American Journalist Remembers '71
Zeitlin was the Associated Press (AP) bureau chief in Pakistan
during the 1971 liberation war of Bangladesh. Arnold joined
the AP as bureau chief in Rawal Pindi in 1969 from his three
and half years working station in Nigeria. He came from a
country, which had experienced civil war as the oil-rich eastern
part of Nigeria was trying to achieve independence. Arnold
appreciated the role of the Bengali economists who informed
the world about the West Pakistan's economic exploitation
of East Pakistan. Zeitlin has been a familiar figure before
and after independence. In recent years he has been a frequent
visitor conducting workshops or attending seminars. On a recent
visit to Dhaka a few weeks before Victory Day, Zeitlin, now
managing director of Editorial Research & Reporting Associates
Worldwide News Media Consulting, talked to The Daily Star
about his views on the Liberation war. Excerpts:
Daily Star (DS): What was the world's reaction to
Arnold Zeitlin (AZ): The liberation war
was certainly a time when the world eyed on East Pakistan,
but Pakistan made the mistake of forcing journalists to leave
East Pakistan on March 26 cutting the world off from information.
of East Pakistan was an obvious choice as the 1970 election
results showed that Bangalis of East Pakistan voted for Awami
League and West Pakistan for Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
The lack of vision and maturity of the political leaders led
to so many sufferings and killing of general people.
did not consider Bangalis as true Muslims and the mistrust,
hate and discrimination gained ground from this belief.
When did you first come to this country?
AZ: I came to this country exactly 35 years
ago in December when the country was in emergency declared
by Admiral Ahsan as Biharis and Bangalis were rioting on the
Where had you been on 25 March night?
AZ: As March was tensed the world eyed on
East Pakistan and many journalists stayed at the Intercontinental
Hotel. On the night of March 25 most of the journalists were
sent to Karachi. I was in the house of Akhter Ispahsani in
Gulshan with Roedad Khan, the then information secretary,
Kaiser Chowdhury, former private secretary of once foreign
minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
What happened at that time?
AZ: I left a message at the hotel and one
of the journalists warned me not to go back to hotel as all
the journalists had been asked to check out and had been sent
back to Karachi. And my friend said that there were flames
and fire in front of the hotel. Mrs. Ispahani Akhter called
General Omar who was the political officer of the Army and
the General told her to break into the cantonment. So Roedad
and Kaiser drove down the airport road but somebody had put
a huge tree on it. Because one of the orders of Sheikh Mujib
was to put a barrier on roads. So we drove back to Gulshan
and spent the rest of the night on the roof. Next day was
curfew; no communication no telephone. The day after, on March
27 they lifted the curfew. We drove into the town. We drove
to the university and found bodies of students in front of
a hall. Then I drove back to the hotel.
What was the situation there? Were you the only journalist
at the hotel?
AZ: No Simon Dring and my photographer colleague Michel Meron
from AP were present at the hotel at that time. I went back
to the hotel and walked to the reception. The man did not
expect me. He asked me whether I was leaving or coming.
How did you leave the country?
AZ: We then left for airport as one of the
PIA planes was waiting for the few foreigners still here.
Simon Dring, Michel Meron and I had to undergo an exhausting
search at the airport. They searched everything, every piece
of paper, film, clothes, and suitcase.
DS: You have said that you were the first
journalist to send news outside East Pakistan of the massacre
on March 25?
AZ: Yes, before Simon Dring. The plane stopped
for refuelling and surprisingly they allowed me to get out
of the plane. The first thing I did is call the AP stringer
in Colombo, Manik De Silva and I dictated him the story. And
that was the very first story sent out by anyone from Dhaka.
The Morning News of Pakistan took one line from my story that
AP correspondent Arnold Zeitlin reported that 'Army is in
full control in Dhaka'. Though there were lines in my report
that people were leaving the country and students had been
What do you think was the role of common Bangali people during
the liberation war? AZ: The Pakistani Army
was operating without any intelligence as they were completely
in the dark, as the general people did not cooperate with
them with any information about the freedom fighters.
DS: What made the Pakistani Army kill the
intellectuals of Bangladesh just before their official surrender?
AZ: Whether it was the Pakistani Army or
Razakars killed the intellectuals is the question.
Would you like to comment on the surrender ceremony?
AZ: One thing I would like to ask is that
why there was no senior leader from Bangladesh present at
the occasion? Symbolically this undermines the struggle for
freedom of the Bangalis. The Bangalis struggle for freedom
goes back to the British rule. The Bangalis struggle for independence
started since the division of Bengal in 1905. And then it
was a continuous process: the Lahore Resolution in 1940, the
separation in 1947 the language movement in 1952 -- all led
to freedom of Bangalis.
DS: How do you see liberated Bangladesh?
AZ: If I have to write a book on this I would
name it liberation betrayed'.
Can you give us an example why you are saying this?
AZ: The people of Bangladesh have not achieved
the fruits of freedom. There is no institution developed for
the people. Dhaka City has become a city of black money. A
certain class takes the role of Pakistan's economic exploitation
on the Bangalis in the free Bangladesh. Avik Sanwar Rahman
is the staff correspondent of The Daily Star.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004