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Agartala Conspiracy

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Agartala Conspiracy Case a case framed by the Pakistan Government in 1968 during the Ayub regime against Awami League chief sheikh mujibur rahman, some in-service and ex-service army personnel and high government officials. They were accused of involvement in a conspiracy to separate the East wing from Pakistan with the help of the government of India. The petitis principii in the petition was that the conspiracy was concocted between the Indian party and the accused persons at Agartala city of Tripura in India. The case was thus called Agartala Conspiracy Case. However, the Pakistan government was compelled to withdraw the case in the face of a mass movement in East Pakistan. Since the inception of Pakistan, the people of East Pakistan were deprived of their legitimate rights in all spheres. Consequently, a general resentment against the Pakistani rulers brewed among the people of East Pakistan. The demand for autonomy as placed through the six-point programme of the Awami League chief Sheikh Mujibur Rahman thus received the spontaneous support of the people of East Pakistan.

The acute disparity in the armed forces led some Bangali army officers and soldiers to be united secretly. Knowing full well that the interest of Bangalis could never be served under the rulers of West Pakistan, they decided to make East Pakistan independent through an armed revolt. With this end in view, they began to mobilise army personnel secretly. The conspiracy was, however, detected by the intelligence department of the government. Nearly one thousand five hundred Bangalis throughout Pakistan were arrested by the intelligence force. The Home Department of Pakistan declared through a press-note issued on 6 January 1968 that the government had detected in December 1967 a conspiracy detrimental to the national interest of Pakistan. The press-note disclosed the news of the arrest of 8 persons including 2 CSP officers and alleged that the persons seized were involved in attempting to separate East Pakistan through armed revolt. Through a separate declaration issued on 18 January 1968 the Home Department implicated Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the conspiracy. He was then detained in jail along with many others since 9 May 1966.

They were released, only to be arrested again under martial law regulations and were taken to Dhaka Cantonment under military custody. Initially the government decided to court martial the accused, but subsequently in the interest of the proper holding of the general elections of 1970 the government resolved to frame charge only against 35 concerned political personalities and high government officials under civil law. The persons included in the charge-sheet were Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Commander Moazzem Hossain, Steward Mujibur Rahman, former LS Sultanuddin Ahmad, LSCDI Nur Mohammad, Ahmed Fazlur Rahman CSP, Flight Sergeant Mahfiz Ullah, Corporal Abdus Samad, former Havildar Dalil Uddin, Ruhul Quddus CSP, Flight Sergeant Md. Fazlul Haq, Bibhuti Bhushan Chowdhury alias Manik Chowdhury, Bidhan Krishna Sen, Subedar Abdur Razzaque, former clerk Mujibur Rahman, former Flight Sergeant Md. Abdur Razzaque, Sergeant Zahurul Haq, A.B. Khurshid, Khan Mohammad Shamsur Rahman CSP, AKM Shamsul Haque, Havildar Azizul Haq, Mahfuzul Bari, Sergeant Shamsul Haq, Shamsul Alam, Captain Md. Abdul Motaleb, Captain A. Shawkat Ali Mian, Captain Khondkar Nazmul Huda, Captain M Nuruzzaman, Sergeant Abdul Jalil, Mahbub Uddin Chowdhury, Lt. M Rahman, former Subedar Tajul Islam, Ali Reza, Captain Khurshid Uddin Ahmed, and Lt. Abdur Rauf.

A special tribunal was formed after an amendment was made in the penal code to that end for the disposal of the case. The hearing of the case started on 19 June 1968 under Sections 121-A and 131. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was enrolled as accused No.1. The case was entitled ‘State vs Sheikh Mujibur Rahman & others’. The tribunal started proceedings of the case in a highly protected chamber inside Dhaka Cantonment. A charge-sheet consisting of 100 paragraphs against the 35 accused was placed before the tribunal. There were 227 witnesses including 11 approvers. However, 4 approvers were declared hostile by the government. Thomas William, a British lawyer and a member of the British Parliament, filed a writ petition in Dhaka High Court on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman challenging the legality of the formation of the tribunal. He was assisted in conducting legal proceedings in the special tribunal by Abdus Salam Khan, Ataur Rahman Khan, and others. The government lawyers leading the case were the former foreign minister Manzur Quader and Advocate General TH Khan. Justice SA Rahman, the Chairman of the three-member tribunal, was a non-Bangali. The other members MR Khan and Maksumul Hakim were Bangalis. The government was bent on identifying Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as a seperatist and an Indian agent thereby arousing public support against him.

