Youth Policy Forum hosted its 2nd episode of ‘YPF Looking Back’ -- a series centered around a policy-based analysis of Bangladeshi and global history -- on “Leadership lessons from our Wartime Government”
When the Pakistani military cracked down on Bengalis and arrested their Father of the Nation, Bengalis put forward a courageous resistance. But to carry out Bangabandhu’s visions, consolidate war efforts, and gain international support, it was paramount to form a legitimate government.
On April 17, 1971, on the soil of Baidyanath Tala of Meherpur district, (later renamed as Mujibnagar) the provisional government of Bangladesh took oath as the legitimate government body representing the people of Bangladesh. During the nine months of the Liberation War, it was the leadership of this body that guided us towards the path of freedom.
To draw policy lessons from this important part of our history, the 2nd episode of ‘YPF Looking Back’ hosted on July 25 by Youth Policy Forum focused on the “Leadership lessons from our Wartime Government”.
The esteemed panel of this dialogue included Barrister Amirul Islam, special aide to the PM of our Wartime Government; Sharmin Ahmad, a renowned author and daughter of Tajuddin Ahmad; Md Nurul Quadir, Roving Ambassador of the Wartime Government; and Barrister Tania Amir, Managing Partner, Amir & Amir Law Associates and daughter of Barrister Amirul Islam.
The dialogue commenced with a brief presentation on the topic by two young researchers from YPF, K M Najib Hayder and Nowshin Noor Aysharzo. The whole event was moderated by Hasnat Kalam Suhan, deputy editorial lead of YPF. The presentation began by illustrating the backdrop of the inception of our wartime government. It also highlighted the key events and breakthroughs achieved by the then government. Then it went on to emphasize on how unity was a defining factor behind our success during the war. Through the strength of unity, the Mujibnagar government managed to overcome both inner and external hurdles.
Additionally, the presentation shed light on some of the lesser known facets of our liberation war, such as diplomacy and foreign policy. Bangladeshi foreign policy, at the time, was attempting a three-pronged course of action: Exposing atrocities committed by the Pakistani armed forces on Bangladeshi civilians to the international community, presenting the demands of Bangladeshi state and its people to various global stakeholders, and finally, ensuring a successful delegation to the UN General Assembly to further expose the fragility of Pakistani state and its failure to handle the situation peacefully.
Why was it important to form a government?
The presentation was followed by the panel discussion. While answering a question on why we chose to establish a government and not a revolutionary council in 1971, Barrister Amirul Islam provided a detailed explanation. The author of the proclamation of our independence said: “It was our duty on behalf of the people to create a government to enable their right to self-determination. As we established a government, we could establish communications with other governments and explain our independence proclamation. This, in turn, allowed for the recognition of our state and assistance. All our activities were backed by the international law, and the proclamation of our independence. Our diplomatic efforts saw success only because we formed a legitimate government.”
Amirul Islam then recalled an incident while crossing the border with Tajuddin Ahmad. When they reached the border, they sent a message through their aides to let BSF know that Bangladesh’s government representatives had arrived. They would cross on the condition of being welcomed as state representatives, and would like to communicate with Indira Gandhi. As a result of their steadfastness, they received guard of honor bestowed by BSF and subsequent transport support. This small incident showed the dignity of the newly formed country.
Diplomat carrying the message of Bengal
In 1971, Nurul Quadir roamed around the world to gain support from different countries -- governments and the civil society alike -- for Bangladesh’s freedom. He elaborately shared how he was bestowed this duty and embarked on this journey. After escaping to India, he based himself in New Delhi. Due to his linguistic expertise, he used to give frequent press briefings about the situation of Bangladesh to the international press. Later, Tajuddin Ahmad appointed him to be a roving ambassador of Bangladesh and spread ‘the message of the Bangladeshi people’.
Nurul Quadir also shared the story of his first mission when he went to Kabul, Afghanistan, before travelling to the Kingdom of Iran. Iran was then ruled by the Shah monarchy, a powerful ally of Pakistan. Nurul Quadir tried many ways to meet the Shahenshah of Iran, but all in vain. He then sent a 17-page letter with heartfelt description of Bangladeshi sufferings. Nurul Quadir recalls that, to his utmost surprise, the letter tremendously changed the mindset of Iran towards Pakistan.
While mentioning the other diplomatic successes of Bangladesh, he credited the brilliance of Tajuddin Ahmad. Despite facing numerous challenges at the home front, thoughts of diplomatic strategy didn't escape the minds of the PM. He directed the delegates and ambassadors extensively to achieve the best outcome for Bangladesh.
Integrity of Tajuddin Ahmad
Sharmin Ahmad pointed out how the diplomatic efforts were all-encompassing, and not restricted to one single field. Wartime diplomacy was a collaborative effort between cultural, personal, educational and many other sectors. When requested to shed light on her father’s characteristics and leadership prowess, she opined: “We can understand the characteristics of a person through three phases: Their behaviour after assuming power, their decision-making ability in crisis, and their behaviour even when power is lost.”
If we look at Tajuddin Ahmed throughout his life -- and how he, in wartime crisis, worked efficiently and with skill without compromise -- we see how this was simply his gradual growth and building of character throughout the years. This is not something abruptly found; it has been a gradual process.”
Tania Amir, who was a young girl when the war broke out, shared with the audience the horrific tales of the war and the unbearable sacrifices her family had to make, in a candid and detailed manner. She asserted we should take great pride in the fact that Bangladesh is the first country which successfully practiced civil and political rights in such a short time. No other country could establish the right to self-determination so fast and boldly.
For the last question of the day, the moderator asked the panelists on how our youth can learn more about this important, yet often overlooked, part of history. They advised the youth to do their own research before believing anyone’s words. They also emphasized on the need for the youth to carry out academic and literary research on ’71, because this is the last generation that gets to meet the freedom fighters. Otherwise, innumerable eye-witness accounts and memories will be lost in the sea of time.
The essence of history is in its lessons. Our country has indeed come a long way since the oath taking ceremony at the mango grove of Mujibnagar. While walking the rest of the path, 1971 can always be our guiding light.
Shah Minhaz Chowdhury is a final year student of Peace and Conflict Studies and Shamayla Mahbub is a final year student of International Relations at the University of Dhaka.