On 24th March, 1971, my father, late Qazi Faiz Mohammed, Senior Vice President of All Pakistan Awami League, met Sheikh Mujiburrehman in his capacity as its President in his Dhanmandi house; he was with him the whole evening till dinner. It was the last meeting for both as fellow citizens of a country and as All Pakistan Awami League leaders.
“It’s all over, Qazi Sahib,” said Sheikh Mujib. “Talks with Gen Yahya failed, if you are staying here I shall make arrangements for you at some friend’s residence, the military operation is going to begin any time now.”
My father asked him: “Where are Taj u Din, Qamar ul Zaman and others?”
“They have crossed the border,” said Mujib.
“But why haven’t you done that?”
“I can’t for I am a leader.”
While saying goodbye they could not stop the tears falling from their eyes; they both hugged each other, as writes my father in his autobiography. And via Ceylon he along with Mir Ghous Bakhsh Bezenjo flew back to Karachi, perhaps on the last civil plane that flew from Dhaka on 25th March, 1971, to West Pakistan.
After 43 years, on the same 24th of March, I was in Dhaka to receive a posthumous award of “Foreign Friends of Liberation War” from Shiekh Mujib’s daughter, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, on my father’s behalf. For me it was a journey back into the past. It was the 23rd of March, a day when 74 years ago, the Sher-e-Bengal Fazal-e-Haq introduced the resolution of an Independent Muslim Country in Lahore, a resolution that was passed unanimously. There were only two leaders, as Kuldip Nayar writes in his autobiography, to whom the Khaksar volunteers gave a guard of honour: MA Jinnah and Fazal-e-Haq. This resolution envisaged a confederation between both parts of the country. But we made East Pakistan our colony. We didn’t realise then that colonies always win freedom from their colonizers. It was also 23rd of March, 1971, when Bhutto floated the idea of two prime ministers for Pakistan, one for East Pakistan and the other for West Pakistan, in his press conference at Dhaka’s Intercontinental Hotel, where I checked in the same day. It is now called Roposhi Bangla.
“It’s all over, Qazi Sahib,” said Sheikh Mujib
It was the third week of December, 1971, a few days after the surrender of Gen Niazi, when Sheikh Mujib was released, and his first request to the authorities was that he wanted to meet one Pakistani called Qazi Faiz Mohammed. My father travelled to Pindi. But at the eleventh hour Mujib’s departure time to London was changed and he was made to fly at midnight instead of the next day and the meeting with my father could not take place. But when my father returned to Nawabashah, he was immediately contacted by Bhutto and urged to leave at once for London to meet Mujib. My father carried Bhutto’s message to Mujib. Later, Mujib in his speech quoted that message of Bhutto’s brought to him by my father.
Sheikh Mujib would stand by Sindhis in their demand for breaking the One Unit System in West Pakistan
I remember Mujib when he came to our house in Nawabshah in June 1970 and addressed the jalsa there. I was 7 years old and my sister was 11. We were sitting with him on the stage. He got me to sit on his lap throughout the jalsa. (Adjacent to me sat GM Syed.) I remember one part of Mujib’s speech: “Commissioner Chittagong writes on a postcard to his family in Sialkot that there is a post vacant for manual fan operator, send someone to fill this post. May I ask you all, are Bengalis so inept that they can’t operate a manual fan even?”
My father used to enjoy it a lot when I mimicked that part of Mujib’s speech.
My father was a very old Awami Leagian. When the Suhrawardy Government joined SENTO and could not take a clear stand on the Suez Canal, he along with Bhashani, Nawabzada Nasirullah and others resigned from it and went to Dhaka to form NAP. In 1967 he again joined Awami League. (Qamar ul Zaman came to Nawabshah to request my father to join.) His condition for joining Awami League was met: Sheikh Mujib would stand by Sindhis in their demand of breaking the One Unit System in West Pakistan.
East Pakistani society was not feudalistic
I sometimes feel weary when it occurs to me that Nawabashah has not survived, nor that kind of politics that was in alliance with the oppressed peoples of both East and West Pakistan. They were nationalists and social democrats. In his letter dated 10th July 1970, Sheikh Mujib writes to my father: “…The impression which I carried back to Dacca after ten (10) days stay in West Pakistan is remarkable indeed…. I have marked the inner oneness between the poor people of West and East Pakistan. I have also noticed with great interest that the people from poor and middle class hold similar views as their counterparts here. So what we require at the moment is to place and implement our program in such a way that can lead them with confidence. We should face the bureaucrats, capitalists and feudal lords with all power at our command so that they cannot mislead our people anymore…”
I sometimes wonder at how Mujib was overnight turned into a “traitor”. He who was a leader of all oppressed peoples of both parts of Pakistan. Of course he was a Bengali nationalist too. (And in their ways, so were my father, Bezenjo and Wali Khan.) The problem was basically in the complexion of East Pakistani society, which from day one was not feudalistic. That was why a popular mass movement for Pakistan before 1947 was waged primarily in UP and Bengal – the homes of India’s educated, working Muslims. Punjab and Sindh joined very late in the movement, only when it seemed to the feudal lords of Sindh and Punjab that Jinnah will get power.
At the award ceremony in Dhaka this year, I gave all those letters that Sheikh Mujib and Qamar ul Zaman wrote to my father and also the correspondence of Justice Hammood Ur Rehaman for his appearance before the commission, as he was the only one who appeared before the Commission on behalf of the Party. Sheikh Hasina was glad to receive it and gave me a marvellous letter of acknowledgment. (It indicates that my documents will help them interpret events that had occurred a year before 1971; the documents are a “national treasure” which shall be preserved in the archives of Banga Bandhu or ‘Friend of Bengal’ Museum.)