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Former diplomat KM Shehabuddin, who showed much courage to leave Pakistan’s side during the 1971 Bangladesh War, passed away of old-age on April 15, 2015.
Former diplomat KM Shehabuddin, who showed much courage to leave Pakistan’s side during the 1971 Bangladesh War, passed away of old-age on April 15, 2015.

Disrespect and apathy and ingratitude have somehow become part of life in Bangladesh. You only need to take a look at how people have responded to the news of the death last month of K.M. Shehabuddin. The former diplomat, revered for his courage in turning his back on Pakistan and its foreign service in early April 1971, was the subject of a commemorative discussion organised by the Liberation War Museum last Saturday. That was all, apart from a few tributes to him in some newspapers. No one else has remembered him or his sheer act of patriotism.

At the Liberation War Museum discussion, not a single serving officer of the Foreign Office was in attendance. Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali, away from the country on an official visit abroad, did not think it necessary to call a condolence meeting at the Foreign Office after Shehabuddin’s death. Ali and Shehabuddin joined the Pakistan Foreign Service in 1966. Both defected in favour of Bangladesh in April 1971. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ali served as high commissioner to Britain and Shehabuddin was ambassador to the United States. And yet Ali felt no necessity of a collective paying of tributes to Shehabuddin at the Foreign Office.

But why blame the Foreign Office only? None of our ubiquitous television channels has ever felt the need for programmes on those illustrious sons of the soil who, having served the country with distinction, pass into the Great Beyond. Nearly every television discussion, or talk shows as they are known, focuses on politics. Nothing else matters. It is almost always the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party which is the subject matter. There are hardly any programmes on new books or on authors. Nothing of international significance is projected in the electronic media. Yes, there are all the music programmes, with anchors who clearly have no clue to the background of the artists or the songs they have on offer. You do not have Syed Abdul Hadi everywhere.

So we are not really surprised that the Foreign Office did not have the time or the intention to mourn one of its own. You might now be tempted to ask: how many of its past luminaries does the Foreign Office remember? Hossain Ali, the man who made history in Calcutta in 1971, is buried in Canada. Have we ever asked ourselves why he became disillusioned with his country and showed not the slightest inclination of coming back home? And then there was the brave Iqbal Athar, the Pakistani diplomat who had no roots in Bangladesh and yet who decided in 1971 to reject his country and stand beside the struggling people of occupied Bangladesh. Bangabandhu’s government gave him Bangladesh’s citizenship and sent him out as ambassador. He died some years ago, but no one knows where his final posting was, where he died, and how. Chances are the Foreign Office will not be able to fill you in on the details.

Our governments have not had any worries or pangs of regret about their failure to acknowledge the services of our tried and tested diplomats. Khaleda Zia’s government dismissed the outspoken Mohiuddin Ahmed from the Foreign Service. That was a gross instance of political misbehaviour. But when Mohiuddin Ahmed, who was instrumental in developing public opinion in favour of the War of Liberation after walking out of the Pakistan High Commission in London in 1971, was reinstated in service in 1996 by the Sheikh Hasina government, the move did not amount to much. Ahmed was never made foreign secretary, was never given any ambassadorial position. He did not complain, he did not indulge in sycophancy. And he developed a new career in writing, endlessly reminding people of the ethos which went into the creation of Bangladesh and which continues to sustain it. Our secular governments have ignored Mohiuddin Ahmed’s contributions and expertise, to our undying shame.

And yet there are all those people who have felt little or no shame in having worked diligently for Pakistan, to the point of denigrating the Bengali struggle for freedom in 1971 and then going on to rise in Bangladesh’s diplomatic service. That has been the irony. At a time when Shehabuddin and Mahmood Ali were saying farewell to Pakistan, Reaz Rahman, serving at Pakistan’s Delhi mission, went to Islamabad to spend his annual leave. In the process, in newspaper interviews, he castigated the War of Liberation as the work of miscreants and collaborators. In independent Bangladesh, Khaleda Zia made him foreign secretary and subsequently minister of state for foreign affairs. That, of course, was natural for the Begum, given that her husband General Ziaur Rahman felt little compunction in catapulting Tabarak Hossain, the Bengali Pakistani diplomat who accompanied Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on a Yahya Khan-sponsored delegation to Beijing in November 1971, to the position of Bangladesh’s foreign secretary. Note the irony. But, then again, irony has played a huge part in the shaping of our post-Liberation history. Those who sat on the fences in 1971 and those who had a poor opinion of our armed struggle for liberty were to be the ones to take over the state eventually. Most of our heroic battlefield leaders have died. Those who came back from Pakistan have lived to old age.

