On 3 July 1973, Mr. Mohamed Yazid, Special Envoy of the President of Algeria, Houari Boumedienne, came to Dhaka. The purpose of his visit was to convey a special message from President Boumedienne to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In fact, the message was nothing but an invitation for Bangabandhu to attend the Fourth Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Non-aligned countries to be held in Algiers in September 1973. President Boumedienne was a very close friend of Bangabandhu. So, he did not take time to convey his acceptance to participate in the summit. At that time, Bangladesh's participation in the summit was very crucial and relevant in the context of the existing international and regional politics.
The Summit was held in Algiers on 5-9 September 1973. The official and ministerial level talks ended on 7 September. And the summit was for two days, 8 and 9 September. Bangabandhu gave his statements at the opening as well as the closing ceremony of the conference. He had also sideline meetings with a number of world leaders, including Houari Boumedienne, Haile Selassie, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Fidel Castro, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Colonel Gaddafi, Marshal Tito, Anwar Sadat and Idi Amin.In his opening ceremony address, Bangabandhu thanked everyone for welcoming Bangladesh into the group of Non-aligned countries. He said, "For Bangladesh, it is a source of gratification to be able to take its place by the side of the forces of peace and progress, which are represented in this group. I recall with reverence the three great statesmen under whose leadership this movement was launched - President Tito, President Gamal Abdul Nasser and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. While we have lost President Nasser and Pandit Nehru, we are fortunate to have President Tito and the distinguished daughter of Pandit Nehru, Mrs. Indira Gandhi.”
Bangabandhu paid homage to the valiant martyrs of Algeria, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and in every part of the world, who laid their lives in the struggle for liberation and for the vindication of the rights of man. He said "I pledge in the name of the martyrs that Bangladesh will always stand behind all those who are struggling for national liberation in Africa, Asia and Latin America."
Bangabandhu also paid his deep respect to the heroic people of Algeria and the brave leaders who led their historic national liberation struggle to a glorious victory and had been a source of inspiration for all those who fought for freedom throughout the world. He congratulated President Boumedienne, a great freedom fighter, and the Government and people of Algeria for all their efforts to make the conference a success.
Bangabandhu said that the upsurge in support of the principle of non-alignment at the end of the twentieth century was very significant, though it had suffered from the ravages of the cruellest and most destructive wars in history. He said that it had also witnessed the emergence of the toiling masses on the stage of history. As the principles of non-alignment reflected the most basic aspirations of the common man, Bangabandhu said, "This is why we have embodied these principles in our Constitution and are committed by the Constitution to support the just struggle of the oppressed people against colonialism, imperialism and racism throughout the world. I consider it important to affirm that the term ‘3rd World’ tends to obscure the basic reality that the world is divided between those who are the oppressors and those who are the oppressed; those who support and aid the oppressors and those who support and aid the oppressed. I would like to make it very clear that what we stand for is the solidarity of the progressive forces of the world – that is for those who are oppressed and those who stand by them in their just struggle for liberation from oppression."
Bangabandhu said that men and women, all over the world, wanted to live in peace with freedom and dignity; and nations would guide their destiny where there would not be any exploitation and domination. He pointed out that to realise these aspirations, they had to struggle relentlessly against the forces of exploitation and millions of lives had to be sacrificed in the revolutionary wars against colonialism, imperialism and racism. He said, "Let us not forget that the brave and eloquent words that are contained in the Declaration and Resolutions that have been adopted at earlier conferences, would remain hollow-words, but for the fact that they have been written with the blood of those who were prepared to die for them. When we talk today of ‘action programmes’, when we talk of implementing the principles of non-alignment, we should realise that it calls for a total commitment on our part, and a readiness to sacrifice narrow interests in order to attain what we regard to be the greater good of humanity.”
Bangabandhu emphasised the challenge faced to establish an environment of peace in which the people struggling for liberation would be able to preserve their independence, secure sovereignty over their resources and continue a decent life. He explained issues like - the illegal occupation of Arab lands by Israel; rights of the Palestinians; the struggles for liberation in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Guinea Bissau, in Latin America and other parts of the world; apartheid in South Africa and the realisation of aspirations of the people of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. He urged the conference to define a comprehensive strategy that would set out concrete and specific proposals for action.Regarding strategy, Bangabandhu said. “An awareness of the need for such a strategy is reflected in the proposals of such schemes as that of the ‘Neutralisation of South East Asia’, whereby it may become a ‘Zone of Peace’, ‘Freedom and Neutrality’, and for the Indian Ocean to be declared as a ‘Zone of Peace’. We have expressed our support to such schemes. In our view, however, the full implications of such schemes are yet to be worked out. Further definition and clarification is required.” He urged to create necessary conditions to translate those schemes into meaningful reality. He suggested for a concerted effort for that.
