By R. Chowdhury 24 August 2019
(This is an updated version of the previously published one)
Little is known about the 1971 jail life of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Pakistan. It remained shrouded in mystery amidst various rumors and narratives. But Raja Anar Khan, who served Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the jails in Pakistan in 1971, spilled the bean at a Naqta-e-Nazar television interview aired in December 2015. The Pakistani program was in Urdu, which might be a reason why it did not reach Bangladeshi viewers. Even if it did, official scorn might have silenced its disclosure and dissemination. The interview revealed certain facts that went counter to fixed and formulated Awami partisan scripts about Mujib’s Bangladesh. The reader may watch this video for the live interview at
Raja Anar Khan was a young Police Inspector of Special Branch and acted as an illiterate decoy of Mujib’s co-prisoner. Khan told Mujib that he was a convict for abducting a girl. Mujib’s jail room had an attached bathroom and a kitchenette. Khawaja Ayub, another fake prisoner, cooked food for Mujib as per his choice. Mujib had his regular supply of tambaku (tobacco) for his pipe. Sheikh Abdur Rahman, perhaps a Police or Jail Superintendent, looked into the details.
At retreat (nightfall), Raja Khan would lock Sheikh Mujib’s room and sleep outside the room. He would reopen the room at reveille (dawn). Khan addressed Mujib as “Baba”, a respectable term for elders. Over time, Mujib and Raja developed an affection for each other and could confide., “You are unpar (illiterate), but pretty sharp,” Mujib once complimented Khan. Being a veteran jail-goer, Mujib must have understood who and why they were.
Coming after 44 years, on a Bangladesh Victory month, there was little reason for Raja Khan, who retired as a Senior Superintendent of Police, to concoct or hide facts in his revelation. He appeared credible and spoke good of Mujib.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League won majority in the December 1970 elections, but Islamabad’s military leaders refused to honor the popular verdict. The junta decided to unleash the military to “teach the Bengalis a lesson” for their audacity to ask for equal rights and freedom from the domination of Punjabi overlords.
Following the crackdown on March 25, 1971, Sheikh Mujib surrendered to
the military. He ignored the repeated requests of his close associates to leave
his residence and lead the fight for independence. He even refused to sign the
Declaration of Independence prepared by Tajuddin
Ahmad, Secretary General of the Awami League, on the ground that it would remain a testimony of treason against him. (Reference: Sharmin Ahmad, Tajuddin Ahmad: Neta O Pita, 2014, pp. 59, 60, 148). Terms of surrender had earlier been arranged through US Ambassador Joseph Farland in Islamabad. Mujib’s family would be protected by the military in Dhaka, in addition to receiving sufficient cash allowance and free provisions. Sheikh Hasina delivered son Joy in July 1971 at Dhaka Cantonment amidst military fanfare.
A commando platoon picked up Mujib and his wife from their residence at Dhaka’s posh Dhanmondi area. They stayed at the newly built MNA Hostel at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar for a night or two. Mujib was then taken to Dhaka Cantonment and later flown to Karachi, West Pakistan. Begum Mujib was sent to her family that was housed at 18 Dhanmondi for the entire period of the war. In his book Amar Phansi Chai, Motiur Rahman Rentu quoted Sheikh Hasina saying that General Tikka Khan would visit them regularly and respectfully check their welfare. Tikka was otherwise known as the “Butcher of Bengalis” for committing the genocide in East Pakistan in those days. Sheikh Hasina also acknowledged that her paternal grandmother was helicoptered from their village home in Tungipara to Dhaka for a minor treatment. That spoke of the close collaboration between Mujib, his family and the Pakistan military. (Reference: Motiur Rahman Rentu, Amar Phansi Chai, 1999, p. 99. Online link:
On April 1, 1971, front pages of almost all dailies of Pakistan published an image of a pensive Mujib in his trademark white kurta-pajama and black half-overcoat surrounded by police escorts at Karachi airport.
Mujib in Pakistan
I give below a few important elements that I could extract from the interview.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was lodged at a jail at Faisalabad, about 60 miles west of Lahore. When the Indo-Pak war broke out on December 4, 1971, the authorities feared that the jail could be attacked or bombed, or even a rescue attempt made by Indian commandos. They shifted the Bengali VIP prisoner to Mianwali jail, another 150 miles to northwest. After the fall of East Pakistan, Mujib was taken by helicopter to a Rest House in Sahalla, near Islamabad. Sheikh
Abdur Rahman and Raja Khan accompanied him.