When you think back on the nation’s diplomatic service, you cannot but be amazed at the brazen manner in which many of our diplomats have, once their services came to an end abroad, chosen to stay back in foreign land. Take a survey of the many former Bengali diplomats today settled in such places as America, the United Kingdom, and Australia. They never came back home, which makes you wonder whether they actually served their country in the way they should have. There are instances of press ministers, appointed from political considerations, staying back illegally in the countries they had been posted in, and then somehow coming by citizenship in those countries. You question the judgement, indeed the patriotism, of these individuals. At the same time, you have serious doubts about the wisdom of the government which dispatches such ambassadors and press ministers abroad.

Reflect now on those Bangladeshi diplomats who have kept on serving abroad, never returning to postings at home. What could be so special about them that they cannot be brought back home? And why must the rules pertaining to diplomats marrying foreigners while in service be changed only because a woman ambassador is intent on tying the knot with a man not of her country or race? There are other problems as well. The last two Bangladesh high commissioners in Delhi both decided, once their tenures came to an end, to stay back in India through linking up with international organisations there. That certainly does not convey a good image of the country, for it is a bad sign of how our diplomats are unhappy about going back home.

The country is not served when the ambassador to Vietnam pulls out all the stops in his quest for a freedom fighter’s certificate from the government only because he needs an extra year in service. Fifteen years ago, our ambassador then serving in Hanoi approached yours truly, wondering if a good word could be put to the Prime Minister about his desire to be taken away from an ‘unimportant’ country like Vietnam and sent instead to the West. In subsequent times, this important envoy in unimportant Vietnam retired from service and became foreign affairs advisor to the chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

One last point: you do the Foreign Service huge disservice when you pluck men who went into retirement from the diplomatic service years ago and send them off as ambassadors and high commissioners abroad once again. Such acts undermine the spirit of those diplomats in service who have in them the ability and the intellectual qualities necessary to speak for Bangladesh abroad. The pursuit of foreign policy is or ought to be a thoroughly professional affair. It is a task which may be not be done well by men and women who, having gone into superannuation, find themselves on the advisory boards of political parties or serve as ambassadors-at-large to heads of government.

That is all, for today. And tomorrow is another day.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a bdnews24.com columnist.

Syed Badrul Ahsanis a bdnews24.com columnist.

23 Responses to “Our Foreign Office, our diplomacy”

  1. Matiur Rahman

    Unsung heroes are real heroes.They do not care much for publicity and recognition when alive.They opt for quietness and simplicity. History will rehabilitate them properly. This is the simple truth.

  2. Shahzad

    Begum Akhtar Solaiman, the daughter of Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy lived and died in Pakistan. Her daughter Barrister Jameel was a member of General Musharraf’s Cabinet. Nurul Amin is buried in the Mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah woth all the other heroes and heroines of Pakistan. Raja Tridev Roy, the Chakma Vhief lived and died in Pakistan. There are thousands of Bengalis who remained loyal to Pakistan. They believed in a united Pakistan. Just because they ended up on the losing side doesn’t mean they are traitors to Bangladesh.

    • Kamal Haider Mamoon

      Are they patriots? Seems an insane is speaking!

  3. imohammad

    In other words, this valiant son of the soil was fortunate enough for he didn’t have to share “Shawdinatha Padak” with that criminal of Sharseena.I strongly believe, someday someone will come up with true history as to how villaines were made heroes and the heroes were either silenced or remained unsung.Time will reveal the truth as to how Shah Aziz, Mannan Moulana, Abdul Alim, SAQA and alikes were given national flags to move on.Mir Zafar Ali Khan was reborn in this soil sometimes in the last century.Let some body expose him in truer sense.In the meantime, May Allah rabbul alamin grant Late K.M.Shehabuddin rest in heaven.

