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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Indira Gandhi visited Bangladesh after the Indian troops pulled out

Photo: Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune
The road to recognition for Bangladesh as an independent nation
Just a day after he was released from Pakistani prison, among the first few phone calls to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was one of course from Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on January 8, 1972 from a hotel in London.
Indira told him that she had changed her mind, and after discussion with British Prime Minister Edward Heath, a special flight was arranged to bring Sheikh Mujib to India with a stopover at Delhi on his return to newly independent Bangladesh.
Indira feared that an Indian civil or military aircraft could be intervened by enemies during over-flight over hostile territories and feared the plane could be shot down. Heath agreed with Indira’s concern about Mujib’s safety and security.
While meeting with British Prime Minister Edward Heath at 10 Downing Street, he told Mujib that the UK would give diplomatic recognition to a newly born Bangladesh only after Indian troops were withdrawn by March 31, 1972. However, Britain recognized Bangladesh on February 4.
Boarding a British Air Force aircraft, Sheikh Mujib was accompanied by an Indian diplomat Sashanka Shekhar Banerjee, stationed in London, who was selected by Indira.
Sashanka had secretly met Mujib along with Tofazzal Hossain Manik Miah, editor of Dainik Ittefaq, a couple of times in Dhaka, while he was second secretary of the Indian High Commission (1962-66).
The day was December 25, 1962. On a Christmas holiday, Sheikh Mujib appealed to India for her support to the cause of Bangladesh’s independence struggle.
Sashanka in his book India, Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh Liberation & Pakistan claims to have received a letter in December 1962 from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addressed to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asking for Indian assistance in bringing about East Pakistan’s independence from Pakistan.
Again, the Bangla-speaking diplomat was contacted when he was posted as First Secretary in London (1969-72) over the telephone from Delhi by Bangabandhu’s two trusted emissaries Nuruddin Ahmed, then treasurer of Awami League, and former bureaucrat Ruhul Quddus (co-accused in infamous Agartala Conspiracy Case) in mid-March of 1971. Initially, he refused to speak on the phone, until Ruhul Quddus mentioned the codename “Parashmoni” (given by Mujib).
Bangabandhu through his emissaries in a secret mission to India, conveyed to the Indian prime minister that genocide and killing of mass people was looming in Bangladesh. 
To resist the military blitz of the marauding Pakistan Army, would the Indian government come forward in aid of the people of Bangladesh by providing them with military hardware and training?
In a rare episode of history on March 15, 1971, Indira Gandhi sends Mujib a secret message which reads: “We wish doctors will take care of your health and that of your Awami League family of East Pakistan.” It was well understood by Mujib what Indira wanted to say.
They were also requested to convey to Mujib that India would extend financial and logistical support for helping organize the Bangladesh government in exile in Kolkata.
During the long battle for independence, the Indian Army would also join the war alongside the Mukti Bahini, the Indian officials told the emissaries on behalf of Indira Gandhi.
While on board the British aircraft heading to Delhi, Mujib requested Sashanka to send a cable to Indira before he reached Delhi. He conveyed the wishes of Edward Heath to Indira regarding the withdrawal of Indian troops.
Bangabandhu wanted to discuss the troop’s withdrawal issue with Indira during their official talks in Delhi.
The independence hero was given a tumultuous welcome at Delhi, the Indian President VV Giri and Indira Gandhi were present at the airport.
After the official parley, a joint communiqué stated that the two countries had agreed to shorten the deadline of the troop’s pullout from June 30 to March 31. This was the first diplomatic success by Mujib.
When Mujib was preparing to return to Dhaka, Indira asked the Indian Army Chief Sam Manekshaw to finalize logistics for a troop pullout from Bangladesh.
Mujib’s request to shift the prisoner of war (POW) of surrendered Pakistan armed forces to India was also agreed.
To express gratitude to the people of West Bengal in India for providing shelter to ten million war refugees and offering hospitality to the Bangladesh exile government, Mujib paid a visit to Kolkata on February 6.
After a public meeting in Kolkata, Mujib officially invited Indira for a state visit to Bangladesh. She accepted the invitation, but on condition that the date would be after a total troop pullout. The first head of government who visited Bangladesh was Indian PM Indira Gandhi, who arrived in Dhaka on March 17.
The troop pullout issue was in the back of Mujib’s mind. He was anxious to send a message to the world leaders that Bangladesh was an independent country, and not how some Muslim countries described the country, as “occupied by India.”
When Indira visited Bangladesh, the young country was recognized by Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and most European countries including the UK, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, and France. ?

