Tell it as it was -- Afsan Chowdhury


Bir Farid: The only son of a mother - Shamsul Hossain


Journey to victory - Major Genral Shafiullah spoke to Kaushik Sankar Das

'I would rather die than sign any false statement' - An interview with 'Weekly Bichitra'

'I would rather die than sign any false statement' - Arnold Zeitlin


A terrifying victory day -- Shamsher Chowdhury


'Our past has become unpredicatable' - Major General Moin-ul Hussain Choudhury speaks


Streets of Dhaka on 16 December - Nilufar Begum


The ecstasy of victory -- Nurul Islam Anu


Through the eyes
of a diplomat - MM Rezaul Karim


A boy's memory of the war - Ekram Kabir


Fall of 'Dacca'- Siddiq Salik


Towards nation's prosperity -- Ashraf
Al Deen


The story of six brothers -- Akbar Hossain


As I look back -- A
M M Shawkat Ali


on Kalachara -- Lieutenant
General M Harun-Ar-Rashid, BP


assemblages -- Major
Qamrul Hassan Bhuiyan


memories -- Mustafa Zaman


of the tortured


Fearless Female Fighters -- Manisha


Following the path of freedom -- Fayza Huq


Passion for independence -- Novera Deepita


Depicting the actual massacre -- Afsar Ahmed


Missing links of history- Brigadier General M. Sakhawat Hussain


Looking the past in the eye - Habibul Haque Khondker


'I would rather die than sign any false statement'

Arnold Zeitlin who was The Associated Press bureau chief in Pakistan when he covered events leading to the creation of Bangladesh in 1969 till 1972 gives us accounts of political manouverings that in his opinion could have averted the bloody war between East and West Paksitan.

Weeks before the conflict between East Pakistan and West Pakistan that became a liberation war in March 1971, I was the unwitting witness to a precious, fleeting moment that might have averted the bloodshed in which Bangladesh was born.

The story started for me on February 13, 1971 in Rawalpindi, the morning after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the triumphant leader in the west of the Pakistan People's Party, met the country's military dictator, President Yahya Khan. The evening before and after meeting Bhutto, Yahya had announced that the National Assembly would meet on March 3 in Dhaka to begin the process of forming a civilian government following the 1970 election.

That morning I met Bhutto at the Rawalpindi airport just before he flew to Peshawar. Bhutto moodily refused to discuss the presidential announcement. He appeared annoyed, although friendly. He suggested I meet him in Peshawar for a talk, then flew off.

I had not planned to be in Peshawar but I drove that same day from Rawalpindi along the Grand Trunk to the home of Mohammed Hayat Khan Sherpao, the Frontier PPP leader, where Bhutto was staying.

Bhutto was making the rounds. He didn't roll into the Sherpao house until midnight, tipsy from a day of politicking and drinking.

Because the time was late, I suggested I return the next morning. No, Bhutto insisted, "Come upstairs."

Fondling a whiskey, he flopped in his double-breasted suit on the bed. While his valet massaged his fully-clothed limbs, he said:

"My party and I will not attend the opening of the National Assembly."

This statement, it occurred to me, was the beginning of the end of undivided political Pakistan. If there had been doubts about confrontation with the Bengalis in the east, the course of the collision was clear.

Bhutto lay back on the bed.

He said he was sure his party would not attend unless Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave way on his insistence on basing a new constitution on the Six Points.

"It's good to be back in the saddle again," he said, arching his back cat-like on the bed. He said he wasn't sure when or how he would make a public announcement.

He said he would attend as soon as Mujib sent him a signal of accommodation.

What sign?

"I have been considering," he volunteered, "a scheme for two prime ministers."

The time was 2 a.m. I went off to write a story. Bhutto left at 8 a.m. to visit nearby Charsadda where he told Khan Abdul Wali Khan, the National Awami Party leader, of his decision.

Wali later recalled, "I remember Bhutto said that it had been arranged with the 'powers that are' that in East Pakistan Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would rule, and in West Pakistan, Mr. Bhutto would be the Prime Minister."

In a statement read over Pakistan radio at 12.05 p.m. March 1, Yahya called off the start of the National Assembly.

