Why should a hero remain unsung?
I came across a facebook positing of Mrs. Bilkis Mohiuddin, wife of an illustrious diplomat Mr. Mohiuddin Ahmed, that a veteran of diplomatic front in 1971 has not yet been recognised by the State for his historical contribution in the diplomatic front of the war. He is no other than Mr. Amjadul Huq, an Assistant Press Attaché of Pakistan Embassy in New Delhi in 1971.
Mr. Amjadul Huq along with late Mr. K.M. Shehabuddin, were the first two diplomats to defect from the Pakistani Foreign Service on April 6, 1971, even before the provisional Mujibnagar government was formed, and joined the liberation war. Prior to their defection, Mr. Shehabuddin, who had joined the Foreign Service of Pakistan in 1966, occupied the post of second secretary and Mr. Huq, the post of Assistant Press Attaché at the High Commission of Pakistan in New Delhi.
However, the most remarkable and notable aspect of their career was when they valiantly declared their allegiance to Bangladesh government even before the government was formed on April 10 and was subsequently installed on April 17 at Mujibnagar.
On April 6, 1971, the duo announced their decision to defect from Pakistan and pledge allegiance to Bangladesh at a press conference in New Delhi. In the depiction of K.M. Shehabuddin in his book: “There and back Again: A Diplomat's Tale”, the press conference had been called at a very short notice and at midnight for security reasons. It was clear to those present that this was a momentous decision. There were not any precedents anywhere in the world of diplomats resigning from their assignments in a foreign capital to transfer allegiance to a country whose government did not exist yet.
In their joint statement, they said, “Islamabad is engaged in a wanton and demented massacre of the innocent and unarmed people of Bangladesh….The people of Bangladesh consider the Islamabad government a foreign colonial regime, which has shown itself to be more oppressive and barbarous than any history has ever known. The Pakistan army in Bangladesh is an occupation army. It has no sanction other than its bayonets, tanks and fighter bombers”. They concluded, “We have severed our connection with the fascist military dictatorship in Islamabad, as our conscience no longer permits us to act against our deepest convictions. From now our allegiance is to Bangladesh, which derived its authority from the unambiguous mandate of the 75 million Bengali people”.
Prior to zero hour, while Shehabuddin was able to pack the possessions he wanted to take along with his wife and two daughters, Amjad was not that lucky. His habitually inebriated domestic aid had alerted the Pakistan High Commission of his plan just at the moment of his departure; they succeeded in taking away most of his personal belongings while they could not prevent him from leaving his residence. At the time the two spoke to the world, the whereabouts of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were unknown, the Mujibnagar government was yet to take form and substance and the organising of Mukti Bahini was still in the future. These were the realities which underpinned the duo's boldness in as much as they pointed to the grave perils they had put themselves and their families in. Away from their home in occupied Bangladesh, no longer in allegiance to the State of Pakistan, without a job in a foreign land, K.M. Shehabuddin and Amjadul Huq were lonely crusaders. Not until the emergence of Mujibnagar government before the global community on April 17, 1971, would these two brave Bangalis know that they were truly on a powerful movement into the future. As the first Bangali diplomats to repudiate Pakistan, Mr. Shehabuddin and Mr. Huq played a pivotal role in launching and shaping the diplomatic front of the Liberation War.
The defection of the two young diplomats on April 6, 1971 undermined the legitimacy of the Pakistani state on the global stage, served as an expression of solidarity with freedom fighters within Bangladesh, and inspired other Bangali diplomats in Pakistani missions around the world to use defection as a tool of protest. I heard about them during the tumultuous days of our liberation war in 1971. In fact, the news of his cutting ties with the Pakistan High Commission along with his colleague, the assistant press Attaché Amjadul Huq, was like music to the millions who were on the way to join the Mukti Bahini. The news provided a big boost in intensifying their morale in times of grave uncertainty.
In addition to reinforcing the confidence of freedom fighters within Bangladesh, the defection in New Delhi showed other Bengali diplomats a path through which they too could register their protest and join the struggle for Bangladesh's liberation.
Our liberation was a people's war. It had multiple fronts, out of which the diplomatic front played a pivotal role in mobilising international voice in condemning the genocide and putting pressure on the despotic Pakistani junta to come to a political solution with the leaders of Bangladesh. Out of the many, the courage, sacrifice and patriotism of K M Shehabuddin and Amjadul Huq warranted special recognition. It was extremely disappointing that the nation failed to recognise formally the contribution of the illustrious patriot K M Shehabuddin before his sad demise on April 15, 2015. However, he was awarded the 'Shadhinota Padak' in 2016.
In addition to his brave action, Amjadul Huq had to endure a great tragedy when on December 13, 1971, his younger brother Najmul Huq, a prominent journalist, was among the journalists skilled by Pakistani collaborators. After our victory, Amjad served as a director in Foreign office, diplomats in Muscat, Bonn and Warsaw.
In our unfortunate motherland, many who opposed and acted against the liberation war have been awarded the 'Shadhinota Padak' in the past, while people like Amjadul Huq, who is now 86, has remained an unsung hero even though the party that led our liberation war has been in the helm of the State for the last nine years albeit his historical contribution in the most critical juncture of our history is very much known to the Prime Minister.
The writer is a Professor and the recipient of the honour Everyday Hero and a nominee for the Order of Ontario.