First published in the Dhaka Tribune on 24 March 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA), and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad. Reach him at

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Discontent Against Myanmar For Rohingya Crisis

Finally, Myanmar will begin to feel the pinch for its failure to provide meaningful accountability for its security forces' widespread and systematic violence and atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state.
Despite global outcry, Myanmar refused to bring to account government and military officials implicated in the genocide, gang rapes, mutilations, and forced eviction by security forces on the Rohingya.
There is growing international frustration among several countries planning economic and legal measures against Myanmar.
The state-sponsored atrocities killed at least 10,000 Rohingya, left scores with physical disabilities, and caused the largest exodus of civilians since the Rwandan genocide. An estimated more than a million Rohingyas are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh for the last two and half years.
Myanmar has demonstrated its defiance against the international move toward meaningful accountability of the demands.
In the past weeks, there were signs of growing international support for the Gambia's International Court of Justice (ICJ) genocide complaint against Myanmar.
In response to Gambia's official complaint of Myanmar's violation of the United Nations' 1948 Genocide Convention initiated in November 2019, the Myanmar government statement to the ICJ asserted that the Gambia's allegations were based on "incomplete and misleading factual picture of the situation in Rakhine state."
The ICJ delivered a harsh rebuke of that narrative on January 23 by supporting the Gambia's request for urgent provisional measures to protect the Rohingya population while the court undertakes the longer-term judicial consideration of the Gambia's genocide allegations.
That statement peddled by the Myanmar military's long-discredited narrative that its activities in northern Rakhine state in August 2017 constituted legitimate "clearance operations" in response to attacks on police posts by the banned Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi told ICJ justices last December that what transpired in northern Rakhine in late 2017 was mere "an internal armed conflict started by coordinated and comprehensive attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, to which Myanmar's Defence Services responded."
On February 25, Maldives announced that it would file a written "declaration of intervention" at the ICJ in support of the Gambia's genocide complaint.
Maldives' minister of foreign affairs, Abdulla Shahid, said that intervention - the details of which are yet to be made public - demonstrated his country's support for "the ongoing efforts to secure accountability for the perpetrators of genocide against the Rohingya people."
Last November 13, Rohingya and Latin American human-rights organisations filed a case with an Argentine court against Myanmar government and military officials under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows that people implicated in the most serious international crimes may be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted in countries other than their own.
The Argentine court filing seeks "the criminal sanction of the perpetrators, accomplices, and cover-ups of the genocide" perpetrated by Myanmar security forces against the Rohingya.
Germany's development minister, Gerd Müller, announced that
Berlin was suspending development cooperation with Myanmar because of its "ethnic cleansing" of its Rohingya minority.
Although Müller didn't specify the financial cost of that suspension, he simultaneously announced an additional German government contribution of €15 million (US$16.5 million) to support Bangladesh's Rohingya refugee population.
Other states are likely to initiate similar ICJ interventions over the coming weeks, including Canada and The Netherlands, whose governments announced in December that they planned to "jointly assist the Gambia at the International Court of Justice."
The biggest challenge remains with the international effort to trigger an ICC investigation of the atrocities that have been complicated by the fact that Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the court.
Unfortunately, an ICC probe through a resolution of the UN Security Council has been stymied by the opposition of Russia and China.
Meanwhile, the UN-created Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar officially began operations in September 2019 to gather evidence of crimes against humanity against Myanmar's ethnic minorities, including, but not limited to, the Rohingya, nationwide over the past eight years.
That message is that Myanmar should stop obstructing Rohingya accountability efforts, or pay the price of pariah-state status synonymous with murderous impunity.