Dhaka went wild. Two days later, a crowd eager to hear Muijib utter the word "independence," gathered on Paltan Maidan. Instead, Mujib shouted across Paltan Maiden to Bhutto in the west in a remark little noticed at the time: "If you do not want to frame one constitition, let us frame our constitution and you frame your own. Then let us see if we can live together as brothers."

Responding to a telephone call to my room at the Purbani Hotel, I visited Sheikh the next day at Road No. 32. The house was uncommonly quiet and empty at midday.

I entered through the kitchen and waited in the dark, tiny dining room.

Behind a curtain in the front room, Sheikh met with several colleagues. One was Dr. Kamal Hossain, who sat with me. He asked about Bhutto's two prime ministers.

They had heard about it, he said, on February 14, Valentine's Day.

I then was ushered in to see Sheikh. Many times I had been in that front room with its mouse brown chair coverings and the photographs of Suhrawardy and Tagore. It always had been crowded with people listening or contributing their own wisdom to whatever ongoing conversation.

This time was different. Sheikh was alone, curled in the brown arm chair. He seemed shrunken, his moustache wilting.

He listened as I retold the story of my conversation with Bhutto. I asked if his reference to two constitutions and Bhutto's to two prime ministers was the basis for an agreement between the two men.

Sheikh shrugged. He lifted his arms and spread his palms.

"If that is what Mr. Bhutto wants," he said slowly, "then, I surrender." He paused, then added: "And you can tell him that."

I left and immediately cabled a story to The Associated Press in London that a basis for agreement to share power existed between Mujib and Bhutto.

Later, the telephone rang in my Purbani room. On the phone was Najmul Haq, a reporter later to die in Dhaka. He said Sheikh had seen my story, brought to him from the cable office. Haq said Sheikh wanted me to withdraw the story.

"It will hurt him in the west," said Haq.

I asked to talk directly to Sheikh.

"This will hurt me in Karachi," he complained. "It was not correct."

Of course, it was correct, I reminded him. He had told me to tell Bhutto. "Well," he said, "you misunderstood."

I told him I would try to hold back the story but if it had gone to London, no way could I explain to my office why it should not run. It was correct.

I returned to the cable office. The office was on strike. I returned to tell Sheikh he was now the only person in Dhaka who could get into the cable office. And the story had gone.

The next day, the story was broadcast on All India Radio. Sheikh denied it, but in a nice way. He denied the All India Radio story, not the Arnold Zeitlin-Associated Press story. Otherwise, I would have been a marked man in Dhaka.

That seemed to be the last moment of agreement between Sheikh and Bhutto.

Later that month, there was talk of two committees to concoct east and west constitutions, but all the talk ended in the killings on the night of March 25.

Rafi Raza, one of Bhutto's deputies in Dhaka that March, later wrote in a book that Mujib had offered the committees as a possible solution. I told Rafi about my February conversation with a tipsy, ebullient Bhutto and his two prime ministers.

"He never mentioned that to me," said Rafi, shaking his head.

That was the end. Bhutto and Mujib realized better than most politicians in this frantic days what had to be done to save lives: politically, in some way, separate East and West Pakistan. In fact, that was what the people of Pakistan voted in the 1970 election.

The two leaders could not act together, they could not sell the idea to the army and to other West Pakistani politicians.

So it died. And so in the ensuing months until December 16, 1971, did hundreds of thousands of Bengalis.

A terrifying victory day

Shamsher Chowdhury

After an anxious and sleepless night I woke up from my bed on the early hours of the day, the 16th of December 197I. I stood on the balcony of my ancestral home and looked through the East and West ends of the street known as Central Road, as far as the eye could see. It was now about 6 in the morning. The street was deserted and looked as though tired and weary. I tuned on the Radio Pakistan, as usual it continued with its broadcast of verses from the holy Quran since the last 48 eight hours or so. I came downstairs and began to stroll anxiously up and down the front porch of our house. The voice of my brother (late) Shaheed Munier Chowdhury was still ringing in my ears,

"Shamsher, after all this, if we are unable to gain our Independence it is better to die". What an irony of fate he was kidnapped from this very house around midday on the 14th of December 1971 never to be found to this day. We are here and he is gone. There were sounds of pistol shots every now and then.

