The telephone call that never came
March 24, 1971
THE FINAL MEETING
There was a final meeting between Awami League's team and President Yahya Khan's advisers on March 24 at 6:00pm. The reading of all the clauses and schedules of the draft proclamation, initially prepared by Yahya's advisers and subsequently modified by AL representatives, was concluded.
Kamal Hossain, a member of the AL team, asked Lt Gen Peerzada, principal staff officer to Yahya Khan, as to when the draft could be finalised. It was proposed from the AL side that Kamal Hossain and Justice Cornelius, adviser to Yahya Khan, should sit that very night and finalise the draft so that it could be presented before the president and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the next morning.
Cornelius was agreeable but Peerzada prevented him saying, "No, we have some discussions this evening, you may meet tomorrow morning."
When Kamal Hossain suggested fixing a time for the following day Peerzada intervened and said they would be informed about it over phone. Awami League waited for the telephone call throughout the fateful day of March 25 but it never came. Even when Kamal Hossain finally left Bangabandhu at his residence around 10:30pm on March 25, Bangabandhu asked him whether he had received such a telephone call. Kamal Hossain confirmed that he had not. [Kamal Hossain, Bangladesh: Quest for Freedom and Justice, UPL, 2013, pp 102-103]
BANGABANDHU WARNS AGAINST CONSPIRACY
From morning till night, without any rest, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman continued to give speeches for the many processions that arrived at his doorstep.
"We don't want any more discussions; now we want an announcement," said Bangabandhu.
If there was no solution by tomorrow, he said, Bangladeshis would find it themselves. No conspiracy could hold them back and they were united. Any decision, if forced on them, would not be accepted in any way. He asked people to be vigilant against attempts of creating communal tension.
FACE-OFF AND FIRING
From March 23 to the morning of March 24, the Pakistan army surrounded and held the Saidpur cantonment and neighbouring Botlagari, Golahaat and Kundul villages and used excessive force, killing almost a 100 people and leaving 1,000 injured. Curfew was imposed in the city. The army along with non-Bangalees carried out arson and carnage in the houses of Bangladeshis.
In Rangpur, a curfew was imposed following a clash between army and general people. In Chittagong, people resisted the offloading of MV Swat which was carrying 7,000 tonnes of ammunition. The army opened fire on the people and dozens were killed. In Mirpur also, tensions were rising.
Referring to these incidents, Tajuddin Ahmad said in a press statement tonight, "We would like to emphasise once again that any attempt to frustrate the efforts of arriving at a political solution would be reckless. The awakened people of Bangladesh would not allow this to be done."
Major General Farman and Major General Khadim, two planners of "Operation Searchlight", boarded two helicopters to pass the instruction of the military action to the brigade commanders outside Dhaka.
'WE ARE MAKING SOME PROGRESS'
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, talking to newsmen on his return to the hotel after a brief talk at the President's House today, said progress was being made at the talks. Replying to a question, Bhutto said a joint session of the advisers of the president, Awami League and his party would have expedited the arrangement. But at the moment it was not possible, he said.
Bhutto further added, "I am passionately devoted to one Pakistan."
Shamsuddoza Sajen is a journalist and researcher. He can be contacted at email@example.com