According to Khan, Mujib was totally unaware of the developments outside, military or political, not even the start of the Indo-Pak war. During his road travel from Faisalabad to Mianwali, Mujib pointed at the movements of military in camouflage gear outside. Khan explained that it was perhaps a military exercise. While in jail, they heard occasional firings and bomb blasts. Again, his prison mate explained that it was due to the presence of a firing range close by. This appears somewhat odd to me. How could a politician of Mujib’s stature remain totally in the dark or not concerned at all after what he had left the country before surrendering, unless he was too naïve.
At the Mianwali jail, an “L” shaped air raid shelter, a trench, was prepared with mats and blankets inside for comfort. Upon arrival in Bangladesh, Mujib claimed it to be his would be grave. That is odd. First, Muslim graves are not made “L” shaped, nor do they contain mats and blankets. Second, why would Pakistan bury Mujib in the jail compound, if they had to?
Mujib had no access to media (books, newspaper, television, radio), not even visitors. This contradicted somewhat from the finding of Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci to whom Mujib admitted to have done “some reading” in jails, despite his earlier denials. (Please see Oriana Fallaci, L’Europeo, January 24, 1972). Jails had libraries and Mujib could have access to many books, unless authorities put a ban on it. Raja Khan perhaps meant information sources like newspapers, TV, radio etc. At the Sahalla Rest House, Mujib got all the media materials he needed.
When asked by the moderator if Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ever requested him to meet any officials or people in high places, Raja Khan was quick to answer, “How could he? I was a ‘low level, unpar prisoner.’ If he did, it would be to Sheikh Abdur Rahman, the Superintendent, but I was not aware.”
Mujib’s defense attorney A K Brohi met him from time to time. During the meetings, in which Raja Khan was always present, only his case was discussed. No political topic or outside information could be exchanged.
Refusal to Accept Bangladesh Independence
After becoming president (on December 20, 1971), Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came to meet Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the Rest House. During the meeting, Khan was hiding behind a screen with a loaded pistol, for whatever reasons. After greeting each other, the two leaders sat on a sofa. Below was what transpired between them. Mujib started the conversation.
Mujib: Ap kaise? What brings you here?
Bhutto: I am now the President and Chief Marshal Law Administrator of Pakistan.
Mujib: How come?
Bhutto: East Pakistan has fallen. India won victory and Pakistanis surrendered to India. General Yahya Khan resigned.
Mujib was outraged. He sprang to his feet and scornfully demanded.
Mujib: How can it be? How can you be the president? You are a loser, a minority (in the elections). I am the majority leader. I have the right to those positions, not you. Take me immediately to a radio or TV station, I will denounce all these and keep East Pakistan as before. I will nullify all these and fix everything.
Bhutto: Please calm down. This is the reality now. Sit down please.
Mujib sat down. After a short silence, Mujib expressed his disgust at Tajuddin Ahmad, Secretary General of the Awami League and wartime Prime Minister based in India, and said that he suspected Tajuddin would end up doing something like this in collaboration with India. This corroborates with the assertion of Prof Aftab Ahmed of Dhaka University. Prof Ahmed wrote in his book that upon landing in Dhaka on January 10, 1972, Mujib rebuked Tajuddin saying,
“শেষ পর্যন্ত তোমরা পাকিস্তান ভাইঙ্গাই ফেললা? (So, you finally broke Pakistan?)”.
Before leaving, Bhutto asked what he could do for Mujib, the latter asked for tv, newspapers, radio etc., which were immediately provided. He also wanted to meet Dr. Kamal Hossain, who was brought down from Nowshera the next day.
(There was a small drama when Dr. Kamal Hossain came and wanted to see “Sheikh Saheb.” The Guard/Receptionist took him to Superintendent Sheikh Abdur Rahman, the only Sheikh Saheb they knew. “Nei, aap nei. Not you,” said a puzzled visitor. He then introduced himself and said, “I want to meet Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.” The Superintend escorted him to Mujib).
After Bhutto left, Mujib locked himself in his room. Raja Khan and others were worried that Mujib might do something in desperation, given his earlier tantrums at the break up of Pakistan and Bhutto becoming the new leader. Khan finally succeeded in getting the door opened after repeated knocks and appeals to his “Baba.” Mujib then fell prostrate on a prayer mat and cried out in Bangla, (which Khan by now understood), “Ya Allah, why all these happened? I never wanted it to be like this….”
