Our history is never still, and there are always processes of rewriting Bangladesh’s history. The best response to such history wars is to let the record speak, when possible. In an Alal O Dulal exclusive, we have translated a 37 page interview of Kamal Hossain (from Shaptahik magazine, 2014). This is the second part.
To political analysts the name Dr. Kamal Hossain evokes wide-ranging emotions: from respect and reverence to disappointment and frustration. ‘Nostalgia,’ ‘lost moment,’ and ‘could-have-been’ have been the dominant moods to haunt Dr. Hossain in the last two decades. His role as nation’s lonely conscience extends to his public admission that a “historic mistake” was made in excluding Adivasi and other non-Bengali communities from the 1972 Bangladesh Constitution –- a document that he was the primary author of. We say lonely because such admission of mistake is a rare characteristic in Bangladesh politics. Perhaps that is why he could never prevail in the political scene, as he appealed to morality and truth, not paranoia and coercion.
The chief legal negotiator at Sheikh Mujib’s side during the Yahya-Bhutto-Mujib tripartite talks before March 1971, Kamal Hossain is also one of the few members of the core 1971 group of the AL who survived the brutal August 1975 coup, because he was outside the country at that time. He was also the man who contested national elections from AL as the party started coming above ground again. Later he also was involved in the return of current PM Sheikh Hasina to Bangladesh.
Because of the poor electoral performance of his later political party Gono Forum, in radical contrast with his international stature, Kamal Hossain represents a strand of “bhodrolok” malaise (even more than Dr Yunus): a class of people educated few generations earlier than the mainstream of East Bengal, who reached high international achievement, but domestically were never able to be in charge of political events. Some see in this a weathervane shift in Bangladesh politics, where there is increasingly no space for those who play by the rules and do not use muscle power.
Yet, his achievements in last days of pre-71 Pakistan, and the first years of independent Bangladesh, are undeniable. It was possibly his, and our, shining moment.
Today we present the concluding Part -2.
– Editors, AlalODulal
Continued from Part 1
Shaptahik: Then what did they say?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Said that we can’t save you anymore. You will be tried. There is no way to save your leader either. We thought you are young, if you could be saved somehow. But you have refused to cooperate. This was June. July, August had also passed. Uncertainty continued. Summer was fierce. On 5 September an officer ranked at major level produce a paper, “receive this”. That was the charge of conspiracy against me. I said, after reading, “this cannot be structured this way. It is not proper. When bringing charges, specific complaints have to be identified definitely. As a lawyer, I am aware of this. Although on this charge sheet they are absent”.
Then the Major replied, “I do not know the law. I had been ordered. So I brought it. I have nothing to say about this. I know nothing about this”.
I said, “I object. I want to know about the complaints in detail”. He replied, “Ok, lodge your complaints through the jail authority”.
I received the charge-sheet. The next day I told the jail authority that I was writing an objection to this. I did not get a radio or the newspapers. There were a number of privileges mentioned in the jail codes. Ordinary detainees had them, but I did not. For example, I was not allowed to get out the enclosure. I had been here from April to September. I had been there for so many months, still I was not shown any jail rules. Although I knew that other prisoners walked about from morning to evening. They were involved in other activities. And only went back to their cells at lock up times. Whereas I was locked up all the time. I was not even allowed beyond the enclosure.
Why was this? I had asked the Major. He replied that none of these was his concerns. He had come from the Peshawar Army Headquarter. He had been instructed to deliver the charge sheet and gather the receipt. He had no authority beyond that. “Lodge your complaints in writing through the jail authority”.
When I had asked him who should I write this to, he replied, “To the concerned authority”.
Shaptahik: Didn’t you tell the jail authority?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I told this to the jail superintendent. He replied that these were beyond his authority. That I was in Military custody in the Jail. Home Ministry was not the appropriate authority in my case. Rather, Martial Law headquarter was. He would forward my objections there.
In the meantime a doctor came in the cell. Enquired about my illness, He would prescribe medicine. I was feigning illness thinking that they would let me out of the cell. But none of my tricks to get out had worked.
Then either at the end of October or beginning of November they told me that there will be a trial of me. That they had been instructed to make arrangements within the jail for the trial. For the first time, I was allowed to walk outside of my cell. I went out and turned right to walk a few paces – there was a one storey building which looked like a barrack, that was the jail hospital. There was a room inside where a few chairs had been arranged to conduct hearing of the trial. A stage was put where the judges would sit. A rehearsal was carried out. I was shown the path on which I would be brought to the court, “this way you would be taken back to your cell”. I actually felt a bit better with the change.
Shaptahik: Where was your family?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: My family was in Karachi. After this notice, they came to see me once in the jail. Sometime in April, they had managed the approval for the visit. My father-in-law lived in Karachi. My wife stayed with her father after getting the permission to see me. May be a letter came in September. When I met my family in September, I had asked them to arrange a lawyer for me. When they intended to see me after getting this notice, I had asked to prepare legal defense etc.
Shaptahik: Did you family suffered any torture?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: My wife was instructed not to leave Karachi. The kids were very young. Of my brother-in-laws, as far as I can remember, one was perhaps in the Pakistan Foreign Service, another was a high official in C.S.P – most probably was the secretariat of the Governor. Probably my brother-in-law had singed my arrest order. My family was in Karachi in such circumstances.
Shaptahik: What did they say about the trial?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: My wife had come to see me when she heard about the trial. I said, please arrage a lawyer for me. I thought, if there was a trial my family could also come and observe the proceeding in the court. We would get to see more of each other.
The jail authority said they did not know when would the trial begin. A date was set in November. I was eagerly waiting. All of a sudden the officials at the jail said to me, look the team had arrived for my trial was packing up and leaving.
I was very nervous, hearing this. I told the jail superintendent, I had prepared for the trial. My lawyer was yet to arrive. I had told my family that they would be able to come here during the trial. I was getting no news of them.
The superintendent said Eid was coming up soon, may be the trial team would return soon after the trial. I realised that he was only trying to console me. Later I understood that from then on the politics had changed sharply. It was end of November. It was also turning points of our freedom fight. I understood because, they had muddied a wall which was whitewashed only a while ago. I thought that it was interesting. When asked, they replied “civil defense”. Fearing bombing from the sky. That’s why this precaution. It was very interesting. It was preparation for a war. They did not say war, but used the words “civil defense”.
Shaptahik: Did notice any big change?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Within two weeks two things happened. One, all lights were turned off. Within the jail compound there were very bright lights, they were turned off which made the compound very dark. It was eerie. I was already confined. I asked, what was the issue. They replied, no, no, it’s just “civil defense”.
After a few days, a siren went off. I was instructed to stand under a tree whenever the siren went off. Again, same response to my query, “civil defense”.
It was November’s cold. The place was Haripur. Meaning the highway leads to Kashmir. Meaning cold winds flows thorough the region in winter.
On the second day when they started the same routine for “civil defense”, I said, “look in doing this routine you as well as I will die of the cold. Rather, lets stay inside. If we are bombed, we are bombed. And as bombs are likely to destroy a large area, we would die when it fell whether we are inside or out under the tree”.
There was an open space like a field. A few people hurdled there for shelter whenever the siren had gone off. I asked why I was not allowed to go there. The guard replied I was not allowed. Then I told him that I had rather stayed inside my cell. Then I had an agreement with him that if there was an inspecting officer on round we both would get out to stand under the tree, other wise not. There were many such agreements. With this arrangement for the next few days I was able to stay under my blanket, inside the cell. The next few days would have been perhaps December 7, 8, 10.