First published in The New Nation on 19 March 2020

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad, Email:

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Mujib’s challenge was the road to democracy

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman - Photo Credit: Rafiqur Rahman, Reuters
How the architect of our independence paved the way for a democratic nation
Days after Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned from Pakistan, after languishing in solitary confinement in Mianwali prison, the stalwart politician quickly understood the challenges ahead.
The architect of Bangladesh’s independence, by dint of political wisdom, overcame the crisis. His first task was to bag diplomatic recognitions. Except for India, Bhutan, and later the Soviet bloc, no Western country had recognized independent Bangladesh.
Mujib decided to send strong messages to the global community and international bodies that war-torn Bangladesh had stepped into democracy.
Just a day after his home-coming on January 10, 1972, Bangabandhu promulgated the “Provisional Constitution of Bangladesh Order of 1972.” The order stated that those elected in the national and provincial parliament held in December 1970 and January 1971 would be deemed as members of the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh. On the second day, January 12, the leader took an oath of office as the prime minister of Bangladesh and formed an 11-member cabinet of ministers.
Of course, no other political leader had ever been able to drive their country to the road to democracy after a bloody war of independence. In less than three months, Sheikh Mujib held Awami League’s first Council Session on April 7, 1972.
Two days later, the Constituent Assembly held its first session at the Constituent Assembly Hall, which is now the prime minister’s office.
The Constituent Assembly merged all 403 elected members from the national and provincial assembly as Members of the Constituent Assembly. Among the 401 members, all were from Awami League, except for Surenjit Sen Gupta from NAP (Muzaffar), and independent member Manebendra Narayan Larma from the Chittagong Hill Tracts; they were in the opposition bench.
On the first day, the Constituent Assembly formed a 34-member Constitution Drafting Committee with Dr Kamal Hossain, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister in the chair.
Kamal Hossain wrote the draft in English and Anisuzzaman, a professor of Bangla from Chittagong University, painstakingly translated it to Bangla. Kamal Hossain was twice summoned by Bangabandhu for consultation regarding the draft constitution. On both occasions, he was accompanied by Professor Anisuzzaman.
Bangabandhu advised constitutional provisions to bifurcate religion and politics. The second was to block party law-makers from crossing the floor during voting in the parliament. Both pieces of advice were included in the first constitution and both the clauses had drawn flak from lawmakers.
The third issue regarding the citizenship was debated by independent lawmaker Manabendra Larma, for the use of the term “Bangali” to describe all Bangladeshi citizens.
He argued: “Under no definition or logic can a Chakma be a Bangali or a Bangali be a Chakma as citizens of Bangladesh, we are all Bangladeshis, but we also have a separate ethnic identity.”
Nevertheless, the draft constitution was adopted with thunderous applause on November 4, 1972, and took effect from December 16, 1972 -- the day 93,000 marauding Pakistan troops surrendered at Dhaka -- and lawmakers decided to commemorate the day as Victory Day.
On December 17, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his cabinet colleagues took a fresh oath on the new constitution -- the four pillars of which were nationalism, democracy, socialism, and secularism. The Constituent Assembly decided to hold the first general election on March 7, 1973, to commemorate Bangabandhu’s historic fiery speech at Suhrawardy Uddyan.
After 25 years, the political battle of realizing regional autonomy against the Pakistan junta had yielded a constitution for an independent and sovereign nation.
As Mohiuddin Ahmed, a writer and political historian, described in his book “Bela Obela,” Awami League had envisioned to draft and adopt a constitution in the Constituent Assembly in the shortest time.
Finally, the “road to democracy” adopted a new path after the constitution came into effect.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune on 17 March 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and a recipient of the Ashoka Fellow and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be followed on Twitter @saleemsamad