    • Sarker Javed Iqbal

      Trial of war criminals and the criminals against humanity initiated after 40 (?) years of liberation. I believe, charges will duly be brought against the persons involved in insulting our national flag by allowing anti liberation forces to use that. Why not if second world war criminals are still being tried?

      • Students Group

        Dear Mr. Sarker Javed Iqbal :

        Yes, you are absolutely correct. Self-declared President Zia should first be tried posthumously because of his insulting our most revered National Flag, glorious Liberation War, supreme sacrifices of our 3 million patriotic people, molestation of 300 thousand of our honourable mothers and sisters …. by making the anti-liberation forces as PM, Ministers, Half-Ministers etc.

        His queen Begum Khaleda Zia followed the same profligate path and made Mullah Nizami and Muzahid, the two ill-famed Al-Badr gangsters as Cabinet Ministers who were solely responsible for mass murdering of our intellectuals, the best sons of this soil. She has dishonoured like her wicked husband our most revered National Flag, glorious Liberation War, supreme sacrifices of our 3 million patriotic people, molestation of 300 thousand of our honourable mothers and sisters. She also should be tried lawfully for dishonouring us all and award her with due punishment.

        Regards.

        Truly,

        Non-partisan Students of different Schools, Colleges and Universities:
        Zoglul Ahmed, Zinat Abdullah, Nabendu Chakma, David Das, Srabanty Barua, Nikhil Chand, Masum Ahmed, Animesh Khisha, Sanjit Roy, Shakil, Minu Hoque, Moriom Ahmed, Shushil Garo, Rea Shakil, Jakir Ahmed, Badrul Amin, Samir Barua, Antony Biswas, Jalal, Bashar, Shisir Shaozal, Nandita Mardock, Mahmud Abbas, Nasir Uddin, Bernard Sarkar, Ashish Sarkar, Mohiuddin Babul, Amalendu Khisha, Rajib Ali, Reza, Arunima Dutta, Shuvashis Dewan, Munir Mohiuddin, Jhony Gupta, Rupali Mrittika Rahman, Naila Nadi Judith, Nitish Barua,.Ratul Islam, Nahar Pasha, Mridula Chakraborty, Mohsin Ferdous, Sheikh Zaman, Ali Reza, Nandini Thakur, Mahmud Zainuddin, Kamrul Hoque, Zahir Aly, Abul Hasanat, Shopna Sarkar, Minu Ifthekhar, Jahangir Khondokar, Farid Ahmed, Bulbul Rahman, Niharika Chowdhury, Kalam Mahmud, Anisa Hoque, Noyona Amrin, Bidisha Yasmin, Badrul Islam, Shantimoy Ghosh, John Gomes, Susil Garo, Promila Sikder, Ratri Rahman and Rafique Newaz.

      • Nahiyan

        As students you should all be studying as much as you can, not partaking in politics.

      • Students Group

        Dear Sir,

        Good morning.

        Our comments may sound political but we all are apolitical students.

        Thanks for your good advise and we shall follow the same.

        We do not do politics. Neither shall we involve ourselves in politics in future.
        Whatever subject or subjects we read, it/they is/are okay. But first of all, we must know our country- Bangladesh, our glorious Liberation War, the grave misdeeds committed by the brutal Pakistani troops and their equally cruel local cohorts – Jamaat-e-Islami, Al-Badr and Al-Shams forces, the war criminals, how political party/parties came into being in Bangladesh, before and after our Independence War as well as their roles. We shall do that and make comment(s) if we feel so.

        Regards.