Dr. Kamal Hossain: All of a sudden one day all lights were lit. Almost all lights at once. It would be 15 or 16 December.
The superintend came the next morning to my cell, “How come there is no arm-chair in your cell? These people do not look after anything. Hey, someone bring an arm-chair. Winter days, this jail produces quality carpets. No one laid a carpet here. Hey, bring a carpet”. Then he opened the next cell, brought a few more arm-chairs to make it a sitting room of a sort, etc. The meals had started to arrive in trays with three items. I thought, what’s the matter? For nine months I had been getting Daal in a tin-box and a bread wrapped in clothes, sometimes rice. But why so many items today? They replied, “The Doctor had asked to give me improved diet. Tomorrow we will take you to tour the jail. Said, you guys are political people, you come here only for few days. And when you get out of here you become ministers. Please look after us. Other VIPs planted trees here. Abdul Gaffar khan, during the British period, and some prominent personalities from the Congress”. I said I wasn’t anywhere near that stature. He showed me the compound, “This is the jail hospital, this is the factory where we make carpets”.
Shaptahik: Did he showed you these on 17 December 1971?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yes, 17 December 1971. Said, how many days would be here! Not many. It was interesting that I was asking what had happened, war happened? Then what happened? Replied, “I won’t be able to answer this, we have been instructed not to tell anything”.
I realised, had they won my situation would not have improved. He further said whatever happened it would be better for you.
This way my stay at the jail had improved day by day towards the end. The superintendent used to sit with me for an hour everyday. Tea was served in the sitting room. He said political prisoners were good for them. Although they did not give me newspapers or a radio. I was so curious to know the news outside. I had spend
16 December to 28 December this way. 12 days. For me it was such a long time.
Shaptahik: Even then you did not know anything about Bangladesh?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I had imagined. Some of the guards were saying stuff. In a mix of broken Urdu and Pasthu. There were a number of pathans, since they themselves were sufferers, they used to be sympathetic towards me. One of them was very brave. He used to bring roti made in his home by his wife or sister, “Look I brought this for you”.
The first superindent of the jail once send holuya in shabebarat. He was immidiately reported and was transferred. They had strict vigilence on me. If any guards had spoken to me, that was it; he would be out. Although later, I had learnt that after dark I had to stand there so that no one from outside could see to report.
There were some educated people. One whose father was killed. In pathan tradition it’s the son’s obligation to seek revenge. Which is know as retribution. The pathan had killed someone to take the revenge of his father’s killing for which he was serving 14 years jail term. He told me, “I have served 10 years, I would be out soon. I think you would be out soon too. You are a good person being imprisoned unfairly”.
He was freed after 16 December. Ten days later I had heard he had returned. As he had taken another revenge after the release. Their culture was such that if you are an honored man, if you have self-respect, then you cannot be in peace until you have taken the revenge. He had served jail terms for 10 years and within 10 days he was back inside.
The guards used to respect him a lot. “Son of a father”, they used to say. Then, when he had entered for the second time, they said true son of a father. Many of these guys told me, “You are a lawyer, when you leave us, you will lodge mercy pition for us”.
My situation had continued to improved for me from 16 to 28 December, this way. Everyday I had nicer meals. I was able to move about. They offed me to show other places. I did not accept. I was very restless. I wasn’t enjoying it being inside.
Shaptahik: The Pakistanis did not say anything about your release by then?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: About 10 am on 28 December 1971, they said you have a good news. Your are being freed. I asked, meaning? Replied, “We have received the orders, to shift you to a new location”. Getting the news at first I felt good thinking I was getting out of the jail.
Exactly then I thought I need to know where are they taking me. Asked where is the new location? Replied, “That we cannot tell. We do not know. You will be picked up around evening”. They kept saying “but it will be good for you”.
I packed my clothes in a small bag and waited. Close to Mugrib prayer before the lockup-time they came and said “we come to take you”. Two persons in suits with short hairs, obviously Military personnel, said, “Yes we’ve come to take you”.
Shaptahik: Did you prepare to leave immediately?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I signed to withdraw the 500/600 Taka I had when I entered the jail. I also got back my writing book. I noticed that my family had send a few books for me. The authority had kept them there, away from me. They gave me those books on that day.
The president of the Bar Council in the Frontier was Abrar Sikander Khan, who later was the Governor of Peshwar. Abrar Sikander Khan had sent a box of biscuit wishing me well. That message and the biscuit-box were not given to me. Now they gave them to me.
We get into a car with all these belongings. A Volkswagen. In it the two officials. One in the front sit. I was in the back seat. I glanced at the back. A large military pickup and armed guards were escorting. I felt a bit better. Also a bit scarred thinking where are they taking me? I was pretty safe in the jail. I was asking repeatedly “Where are we going?” Without responding to that question they replied, “You will like it”.
Shaptahik: Did you have any idea where you were being taken to?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: The car had entered Rawalpindi. This is on the Peshawar to Rawalpindi road. It was familiar to me. After entering Rawalpindi I thought may be they will keep me here. Otherwise, would keep me in Islamabad.
When the convoy started leaving Rawalpindi, I was very anxious. What happened? Why did they not go to Rawalpindi or Islamabad? Then, where are they taking me?
After 40 minutes the car took a left turn, on to a unpaved road with trees. I was scarred that this is really ominous. It was dark by then. Suddenly I noticed through the trees that machine-guns covered the car. I asked my fellow passengers straightaway, “At least now tell me what is happening?” “Not what you are thinking”. They responded. Then signaled the car to move forward. Proceeding forward I see something like a mini Dak-Bungalow. A light was on. The car stopped in front of the Dak-Bungalow.
An officer came out, said, “I am Col. Abdullah, please come inside”. I went in. Found a living room. Then a short passage. On the both sides of the passage there were rooms. Each room had a number. He said why don’t you go inside Room No 1? Opening the door of the Room No 1 I found Bangobandhu standing.
Shaptahik: Did you see Bangobandhu ? Did he come there before you?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Bangobandhu was in dressing gown. We both were very emotional. Bangobandhu embraced me. Said, why did it take so long for you to arrive? I replied, I was ready waiting to leave as soon as instructed. They came about 4/5 hours later to take me out. He asked, “where did they keep you?” Haripur jail, I replied. It took a few hours to get here. Bangobandhu replied “very good”. They brought me here from Mainwali three days ago. Then he said, “Bhutto came. I asked him, have you been arrested? He replied, No, No. I am the President of the country now. Bangobandhu asked Bhutto, how have you become the President? In the election I secured twice as many seats as you. Bhutto was a bit embarrassed hearing this. Said alright, you become the President”. Bangobandhu then said, “Lets forget those talks. Tell me how quickly can I return to Bangladesh? Bhutto then responded, please give me some time. Bangobandhu said, No. Please make arrangement for this as soon as possible. Bhutto said, flying over India is currently ceased. Bangobandhu said, planes from Red Cross, UN can fly. This is not an issue”. Then he said Bhutto, “As far as I know Kamal Hossain is here. In one of your jails. Bhutto asked, how do you know? He replied, during my trial, Mr S Brohie (a renowned Pakistani lawyer) told other lawyers that when this trial finishes, I will go to Kamal’s trial. I heard that. Form that I assumed that he is locked in a Pakistani jail”. Bhutto said, “Ok, let me enquire. If I find Dr. Kamal I will send him”. I was brought here on Bangobandhu ‘srequest.