Bangabandhu ... statesman among statesmen

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, days after he returned home following more than nine months of languishing in a prison in Pakistan --- "a journey from darkness to light"--- in early January 1972 was catapulted to being a statesman of the third world.
After Bangabandhu, the independence hero of Bangladesh took charge of the war-ravaged country of 75 million, he soon became an icon of independence, freedom, democracy, socialism and secularism of the south-south nations.
The brutal birth of Bangladesh, after a bloody war with the marauding Pakistan military along with its Islamist militia and dreaded henchmen, as a new sovereign state in South Asian politics with its very strategic geographic location and in the midst of very complicated international politics was a significant event in modern history.
Bangladesh was born at the time 'when a global transformation of power was going on with the formation of the Indo-Soviet axis vis-a-vis Sino-American rapprochement which not only had a bearing on the emergence of Bangladesh but also had an impact on the foreign policy of the country that was emerging'.
The emergence of Bangladesh as an independent state in 1971 in South Asia appears to be a unique phenomenon in international affairs.
Immediately after Sheikh Mujib's homecoming, Bangladesh achieved recognition from all major countries, except Saudi Arabia and China. He was able to establish Bangladesh in the comity of nations.
He declared, "I would like it [Bangladesh] to become the Switzerland of the East." The word Switzerland had two meanings – peaceful coexistence and national development.
The enigmatic world leader in his casual dress in long flowing punjabi, pyjama and black vest dubbed as 'Mujib Coat', declared that Bangladesh would steer clear of the Cold War and would remain non-partisan in the tug of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union.
The charismatic leader became personal friends with a wide range of global personalities --- from Indira Gandhi of India to Fidel Castro of Cuba, from Houari Boumediene of Algeria to Marshal Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia to Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Alexei Kosygin of the Soviet Union to Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the Emirates, from Sir Edward Heath of the United Kingdom to Kakuei Tanaka of Japan, and from Senator Edward Kennedy to Prince Karim Aga Khan.
His contacts with the equally charismatic US leader Senator Edward Kennedy allowed Sheikh Mujib to express his thanks to the American people for their unflinching support for Bangladesh's independence, which eventually laid the foundations of Bangladesh's relations with the United States.
With the help of Bangabandhu's international friends and admirers, Bangladesh joined the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Commonwealth of Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
The iconic Cuban leader Fidel Castro compared Mujib's personality with the Himalayas. "I have not seen the Himalayas, but I have seen Sheikh Mujib. In personality and in courage, this man is the Himalayas. I have thus had the experience of witnessing the Himalayas," the Cuban supreme leader remarked during the Non-Aligned Summit in 1973.
For Sheikh Mujib, the Chinese veto to appease Pakistan in blocking Bangladesh's membership to the United Nations was a passing cloud, a test of time.
By dint of Bangabandhu's statesmanship, Bangladesh was steered into the United Nations and at the same time, Sheikh Mujib pursued the goal of coming out of superpower rivalry, and two years after liberation in 1971, Bangladesh joined the Non-Aligned Movement. At the NAM summit in 1973, Bangabandhu was able to draw the attention of world leaders to his diplomacy of friendship for all and malice to none.
Addressing the UN General Assembly on 25 September 1974, Sheikh Mujib categorically said, "Bangladesh has consistently pursued an independent non-aligned foreign policy promoting friendship with all countries of the world based on mutual respect for sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of other' states".
His statesmanship earned him global accolades. The World Peace Council honoured him with the Julio-Curie Peace Prize for his extraordinary contribution to the oppressed people of the world on 23 May 1973, and from "Bangabandhu", friend of Bengal, he became a universal friend.
No other global leaders could become such popular "friends of the world", as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman could. His career as a national politician and as a global statesman will surely be remembered in the years to come.