But the approvers on the witness-box declared that the government had compelled them by threat and persecution to submit false evidence in its favour. Thus the governmental planning against the accused got exposed. By this time the Sarbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad supported by maulana abdul hamid khan bhasani organised mass movement against the conspiracy of the government and demanded immediate withdrawal of the case and release of all prisoners including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. At a point when the streets of Dhaka became a hot bed of turmoil, Sergeant Zahurul Haq, 17th accused in the case, was mercilessly shot to death while in confinement in Dhaka Cantonment.

The news of his death led a furious mob to set fire to the State Guest House as well as other buildings. S.A Rahman, Chairman of the tribunal, and Manzur Quader, chief lawyer on the government side, who were then residing in the guest house, evacuated secretly. Some of the files concerning the case were burnt to ashes. In the face of the mass movement, the Ayub government was ultimately compelled to withdraw the Agartala Conspiracy Case on 22 February 1969. All the accused, including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, were released unconditionally. On the following day (23 February), a grand public reception was accorded to the accused at Paltan Maidan in Dhaka where Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was vested with the appellation of ‘Bangabandhu’. [Shahida Begum] The Agartala Conspiracy

Altaf Gauhar

(Selected from “Ayub Khan – Pakistan’s First Military Ruler”, published in 1996 by University Press Limited, Dhaka)

Frustration and bitterness continued to grow beneath the surface. The people were aggrieved and sullen and the administration had lost its hold and confidence. Ayub and his associates appeared and acted as if they were under siege. The intelligence agencies were busy detecting incipient conspiracies. They finally hit the jackpot-the Agartala Conspiracy.

Ayub was in East Pakistan in December 1967. He was due to visit a paper factory in Chandragona but the visit was called off because of a report that an attempt was likely to he made to blow up the President’s plane. The military intelligence claimed that some civil and military officials were planning to secure the secession of East Pakistan in collaboration with Indian agents. Few senior officials around Ayub attached any importance to this claim. They had seen the work of military intelligence agencies during the war and knew how they would unearth some imaginary enemy plot and then, taking the bit between their teeth, set out to devise ways of frustrating that plot. They were essentially colonial investigation agencies who specialized in chasing suspects and extorting evidence, wholly unfamiliar with the more modern and sophisticated technique of intelligence.

On 6 January 1968, twenty-eight persons were arrested on charges of conspiring to bring about the secession of East Pakistan. Among them were three senior members of the Civil Service, Ruhul Quddus, Fazlur Rahman, and Shamsur Rahman, and a naval officer, Lieutenant Commander Muazzam Hussain, along with a number of non-commissioned officers, seamen and civilians. The military intelligence claimed that they had conspired with P.N. Ojha, First Secretary of the Indian Deputy High Commission in Dhaka, and had visited Agartala (capital of the Indian state of Tripura) to discuss their plans for East Pakistan’s session from the rest of the country with two Indian officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Misra and Major Menon. None of the civilian agencies, except the Intelligence Bureau under the Home Ministry, had been taken into confidence, and the whole case was being handled by GHQ, under the direct control of General Yahya.

On 25 January 1968 the Information Secretary was called to the President’s House and conducted to Ayub’s bedroom. He knew it was going to be one of those relaxed sessions when Ayub would reminisce and talk about whatever came to his mind, and he would play the role of a quiet talker and diarist. As the Information Secretary was walking towards the bedroom, Ayub’s personal physician, Lieutenant-Colonel Mohyuddin, met him and said: `He is much better now, he developed some pain in the back.’ Ayub was lying in bed with a few books and newspapers on the side-table. He said that while taking exercise in the morning he had sprained a muscle in his back. The Information Secretary told him that the Japanese had completed the field survey for expanding the network of television in West Pakistan and soon it should be possible to link up Peshawar with Lahore. Ayub was quite excited: `1 want the people in West Pakistan to get closely knit up.’ He was extremely happy that the Information Ministry had established television in the country in such a short time: `It is going to be a major instrument of national integration. And you deserve great credit for that.’

