Dhaka Courier

The Past is Never Dead: The long shadow of the August 1975 coup

img
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

History always tells the truth. The history of yesterday guides us today. Today’s history guides us to consolidate our tomorrow. I have been reading, with great care the story published under the byline written by Lawrence Lifschultz, both in the Daily Star and the Bangla Daily Prothom Alo. I also read the response of Eugene Boster Jr. and Lawrence Lifschultz's subsequent reply.

I was in Geneva when Eugene Davis Boster was appointed the first US Ambassador to Bangladesh in 1974. He was attached to the Office of the US Arms Control Bureau in Geneva. I had met several times before his posting to Dhaka. I invited him to dinner to the Bangladesh residence with his wife, Mary, before his departure for Dhaka. He wanted to be briefed about the present situation in the country, particularly the situation of national security. At the dinner he asked about the Soviet Naval presence in Chittagong ports. He expressed his fear that the Soviet Union may be using Chittagong as a springboard for further military presence in Bangladesh. I assured him that the chances of his fears being realized were totally negative and told him that before the Soviet Union, the government of Bangladesh called an international tender for clearing the ports, which were clogged with ships and vessels docked prior to and during the war (most of them were Pakistani ships and some were foreign ships). I also informed him that I had approached the UNDP concerning the same issue and they expressed their inability to take the job. Here I want to mention that two of the first UNDP representatives, Mr. Tony Hagen and Mr. Victor Umbricht who had come to Dhaka on my recommendation (the UNDP office was known as the Dhaka office of the UNDP at the time). Therefore, the government asked me to know if the UNDP could at all be of any assistance to the situation in Bangladesh. I checked with the head office in New York, and after a conversation with Peter Peterson, a successful banker who spearheaded the Bank of America, I was unmistakably told of the organization's inability at that moment to do the job.

It was during the 1973 UNDP meeting in Geneva, where an IPF of 36 million dollars was divided equally between Bangladesh and Pakistan. The Gulf States including Turkey, all close friends of Pakistan opposed to the creation of Bangladesh. It was the American lobbying for Bangladesh by Peter Peterson and the head of the American team, Yuri Zarogin, that the Bangladesh resolution was adopted with a good majority. There, my Pakistani counterpart, Ambassador Naiznaik, who was my DG in Islamabad remarked, "Allocation of money to the authority of Dhaka is like turning a sharp knife on the back of Pakistan."After the UNDP Dhaka operation was completed, the first UNDP representative was sent to Dhaka, the gentleman mentioned above, Yuri Zarogin. He had been my original recommendation to the government of Bangladesh.

When I explained our past attempts to persuade the UNDP to assist Bangladesh, then only did the Soviet Union offer to assist in clearing the port of Chittagong, was accepted. The Soviets had much experience in naval ship clearances in Rotterdam and St. Petersburg after the Second World War.

Ambassador Boster reported our exchange to the State Department and the White House. Later, I believe he had also consulted and confirmed with Peter Peterson what I had previously told him, that the UNDP was not equipped to deal with the situation in Bangladesh.

I arrived in Dhaka after completing my sabbatical in Oxford on August 7th 1975. As Head of the mission in Geneva I gave a farewell reception before my return in honor of my friends who had helped Bangladesh during the war of Independence, in particular a pro-Bangla group headed by the socialist MP Professor Jean Ziegler. In Dhaka, I had my first call on Boster around 8/9 August, 1975. I again contacted him on the 16th August, 1975. He asked me to call him the day after. When I met him, I asked him about the events of August 15th. He informed me that there was "some dissatisfaction in the party of the Prime Minister and some members of the Army may be involved in taking some action, the full nature of which I am not aware of.”

He continued. "Some officers of some agencies in the US Embassy had informed me of their contacts with the Army and some civilians. I clearly directed these officers to keep their hands off regarding anything of that kind in Bangladesh!"

When I read about the meeting of Lipschultz with Ambassador Boster in Mexico, I was reminded of my few meetings with Boster and Lipschultz only corroborates what I was told by Boster. I also met Boster later on several times. In those traumatic days I had forgotten to keep a proper diary. He had expressed his grief and sadness with the events of the 15th of August. And I also reminded him of our last conversation in Geneva, when I came down to see him off. "Please look after our poor Bangladesh, particularly our leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He had then responded, "Don't worry, whatever may have happened during the period prior to the war, our policy in Bangladesh is totally devoted to humanitarian support and to help this devastated country to recover."

I trusted him because I found him to be a man of goodwill for Bangladesh. He felt very sad regarding the destruction of the country during the war. He even compared it, remotely, to the Civil War in America. But he also remarked, the Civil War, however, destructive did not kill so many people as in Bangladesh.

I briefed Boster of my conversation with Sheikh Mujib on the 14th of August night where he had asked me to read the Swiss constitution, which had attracted him originally in 1972, during his first visit to Geneva. I read a part in 1973 again in Geneva when he was there for the First Bangladesh Envoys Conference. It was a short visit, I read loudly another part on the night of 14th August. Booster asked me how he thought about the situation that night. I replied that he looked rather tired, but confident. Having been in Dhaka only seven days before that fateful day, I could not grasp the dimension of the conspiracy that was being hatched in the 15th August, 1977, I told him.

I had lunch with Boster sometime later, prior to his departure. When he left Dhaka he looked a very sad man, so did his wife Mary, who regretted they could not give a dinner for me because of the situation in the country. It is interesting to note that although the US did not recognize Bangladesh until 1974, the Humanitarian aid from the US was the largest in the world. The first relief flight was in 1972, soon after the Independence by a fellow named Max Rubb whom I found later as my counterpart in Rome in 1987. Earlier he was the treasurer of the Republican party, with roaring legal procedure in New York.  The American Embassy in Rome was opposite the Chancellery of Bangladesh Via Bartolome. I used to meet him quite frequently with his wife Ruth. On one occasion, I asked him about the events of 1975. He in turn had corroborated what Boster said, "I am a Republican." “And, so we shall allow any such situation to take place in Bangladesh. I know it for certain, that excepting for a few Agency members, the U.S. Ambassador did not play any role during the tragic events of August 15, 1975.

I read with interest the letter of Boster Jr. I fully understand his anguish. I am sure from the clarification of Lipschultz, Mr. Boster Jr. will realize that his father was a gentleman, and he had nothing to do with 1975 events. If anything, he may have tried to prevent it, but did not succeed.

I know this story may cause unhappiness amongst some but as is written in the first sentence of this piece, history never lies. The truth will be upheld. The trail of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib did commence but could not be finished for reasons beyond our control. One day justice will be done to the perpetrators of the heinous crime. I have no doubt.

I very often read the history of Cromwell, who had been hanged symbolically, his skeleton sprawled before the House of Commons on charge of regicide. His body was reburied in the same place, on the same day. That is justice. Rule of Law has a peculiar presidency to assert itself today or tomorrow. And in this case, I strongly believe justice will be done, someday some time.

The high court judgment on the 5th amendment tentatively goes a long way to prove the point. It is not for any political party; it is for all humanity I speak. I mourn the death of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and his entire family and the liberation leaders in Dhaka Central Jail. I also mourn the assassination of president Ziaur Rahaman, Khaled Musharraf and many others during those fateful days following the 1975 murders in many cases – but the perpetrator will sure face justice today or tomorrow.

Waliur Rahman Author and Founder Chairman, Bangladesh Heritage Foundation

  • Waliur Rahman
  • The Past is Never Dead: The long shadow of the August 1975 coup
  • Issue 7
  • Vol 36
  • DhakaCourier

Leave a Comment