        Sincerely,

        Non-partisan Students of different Schools, Colleges and Universities:

        Zoglul Ahmed, Zinat Abdullah, Nabendu Chakma, David Das, Srabanty Barua, Nikhil Chand, Masum Ahmed, Animesh Khisha, Sanjit Roy, Shakil, Minu Hoque, Moriom Ahmed, Shushil Garo, Rea Shakil, Jakir Ahmed, Badrul Amin, Samir Barua, Antony Biswas, Jalal, Bashar, Shisir Shaozal, Nandita Mardock, Mahmud Abbas, Nasir Uddin, Bernard Sarkar, Ashish Sarkar, Mohiuddin Babul, Amalendu Khisha, Rajib Ali, Reza, Arunima Dutta, Shuvashis Dewan, Munir Mohiuddin, Jhony Gupta, Rupali Mrittika Rahman, Naila Nadi Judith, Nitish Barua,.Ratul Islam, Nahar Pasha, Mridula Chakraborty, Mohsin Ferdous, Sheikh Zaman, Ali Reza, Nandini Thakur, Mahmud Zainuddin, Kamrul Hoque, Zahir Aly, Abul Hasanat, Shopna Sarkar, Minu Ifthekhar, Jahangir Khondokar, Farid Ahmed, Bulbul Rahman, Niharika Chowdhury, Kalam Mahmud, Anisa Hoque, Noyona Amrin, Bidisha Yasmin, Badrul Islam, Shantimoy Ghosh, John Gomes, Susil Garo, Promila Sikder, Ratri Rahman and Rafique Newaz.

  4. Anwar A. Khan

    It is another brilliant piece of Mr. SBA. He has a generous and capacious mind. Besides, he conveys his own feeling of inner pains for our unsung heroes in a spirit that’s generous, enjoyable and well informed. I am dazzled by extraordinary literary delights – in translation, in genre, and even in paying his rich tributes to these best sons of this soil. The article is very interesting, insightful, meaningful, visual, creative and enjoyable to read. He is a passionate player in the events that unfurls through the column; it is his ability to see beyond the individual details of form, moment by moment events, to draw conclusions on the bigger picture that drives events forward in ways he does foresee very well. When I started reading this article, I could not stop myself unless and until I finished it and that was my great feeling then. My heart-felt enthusiastic approval to you, Dear Badrul Bhai!

    May those great souls of this soil rest in peace in Heaven. May those great sons always remain in our thoughts and prayers.

  5. Sarker Javed Iqbal

    This is a vast area for discussion. Many unsung heroes are already passed away and many of them are silently counting their days. We should remember all of them with due respect for their laudable role before, during and after our liberation. Thanks to Mr. SBA for raising this issue with his touchy article on Late K. M. Shehabuddin.

    Just for an example; how many of the young generation people know the name of Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury? They should know his role as the first President in the independent Bangladesh, his contribution in nation-building process including the history how he was thrown away and passed away silently.

  6. Reaz Haider

    IT ALWAYS HAPPEN TO THE HONEST PEOPLE , I have great respect for High Commissioner K. M. Shehabuddin (MARHOOM MEANS MAY ALLAH BE KIND TO HIS DEPARTED SOLE)
    HOW MANY PEOPLE THINK LIKE YOU,ONCE SIR SHAUKAT HUSSAIN SAID BADRUL IS A VERY VERY HONEST PERSON IF HE LIKED YOU IT MEANS YOU HAVE SOME THING
    I LIKE YOU VERY MUCH OF YOUR BOLDNESS & FORGIVENESS

    • Reaz Haider

      An ambassador is the head of diplomatic mission United Nations or non-Commonwealth country in another United Nations countries while high commissioner is the head of diplomatic mission of a Commonwealth country in another Commonwealth country.
      The building or office of the high commissioner in a foreign country is known as “high commission” while office or building of ambassador in foreign country is known as an “embassy”.
      An ambassador plays important role in foreign relations as compare to high commissioners.