Ayub talked of his tour of Sindh from which he had returned a couple of days earlier. He had made a number of speeches in support of One Unit, and was very happy that he had not pulled any punches. He had warned the people of Sindh that he would not allow anybody to dismember One Unit. He was confident that the West Pakistanis would pull together but he was deeply worried about relations between East and West Pakistan. What disturbed him most was that Bengali Muslims saw little benefit in living together with West Pakistanis. The Information Secretary suggested that perhaps the Bengalis had not had a fair deal, to which Ayub reacted quite angrily: `You become quite emotional when it comes to the Bengalis.’

The Information Secretary was a little taken aback but he did not give up. He argued that the Bengalis might be a highly emotional people but they had genuine grievances. Even what had been promised to them under the Constitution had not been delivered. For instance, the Constitution required that the federal legislature and its secretariat should be located in Dhaka, which was to serve as the second capital of Pakistan. What they had been given was a ghost town. All legislative work continued to be done in Islamabad where the assembly staff was permanently lodged. Ayub leaned back a little wearily: `Listen, my dear fellow, I gave them the second capital because they are going to need it one day. They are not going to remain with us.’

Next morning, 26 January 1968, there was the usual Cabinet meeting which was delayed by about thirty minutes because the American Ambassador had obtained an urgent interview with Ayub. In the Cabinet meeting. Ayub was unusually harsh with his Bengali ministers. He said to Altaf Hussain, Minister for Industries, `you used to lecture to the world and now don’t mumble a word even in your sleep.’ The prevailing situation in East Pakistan, Ayub said, was the result of propaganda which had been going on against West Pakistan for the last twenty years. As far as he could see, the choice before East Pakistan was partnership with West Pakistan or slavery: `These are not popular things to say, but I am not looking for popularity.’ He did not want to accuse any particular individual but the bitter truth was that no Bengali politician saw any benefit in remaining with Pakistan. The government was now confronted with an issue of enormous gravity: `I don’t think any one of us here can resolve it”

Ayub did not mention it but the Agartala Conspiracy was preying on his mind. His first reaction to the report that an attempt might be made on his life was: `What rubbish, as if I care two bloody hoots for a thing like that.’ But the incident had convinced him that the opposition parties in East Pakistan were engaged in hatching some conspiracy to tear East Pakistan away from West Pakistan. The Information Secretary suggested that it would be helpful if the President undertook an extensive tour of the country and talked to the people directly. He shook his head and said: `Don’t forget I am not a young man.’ He asked the Home Minister and the Industries Minister to issue a statement warning the people that the hymn of hate that was being ceaselessly chanted in East Pakistan would lead to separation if East Pakistani politicians did not make any attempt to stop it. It was a long and unpleasant meeting which left Ayub exhausted.

Later that evening, there was a banquet in honour of King Hussein of Jordan. Ayub was standing with King Hussein receiving the guests. As he shook hands with the Information Secretary he asked him whether the statement had been issued and said: `They are thinking of secession over there. What nonsense, we will lace them.’ All this while he kept holding the Information Secretary’s hand who could feel that Ayub’s hand was very warm, as if he was running high temperature.

While proposing the toast Ayub missed out a whole section of the written text. General Rafi confided to the Information Secretary that the President was not feeling well; he had gone to the airport on a bitterly cold morning to receive King Hussein, and had caught a chill. No one had any suspicion that they were seeing Ayub Khan in full health for the last time. Tall, handsome, elegant and energetic, he had just turned sixty-one. All his life he had been extremely careful about his diet and regular in his habits. He played golf and did not allow anything to interfere with his shikar schedule. No one could have imagined that his health would crumble so suddenly and so completely.