Shaptahik: Did you realise Bangladesh gained independence after meeting Bangobandhu ?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yes. He had started to get the newspapers. Said, “I have been getting newspaper here for the first time and I head the news of Bangladesh’s Independence in Mianwali jail. As my custodian D.I.G Abdur Rahman whose home is in Punjub. He used to look after me. After 16 December, he said, see, if you do not believe me. I want to safely move you out of the jail, since the situation inside the jail is not good. This is the birthplace of Genral Niazi, who have surrendered. People here considers this to be very humiliating. They see this very differently. They are thinking there has to be a revenge. The D.I.G told me that I will keep you in a safer place. I have got the police who will guard you”.
Shaptahik: What did Bangobandhu decided to do then? What had he told you about it?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Bongobandhu said it had been a tough decision. A person is relatively safer within a jail. However, such a responsible person was offering to take him to a safer place. How wise would it be to go personal custody? Besides, what power and influence would he have to ensure my security outside the jail? Although in the nine month I have learn to trust him; as a man he isn’t bad.
Bongobandhu said, “Taking a risk, then he took me to [chosma barrage]”. There was a project. A dam or some project involving foreign scientists. There were a number of vacant Bungalows. There were foreigners too. Some good Bungalows. He let me one, and he used the other. His people surrounded us to ensure safety. A few days spend. Then came the helicopter. First, Abdur Rahman tried to confirm who had arrived. When they asked from the helicopter, “Is Mr Sheik Mujibur Rahman here?”, Abdur Rahman replied, “Don’t know”. Then they said from the helicopter, “We have not come to do any harm, we have been told to move him from here. Please don’t try to resist it”. When he was reassured that they had not come with any other motive. they had come to take Sheik Mujib near Islamabad. Then he said, “He is here”.
Then D.I.G Abdur Rahman told Bangobandhu that they were SSG group. Later came with this group. After touching down there Col. Abdullah said, “We have kept you safe here”. Then came Bhutto. Bhutto told Bangobandhu , “Allow me some time, I will organise your travel back to Bangladesh. There are some formalities”.
Shaptahik: How did the conversation followed from there between the Pakistani President Bhutto and detained independent-Bangladesh’s president Bongobandhu?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Bongobandhu was telling me about that. Bhutto told Bongobandhu, “Look even when I went to see Yahya Khan, he told me that I am handing it over to you, but I have a small request – ensure that Sheik Mujib is hanged, executed. I am singing his execution orders. You must implement it as soon as possible. You have to perform that duty”. To appear innocent Bhutto then told Bangobandhu , “I told him, you already had caused much ill. you do not need to cause anymore.” Bangobandhu said,”Maybe he had told this to make me happy”.
Shaptahik: What did you do to get back to home?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: We discussed amongst us, they had 93,000 POW in Bangladesh. If Bangobandhu turned a little bit rude, none of them would survive. So those threats had no importance. We were relaxed. And kept on demanding that we were send to Bangladesh as soon as possible.
Bongobandhu told me that, “You keep at it”. I was at it day and night. What was happening, what arrangements were made, phone, enquire and let us know soon.
Two days later, their junior Minister of the Foreign Ministry, Aziz Ahmed came. An IIS officer. The shots were fired under his watch during Bangladesh’s Language struggle. He said, “We won’t be able to fly like this. You have to go via a neutral country, who would receive you. It could be Iran”. We responded, “No. Not Iran. It’s not neutral. Iran favors Pakistan”. Turkey? No. Not this either.
I started saying them that neutral countries should be like, Vienna, Geneva. He came back the next day and said, “Ok. How about London?”
Bongobandhu said, “This is a good offer. We should accept this without any hesitation. London is one of our own places. There are so many Bengalis. I hear on radio and read in the papers that expatriate Bengalis there, under Abu Sayeed Chowdhury associated for the liberation war. This will be good for me. Accept this”.
Bongobandhu said to them, “I will go to London. Please make arrangements”.
First they sent tailors. Gave some warm clothes. As it was winter then. Then they took photos for the Pakistani passports and issued passports.
Shaptahik: Issued Pakistani Passports?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Issued Pakistani Passports as we had to go to London. We went to London. What was memorable in London was that a six feet long policeman was waiting at the VIP gate, saluted Bongobandhu and said, “Sir we have been praying for you”. We entered in. There it was being announced on loudspeaker, “Phone call for Sheik Mujibur Rahman”. He said you go and see. I answered. Sir Ian Sutherland was on the other end. I met Sutherland in February 1971. He had come from London. Sutherland was a very important diplomat. He recognised me on the phone. Said, yes I remember you. He asked me, had Sheik Mujib really arrived in London? I said yes, he had arrived in London. The understanding was, the news will be made public in London an hour before the arrival. That was followed.
We told the Pakistani authority, “After leaving Karachi the plane will not stop anywhere else”. They said we would use the air spaces of those countries with whom we have good relations. We said, “Ok. But we wont stop over anywhere. And for identifications the respective authorities would know that this was a strategic cargo. A PIA strategic cargo. We would get away with this”.
Shaptahik: What did you talk with British diplomat Sutherland?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Sutherland said, “I got the information an hour ago that the plane carrying Sheik Mujib is about to land. I have arranged everything accordingly. This is way you are welcomed at the VIP room”. Bongobandhu said, “Ask how could we get in touch with our Abu Sayeed?’. I asked Abu Sayeed, “Where could we find Abu Sayeed?” Sutherland replied, Abu Sayeed had already left for Dacca. But Mr Rezaul Karim is still here. Then we wanted to contact him. Sutherland organised it. Rezaul karim rang us. He said he had started and would be here in half an hour.
A little bit later the Pakistani High Commissioner came. He was the representative of the Daily Dawn. His name was Naseem Ahmed. A London based correspondent. A pretty senior journalist. He introduced himself. Said, “Sir what can I do for you?” Bongobandhu replied, “You have done enough. Thank you very much. I do not think we will need any more help. Thank you. Our people are here. They are coming.”
Within 10-15 minutes, Sutherland and Rezaul Karim had arrived.
Shaptahik: How long was your whole trip?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: 8/10 hours, at least.
Shaptahik: Was there any other passengers?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: We had started in a PIA plane. There were no passengers. I was thinking then, I would get in the plane with Bongobandhu, but what would happen to my family? I could not possibly request to Bongobandhu to take my family with us. I was contemplating this and was listening to our departure arrangements quietly.
As negotiation started, Bhutto said we will board the plane after our meal, and took us to the local Presidential Guest House. We had our luggage packed. Bhutto asked Bongobandhu, if you don’t mind I have a small request? What is it? “Iran’s Reza Shah is coming tomorrow morning, very eager to meet you”. Bongobandhu said to me, “I Understand, its all Bhutto’s knavish thinking. He would try to get assurance from us on something by the Shah. Perhaps he would suggest ways to ensure the safe passage for the Pakistanis surrendered in Bangladesh. I cannot discuss those issues, here, in this condition. As, my government is back there. We should not accept these tricks from Bhutto”.
I said to Bongobandhu, you stand firm on these issues. He replied, “Yes I am absolutely firm on these issues”. We discussed this in a corner of the room. After our discussion Bongobandhu said, “Mr. Bhutto, we are very sorry. This is not at all possible. Please take us immediately back to the jail. We thought we have come here as your guest to have a dinner before our departure for London, otherwise let us go back to jail”.