Suddenly I was rudely jolted by a loud call "Shamsher Bhai, Joi Bangla", it was 9.15 in the morning. As I rushed to the balcony I kept wondering as to who could it be!! Lo and behold to my utter surprise it was Captain Nasser Bari of the Pak Army, standing in an open Jeep. As soon he saw me on the Balcony, he shouted again at the top of his voice, "Shamsher Bhai, Joi Bangla".

I met Captain Nasser Bari quite accidentally sometime during early May/June, while I was working at the then Pakistan SEATO Research Cholera Lab. Capt Bari was a member of the Pakistan Army's Corps of Signals, looking after telecommunication systems of the whole of East Pakistan. He was all along a great help and we developed a liking for each other. During our frequent conversations right through the start of the war, to my pleasant surprise, I found out that he was a strong advocate of the cause of the Bangalees of the then East Pakistan. Capt. Bari came to our house immediately after transmitting the official "message of surrender" at 0900 Hrs to the Indian Army High Command from Hotel Intercontinental then declared as "neutral zone" by ICRC.

I was yet to come near his jeep, when suddenly from nowhere a group of young boys surrounded the vehicle with all sorts of firearms shooting in the air and shouting at the top of their voice "Joi Bangla." Hardly ten minutes had passed when I was confronted with another dilemma. This time the crowd had swelled to nearly 50. In a frenzy, they began to shout, "Let us kill this Pakistani bastard and also take this Dalal with us". Barefooted and dressed in a Lungi and a T-shirt I was sweating on a winter day like this. My friend by now got into the act and was in the process of, delivering a lecture on the heroic people of Bangladesh and their great exploits against the coward Pak soldiers. I clearly remember some of his deliberations, he said in broken Bangla "You are a heroic people. I salute all of you. I am here to congratulate my brother Shamsher and the most illustrious family of your nation. Surely you cannot kill an unarmed helpless man standing in front of you?"

Extremely nervous and thinking of the impending fearful consequences I too joined Captain Bari. In the midst of this turmoil I heard a voice calling my name, "Shamsher Bhai what is happening"? This was a young man of the locality who new my family well. Pushing the crowd aside he came near the Jeep and whispered into my years, "Please quickly ask your friend to move away and disappear, the crowd is growing restive and may go out of control at any time". He then in a commanding tone asked the gun toting young and angry boys to make way for the Jeep. As the vehicle and Capt Bari began to move away slowly, I followed the vehicle, with the unruly mob shouting, dancing, firing shots in the air in ecstasy and in euphoria that I have never experienced before. The vehicle was now approaching the Hatirpool. Soon Capt Bari disappeared over the bridge. I had a big sigh of relief but only to be short lived.

It was now time for the most dreaded and the longest " journey" of my life, crossing over a distance of mere 6 to 8 hundred yards, which lay between my residence and I. As I began to move, each step of the way, the gun toting band of young boys were following me, calling names and threatening to kill me, after all I was to them nothing but a Pakistani Dalal. In this way, in perpetual fear of death at any moment, I finally arrived at the doorstep of my residence, covering the distance in 30 agonizing minutes, which normally takes between 5 and 7 minutes.

I bear no grudge against anybody to this day. Our entire nation is plunged into extreme turmoil and conflicts of all dimensions. There are still others whose families had undergone far more tragedies leading up to our Independence and Victory Day. As I look back to that "dreadful day", I also think of those teeming millions who continue to live in anguish and extreme poverty. The fear factor from their lives may have gone, but the uncertainties of their existence continue.

It is indeed sad that at a time like this we are indulging ourselves in such political games of "identifying and issuing certificates" to what the management calls " genuine Muktijodhas." etc. As a nation we already stand bitterly divided. Let us not divide it any further into pockets of conflicts. There are various other ways we could honour our valiant fighters without such deliberate fanfare. As it is we are engaged in the bitter struggle of establishing political supremacy over one another. We are engaged in the race for money making at "any cost". We are busy more than ever before in establishing our values social, moral and ethical based on the size of cars or houses we own. The comparatively affluent section of our society along with the relatively more conscious section of the civil society must behave and act more responsibly and sensibly. Then and then only we may be able to carve out a sustainable future for our people at large.

Copyright 2004 The Daily Star. All Rights Reserved.