Remembering Bangabandhu: Friendship with all, malice towards none
Every Bangladeshi, regardless of their age, class, gender, race, or religion, feels an array of emotions when they hear the name Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Bangabandhu, an uncompromising patriot, inspiring leader, and unmatched politician, will forever be remembered in history as the indisputable defender of the rights of the ordinary man and as a role model for the next generation. In addition to making him an emblem of Bengali nationalism, his battles to free an oppressed nation of 7 million people also made him a revered figure around the world.
In an unequal battle against the West Pakistani military junta motivated by the brilliance of Sheikh Mujib’s great leadership, millions of Bengalis participated in the liberation war of 1971. During his famous 19-minute address on March 7, Bangabandhu galvanized brave Bengalis to begin their independence preparations. On October 30, 2017, UNESCO listed that speech as a documentary heritage in the Memory of the World Register.
On January 8, 1972, Bangabandhu was released from a Pakistani prison. Bangabandhu was flown covertly to London by a Pakistani military aircraft. Bangabandhu flew home in a British Royal Air Force comet aircraft on January 10. The flight had a two-hour stop in Delhi en route to Bangladesh. Bangabandhu was greeted by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President VV Giri of India. Bangabandhu painted a complete image of Bangladesh’s independence during that visit as he received a guarantee from Indira Gandhi on the return of Indian soldiers from the territory of independent Bangladesh, despite being beholden to India for its support to the great liberation war.
As the leader of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu made his first trip to India in February 1972. He invited Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to come to Bangladesh and once more pleaded with her to swiftly withdraw Indian Allied Forces troops from Bangladeshi territory.On the eve of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s first birthday in independent Bangladesh, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi traveled to Bangladesh at Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s invitation. But even before that, on March 12, just two months after Bangabandhu’s return, the final Allied Forces soldier left the territory of independent Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh’s history, the removal of the Indian Allied Forces personnel is crucial. Since World War II, no independent nation that had received assistance from allied troop’s soldiers has been granted full sovereignty. But thanks to Bangabandhu’s foresight and Indira Gandhi’s genuine sincerity and affection for Bangladesh, Bangladesh was free of foreign rule and a full-fledged independent republic within three months after gaining its independence.
Bangladesh was a terribly war-torn country when Bangabandhu took charge of the nation. Most of the roads, bridges, power stations were destroyed. Our two ports were ineffective, banks were moneyless, and even we had no defense team in place. We did not have any product for foreign trade at that point. It was an immense liability and Bangabandhu quickly decided on his course of action to rebuild the devastated nation. He focused on building foreign relations and with support from different corner of the world, he rebuilt the country, which was a mammoth task.
With the amazing adage “Friendship with all, malice towards none,” which he coined when drafting the country’s first constitution and which echoes the late US president Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration address, Bangabandhu laid the foundation for Bangladesh’s foreign policy framework. This dictum continues to be an integral component of the current Bangladesh, which engages with other countries to preserve its interests as well as to direct the international community in promoting peace and harmony.
For Bangabandhu, establishing the boundaries of the new state’s foreign policy was a must for creating national adaptability for the prosperity of his people and the survival of the state. Its fundamental tenets were to improve ties with all neighbors in our immediate neighborhood, the greater Asian area, and the rest of the globe on the basis of mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity, sovereign independence, and not interfering in one another’s domestic affairs.
His foreign policy also supported the notion of a strong and enduring commitment to non-alignment, founded on the principles of peaceful coexistence and friendship to all; cultivating close ties with the OIC and all other Muslim countries as one of the largest Muslim nations; supporting the right to self-determination of all oppressed people, everywhere. This required our proactive membership in all international forums, particularly the United Nations and all its specialized agencies, as well as the Commonwealth.
Bangladesh joined the IMF, ILO, UNESCO, Colombo Plan, Inter-Parliamentary Union, and GATT in 1972. Bangladesh submitted their application for membership in the UN to the UN Secretary-General on August 7. Two days later, Bangabandhu sent a letter to the Security Council’s members asking for their assistance in supporting Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s inclusion in a combined resolution was strongly recommended to the Security Council by the United Kingdom, India, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia on August 23. Bangladesh joined a number of international organizations after gaining its independence during Bangabandhu’s administration, including the Commonwealth of Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the United Nations.
In barely three and a half years, from January 1972 to July 1975, Bangladesh inked more than 60 agreements and memorandums of understanding on diverse topics. Additionally, Bangabandhu was successful in getting virtually every country to recognize the new state. China opposed Bangladesh’s freedom movementand maintained its position for a while. Bangabandhu recognized the importance of the connection between China and Bangladesh andmade wise diplomatic decisions that eventually paid off. During his reign, even Pakistan was compelled to recognize Bangladesh.
Due to his warm demeanor and astute leadership, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman rapidly made friends with a number of world leaders, including Yasser Arafat of Palestine, Marshal Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, and Fidel Castro of Cuba. He was revered as the revolutionary hero who delivered Bangladesh from a much more powerful tyrant. His social equality and secularism ideologies were welcomed by many though it was threatening to a few because he was quickly rising to prominence as a global figure and influencer, which may have led to the events of August 15 when a charismatic leader’s legacy was attempted to be snatched away.
Bangabandhu’s vision and ideas have influenced Bangladesh’s foreign policy for more than fifty years.The worldwide message of peace with justice and equity for all that Bangabandhu resonantly urged for in his address to the United Nations in October 1974 must still be repeated in all of our foreign policy pronouncements today. Sheikh Hasina, the current prime minister of Bangladesh and the eldest daughter of Bangabandhu, has carried on her father’s legacy by leading Bangladesh toward progress despite the formidable obstacles posed by recent division. She continued to walk the road of peace and humanity even after agitations.
The anti-sovereignty forces made their attempt to erase Bangabandhu’s legacy and our Liberation War history on August 15, 1975. By reinforcing and expanding upon the fundamental roots Sheikh Mujibur Rahman left for us as his legacy, we must turn this day of grief into a day for recommitting ourselves to his goals and visions. Only in this way, we will be able to honor our father of the nation and his martyred family members.
The writer is Chief Editor of Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor of Kishore Bangla.