Ayub used to broadcast a speech to the people on the first of every month. The text of the speech for the month of February had been approved and it only remained to be recorded for broadcast. The recording was postponed as Ayub was not feeling too well. After that there was not a word about the President’s health. All attempts to get any information from the President’s personal physician proved futile. The President’s House, and the area around it, were surrounded by soldiers on 29 January 1968 and nobody was allowed access even to the members of the President’s secretariat.

The Information Secretary’s role was now limited to receiving a daily health bulletin from the President’s personal physician, and releasing it to the Press. On 6 February the bulletin said that Ayub had developed viral pneumonia in the right lung, following a touch of ‘flu. The next day his temperature was reported to have subsided and he was feeling much better. On 8 February, the bulletin said, `The clinical signs of pneumonia in the right lung have improved further and the President is much better.’ On 10 February, the cough was better and the President was feeling comfortable. Within minutes of this bulletin the Information Secretary was called to the President’s House. The President’s son, Akhtar Ayub, met him in the porch and said: `So, you too were locked out.

I am glad to see you back.’ Apart from Ayub’s wife, no other member of his family had been allowed to see him. Ayub was reclining against two large pillows and had a glass of orange juice in his hand. He looked relaxed and agreed to the suggestion that he might meet some of his ministers and the governors. A large cardiac monitor was placed near his bed. The room next to his bedroom looked like a laboratory where two army doctors were monitoring the electrocardiograph. It was evident that General Yahya had taken personal control of the situation the moment he learnt that Ayub might succumb to what was obviously a serious heart attack. A coup d’etat had, in fact, taken place. Yahya would later claim that he had acted under Ayub’s instructions.

The next day, 11 February, before any meetings could be arranged, came another message that Ayub had suffered `a slight relapse on the night between 10 and 1 1 February’. It was not a slight relapse but a collapse. The bulletin on 15 February conveyed the cryptic but truthful message: `Since the issue of the last bulletin on 10 February, the President’s recovery got delayed; he developed pulmonary embolism Sunday night.’ At last the people of Pakistan came to know that Ayub was suffering from pulmonary embolism and not viral pneumonia. The truth came out because Professor John Forest Goodwin of Hammersmith General Hospital, London, who had been summoned for consultation, refused to sign a medical bulletin which did not give the true picture of his patient’s health. The President’s physician, who had been doctoring the bulletins, was a little put out but his explanation was that he had been carrying out his Commander-in-Chief’s instructions.

Ayub made an unexpected but steady recovery after that. He received Governor Musa on 16 February, and the next day, 17 February, Ayub appeared on the front pages of newspapers standing in his bedroom in a silk dressing-gown reading a newspaper. This was intended to quash the rumour that Ayub was paralysed. The silk dressing-gown in the middle of winter raised certain doubts. On 21 February, the bulletin said that Ayub was maintaining a steady recovery, and was feeling fine and comfortable. On 25 February Ayub was continuing to make very good progress. On 27 February it was announced that he would review the joint services parade on 23 March. By 28 February, Ayub had fully recovered and another picture appeared, this time in a heavy Swati coat, with the Governor of East Pakistan. The following day he met the Speaker of the National Assembly, and a two-minute film of his meeting with some of the ministers was telecast. On 1 March it was announced that Ayub would address the nation. The crisis was over. The Ministers could see the President and bureaucracy was back in business with Ayub at the helm of affairs. Yahya and his officers withdrew from the scene as quietly as they had come to dominate it. Power had eluded their grasp, but not for long; they hoped.

During this period a few Cabinet meetings were held under the chairmanship of Khwaja Shahabuddin. At none of these meetings did the Ministry of Law bring up the question of inviting the Speaker of the National Assembly to take over the functions of the President as required under the Constitution. The subject of succession was taboo because none of the ministers wanted to incur the displeasure of Ayub or the armed forces.

By the middle of March Ayub had sufficiently recovered to resume a restricted routine of work. He told the Information Secretary about the acute pain he suffered when the first incident occurred: `It was like a red hot bar piercing through my chest.’ He was being given heavy sedatives which affected his responses. Those who met him during this period could not help noticing that his reactions were rather tentative and his decisions uncertain.

