constant touch with us and gave us his considered advice and guidance from home. After office, we would almost daily go to his house and inform him of the developments of the day. If we failed to go, he would immediately telephone us. During these evening sessions, he would give us his expert assessment. While we talked, Husna Bhabi would often hastily arrange a Bangali meal for us.

Soon after the independence of Bangladesh, Siddiky, Kibria, Muhith, Abu Rushd Matinuddin -- all senior officials of the mission -- were called to headquarters. Suddenly the size of our mission shrank drastically. Enayet Karim took full charge, and inspired us to embark on new missions of mounting a massive campaign for disaster relief for war-devastated Bangladesh and political recognition of our motherland by Washington.

In addition to Washington, we were asked to approach other countries for recognition of Bangladesh, and I had to arrange his meetings with Latin, African and Arab envoys. We had no official transport at that time. So we hired a local driver. The arrangement was that Enayet Karim would drive his private car to office in the morning; the driver would take over, and drive him to this official engagements. At the end of the day, Enayet Karim drove his car back home.

United States recognised Bangladesh in April 1972, and their Charge d'Affaires in Bangladesh handed a letter from President Nixon to Bangabandhu expressing the US government's interest in establishing diplomatic relations with our country. The next month, Enayet Karim presented Bangabandhu's letter to Nixon reciprocating the sentiments.

Subsequently, Enayet Karim was nominated as the country's first Ambassador to USA, and we were sanctioned funds to buy a flag car for him. As we were completing all protocol formalities for his Ambassadorial appointment, a fresh order arrived asking him to go to Dhaka immediately to take over as Foreign Secretary.

Enayet Karim, despite his delicate health condition, did not hesitate and left for Dhaka in mid-1972. I have heard that after reaching Dhaka, he worked day and night to safeguard and promote the national interests of Bangladesh. With a small Foreign Ministry, he embarked on the mission to bring about recognition of Bangladesh by as many countries as possible within a record time, to maintain massive international efforts for reconstruction of war-ravaged Bangladesh under the UN Relief Operations, Dhaka [UNROD] and subsequent UN Relief Operations, Bangladesh [UNROB] operations [incidentally these were largest UN operations ever undertaken for the reconstruction of a country], and to secure bilateral assistance from US and other major donors. His other major tasks were: to reach accords with New Delhi and Islamabad for the release of Pakistani POWs and war crime trial, repatriation of the stranded Bengalis from Pakistan and the Pakistanis from Bangladesh, and the distribution of assets and liabilities of the former federal government of Pakistan.

Naturally, the hard work in Dhaka proved too much for his ill health. Enayet Karim was hospitalised twice. When he suffered the third heart attack, he collapsed in his office in February 1974. He was at that time preparing for the upcoming visit to Dhaka by a high-level Indian delegation, led by their Foreign Secretary. Enayet Karim was rushed to the hospital but this time the heart attack proved fatal. I later learnt from Husna Bhabi and other colleagues that in the Intensive Care Unit, while possibly still unconscious, he had been muttering about the position that Bangladesh should take on various issues.

I pay my tributes to this outstanding son of Bangladesh, who laid down his life for the country. He clearly epitomised the very best in public service. As a young diplomat, I immensely benefited from my association with him.

Some years later, Enayet Karim was posthumously awarded a Presidential medal for his outstanding public service. Our dear Husna Bhabi died in 1997. On Enayet Karim's 31st death anniversary, I pray for the salvation of their departed souls.

Syed Muazzem Ali is a former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh.

Ambassador Enayet Karim with President Nixon, 1972