After taking charge as president, Bhutto was heading towards the resolution of the more important problems the country had been facing. The release of POWs was linked to Mujib’s freedom and recognition of Bangladesh. Bhutto knew what Mujib meant to him and Pakistan. International pressure was also mounting.

On December 27, 1071,  exactly one week after his takeover, Bhutto drove, properly escorted of course, to a bungalow near Chaklala airport, where Mujib had been shifted from jail a day earlier. When Mujib saw Bhutto in front of him, he asked why he was there. Bhutto replied that he was now the president of Pakistan. To this Mujib teased him that it was his position, and questioned how Butto attained that (refering to Awami League’s victory in the 1970 elections). To this Bhutto replied that he was also the martial law administrator.

This was followed by a long meeting in which Bhutto told Mujib everything that had happened after his arrest on March 25, 1971. Mujib was unaware of what had happened as he had not read any newspaper or listened to any broadcast since then. Bhutto told him that East Pakistan had become Bangladesh and that the Indian army and Mukti Bahini had occupied it.

In their hour-long meeting Mujib asked Bhutto about the condition of Bangladesh and discussed the ways to reduce Indian and Russian influence, for which Mujib sought Bhutto’s assistance. During their talk Bhutto asked Mujib if there was any chance of East and West Pakistan remaining together in the form of a loose federation. For this Mujib told Bhutto to wait.

Mujib was more interested in knowing about Bangladesh and its people. His meeting with Bhutto was surprising and reassuring. Bhutto had spoken to Mujib about his release but it did not occur immediately. On January 7, Butto again met Mujib for further talks. Once again, discussions regarding a confederation and living together surfaced prominently. During this meeting Mujib reminded Bhutto that in the last meeting he had promised to release him, but Bhutto parried this query. The meeting ended without Mujib making any commitment on a federal or confederal system.

Mujib had not been told, but the next day just before dawn there was movement at Chaklala airport; President Bhutto was to see off Mujib to London as there was no direct flight to Dhaka. At London airport, a limousine was waiting to take Mujib to Claridges Hotel. There, the first thing he did was to speak to Indira Gandhi, the Indian prime minister. The next day he called on the British prime minister, Edward Heath.

The Bangladeshis did not know about Mujib’s arrival and stay in London until the BBC broke the news that the Bangla leader had arrived there. As the news flashed Bengali people flocked to the Racecourse, but they were not sure when he would be amongst them. On January 10, the British government provided an air force plane to take Mujib to Bangladesh. On his way back, he first landed at Delhi, where he was received by the Indian president, V. V. Giri, and prime minister, Indira Gandhi, as well as the entire Indian cabinet and chiefs of the armed forces. From there he proceeded to Dhaka.

On January 10, 1972, when he landed at Tejgaon from where he was driven to Racecourse, a sea of people thronged to see and listen to him. Here in his first speech he rejected Bhutto’s suggestion. He said that there could be no link between Pakistan and Bangladesh. “It has been snapped for all time to come; you live in peace and let us live in peace.” Perhaps Bhutto was aware of it and as he had many points to score in the future he only said that he would speak to Mujib at some appropriate time.

On December 24, 1971, Bhutto appointed a high-powered inquiry commission under the chairmanship of Justice Hamoodur Rahman, Chief Justice of Pakistan, to investigate the causes of the fall of Dhaka and the surrender of the largest number of soldiers in history. The result of the inquiry would take some time. At the moment, some workable foreign policy had to be formulated as in the presence of Bangladesh, a different approach was needed to deal with the world community.

From the moment he set foot on Bangladeshi soil, Mujib embarked upon various reforms, both political and social. His government-in-exile had arrived two days after the fall of Dhaka and now wanted to work on Mujib’s plan. There were issues such as rehabilitation of the uprooted people, putting the economy on track and restoring law and order.

shaikhaziz38@gmail.com


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