  7. Shahed Latif

    No wonder the foreign service people suffer from entitlement, and are apathetic, sycophantic, indifferent and selfish to the core. That is the culture of the office and that is how they are conditioned to behave. A large number of Bangladeshi diplomats serve international organizations (IOs) while on indefinite leave from the foreign service. It appears that the whole point of accepting a foreign office job is to qualify for a quota at the IOs. In time they return to the service, accept ambassadorial positions and go back to their plum jobs once retirement hits. Even if working for IOs is their ultimate career goal, these people do not have the decency of resigning from the service. The exception is also true; many officers resigned from the service once they realized that this kind of servitude was not their calling.
    Case in point, the current foreign secretary (FS) made ILO his career for over a decade. He joined ILO’s Dhaka office when he was merely a director. Once the powers to be decided to bring him back, he obtained the rare distinction of achieving one promotion every week for a month and was elevated to the role of the FS.
    If one goes through the seniority list of the foreign service officers, one would find half of them on lien or leave for years together while maintaining a full-time international career. For some ludicrous reason, MOFA allows them to keep their seniority (and possibly compensation and privileges). While most similarly qualified officers in other services achieve seniority while spending their most productive time in remote corners of the country, there seem to be different rules for these people. This is more rule than exception, however, I pay my respect to the few righteous, sincere and patriotic officers.

    • Zia Khan

      Thanks for your comment, especially about the Foreign Secretary Mr. Shahidul Haque. His name should be in the Guinness Book of World Records for getting promotion every week, and for becoming a Secretary from a Deputy Secretary in the shortest possible time ! Wonder why the current government had to make such unbelievable arrangement for making him the FS !

      He is the son of a member of Pakistan Army. He was born in Pakistan. He lived in Pakistan during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971, as his father opted for Pakistan, and not Bangladesh. He came back to Bangladesh in 1975, after the brutal killing of Bangabandhu and a pro-Pakistanti government came to power.

      How many of us know that Shahidul Haque started him career as a probationary officer in Bangladesh Army? He, however, was kicked out from the service for theft !!! A jacket was stolen from another official’s wadrobe and after search, that clothe was found in his cupboard. The matter was taken very seriously by the authorities and he was simply kicked out from service !

      Normally, the rule is that when someone loses job from Bangladesh Army, that person can never join any government service later. But Shahidul Haque is Shahidul Haque, nothing is impossible for him ( Like Ananta Jalil , Osombhob ke sombhob korai tar kaj !) .

      So Shahidul Haque studied Sociology and after graduation sat for BCS exam, hiding his past in the Army. He got selected and joined Foreign Service. He later got lien and joined an international organisation (IOM), where he served many years. Though as per rule of Bangladesh government, no officer can get lien for more than 5 years at a stretch, Shahidul Haque served most of his career in IOM , making history once again !

      He then plotted against the then Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes, a true supporter of pro-liberation forces. A number of junior officers –favourite to the BNP- Jamat group — helped him to win the favour of the then Foreign Minister. Quayes was toppled, and Shahidul joined the Ministry as a Director ! There he got promotion every week and from Director he became a DG within a week. From DG, he became an Additional Secretary next week. Then he became the Foreign Secretary the next week. See, he did not use the stairs of hierarchy and did not have to give active service to the Government and the people of Bangladesh. Shahidul used an elevator of sycophancy, hypocrisy and his Faridpur connection to fool the AL leadership !

      That is not all ! Hiding of any information of a family situation to the government is a punishable offense. Shahidul Haque did that, and got away with that too (Ananta Jalil style ) ! He always wrote in his ACR form that he had 2 kids . Actually its a lie. He has 3 children. The first son, whom he does not even recognize, is from his first marriage. He tortured his wife and and left them before moving on with another woman. He never took any responsibility for his own child financially or otherwise. The young boy was begging him to let him see only once, but he did not face him. There is a legal case pending against Shahidul Haque filed by his first family, but he got away with that. There were many officers who lost their job or position for family disputes and cruelty against spouse or children. But Shahidul Haque is Ananta Jalil– he got away with that and is still serving as the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh .

      Wonder, what the relevant agencies are doing ? Can’t they investigate all these and make a report on these facts? Can’t they inform the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister about this?

      Thanks Syed Badrul Ahsan for writing about our Foreign Office. Tomorrow is another day, surely ! Then write about Shahidul Haque tomorrow. SBA has the guts that others lack. Keep up good work .