First published in The Business Standard, 17 March 2020

The writer is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad, Email

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Sheikh Hasina deserves thanks for neutralise conflict in Assam

How Bangladesh helped Assam
Early this year, New Delhi decided to withdraw the Indian Army from Assam, the neighbouring state in the northeast of India.
The conducting of a conflict assessment in the wake of a reduction in militancy in the region was the primary reason for the withdrawal of troops from Assam.
The top brasses in Indian defense were in the view that as the situation was improving in Assam, the state police should deal with it with the help of the Central Paramilitary Forces, according to The Assam Tribune.
Nearly two decades ago, the Indian army was deployed for counter-insurgency operations in Assam, in November 1990.
The dreaded militant groups National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), and other separatist armed groups were at the behest of Pakistan spy agency ISI, with their cohorts in Dhaka.
Bangladeshi territory was used by the militant leaders of ULFA, NDFB, and other insurgent groups in Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur for their separatist movement.
The second-generation separatist leaders got renewed impetus in their illegal activities during the regime of Begum Khaleda Zia from 1991-1996 and again in 2001-2006. Pakistan was literally fighting a proxy war in the northeast through ISI covert operations in Dhaka.
The so-called headquarters of ULFA, NDFB, and others were dismantled, the leaders were pushed back from Bangladesh, months after Sheikh Hasina took oath in 2009. Since then, the entire gamut of militancy was physically immobilized in Bangladesh.
Thus, the cross-border terror came to a halt. The militant outfit’s bank accounts and other businesses were frozen by Bangladesh authorities. Several rogue elements in the Bangladesh government who were involved with aiding and abetting the militancy were punished and others reprimanded.
Recently, the NDFB(S) signed suspension of operations -- the ULFA remains the only major militant outfit active and the situation does not warrant deployment of the army all over the state -- the defense brass concludes.
On November 29, the Global Terrorism Index 2019 noted that Bangladesh had been the most successful South Asian country in countering terrorism. S Binodkumar Singh, Research Associate of Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi wrote: “Bangladesh had the largest improvement of any country in South Asia.”
Most of the militant leaders pushed back are presently active in negotiation for sustainable peace in the region. After being evicted from Bangladesh, the camps of the separatists moved to Myanmar. Myanmar military caused havoc on their camps recently.
The casualty from two decades of conflicts in northeast India has significantly reduced after Bangladesh had been able to neutralize the militancy and keep cross-border terror in check.
According to data from the Institute for Conflict Management, in 2000 the civilian casualty was 267, security forces 37, and extremists killed 223; while in 2019 civilian deaths dropped to one, security forces casualty to zero, and only two militants were killed.
The total deaths in 20 years comes to: 2,208 civilians, 340 security forces, and the number of separatists killed was 2,331 in 2,562 incidents of conflicts. The tripartite agreement was signed between NDFB President B Saoraigwra, the Assam government’s Ashutosh Agnihotri, and Union Home Joint Secretary (North-East) Satyendra Garg in New Delhi on January 17.
Bangladesh security forces were on high alert, and last June a team from the Bangladesh army and RAB, in a joint operation, recovered 12,000 weapons, including rocket launchers and machine guns, from the Satchari National Park.
Earlier in the year 2004, in a sensational recovery, 10 truckloads of arms and ammunition -- apparently smuggled in by ULFA’s military commander Paresh Barua from China -- were seized by the Bangladesh Army near Chittagong port.
The fugitive Paresh Barua, once a popular Assamese soccer player, was handed the death sentence by a Bangladesh court after he stood convicted in the 10-truck arms smuggling case.
Last November, a three-member pro-talk ULFA delegation -- Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, General Secretary Anup Chetia, and Foreign Secretary Sasadhar Choudhury - attended a formal discussion with interlocutor AB Mathur, a former special secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) at an undisclosed location in New Delhi.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune on 2 March 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and is a recipient of the Ashoka Fellow and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be followed on Twitter @saleemsamad