Just before Ayub suffered the heart attack he had ordered the Ministry of Information to draw up a programme to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his reforms. He had convinced himself that the prevailing dissatisfaction in the country was due entirely to the fact that his reforms had not been properly explained and projected to the people. A comprehensive publicity programme was therefore drawn up, and it was approved by the Governors’ Conference in November 1967.

The celebrations were to commence on 1 January and end on 27 October 1968. Ayub himself was to play the leading role in the celebrations, touring various parts of the country and inviting people to join in the national debate to work out a consensus on important political issues. His illness robbed the programme of all its meaning. The programme went on for too long because there was nothing else to fill the vacuum caused by Ayub’s physical absence from the scene, and every department got into the act to publicize its achievements while the newspapers encouraged them to go on with it because it boosted their advertising revenues. The celebrations were a great propaganda flop and the Information Secretary now became the target of attack by the Opposition. After Ayub recovered he wanted the celebrations to be wound up, but by then the damage had been done.

On 17 April the Soviet Prime Minister, Aleksei Kosygin, came to Pakistan on an official visit. This was the first-ever visit of a Soviet Premier and the crowds gave Kosygin a warm welcome, much to the chagrin of American officials in Islamabad. Ayub’s first meeting with Kosygin was arranged in the drawing-room of his house. While TV cameras were being moved into the room the Information Secretary noticed Nawab Kalabagh’s picture on the mantelpiece. If the cameras picked up that picture people might ask why the Nawab was occupying such a prominent place in Ayub’s collection even after his expulsion from office. The picture was removed from the mantelpiece. But as soon as Ayub entered the room he noticed its absence and had it restored to its original place.

Later, when the Information Secretary explained why the picture had been removed, Ayub recalled his friendship with Kalabagh with great affection. He said in Punjabi: `Tandan tutian jar divan nain (once snapped the heart strings never mend).’ He still retained great warmth for the Nawab. The rift between the two had been caused by the nomination of Khan Bahadur Habibullah, a Karachi businessman, as the ruling party candidate for a by-election in the Lyari constituency in Karachi. The Nawab despised Habibullah and supported Ghous Bukhsh Bizenjo, a prominent Balochi leader, the rival candidate. Some of the provincial ministers also actively campaigned against the official candidate. Habibullah lost the election much to the annoyance of Ayub. He felt the Nawab had let him down. This one incident was the cause of the Nawab’s removal from the governorship of West Pakistan.

The meeting between Ayub and Kosygin on 18 April lasted for well over three hours. The Soviet Union signed an agreement for financing and executing the steel mill project in West Pakistan. An understanding was also reached regarding the setting up of an atomic power plant in East Pakistan. The Soviet Union offered assistance for establishing a radio relay link between Pakistan and the USSR and beyond to Europe. Prime Minister Kosygin addressed a press conference at the end of his visit. He said that relations between Pakistan and the Soviet Union would continue to improve and strengthen. His talks with Ayub had been `a dialogue between two friends who were together in quest of ways to improve relations and co-operation’. He said that great credit was due to Ayub, who went to Moscow to establish personal contacts, and to bring about friendly relations and co-operation in all spheres between the two countries. The talks, he said, were meant to achieve `a detente in international tensions’.’

The full significance of Kosygin’s visit was not generally realized because few people knew, at the time, that Pakistan had (given formal notice to the United States to remove their strategic military base at Badaber near Peshawar, which had been a major cause of tension and misunderstanding between Pakistan and the Soviet Union. The agreement for the base had been signed in 1959 and was due to expire in 1969. The agreement provided that the lease for the base would stand automatically renewed unless notice of termination was given twelve months in advance. Ayub gave the notice on 6 April 1968 and Kosygin arrived in Pakistan on 17 April.