Shaptahik: How did Bhutto respond?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Bhutto said, “Don’t mind, don’t mind”. Then he went to a corner kept talking to Aziz Ahmed. Then said, “Ok you won’t meet the Shah. But, you see, air spaces had shut 24 hours ago, now it is very difficult to send a plane”.
Once again, we went to a corner to discuss. They are just making up arguments. Air space is not locked or shut by a lock and a key. It means that for any plane to entre or leave it needs special permission. Just tell him that this is their air space, if they ask their air force to let your plane through we can fly.
Bongobandhu told Bhutto that these were mere diversion. If he requested the airport authority they would let us fly.
Bhutto responded smiling, “We cannot win against you. Ok, ok call the Military secretary, guard air force to ensure plane to come. It was supposed to arrive around 10-12 pm. May be its two hours late. Its coming from Karachi.”
At that moment I got the chance. Whispered to Bongobandhu’s ears, “The plane is coming from Karachi. My family is in Karachi. They can get into this plane.”
Immediately Bongobandhu told Bhutto,” Ok Bhutto, I need to ask you a favor. Kamal Hossain’s family, you know them, is there. If you could get them on this plane. Yes, I know his family, Bhutto said. His family is living in her father’s house”.
Bhutto instructed the authorities to contact my family.
Shaptahik: Was your family contacted then?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: My wife Hameeda Hossain told me later that she was informed at about 8pm to get ready and packed within an hour. Hameeda thought she would be brought to Rawalpindi to meet me. They did not say anything about London. Just asked to get some warm clothes. One needs warm clothes in Rawalpindi, too; which is cooler than Karachi.
Hameeda said, when we are aboard the plane we realised that it would go much further than Rawalpindi. They were made to wait in the plane. In Rawalpindi they were not allowed to get off the plane, told, “No. no you don’t need to get off.” She thought lets see what happens. Later when she saw us she understood.
Shaptahik: Did you discuss independence, government, Mr. Tajuddin in the plane?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Some of the topics we used to discuss on a ongoing basis. We used to listen to radio and read the newspapers. I used to scan every lines. I listed to radio continuously. BBC, Akashbani. By that time I had a fair picture of our country.
I used to listen to the news and relayed them to Bongobandhu. We heared that we already had a foreign minister. Abdus Samad Azad. Bongobandhu said, I haven’t heard anyone named Azad before. I said, “I think this is our Samad Bhai”. During the war many names were added, “Azad” was added to Samad Bahi’s name.
Shaptahik: Did Bongobandhu say anyting about Mr. Tajuddin?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Bongobandhu said, “I had been confident about Tajuddin since 1964. That’s why I had appointed him as the General Secretary. There were others who had legitimate claim to the post due to their seniority in the party. But I had noticed his effectiveness and intelligence. Tajuddin had been able, well-qualified General Secretary. I thought it would work, and it did work, to let him lead the party’s organisational work.
Secondly, I had hoped after 26 March if anyone could do anything, s/he would be Tajuddin. And see, he has done it alright. Tajuddin, in my absent, has lead such a big war with result. I will now tour the country to unite the people. And Tajuddin will run the government. If the party stays organised, if I can unite and organise the people, and if we can keep this unity – it will be really good for us”.
Bangobandhu expressed these thoughts on Tajuddin Bahi. I kept listening.
Shaptahik: What happened once you had arrived in London?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Many interesting incidents took place in London. We met the British PM Edward Heat in London. He said, “In Europe all of us will officially recognise Bangladesh”. Bangobandhu said, “If you spare a plane I could go home soon”. Previously, may had been talk of leaving London when an Indian plane arrived. It would have taken longer that way. We had to stay in London for three days. The PM had asked his secretary to make his personal aircraft available to take us back to Bangladesh. He also said, “It should be ready by 8th and could take us on 9th January morning”. The journey was planned so that we could arrive in Dhaka in the morning via Delhi. That’s why we did not go to Calcutta.
There were endless phone calls to Bangobandhu from Calcutta, “How could not visit Calcutta? Please leave Delhi out of your itenary, if necessary”. Then, we were advised that due to the protocols as a President of an independent country one cannot go to Calcutta without going to Delhi. There had been many discussion on this over the phone. Tajuddin bahi talked to them on the phone, “Ok. We will issue statements of special wishes and gratitude to Calcutta promising that Bangobandhu will visit shortly as his first overseas trip”. Bangobandhu visited Calcutta within January 1972.
Shaptahik: You said Bangobandhu was in deep thoughts on the way to London from Pakistan, why?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: He said, “We got the independence because we were united. But how long, we, Bengalis would be keep it. It would not work, if we cannot consolidate and be more organised. Habitually, we don’t like each-others wellbeing (good). Our oppositions in the past had always used this against us. I am thinking, our success lies in holding on to this unity and utilising this in rebuilding the country”.
He also asked, “Which would be better for us – Presidential or the parliamentary form of government. I replied, look it’s already in the six-points. Parliamentary democracy is mentioned in the six-points”.
Shaptahik: You returned with Bangobandhu on 10th January 1972. Then what happened?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: We arrived together. 11th I was enjoying so much. Bongobhavan used to be like a hostel back then. I was there moving from tables to tables, sipping tea and listening to events of the war. The day before, I got the message that Tajuddin Bahi had called for me and Abu Sayeed Chowdhury to meet at the Prime Minister House (next to the then Chief Justice’s house). I brought along Amir-ul Islam as well to Mr Tajuddin’s residence. We were to told to wait upstairs. A cabinet meeting was on downstairs. Bongobandhu was presiding over the meeting as the President. He told me, “We have decided to adopt parliamentary democracy”. Bongobandhu was President, Tajuddin Ahmed was Prime Minister then. He asked, “What needs to be done to return to parliamentary democracy?”
Mr Abu Sayeed Chowdhury was a judge at the High Court. We discussed and suggested that adding a mere sentence would do. In the proclamation of independence it was stated that Bongobandhu was the President, Tajuddin was the Prime Minister, Nazrul Islam was acting President. I said, if we add a sentence, “President shall perform all his functions on the advise of the Prime Minister”, and then if Bongobandhu takes the oath as the Prime minister and someone else assumes the role of the President, then that President would not have any power. All acts will be signed by the President on the advise of the Prime Minister. This would be a parliamentary form.
It would be about an hour since we had got there. Bongobandhu instructed Ruhul Kuddus to send this to the Government press. “So, I will have to be the PM, Tajuddin you be the Finance Minister and who will be the President? Mr Abu Sayeed Chowdhury you will be sworn in as the President tomorrow”. He replied, “How come? My family is in London”. He thought he would be the ambassador. Will work to get Bangladesh recognised by other countries. Bongobandhu said,”No how do we let you go? It would be honorable to be the President. You will be the constitutional head of state and tomorrow will conduct my oath”.
Shaptahik: How did you become a minister?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: It was 11-12 January 1972. I went to Bongobhavan, they were in cabinet meeting. I was chatting and sipping tea. They came out of the meeting, we were standing to greet them. Bongobandhu said please come here around 2pm. Wear clean clothes, you have to take oath. We have added you in the cabinet. I was really surprised.
