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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 50, November 28, 2009

Remembering P.N. Haksar: A True Friend of Bangladesh

Saturday 28 November 2009, by Monaem Sarker


I feel humble to remember a distinguished son of India, Parmeshwar Narayan Haksar, diplomat, statesman, architect of the Simla Agreement 1972, an Indian from Kashmir but truly a citizen of the world. Above all, he was great friend of Bangladesh. Ever since the death of P.N. Hakser on November 27, 1998, I have continued to suffer from a sense of personal loss. I have also felt that it has been a national loss to Bangladesh too. Haksar was a symbol of humanism. His humane approach brought him the admiration, respect and reverence of every Bangalee who came in contact with him during our liberation war and after.

We had heard time and again about Haksar from our first Prime Minister, Tajuddin Ahmed, and those who worked with him from April to December 1971. They spoke very high of P.N. Haksar’s special role as the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister of India in the inner councils of decision-making. He fashioned Mrs Gandhi’s decision about the timing and level of support to be given by India to our liberation struggle. The manner in which the Bangladesh freedom fighters, who had crossed over to India in the face of the West Pakistani military atrocities and wanton massacres unleashed on March 25, 1971, were treated as well as the warmth of India’s relations with the government set up in Mujibnagar in April 1971 are recognised to bring out India’s finest hour. India’s political leadership had succeeded in uniting the country to support the Bangladesh liberation struggle. The diplomacy conducted by India in a world still riven by the Cold War had achieved extraordinary success. Haksar’s contribution to that success is widely acknowledged. The wisdom of his counsel—he had urged that unified and co-ordinated efforts by all the pro-liberation forces was essential for victory—was acknowledged across the spectrum. Under Indira Gandhi and P.N. Haksar’s active guidance D.P. Dhar played a vital role during the formative stage of our Cabinet Consultative Committee-in-exile.

D.P. Dhar, India’s ambassador is Moscow, was summoned to Delhi in June 1971, and Haksar gave him the brief to reach an agreement on the treaty incorporating the amendments acceptable to the Soviet side but covering the security contingencies India might be facing. PNH followed it up all the way down till it was presented to get the approval of the Political Affairs Committee, a committee of Cabinet members, where PNH, P.N. Dhar and D.P. Dhar were present just to assist them if required!

In 1971 on August 9, the Indo-Soviet Treaty for Friendship and Cooperation was signed in New Delhi; Kissinger subsequently termed it as a ‘bombshell’ in his memoirs. Indeed, the treaty, by agreeing to have joint consultation in the event of a threat from a third party and to take appropriate action to restore peace and security, decisively changed the course of subsequent events. As the reconstruction of history goes on, some writers in recent years play down the threat of collusion perceived by us to the level that the US was using the Pakistani channel to open up to China for its own geopolitical interest. That might well be, but, in addition, there was a darker aspect of that opening too, as Richard Nixon made it clear in his memoirs:

The Chinese played a very cautious role in this period. They had troops poised on the Indian border, but they would not take the risk of coming to the aid of Pakistan by attacking India, because they understandably feared that the Soviets might use this action as an excuse for attacking China.

P.N. Hakser’s knowledge was encyclopedic. Those who disagreed with him could not fail to admire his deep understanding of complex and complicated issues. During my four years of “exile” in India from 1975 to 1979, I was very close to him. He advised me to form a caucus of Friends of Bangladesh in Delhi. The Friends of Bangladesh included Manmatha Nath Gupta (Chairman), Prof Dilip Chakravarty, MP, Sachindralal Singh, MP, R.K. Mishra, MP, K.R. Ganesh, P.N. Haksar, Shashi Bhushan, Ganesh Shukla, Sadhan Mukerjee, Abani Lahiri, D.R. Goyal, Subrata Banerjee (Convenor). The first meeting to mourn the demise of Bangabandhu was organised by that committee at the Gandhi Memorial Hall in New Delhi on August 15, 1976.

Many people said to me personally, the time spent with P.N. Haksar had been so rewarding that one could not get through books and journals. I would like to mention here two letters out of the many written to me by P.N. Haksar; these reveal his respect, love and concern for Bangladesh—the first dated July 14, 1997 and the other March 18, 1998.

4/9, Shanti Niketan, New Delhi-110 021

Phone: 4673545, 6886149

Date: July 14, 1997

Dearest Bakul:

The memory of your two visits to my home still remains with me. I was hoping to see you in Dhaka last year, but it was not to be.

I was very deeply, deeply touched when Abdus Samad Saheb insisted on visiting me in my home in Delhi when he first came here in his capacity as the Foreign Minister in the Government led by Sheikh Hasinaji as the Prime Minister. When she assumed the office after such a long and courageous struggle, I wrote to her a letter. Naturally, I did not expect her to reply, but I am anxious to know only whether she received it or not.

All the heroes of Bangladesh liberation have strutted about on the stage of history and now the curtain has fallen. We can now contemplate the true historical reality when a character called Monaem Sarker acted the part of Bakul.

Are you planning to visit Delhi in the near future? Please do come. I am going to be 84 years old which is 25 years more than the average expectation of life in India.

It breaks my heart when I hear the people of Bangladesh suffer during monsoons, typhoons and cyclones.

Please do convey my warmest regards and best wishes to Sheikh Hasinaji when you meet her as well as to Abdus Samad Saheb.

With my blessings and love,

Yours affectionately,

P.N. Haksar

4/9, Shanti Niketan, New Delhi-110 021

Phone: 4673545, 6886149

Date: March 18, 1998

Dearest Monaem:

Today is the 18th of March, 1998. On this day, I should be air-borne and moving towards Dhaka and stepping on the sacred soil of Bangladesh. I was so full of excitement of visiting Dhaka after a Iapse of more than quarter of a century. You had made arrangements for my visit with great love and care. But alas! I find myself grounded in 4/9 Shanti Niketan. I hope that our High Commissioner in Dhaka has explained to you my painful predicament.

Friends of Bangladesh had organised a public meeting yesterday on the occasion of Bangabandhu’s 78th birthday. I could not even attend that. I hope that you will understand the depth of my anguish.

With my blessings and best wishes to you,

Yours affectionately,

P.N. Haksar

(The author, a Bangladeshi freedom fighter and leading activist in the Awami League, is the Director General, Bangladesh Foundation for Development Research, Dhaka.)

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