Vol. 5 Num 305 Tue. April 05, 2005  

The recognition story
An insider's view

In the first week of January 1972 the captor told the prisoner in the solitary confinement that his country was free and whether he would like to go to New Delhi to reach Dhaka. The prisoner released from death row preferred to travel to London on way to his independent country. It was on 8 January 1972 the founder of the new nation reached London along with his fellow prisoner Dr. Kamal Hossain. On reaching London he said, "It was a journey from darkness to light." Soon after, his roaring voice was heard on the radio world over. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was asking the freedom loving nations to recognise his country -- Bangladesh.

Before Bangabandhu's return to Dhaka on 10 January only two countries -- Bhutan and India -- recognised the new state in December 1971. His return had home was a kind of favourable wind blowing to the mast of Bangladesh -- country after country accorded recognition to Dhaka. Only those that suffered material, moral and strategic defeat along with Pakistan in the Liberation War of Bangladesh kept out of the race. Defeated axis emerged in the new role to block entry of the new nation into the UN and other fora so that the newborn die in the bathtub. Machination of the powerful countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States were a matter of deep concern for the nascent state. At the touch of magic wand of the 'old gypsy man' erstwhile foes are now friends of Bangladesh Bangladesh! It only proves the time-tested edict that there is no permanent friend or foe in the interstate relations; only the interest of the nation is permanent.

Caught in the cobweb of the Cold War era East Pakistan was a strategic staging point for mainland Pakistan and China in their bid to contain India with whom both had a number of issues to settle. Sino-Pak strategic alliance was a natural growth proving the other axiom that "my enemy's enemy is my friend". China squarely challenged the man, material, political and diplomatic support of India behind Bangladesh's Liberation by similar support to Pakistan to ensure her national interest in the sub-continent. In the Cold War divide United States wanted to befriend China against Washington's rival Moscow and therefore exploiting her alliance with Pakistan to open window to Beijing. Merrily Pakistan became a conduit between Washington and Beijing. Henry Kissinger made his secret journey from Islamabad to Beijing in mid 1971.

It was convergence of the interests of China and the United States to keep Pakistan united that mattered most over the self-determination of the East Pakistanis in 1971. Liberation of Bangladesh upset their strategic calculation and was a severe blow to their plan and what they subsequently did was only a natural response from a wounded lion. Ambassador M. M. Rezaul Karim's observation that the Chinese delayed recognition to Bangladesh for nearly four years "from complete misunderstanding about the very raison d'etre of Bangladesh" [Independence Day Special, The Daily Star, 26 March] and "Out of ignorance of China of Bangladesh Liberation War " [Prothom Alo 24 March, 2005] is not perhaps saying the whole truth.

He also wrote that Saudi Arabia delayed recognition because "Saudi monarch gave in to Pakistani propaganda that Bangladesh was born due to the machinations of a Hindu India determined to divide and weaken the largest Muslim state in the world." The fact is that when Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury and Dr. Kamal Hossain met the Saudi King Faisal, they were told that Saudis view secularism in the Bangladesh constitution as an obstacle as it meant anti-religion At their Algiers meeting in the sideline of Non-Aligned Summit in 1973 King Faisal wanted that Bangladesh should declare itself as an Islamic Republic as it was a Muslim majority state to which Bangabandhu responded that Pakistan was an Islamic Republic yet her soldiers carried genocide and raped hundreds and thousands of women in Bangladesh in 1971. Bangladesh was not to follow Pakistan. The meeting ended rather abruptly.

Meanwhile King Faisal was assassinated. King Khalid accorded recognition to Bangladesh after the assassination of Bangabandhu in 1975. For the sake of record a few words needed to be said on the OIC membership since some inaccuracy appears to have crept up in the "Recognition story" under reference. Words came in through diplomatic channel that a group of Arab Foreign Ministers would be coming headed by Kuwait Foreign Minister carrying invitation for the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to participate in the OIC Summit in Lahore. A Kuwaiti jet was to reach Dhaka in the evening of 21 February 1974. Gonobhavan officials and Foreign Office protocol waited till 2 am when the jet landed at the Tejgaon Airport.

Delegation consisting of the Foreign Ministers of Kuwait, Somalia, Senegal, Representative of Algeria and the Secretary-General of OIC was taken to Gonobhavan at Ramna where Bangabandhu with Dr. Kamal Hossain and Foreign Secretary Fakhruddin Ahmed arrived for discussion. The crucial meeting lasted till early hours of 22 February when the Prime Minister ultimately accepted the invitation letter to join OIC summit in Lahore on condition of prior recognition of Pakistan to Bangladesh. Sheikh Dr. Mohammed Sabah Al-Salem Al- Sabah, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister, [he is still the Foreign Minister] assured the Bangladesh leader that within 24 hours of reaching Islamabad recognition would follow. Kuwaiti jet flew westward as the sun rose in the east on 22 February.

It was in the late afternoon that the much-awaited announcement came on the teleprinter at Gonobhavan. Prime Minister's immediate reaction was that "Bangladesh also recognises Pakistan. It is a mutual recognition". The next day Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement and President of Algeria Houari Boumedienne sent his plane to Dhaka to fetch Bangabandhu to Lahore. General Tikka Khan, Chief of Staff of Pakistan Army, who had imprisoned the leader of Bangladesh and started genocide on 25 March night, accorded distinguished salute to Sheikh Mujib while the national Anthem of Bangladesh was played for the first time on the Pakistani soil. Sheikh Mujib occupied the centre stage and Bangladesh was accorded membership of OIC with thunderous acclamation. At the end of the summit, President Anwar Saadat of Egypt, the most powerful Arab nation brought Bangabandhu from Lahore to Dhaka in his plane.

That was the image of the man in the comity of nations and of the country he carved out for the Bengalees. Where are we today?

Former Ambassador M. Shafiullah was Press Officer at the Gonobhavan from 1972 to 1975