Ayub had been told when he visited the Soviet Union for the first time in 1965, that the Soviet Union could not accept the position that Pakistan was not acting in a hostile manner by allowing the US to maintain a military base for electronic surveillance of strategic Soviet locations. Ayub had given an indication to the Soviet leaders that Pakistan would not renew the lease of the base without consulting them. This indication, more than anything else, was responsible for a marked improvement in Pakistan-USSR relations.

Ayub was deeply upset when the US stopped the supply of arms to Pakistan during the 1965 War, and when the Americans declined to resume military assistance in April 1967, he was left with no option but to look towards the Soviet Union for military aid and to expand Pakistan’s relations with China. Ayub went on a second visit to the Soviet Union, between 25 September and 4 October 1967, to discuss the details of an agreement for the supply of Soviet arms to Pakistan. Ayub spent a couple of days with the Soviet leaders, Brezhnev, Podgorny and Kosygin, in Volgograd and Yalta, and it was there that he gave them a firm commitment that he would terminate the Badaber base lease by giving the Americans due notice at the appropriate time. To avoid any future misunderstanding, he also confided to the Soviet leaders that he was seriously thinking of co-operating with China to construct an all-weather road which would link Gilgit in northern areas with Kashgar in Chinese Sinkiang.

Ten days after his return from Moscow, Ayub signed a formal agreement with China to build the road with a length of 155 miles on the Kashmir side, running along the Indus River and over the Minkata Pass in the Karakoram range. When the notice for the termination of the lease was given, the American Ambassador sought an urgent interview with Ayub to convey to him `the great disappointment’ of his government. Ayub refused to relent. In the meantime he made more changes in the Cabinet. Sharifuddin Pirzada, who had taken over from Bhutto, and the Industries Minister, Altaf Hussain, were relieved of their offices for `private reasons’. Ayub was particularly disappointed with Pirzada, who would mumble in Cabinet meetings, and Ayub could never find out his position on any issue. Pirzada proved a resounding anticlimax after Bhutto. A useful man, who could always devise some formula to get over a legal difficulty, Ayub found him a little too crafty. He excelled in the art of obfuscation and Ayub was quite irritated by the way he would go on trimming and hedging every word, behaving like the archetypal Vicar of Bray.

Ayub came to his newly furnished office after he had recovered from his illness on I May 1968, in a black Rolls Royce, a gift from the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi, perhaps the first example of Gulf munificence towards Pakistani rulers. He was wearing a light grey suit and a pink rose and looked much slimmer than before. He stumbled a little as he walked up the steps but liked the new look of his office. His return to office marked the end of an agonizing phase. `I was not worried,’ he said with an air of satisfaction. When the Information Secretary said that the people had been extremely worried he wondered, `Why’? After all the administration continued to function.’ He did not know that the administration had collapsed leaving the army hovering over its carcass. He started talking about the need for co-operatives in agriculture, a subject over which he had reflected a great deal during his convalescence. His ten-day stay in the Soviet Union, during September-October 1967, had convinced him that Pakistan could achieve self-sufficiency in agriculture only through co¬operatives. He wanted to launch a campaign to build up public opinion in support of co-operative holdings: `We can give the option to bigger landlords to form co-operatives of their own.’

The Agartala Conspiracy resurfaced during Ayub’s recovery. GHQ had completed its investigation and the case was ripe for trial. Yahya wanted the case to be tried by a special tribunal, but Ayub was not happy about that because of his earlier experience with the Rawalpindi conspiracy tribunal, in which a number of senior army officers were subjected to prolonged interrogation and cross-examination, which affected the morale of the services.; The next day Yahya convened a meeting to which the Defence Minister, the Defence Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Information Secretary, the Director of Intelligence Bureau, and several senior military officers, including the Judge Advocate-General, were invited to discuss the procedure for the trial. Yahya started by congratulating the intelligence agencies for the wonderful job they had done in unearthing the conspiracy against Pakistan engineered by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

This was the first time the name of Sheikh Mujib was mentioned in connection with the case. Ayub wanted the civilians to be tried by ordinary courts and the defence personnel to be dealt with under court martial. But Yahya Khan was so excited with what his `boys’ had discovered that he wanted to make it a historic public trial. He insisted that the trial must be given the maximum publicity. That, the Information Secretary assured him, would not be difficult because the world Press would descend on Pakistan like vultures to tear into the proceedings. But he cautioned Yahya that if the proceedings were to be public then the whole trial must be open – not just the case for the prosecution. The government should not get upset when the defence presented its case, and the Press began highlighting the holes in the prosecution story. Yahya asked the Information Secretary not to worry: `We have a foolproof case.’ `In that case,’ said the Information Secretary, `you will get fool-proof publicity.’ Yahya was a little put out by that and asked the Judge Advocate-General to give the Information Secretary the summary of evidence to relieve him of his anxiety.