This is also corroborated by Sharmin Ahmad. While launching her book Tajuddin Ahmad: Neta o Pita, in the US on April 18, 2014, she reportedly commented:
“মুজিব কাকু প্রচন্ড ক্ষমতালোভী, সুবিধাবাদী ভীতু মানুষছিলেন। তিনি কখনও বাংলাদেশের স্বাধীনতা চাননি। তিনি পাকিস্তানের প্রধান মন্ত্রী হতে চেয়েছিলেন। (Mujib uncle was highly power hungry, opportunist and a coward. He never wanted the independence of Bangladesh. He wanted to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan)”
If Khan is to be believed–there is no reason to disbelieve–was it a drama on the part of Mujib (lamenting on a divided Pakistan)? If so, to what end? East Pakistan became Bangladesh, Pakistan had a new leader, apparently treason charge, if any, against him had been quashed and that Mujib was a free man. There was no need to act or play the Pakistani tune anymore. And, if it was a drama, his prayer would have been in Urdu, not in Bangla, to be clearly understood by Khan and others in the hearing distance. So, what would one deduce about Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: a trickster, confused or a true Pakistani?
Stanley Wolpert writes in his book Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan (1993) that, in a meeting on December 27, 1971, Mujib assured Bhutto that their two countries would have a Confederation relationship. “I told you it will be confederation,” said Mujib. “This is also between you and me… You leave it to me…Absolutely leave it to me. Trust me… My idea is we will live together and we will rule this country. You know the occupation (Indian) army is there.”
In this context, one may recall the visible comraderies between Mujib
and Bhutto during the OIC Summit in Lahore in February 1974.
similarly to Anthony Mascarenhas in an interview in London on January 8, 1972: “Going
to keep some link with Pakistan. (Reference: Anthony Mascarenhas, Bangladesh:
A Legacy of Blood, 1986).
Earlier in a jail room conversation with Khan, Mujib blamed President Yahya Khan for destroying Pakistan. On the other hand, in his Affidavit for the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, Yahya credited Mujib to be a patriot and blamed Bhutto for breaking Pakistan. He wrote, “Mujib was a patriot,” further adding that on March 12, 1971, Sheikh Mujib “delivered a public speech wherein he reiterated the unity and solidarity of Pakistan.” On Bhutto, Yahya affirmed that he “was a clever and venomous toad,” and made “unpatriotic speeches and statements which ultimately contributed to the breakage of Pakistan.” (Reference: Abu Rushd, ed., Secret Affidavit of Yahya Khan on 1971 (2009) p. 40).
When time came for Mujib to leave, he wanted to go to India first. Why? Was it Mujib’s political trickery, a stunt, a quick change of mindset and game plan? He had earlier denounced Tajuddin’s India collaboration that materialized Bangladesh. Now he became an India lover overnight. Reasons are not far to seek. Bangladesh became a reality despite Mujib’s best efforts to keep Pakistan united, and keeping himself out of the trouble. India was instrumental in the process (At that point of time, he had no knowledge about the Mukti Juddho/Liberation War fought by the Bengalis). He, therefore, had to reorient and readjust his political strategy and loyalty. Under the changed circumstances, he needed India’s blessing to reassert himself. Otherwise, he would lose the ground to Tajuddin Ahmad.
Bhutto declined the request on political and technical grounds. It was finally decided to send him to London. Raja Khan said to have played a role in convincing Mujib in accepting the London route. Mujib invited his close attendants, Raja Anar Khan and Sheikh Abdur Rahman, to come with him to Bangladesh. He even offered Khan a befitting job in Dhaka. It could not be done. They, however, accompanied him up to the airport.
At parting, Mujib presented Raja Khan the book Crime and Punishmentby Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, in addition to one of his smoking pipes. The book was displayed during the interview. Perhaps borrowing a line from the book, Mujib wrote: “In the long war between falsehood and the truth, falsehood wins the first battle and the truth the last.” He signed it on January 5, 1972.
In London on January 8, 1972, in an interview with David Frost, Mujib invented the figure of “three million” (some explain, it was his misunderstood version of three lakhs) Bengalis that the Pakistanis killed during the nine- month war. Serajur Rahman of BBC, the first Bengali to meet Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in London, asserted in The Guardian on May 24, 2011 that he had mentioned to Mujib of about 3 lakhs (300,000) Bengalis dying in the war. Serajur Rahman had also noticed that Mujib looked somewhat nervous and kept smoking his pipe too much, at times smoke covering his face completely.
This was not the first time Mujib faced public adulation. He had them before. But, this time, he stood between his lifelong conviction and reality, as well as between truth and false. Oriana Fallaci, who interviewed Sheikh Mujib almost immediately after his arrival in Dhaka, also observed him to be nervous, inconsistent, continuously shifting stands, as well as arrogant throwing rebukes at Fallaci at times.
It was rather strange that the man who left the seventy million people at the mercy of the Pakistani killers–while arranging security for his own family– suddenly became their champion and started shedding crocodile tears!
That’s what the leader and politician Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was! Awami League made him the father of a country he never wanted, nor did he believe in.