On the 12th I borrowed clothes from three individuals — panjabi from one, pajamas from other and sandals from another, only the black coat was probably what Bongobondhu gave me. Wearing this I went at 2pm to take the oath as a minister. I got the law ministers portfolio. Assumed office probably from the 13th.
Shaptahik: How old were you then?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: 34 years.
Shaptahik: What did you do as the law minister?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: There were great opportunity to do things then, as there was a huge vacuum. We had to literally turn a province to a state. Changing old laws into new ones. What would work what wouldn’t. We had to draft around 200 to 300 laws.
Shaptahik: This was one side of your work, how about politics. You were not political, how did you handle issues like appointing PP, APP?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: The key was I had Bongobondhu’s confidence. Right at the beginning he said, “You continue with your principles. I want you to do your job properly”. I remember, I once went to a cabinet meeting to get Bongobondhu’s order on a file. Putting his hand over my writing, he said to everyone, “Look how much I trust Dr Kamal Hossain. I am signing his file without reading. Then I open it to see what has he written”.
A number of senior CSPs were dismissed once. Bongobondhu told me, “You review this and give me a note”. Usually this was the responsibility of secretary of civil administration or senior officials in the bureaucracy. But Bongobondhu gave me the task.
I interviewed individuals concerned, asking them what were the issues. I found that many of them attained pre-war Pakistani civil awards such as Seteri-i-Pakistan for their outstanding work. Many were awarded for their work after the 1970s cyclone. My review concluded that not all who had got a Pakistani award worked against our independence. One or two assisted the Pakistani administration. One or two had bad reputation. Bongobondhu tested my ability by assigning such a sensitive job. I did not relay on any hearsay, and under pressure I had showed my neutral stance.
Shaptahik: Was there any political pressure?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: In fact, that was the biggest test for me. Many gave me their lists asking for their appointments. I believed, the appointments of PP, APP should be on merit not based on party affiliation. If anyone from the party was equally qualified, of course, I could preferred them. But when there were others much more qualified and experienced than I had appointed them over party members. I was appointing for the state, on behalf of the state. I took an oath to work for the betterments of the state. According to that oath I would appoint appropriately qualified people to the positions. I thought about this and discussed with Tajuddin Bahi, “I am in a difficult situation”.
Shaptahik: AL senior leaders were much older than you, then? So not to be able to support their recommendations, probably was tough?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I told Tajuddin bahi that I needed his guidance. What should I do? Tajuddin Bahi asked me, “What you want to do?” I discussed at length. He agreed, “This is how it suppose to be. We cannot put party people in every position. You be strong. You would find Bongobandhu is on your side”.
Afterwards according to Tajuddin Bahi’s advice I had created an Appointment Committee headed by the then Attorney General Fakir Shahabuddin. That committee started to fill the positions. If I had any complaints, I replied, “Look I have no authority. There is a committee which appoints staff on a merit basis”.
Shaptahik: Certainly the others got really angry with you?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Somewhat, of course. But it was also true that they had progressed through a proper political process. Initially they might have thought, what’s this guy doing. When they had found that it’s a good initiative, they all had accepted the process happily.
Shaptahik: When did you become the Foreign Minister?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: After the 1973 election.
Shaptahik: Did you contest in 1973 election?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: It was an extraordinary event. The way in 1971 Bongobandhu selected me, in 1973 was also the same. I had finished drafting the constitution. I went to the Commonwealth Law Minister’s conference. This was around January-February 1973.
The election was around the corner, nominations were vying for. I assumed that I am not contesting in the Election. As, I thought that I had finished my work. I did what I could. If I was going to do any further work I would do them from outside the ministry. It was not for me to be a Minister. Besides, there were so many interested candidates in the party who wanted to be a minister.
I went to the conference in London. I had 10 days after the conference. I was spending some time with my old friends. I was getting messages there that Bongobandhu was looking for me.
Sometime after returning from London when I went to see Bongobandhu, he said, “Where did you vanish?” Replied, “I had finished everything before I left”. He said, “I have signed and brought your nomination papers. You will contest from Mirpur/Mohammadpur area”.
I replied, “I am not cut out for this. Plus, I do not have the fund to run an election campaign”. He said, “Alright, I am giving Tk 20,000. We need you”.
As he was talking, I did not say anything. And I enjoyed doing the election back then. Going together with everyone, meeting everyone, meeting people. My competitor was JASAD’s Shahjahan Siraj. Everyone said we need poster, leaflets. Workers wanted to hand them out to voters. I agreed to print 5000 posters. And a leaflet. You wouldn’t believe, I still had money left. I had returned seven thousands or something else after the election from Bongobondhu’s Tk 20,000. That was election back than. Visiting the voters houses, talking to everyone — the feeling was quite different back then.
I often remember one incident. I was about to go out on campaign, stumbled on this girl in Borka, said, “I need to talk to you. My husband was a Bengali solider, martyred. He had given his life for the country. I head that you are good man. Take this ten taka, and do good work for the country”. I will never forget that women in my life. She did not want anything in return for the betterment of the country. Would you find anymore patriotism than that? This was Bangladesh, back then. That woman’s Bangladesh. Bongobandhu’s Bangladesh.
Shaptahik: Did you return to cabinet as the Foreign Minister after election?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: That’s really interesting. I was enjoying my time, and did not have any target during formation of the cabinet. Bongobandhu asked, “You have done the law, constitution, what do you want to do now?” I replied, “Special assistant, meaning, if there is a room available next to your office I would like to occupy it as your aide. That way I can come from my office to work with you. To do whatever task you assign me. And if I return back to my profession I could earn a livable earning. That’s not too difficult. I am not interested in a job”.
Then he replied, “Ok. You have gained experience”. I said, “I have no demands. Further, my senior colleagues would be eager to get a ministerial position. You do not need to consider me for a post at all. If you consider me, I would not say anything, but I have no preference”.
I finished our conversation on that note. The day was quiet, but from about 7 or 8pm I started to get many calls. Tajuddin Bahi called me to say congratulation. I replied, “For what?”. “Congratulations, Foreign Minister”. I was surprised.
Tajuddin bahi said, “You better go to Samad bhai’s (Foreign Minister Abdus Samad Azad). He is a bit upset. He is given the agriculture portfolio, lost the Foreign Ministry. Please meet him. Meet him, congratulate him and then come to my place”.
I went to Mr Samad’s house which was next to Mr. Tajuddin’s.
Shaptahik: Which means Mr.Tajuddin also was fond of you?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: It looks that way. I also think, perhaps, it was his suggestion to allocate the ministry to me. Senior leaders discuss and decide on such issues. But I had never told Tajuddin Bhai that I was interested to be a minister or asked his favors to become one.
I would say Tajuddin Bhai was a learned man, who believed in “Healthy/fair politics”.
Shaptahik: Did you go to Abdus Samad Azad’s house?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I went. Met him. I respected him. He was a senior member. He did not show his disappointment. He was the Foreign Minister. I just said, “look Samad bhai, please believe me, I had no idea about this appointment. Before getting the call I hadn’t even imagined it”.
He said, “no, no, it is ok”.
I said, “I need your help, blessing. I am new”.
Then I went to see Mr.Tajuddin. He told me, “Bongobondhu was looking for a change in the Foreign Minister’s post. And a lot of work in the Agricultural Ministry would require on the ground involvement with people, where we need someone with lots of experience working at the grassroots. With this consideration, Bongobandhu said lets assign the Agriculture Ministry to Abdus Samad Azad. Plus, you were in his priority (first) list for the Foreign Minstry. I also supported Bongobandhu saying that this would be better”.
