We didn’t know — did we?
– that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was accompanied by Shah Azizur Rahman to the Islamic conference in Lahore in February 1974. We were all so very naïve not to notice that the collaborationist Bengali who led the Pakistan delegation to the UN General Assembly in September 1971 on behalf of the murderous Yahya Khan junta was there with the Father of the Nation in Lahore. The Pakistanis were equally naïve not to have spotted their Bengali collaborator in Lahore with the founder of independent Bangladesh. Had they been more attentive to detail, they would have hugged Shah Aziz and celebrated the moment in intense joy.
No, we didn’t know anything of this, until Sardar Sakhawat Hossain Bakul, he of the caretaker-era reformist camp in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, suddenly stumbled on what he thought was a great find. On the television channel Ekattor, he came up with some photographs dating back to Lahore circa February 1974, to inform an ignorant Bengali nation that right there, in those photographs (there were two of them), stood Shah Azizur Rahman as Bangabandhu was being introduced to Pakistani officials by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Ah, but Bakul has little idea that there are people who remember history, remember photographs, remember names. The Shah Aziz he saw in one of the photographs was Pakistan’s president at the time, Choudhry Fazle Elahi. The rather roly-poly, suited Shah Aziz he happily pointed to in the other picture, beside Bangladesh’s leader, was a Pakistani protocol officer assigned to Bangabandhu.
And thus it was that Bakul tried, like so many of his kind, to add one more sordid untruth to Bangabandhu’s reputation. His attempt was properly nipped in the bud, through a drilling of holes in his photograph tales, by the eminently respectable Tofail Ahmed and Toab Khan putting him in his place. The lie was aborted. And yet this nation must be on guard, always, against the sinister attempts of the denizens of the dark to mutilate the history of this republic and its people. There have been too many lies and half-truths already for us to be willing to accept any more without protest.
There are men and women perpetually ready to badmouth Bangabandhu and humiliate this country. You will find them telling you that on March 25,1971, Bangabandhu surrendered to the Pakistan army. That is all they know, if they know anything at all. Beyond that, they know nothing, or are not ready to know anything. Ignore them for the history deniers they are.
That lies can leave a nation damaged beyond repair is what we noticed in early November 1975, when a senior Bengali journalist claimed to have in his possession a secret letter from the Indian authorities, the gist of which was that the Mujibnagar leaders then in prison should be freed and restored to power. That very night, Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, M. Mansur Ali and A.H. M. Quamruzzaman were murdered in Dhaka central jail. Years later, the journalist who had spread the canard could not produce the letter. A few more years later, he said that the letter had been lost.
In 1971, as Pakistan’s soldiers raped and pillaged and killed in Bangladesh, the putatively western-oriented Bengali scholar of English literature, Syed Sajjad Hossain, was sent abroad by Tikka Khan to speak for the junta. It was a good choice, for Hossain told barefaced lies to people abroad. The army, he said without batting an eyelid, had not killed any academics at Dhaka University. He knew he was lying.
Admirers of Ziaur Rahman have for decades been propagating the half-truth that he declared Bangladesh’s independence in March 1971. Yes, he did make an announcement, but he also made it clear the country was at war under the leadership of Bangabandhu. He mentioned Bangabandhu four times in his speech and ended his announcement through raising the Joi Bangla slogan.
Following the signing of the Tashkent Declaration by Lal Bahadur Shastri and Ayub Khan in January 1966, the latter’s foreign minister Z.A. Bhutto went around spreading the lie about a supposed secret clause in the declaration that undermined Pakistan. He was never to reveal the details of the clause, because there wasn’t any clause.
You hear loud voices sometimes, enlightening you on the beautiful way in which Ziaur Rahman restored multi-party democracy in the country during his times in power. Well, he did and he didn’t. He did bring the country back from Baksal. More tellingly, he happily let the collaborators of 1971 into politics in a country whose birth they had tried to abort. We are paying the price. Observe, again, Bakul rooting for Shah Aziz.
There are the lies disseminated by the daily Amar Desh. It served up, through putting in a photograph, the false story of clerics in Makkah staging protests against Sayeedee’s war crimes trial. Those clerics were simply doing their routine job of changing the ‘gilaaf’ of the Kaaba. On the social media, the image of an elderly Pakistani riding a motorbike in Karachi and carrying a placard (in Bangla!) demanding Sayeedee’s release, was circulated throughout Bangladesh. A Pakistani? A placard in Bangla? Our diligent reporter went digging into the story, and came up with a stark find: on the placard, in the original, was the Urdu expression: ‘New Year manaane waale Mussulman laanati aur gumrah hain‘ (Muslims who celebrate New Year are accursed and have deviated from the true faith).
Don’t you think it’s now easy to understand Bakul, he of the Shah Aziz obsession? Ask Tofail Ahmed.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.