Ayub Khan, Louis Kahn . . . and Pakistan’s flag

Syed Badrul AhsanSyed Badrul Ahsan
Published : 10 Dec 2016, 03:07 PM
Updated : 10 Dec 2016, 03:07 PM

In the early 1960s, the self-styled Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan had a brainwave. Dhaka, the capital of the province of East Pakistan, he decided in the infinity of his wisdom, needed to be reinvented as the Second Capital of Pakistan. He and his regime got in touch with the reputed American architect Louis I Kahn. Soon enough, Kahn came up with an architectural design in line with Ayub Khan's wishes. All the way till the early 1970s, work on the Second Capital went on apace. Unfortunately for Ayub Khan, his Second Capital ended up being the national capital of Bangladesh, with East Pakistan having disappeared in the crucible of war.

Now Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has enlightened us on the nefarious intentions of the Awami League. Remember, if you will, that the Awami League under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led the country to freedom from Pakistani rule. But that doesn't matter to Alamgir or to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party to which he owes loyalty, does it? He has now told us that by trying to relocate the remains of Ziaur Rahman from Chandrima Udyan in the parliament complex area, the Awami League government is conspiring to plant the flag of Pakistan there. In other words, Ayub Khan and Louis Kahn engaged in a vile conspiracy nearly sixty years ago and we put paid to that conspiracy in 1971. But now Sheikh Hasina is reviving that conspiracy. She and her government are busy planning to unfurl Pakistan's flag at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar. They are trying to revive Pakistan in Bangladesh?

It is interesting how Mirza Fakhrul and the BNP are forever coming up with ideas generally outside the range of normal imagination. Mirza's colleague Ruhul Kabir Rizvi warned us the other day that the Awami League was pushing the country to a civil war. In the process, he reminded us of the jealousy eating away in Sheikh Hasina because it was General Zia, and not her father, who 'declared' Bangladesh's independence in March 1971. Of course, Rizvi was careful, like everyone else in his party, to paper over the fact that the Zia 'declaration' happened to make note of Bangabandhu's role as 'our great national leader' as many as four times. The BNP has never played the recording of the Zia announcement. Naturally. Who wants to let the cat out of the bag anyway?

The BNP's attitude to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has been one of visceral dislike, even hate. In his years in power, Zia was careful to airbrush the Father of the Nation and the Mujibnagar leaders out of history. He conveniently ignored his own, earlier truth — his adulatory article on Bangabandhu in the weekly magazine Bichitra. In subsequent years, his widow and his followers followed in his footsteps. Pull down Sheikh Mujibur Rahman a good few notches, they appeared to be suggesting, and push up Zia. Clearly, the ploy hasn't worked. It is unadulterated folly to try placing a gigantic figure of history beside one who has played truant with history.

But that has done little to put an end to the hate. A couple of years ago, the former BNP lawmaker Shakhawat Hossain Bakul came up with a brilliantly devious plan of undermining Bangabandhu further. He appeared on a television talk show, ostensibly to argue that if Bangabandhu could 'pardon' the 1971 collaborators, who was Sheikh Hasina to put them on trial for war crimes? He had a sheaf of papers and some photographs with him. The photographs, he asserted loudly, were a testimony to the fact that Bangabandhu had been accompanied to the 1974 summit of the OIC in Lahore by Shah Azizur Rahman. He tried pulling a fast one, through telling the audience that the man in the Jinnah cap beside Bangabandhu at Lahore airport was Shah Aziz. He fell unusually silent once it was proved that the man in the picture was Pakistan's president at the time, Chaudhry Fazle Elahi. Did he honestly think that we were all suffering from amnesia?

The BNP-wallahs have not quite gone quiet on this matter of how thoroughly they hate Bangabandhu and despise the Awami League. Begum Khaleda Zia, who refused to join her husband in India during the war despite his entreaties, has often made the ludicrous accusation that Bangabandhu wished to be prime minister of Pakistan in 1971. Someone should be briefing her on the Mujib-Yahya-Bhutto negotiations, indeed on national history as a whole. A politician with no understanding of history or with a willingness to distort history spells danger for a country. And don't forget that the Zias' absconding son has been absolutely asinine in his references to Bangabandhu.

Now that Mirza Fakhrul is convinced Sheikh Hasina means to plant the national flag of Pakistan at the place where the remains of Bangladesh's first military dictator lie interred, someone should ask him, politely and pointedly, if Bangabandhu or Sheikh Hasina played a sinister role in rehabilitating any of the old 1971 collaborators in national politics, men like Khan A Sabur and Shah Aziz and Ghulam Azam. As for Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, he needs to enlighten us on his understanding of what a civil war is and how we happen to be moving, in his view, towards that dire possibility.

Politics goes out the window when hate comes into it. Flippancy is but a poor interpretation of history. Hypocrisy has never coated untruths in the raiment of respectability.