This is how I became the Foreign Minister in March 1973.
Shaptahik: Afterwards, when did you become the Petroleum Minister?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: In 1974. This, too, was quite a surprising event. Dr. Mofiz Chowdhury was the Petroleum Minister. The international oil price shored up in around October 1973. The Egyptians occupied the West Bank, crossing the Suez canal. To support the aggression the Saudi King, King Faisal, declared that Saudi Arab would control the oil supply. As a result, the oil price rose from $3 per barrel to $10-$15 per barrel in the international market. So the oil companies started to search for oil in new regions. Forty oil companies applied to dig for oil in Bangladesh. They thought there could be a huge oil reserve in the Bay of Bengal.
We were excited by the interest of foreign oil companies. To work with them we would need to draft agreements. We would need to legislate laws. I was not the law minister then. The Law Minister was Monoronjon Dhar. I was told to assist the Law Minister. As this was a greenfield work for all of us.
I started to research these topic, regulations in other countries. Our law was British. In many other parts of the world this was considered obsolete. Why? As that was formulated by the colonials, which would benefit the multi-national oil companies. The newly independent countries were reviewing these laws. To protect their interest these countries formulated Production Sharing Contract or PSC with the multi-national oil companies which were looking for oil in their territories. I found Indonesia had advanced a fair bit in this task.
Shaptahik: Bangladesh was a newly independent country. New laws in petroleum sectors were needed. Perhaps you were tasked with the Power, Energy and Minerals portfolio as you were a lawyer?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I think I was also in the cabinet committee. A committee was formed. Mofiz bhai said, “You are a lawyer, have a look and review”.
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Usually, the people in the ministry, secretary, deputy sectary, prepare these policies. They sought advise from me, not as the minister but as a lawyer. Although, I could have advised the cabinet as a cabinet member. However, I was not responsible for research as a cabinet member. I undertook serious research on this. I had correspondent with many countries. I had looked into other countries laws. For example, what was happening in Algeria. There was an expert in Iraq on this subject, Dr. Hasan Zakaria. I wrote to them seeking their opinion. I stated that we wanted to learn more on this.
Shaptahik: Till then Dr. Mofiz Chowdhury was the Petroleum Minister?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yes. The draft proposal from the relevant ministry was molded in the colonial laws. “Pakistan” was merely replaced by “Bangladesh” in the draft. Which was what we had to do in many instances. With a few tweak, we had named them as Bangladesh’s law.
But on this issue, based on my research, I said that merely replacing “Pakistan” would not do. As there had been a lot of innovation and progress in oil exploration during 1950 and 1970. The Indonesian expert in the UN said, “Yes. You got it”. Countries those were independent had been reconsidering their laws. They were thinking about new ideas.
I found that Malaysia had advanced the most on this among the nearer countries. They formed a committee for “energy exploration” in about 1974 and was following Indonesia. Bangladesh’s Petro-Bangla and Malaysia’s oil exploration institute, Petronus was established around that time. We exchanged our drafts. The Indonesian organization was called Petronomia National Oil Company. They also had drafted Production Sharing Contract. I was fascinated. I wrote a paper and circulated it along with the Power, Energy and Oil Ministry’s paper. My advise was to change the old law and legislate similar laws as Production Sharing Contracts. In that way, like Malaysia and Indonesia, we would also be benefited.
Shaptahik: Did you drafted the Oil Exploration Agreement as member of the Committee?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yes as a member. Or as a foreign minister or a committee member. When we discussed these papers and I was putting forward my suggestions, Mofiz bahi was listening. The secretaries in his department did not have time or interest to do so much research. Plus, without a legal background one cannot go so deep.
I actually drafted a small research project on this. I did not think of the outcomes. Later, I realized that everyone was accepting my arguments. We would establish Petro-Bangla, we would formulate new laws. All found that was most logical. And then I started exchanging with Petronus. Even before becoming the Oil Minister.
Then Bongobhundu called me, “You did all these. But who would implement them. You take the role of Petroleum Minister”. I said, “What are you saying? The current ministry is big enough, I still lack experience”.
We had to established our relationship with many country. We had not got the UN membership then. When he had made me the Foreign Minister he said, “I assigned you with this task as we haven’t become a member nation to the UN. We need to move quickly, effectively to get the membership. We also have to develop the foreign ministry. I gave you this job, as you are a young-man, you would be energetic”.
So I had assumed that after we become an UN member nation my role would also finish.
Shaptahik: Does this mean you weren’t interested in becoming the Energy Minister?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: As I did not have the grassroots level experience in politics, I had thought that even if I stayed in politics I would not be a Minister. But Tajuddin bahi repeated “But who would implement the policies you guys developing? We don’t have enough qualified people in our organization”. He was repeating this. He had been saying this before independence. He used say, “Look it is good that Dr. Kamal Hossain has written the election manifesto, but to implement these policies we would need good people. We would need to build the organization. We would need to strengthen the organization. We would need to rearrange it”.
Shaptahik: Did Bongobondhu make you the Petroleum Minister to implement these tasks?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I was given the Petroleum Ministry to build it. I had to build it from zero. We made an organ by forming Petro-Bangla. Then I needed zoologists. I found one, Dr. Habibur Rahman. He was an incredibly qualified and a good man. He was the chief zoologist of all (both) Pakistan. He was a freedom fighter. He had done his P.HD. in the fifties. If we have to name anyone as the father of Petro-Bangla, he would be it.
Shaptahik: Did you get to work in Oxford through this experience?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I will tell you, the paper I wrote with experts research and analysis was really unimaginably good. That’s why when I went to Oxford after 1975 they gave me the opportunity to do research. They asked me, what would you like to work on? I replied, petroleum agreement.
Shaptahik: Your thesis later become a book?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yes, it was later made into a book. The UN asked me to go to China in 1980 to work on this. A team was going, observe how they develop the oil exploration agreement. I said, “My experience is very limited. I had only worked for 3 years in Bangladesh on this and wrote a book”.
Then they said, “It is because of this book that we consider you as an expert”.
Shaptahik: We heard that when you were the Foreign Minister, people asked for the “Red Carpet” for a reception of Bongobandhu, and you refused. Could you please tell us a little bit about this incident?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I have always said that we were gaining experience. The foundation of which was ethics. I had learnt from Bongobandhu, from Tajuddin bahi that the state and the party are absolutely different. This was at the beginning of my term as the Foreign Minister. A reception would be given to Bongobandhu in Dhaka. This was a party function of the Dhaka Metropolitan Awami League. They needed a “Red Carpet”. The Foreign Ministry had one such carpet to be rolled out to foreign dignitaries. Members of the Dhaka Metropolitan Awami League demanded that carpet. I judged that this wasn’t a state function. A party function. State’s assets should not be used for party functions. Because, the party and the state are different.
I then asked Tajuddin bhai that I had received a request. He said this should not happen. The party and the state are constitutionally separated. We should reflect this through our work. He said, “Your decision is right. You stand strong”. I remained uncompromising. The “Red Carpet” was not lent. As a result there were murmurs in the party. Many expressed, “Who does he think he is? What if he is the minister? Could anyone argue about lending the carpet for Bongobandhu’s reception?”
When the rumors got intense, I went straight to Bongobandhu,”You’ve always told me to work within the law and ethics. Forbidden not to mix the party and the state”.