The summary of evidence was loaded with assumptions and speculations. There was nothing to connect the ‘Sheikh’ mentioned in the summary of evidence as the main conspirator, with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The intelligence agencies had conveniently ignored the fact that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been in prison for most of the time when the alleged conspiracy was being hatched. GHQ was drafting the press note, which would appear in the newspapers the next day, 7 April 1968.

After that it would be impossible to retrieve the situation. It was past the lunch hour but the Information Secretary decided to go and talk to Ayub before he retired for the afternoon. He told him about the meeting at GHQ and expressed his misgivings about involving Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the conspiracy without solid evidence. If the prosecution could demonstrate during the trial that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had anything to do with the conspiracy, the court could always indict him as a co-accused. Ayub was impressed by the argument that the `Sheikh’ in the summary of evidence did not necessarily mean Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He promised to speak to the Defence Minister Admiral A. R. Khan, and the Commander-in-Chief. As a result of Ayub’s intervention, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s name was deleted from the list of the accused.

A special tribunal headed by a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, S.A. Rahman, was appointed. The other members of the tribunal were M.R. Khan and Maksumul Hakim, both Judges of the Dhaka High Court. Manzur Qadir had agreed to conduct the case for the prosecution. A few days later another press note was issued adding the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman among the accused even before the trial had opened. The President explained to the Information Secretary that Yahya had been told by his legal advisers that for the success of the case Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s name must be added to the list of the accused persons before the trial opened. It was an unfortunate decision which plunged the government into a crisis of far-reaching consequences. Yahya must have known that the case would explode like a bombshell, rob the government of whatever credibility it possessed, and alienate East Pakistan, perhaps for good.

Ayub left for London for a medical check-up and what he called `my first real holiday in thirty years’. `He was examined by Professor Goodwin at the Hammersmith Hospital and given a clean bill of health. Professor Goodwin was however doubtful whether it would be advisable for Ayub to undertake another election campaign. Apart from that, he expressed full satisfaction with his progress. Ayub had a meeting with Prime Minister Harold Wilson, and after a few days in London he shifted to Croydon where the British government had made arrangements for his stay at Selsdon Park Hotel. During his stay there Ayub met the Conservative Party leader. Edward Heath, and had a long session with the historian, Arnold Toynbee, who had great admiration for Ayub’s reforms. Bhutto tried to see Ayub through the meditation of Pakistan .ambassador in West Germany, Abdul Rahman. but Ayub said. ‘No: Bhutto should see me in Pakistan, not here.’ Bhutto’s interest in meeting Ayub must have been to ascertain the true state of his health on which depended his whole political game.

It was during his stay in London that Ayub had his first direct contact with East Pakistani Opposition groups. On the day of his arrival a large group of students put up a big demonstration outside his hotel. It was the Agartala case which had particularly annoyed the East Pakistani students who seemed determined to carry on a struggle to save Mujibur Rahman and his associates from what looked like certain conviction. They had set up a ‘Rights of East Pakistan Defence Front’ and engaged Tom Williams Q.C. to go to Dhaka to join the team of lawyers defending Sheikh Mujib, The British Press, too, was unhappy about the circumstances of the case. The Timescommented that Mujib was ‘being charged with complicity in a plot alleged to have been hatched while he was, behind bars’. The trial was to be held in Dhaka cantonment ‘which suggests that it is to have something of a military backoround’. ‘The demonstrations outside Ayub’s hotel became a daily routine from which he did not escape even in Croydon.

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