Published:  12:18 AM, 16 March 2019

16 March . . . President and AL Chief meet without aides

16 March . . . President and AL Chief meet without aides

On 16 March 1971, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and General Yahya Khan met without their aides behind closed doors at the President's House for nearly an hour.

Following the meeting, the Awami League chief and leader of the majority party in the newly elected National Assembly briefed senior Awami League leaders on the nature and outcome of the talks. This was a process he would follow over the next few days every time he and President Yahya Khan met on a one-to-one basis.

According to Dr. Kamal Hossain, at the time constitutional adviser to Bangabandhu and a member of the Awami League negotiating team, Mujib informed his colleagues that at the beginning of his talks with the president, Yahya proffered his explanation of the reasons why he had deferred the session of the National Assembly on 1 March.

For his part, the AL chief had told the president that the latter had blundered by not consulting him, despite the fact that he was the majority leader in the assembly, before taking such a drastic step. The President ought to have known better.

Yahya Khan's response was that he wanted a reasonable and acceptable way out of the situation. Bangabandhu then made it clear to Yahya that much water had flowed under the bridge and the only way out of the crisis was for the President to accept the demands he had voiced at the 7 March public rally, especially regarding a withdrawal of martial law and a transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people.

Yahya (again in the words of Kamal Hossain) then informed the Bengali leader that he had been told there would be a constitutional vacuum in Pakistan if martial law were to be withdrawn at that stage. This prompted Mujib into informing Yahya that he would instruct his advisers to get in touch with the President's advisers and have the two sides explore the possibility of a withdrawal of martial law without any constitutional problems coming in.

Following Bangabandhu's instructions, Dr. Kamal Hossain met Lt. Gen. SGMM Peerzada and informed him rather bluntly that the manner in which the National Assembly session was postponed had been uncalled for. Peerzada sounded defensive on the issue.

The writer is Editor-in-Charge, The Asian Age

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