Hearing me he busted out laughing; laughed and laughed and said, “Yes, you have done the right thing”.
Shaptahik: You were a Foreign Minister during the Bongobandhu government. There are many gossips about lobbying for ambassadors posts during that time. Would you like to say something about that?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: There was a lot of lobbying for appointments and transfers. A lot of lobbying at the Foreign Ministry related to who will get what post in Europe or America or Africa. I told Bongobandhu, “These are low-level appointments. Let me make a committee which will deal with this. Leave the matter to them. I’ll make a committee consisting of people like the additional secretary Fakhrudding shaheb and the foreign secretary Enayat Karim. Let this be done through the committee. Bongobondhu agreed and said that this was a very good committee.
During that period among the few political appointments that were made to the post of ambassadors was Muntakim Chowdhury. He was one of our MPs and he went to Japan as an ambassador. Shamshur Rahman went Russia. Sayed Abdus Sultan went to London. They were all qualified politically but they didn’t want to be members of the parliament. Shamshur Ramhman shaheb didn’t take part in the election, Muntakin Chowdhury also didn’t want to stay. There were several such political appointments where there was both qualification as well as the political experience. No unqualified person was given an appointment just because of party affiliation. It was not done. Bongobondhu used to make these decisions after talking to everyone.
Towards the end, near 74-75, I made another committee and said we need a committee to audit performance. To see what the ambassadors have been up to. And to ask them to report back whether the opportunities in various places are increasing. For example, those places where we were sending laborers whether the numbers would be increasing. To make a systematic target and then do an evaluation according this target. And based on this evaluation it will be decided which ambassador will be posted in what place. If one failed to show proficiency he might have to recalled. In fact it had already been decided that a few were to be recalled.
Shaptahik: Did you have to go through any trouble because of this?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I should say a few things here. There were several times when I had to write to Bongobandhu, “If you wanted to enforce this you should first release me from the post of a minister. You can’t do this while I am still a minister. You have the power, you can do anything.”
Let me tell you of an incident. Something that occurred when I was the Foreign Minister. An ambassador went straight to Bongobandhu with a complaint against a first secretary. His complaint was that the first secretary was insubordinate and didn’t follow his orders. He told Bongobandhu that this person should be fired. Bongobandhu told me of this complaint by the ambassador. So I called the said ambassador and told him, “What have you done? How could you, as an ambassador, file a complaint about a first officer to the Prime Minister. This is not a matter that should even come to me. It is a matter of the administration of the Director General (DG) of the Foreign Ministry. You are at the level of a Secretary. A senior and experienced ambassador. And we have such enormous respect for you. How could you do something like this!” He realized that he had made a mistake. He said, “I am sorry. I have made a mistake.” I told him, “Look, you are so senior. Make sure that you don’t make the same mistake again. I will tell Bongobandhu that you and I have resolved the matter.” When I told this to Bongobandhu he said, “You’ve done the right thing.”
Bongobandhu said, “Because I’m personally acquainted with so many people they will come on courtesy calls.” I answered, “As they should, a hundred times. Even beside courtesy calls they will come to brief you. To brief the Prime Minister. This is fine. But if there is a complaint about the first secretary, there is a proper channel, a chain of command. If they bring the complaint directly to you it’ll destroy that chain of command. As a result there won’t be any kind of system.
Shaptahik: Any other memorable events while you were at the Foreign Ministry?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Another event. Received a note the Prime Minister’s office. To give a summary of which ambassadors have been posted to which country. The Foreign Secretary, Enayet Karim shaheb, rushed in with this order from the Prime Minister’s Office. He asked, “Why was this order issued?” I also wondered why it was issued? Why would the Prime Minister’s Office want to know this? They might ask where a certain individual? But why would they want to know about every ambassador from top to bottom? I asked if we should send the information from a principle point of view? He said, “Perhaps it’s not correct to do so on principle.” Then I said, “I won’t sent it then. If it’s not correct on principle we shouldn’t do it.” Enayet Karim shaheb then said, “How can I say to Secretary Ruhul Kuddus at the Prime Minister’s Office that we are not keeping his request.” I said to him then, “Okay, let me write a letter as the minister. I will write a note that we shall not sent this thing to them.”
Shaptahik: Did you get any reaction to this decision later?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: A few days afterwards I was accompanying Bangabandhu somewhere. He asked me, “Are you being a rebel?” I said, “What do you mean, Sir?” He said, “Well, my office had asked for a list of who is the ambassador to which country. And you wrote on the file that this information need not be communicated.” To which I replied, “But that is not the way this information should have been asked for. I am always here for you. I will give you the information the moment you ask for it. In any way possible I will send you the information. But it wasn’t proper to ask for that information from the secretary of your office. Besides, you know the secretary of foreign affairs, Enayet Karim, pretty well. He is not one to play power practise.” He was a very principled man. Bangabandhu also knew him well. I said, ‘He isn’t that type of person. And you also should not think I am saying this for any other reason. The responsible ministry must have some autonomy to do its job. Individuals should be responsible for their tasks. Why should you bear that responsibility? If my ministry slips, if you do not approve of any posting suggested by my ministry I will be responsible as the minister. You could sack me any moment. Not even my secretary. I would not blame my secretary. I would not say that bhai I do not know what the secretary has done. you watch whether in my ministry there are any bad administration, bad posting. Hold me accountable. If you do not get reasonable answers, release me. After that you can remove the secretary, but first you have to remove me’.
Then Bongobondhu said, ‘Ok, got it. Alright. You are a tough man. Alright I will talk to Ruhul Kuddus. They wont push for it’.
Bongobondhu really appreciated me. He had always understood me. I would say that I had received 100% ethical teaching from Bongobandhu. When I had argued something logically he listened to me, often said, ‘you are right. continue your work’. I wrote strongly as the Petroleum Minister and here I had spoken strongly, ‘if you do not like the work of my ministry, please release me. And if your secretary thinks he would run it better, then make him the Foreign Minster. If the postings are inappropriate, whenever you call me I will make myself available to explain. You could tell me that in your opinion they are not done correctly. But it is not right for your secretary to take charge of my whole ministry. The Secretary of the PMO is not exercising his power appropriately’.
Bongobondgu always understood my arguments.
Shaptahik: In this interview you have told us that there are two persons – one is Mujib Bhai, and the other is the ruler of the state – Bangabandhu. Tell us, from your position, when and how have you seen him?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: He was an extraordinary organizer. An extraordinary political leader. He had an amazing flair to win over people’s hearts. He could fathom the internal workings of people’s minds. He would look at them and understand what they wanted. What they were suffering from. To stand beside any exploited people was his number one cardinal principle. When the floods came he would go out on the boats and help people. And by then his popularity was at its zenith. Even then he would go himself to help out the people in distress, and being with trained us too. He would say one things always: go closer to the people, go closer to the distressed and suffering people. This I have seen in him, and I have seen this in Tajuddin Bhai too – a hundred percent.
Shaptahik: So, all this you witnessed was Mujib Bhai’s doing. What about when after he became Bangabandhu?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Till 1971 I had not seen any differences between Mujib Bhai and Bangabandhu. After 1972 he became the head of the nation. But, he never was both the head of the state and head of the party simultaneously. But, the change that came later was during the time of formation of BAKSAL. And that happened in a very complex situation. Through what kind of dynamics this transformation happened I have not yet been able to understand fully.