      • Nasrullah khan

        Strange revelation about one who,if true,rose to the highest position in Foreign Ministry with all machiavellian tactis.Should not govt look into it & get the truth known?Should not Mr.Huq clarify his position!To spread lies against one is an offence.Mr. Huq may go to the court to bring the writer to book liable for spreading falsehood.Let us see how he responds.

      • Zia Khan

        http://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2013/07/19/shahidul-haque-new-foreign-secretary

        Md Shahidul Haque has become Bangladesh’s new Foreign Secretary after having performed the duties in an interim capacity since January.

        According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, his promotion to the rank of Secretary took effect from Thursday, July 18.

        Haque was given the interim responsibility in January after Secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes moved out of the ministry to take over as High Commissioner in London.

        He returned to the ministry as a Director General in August last year after being on lien for 11 years. He was later promoted to Additional Secretary.

        During his extra-ordinary leave since 2001, Haque worked at the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration.

        A graduate in Social Welfare from the Dhaka University, Haque got a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

        Haque has never represented Bangladesh as an ambassador or in a senior diplomatic rank, making him only the second such career foreign service officer ever after Touhid Hossain, whose most senior diplomatic post was Deputy High Commissioner, to be given the office of the Foreign Secretary.

  8. M. Emad

    (1) Late Ambassador K. M. Shehabuddin wrote his 1971 memoirs —‘There and Back Again: A Diplomat’s Tale’ (2006). Mr. Reaz Rahman — the former state minister/adviser of Nizami-Khaleda’s government — defamed the historical role of K. M. Shehabuddin as the first diplomatic soldier in Bangladesh liberation war.

    (2) Generals Zia and Ershad introduced hundreds of military officers in foreign ministry and converted it into an extension of cantonment.

    (3) Like Shehabuddin, 1971 Sector-8 commander Major (later Lt. Col.) Abu Osman Chowdhury was side lined for some petty personal reasons involving the then-Bangladesh higher military authority and as a result did not get ‘Bir Uttam’ award. He also did not receive his due promotion in independent Bangladesh. We are fortunate to have him among us till today.

    I would like to request the president and the prime minister of Bangladesh to correct this great injustice by conferring ‘Bir Uttam’ award on Abu Osman Chowdhury.

  9. Khan

    “Sarkar kobiruddin khobor porchi” was a Bengali news reader working in PIA. He married a beautiful and very built heroine like Punjabin from PIA and both migrated to BD after independence. The lady started a punjabi news service in Punjabi from BD and nobody knows where is she now. Is sarkar kobir uddin in BD, England, Dubai or Pakistan.

    Runa laila sang very Pakistani patriotic songs and now I heard she surfaced in BD at her 50th anniversary. Shabnam and Robin Ghosh lived long in Pakistan and finally settled in UK.

    So people like and behave in a situation and afterwards disappointed. Chaudhrey Rahmat Elahi proposed the name Pakistan and was very vocal for it never came to Pakistan. So is the world Mr. SBA. You are the last of your type who weeps for such thing after you there is nobody who can tell such stories to Bengalis.

    • mehanaz ahmed

      sharkar kobiruddin is in usa. the wife is still with him. he was with VOA for many years. his son is the Imam of a mosque and the daughter died a very tragic death, I heard. that is all I know about him. don’t know where the rest are buddy. why are you wondering about these people?

  10. Golam Arshad

    Dear Badrul:… “Tomorrow is another DAY”. My distinguish friend, Heroes Never Die.. You and I cannot tie the knot of Glory for those unsung Heroes,Sorry! what have we done for them.. all it be they are left in Casket of The Unsung Heroes. Plaque or etched stone is meaningless only but had we only remember them.

  11. Zahir Sadeque

    Thanks for a very well written and timely piece. You have truly exposed our national character-ingratitude, love for sycophancy and interests in petty matters. Such mindset do not produce patriots or great minds but mere mediocre and lumpen who cannot take the nation to any height. Look forward to reading more such pieces.

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