From 1972 to the end of 1974 another kind of change took place. And, in 1975 it was a completely different thing, the same person became the president and the party head through BAKSAL. I will never say that he was assassinated for these reasons. Because, the ones who killed him tried to push this narrative through. This is a lie, an excuse. They then started saying, “See this is why had to pay with his life.” No. I don’t believe it. Bangabandhu will always be Bangabandhu. A person who dedicated his life to people so totally will never come again. Such people are rare. And, such a great leader will never come again.
Shaptahik: You have had the opportunity to work with Tajuddin saheb. And, later you were his colleague in the cabinet. What is your impression about him?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: He was a very good man. His capacity to work, his humility, his honesty was unparalleled. I haven’t seen anyone so humble ever. Whenever there were moments where his self interest came to the forefront he had turned away from them. He had decided much before resigning from the ministerial position that he won’t be involved anymore. It is a very complex issue. If we got his verbatim on this from him it would be the best thing to have. I have heard that he had written [about this]. There was a diary too when he was in the jail. But, that has disappeared!
He wasn’t happy about the way the country was being governed towards the end of ‘74. IN 1972-73 he was very much in the heart of the administration. But in the October of 1974 he had to leave the cabinet, he resigned.
Shaptahik: About the declaration of Independence you were telling us that…
Dr. Kamal Hossain: It was an unnecessary controversy that was being created then, while Bangabandhu was still alive, but it wasn’t successful. I must say it was a futile attempt.
Shaptahik: While he was alive…?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: That had died down then itself. Everyone was alive then. We know the chronological developments as they happened since 1966. And, I have found an interesting thing in Suhrawardy’s writings, which, perhaps, many don’t know or have glossed over. Later it came out as book.
Shaptahik: Where was the book published from?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: It was published by UPL. Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy died in 1963. In one place in his diary he had written: “Mujib and younger generation do not think that any solution is possible within one Pakistan. I have tried to keep this within a federal system. But, Mujib and the younger generation do not think that there can be any solution within one Pakistan.”
When I showed this to Bangabandhu and told him that it seems your boss has already given you the certificate, that people who say that you never ever thought about independence, he [Suhrawardy] has already written about it to rid them of their delusions.
Shaptahik: Did Ziaur Rahman say anything on the topic of the declaration of Independence?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: What BNP says is absolute nonsense. I am sure. I have myself heard the announcement of declaration of Independence by Ziaur Rahman. Everyone who heard it liked it. He made the announcement on behalf of Sheikh Mujib. Later he [Ziaur Rahman] wrote about this and accepted it. Moreover, later everyone has given details about it. M. R. Siddique, Hannan saheb, everyone has talked about this.
Over and above that he [Ziaur Rahman] himself has written about it. While Ziaur Rahman was alive he never ever claimed that he declared Independence on his own. Whatever is being said now is madness.
Shaptahik: Let’s now change the subject. Your professional life now spans 50 years. Won’t you write an autobiography?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I have been writing for a long time now, two kinds of autobiographies. One is an autobiography of the political life. This is almost complete and ready. 1966 to 1974. Till the moment of our membership to the United Nations. I have stopped at that point. I want to hand it over to my publisher within the next 3 months.
Shaptahik: And the autobiography of your personal/private life?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: I will start writing that very soon. A young researcher will assist me in this.
Shaptahik: Your life has been a work-intensive life. Your life is full of happy and sad memories. What’s your philosophy towards life as such?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: When I start writing the autobiography I will have to go into deep introspection. The first moments of coming back to independent Bangladesh were the most happy ones. It is difficult to articulate this happiness. After all we were not supposed to be alive. On 25th March when we left home for the unknown we had thought that we will perhaps not come back alive.
I consider it a miracle that we came back to our country alive on 10 January, 1972 after the Liberation War. There is no bigger happiness in this life than the happiness of being free, than the happiness of a free country. What more could I ask for than being alive in a free country? And whatever we are seeing inside, the destruction and the creation, a nation is standing up; national flag, national anthem, constitution – these are the things we have created. We are all part of this new bend in the road through history. All of these have felt like the evidences of a new life.
The raising of the flag of independent Bangladesh at the United Nations was a defining moment in my life.
Shaptahik: But the country that you had wanted to build, the attendant failures, and there are sorrows too around that failure, do they not torment you?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: At every moment I ask myself: have we been able to fulfill the pledges we had made? That people will have the power. This is what so many people have given their lives for. That we will not feel helpless in this country anymore. That our lives and properties will be safe in this country. That our country will be governed sagaciously. That we will live a good life with proper food, clothes, education, and health facilities. That there will be employment opportunities. That which the common people of Bangladesh want, that which is written in the constitution, they will get all of that. Common people don’t want much more than these.
I have witnessed these inequities since the British era, not much have changed since. Inequality still plagues the society. A handful of people have been given special privileges in every field just because of their wealth. I don’t think wealth should be the basis of everything. But that is what is happening. This torments me mostly.
Shaptahik: Do you think of death? Does death make you think?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Indeed it makes me think. I believe life is Allah’s blessing or gift. But, I don’t want to waste my remaining time pondering over death. Rather what should motivate me is that I don’t have limitless time in my hands. When people are young these thoughts never occur. They think we have unlimited time ahead of us. In that way being young is good. Such thoughts don’t bother them. I tell everyone that I don’t live thinking when I will die. With a cool, collected and calm mind I think I have lived four-fifths of my life. I consider my work to be my life.
Shaptahik: Life is also an opportunity, isn’t it?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: But, of course. An opportunity to do something good. An opportunity to work for people. An opportunity to use time better. To share what I have assimilated and experienced, so that the next generation can make use of it — that is my responsibility to the next generation. During our growing up days the people that we looked up to, mother, father, the elders in the family, they showed us the path to walk on. In Muslim families like ours we have been give valuable lessons to differentiate between Halal and Haram, right from our childhood. And now I hear only of greed to amass wealth. What will so much wealth give people, where will it take them? I don’t know. When I was a student at Gregory school we had to write: earning money is not the big thing, to be a good person, to be dutiful towards the society, and to be show tolerance towards people is what matters. I think in our Matric textbook we had story called (indecipherable), don’t know if it is still there. Now I feel everyone needs acres and acres of land. If not, why is there so much black money floating around? The more black money you have, the more you need. Because of this change that we are now witnessing, instead of an exemplary society and exemplary people, we are seeing a depraved society, depraved people, and depraved politics.
Shaptahik: So, even after this are you hopeful about Bangladesh?
Dr. Kamal Hossain: Hundred percent hopeful. This soil, this nation, this people will definitely be released from this malaise. This has been born with a healthy body. It has not been out of anyone’s sympathy or largesse.
We have earned every bit. 99% of our people live their lives based on their industriousness.
A big credit goes to our farmers. The garments industry that is thriving today earns billions of dollars on the low-paid labour and sweat of the people. The migrant workers are giving back so much to the country through extreme hard work and hardships. Can anyone deprive this country? Can anyone ignore this country? This country is a harvest of people’s labour and sweat
Shaptahik: We would like to conclude with a very personal matter. You are yet physically very fit. There is still a youthful vigour in the work you do, in the work-inspiration…
Dr. Kamal Hossain: The good physical health comes genetically. My doctors all say one thing: you have a naturally healthy constitution. Everything is very fine. But control your diet and reduce your weight. Exercise. I don’t have diabetes. I am grateful to Allah. I have only one thing to ask of Allah that may I always be busy with my work.