Mentioning some positive developments in the international situation in some parts of the world, such as the Paris Peace Accord and cessation of bombings in Cambodia, Bangabandhu said, "In our sub-continent, we have been successful in finding a solution to the pressing humanitarian problems, with which we are faced. We on our part readily made substantial accommodation in order to make it possible for an agreement to be arrived at, since we regarded this to be a positive step towards the establishment of a durable peace in our sub-continent." In this context, he emphasised the need for an end of the arms race and complete disarmament to save the mankind. He also suggested diverting the resources spent for weapons to meet urgent human needs.
Economy being important for peace, Bangabandhu said, “The rich countries have been able, through concerted and conscious action, to improve their position, often at the expense of the poor countries. We, the poor countries, on the other hand, are faced with grim prospects. With the worsening terms of trade, stagnation in exports, and food deficits, we are confronted by formidable problems of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, disease and unemployment. The challenges presented by this situation is one to which we must respond, for our very survival is at stake. Our ultimate resource is our people. We have seen in our times how a determined people can achieve its goal against what appears to be impossible odds. The intellectual resources of our countries must be pooled together.” He highlighted the need for development of technology, uses of science to harness human sufferings and to stop developing destructive weapons. He also pointed out the importance of social revolution through elimination of colonialism.
Bangabandhu said, "I believe that an ‘Action Programme’ based on the two fundamental principles, which were highlighted at Lusaka and Georgetown, namely, 'self-reliance’ and ‘effective economic cooperation among the non-aligned countries present' can meet this challenge, provided our people can be organised and fully mobilised, the necessary socio-economic changes can be brought about and the potentialities of science can be harnessed to bring about a real social revolution in our societies.”
As it needed a political will and a common determination to bring that social revolution, Bangabandhu urged the non-aligned countries to cooperate each other. He said, “We must share our resources, our knowledge and our experience. We must coordinate and concert our efforts. An immediate area where such cooperation is urgently needed is food – both the expansion of production and distribution, according to need, can I believe, be achieved through effective cooperation among the non-aligned countries.”
Bangabandhu concluded by saying that the tasks before them were not easy due to the vested interests and the forces of counter revolution. Therefore, he urged to formulate a comprehensive strategy setting out concrete and positive action which all members can take together to overcome the common problems.
As he finished his speech, the entire house burst into thunderous clapping and when he was returning to his seat, Cuban leader Fidel Castro warmly shook hands with Bangabandhu.
On 9 September, Bangabandhu in his speech at the concluding session of the Summit said, “I believe that everyone gave their best and more to the occasion because they were conscious that they were serving a great cause – the cause of peace, freedom and justice in the world. A sense of urgency has permeated our deliberations – the need has been felt for urgent action to meet those situations which threaten peace and deny freedom and justice to states and people, and subject them to domination and exploitation."
Bangabandhu sincerely thanked all those present at the Conference for expressing their deep fraternal solidarity with Bangladesh. He noted that this solidarity was evident in the warm welcome extended to Bangladesh delegation, the sympathy and understanding for the suffering, struggle and sacrifice of millions of people of Bangladesh by the leaders present there, and in the support of the Conference for Bangladesh's membership in the United Nations.
Bangabandhu appreciated the discussions and deliberations of the world leaders at the Conference and wholeheartedly supported the proposal that President Boumedienne, on behalf of the Conference, would present the declaration and resolutions of the Conference to the United Nations. He said, “The voice of President Boumedienne will be a powerful voice - for it will be the voice of the forces of peace and progress in the world, the voice of the majority of mankind. The world organisation must heed this voice if it is to fulfil the historic responsibility of saying mankind from the scourge of war and from man’s inhumanity to man.” He also expressed his hope that the declaration and resolutions would be translated into action so that the promise, freedom and justice for mankind might be fulfilled.
In conclusion, Bangabandhu said, "Mr. Chairman, you know about the struggle and sacrifice made by our people for achieving independence. Ten million people had to migrate to India and about 3 millions were killed; 15 million houses were burnt. We are thankful for your sympathy and understanding of our problems. We have now joined the non-aligned group of countries and by the grace of God, with supports of the non-aligned group we will become member of the United Nations."
The Conference was attended by more than seventy heads of state or government. It reaffirmed confidence in the non-aligned movement and adopted an effective declaration. It was decided to form a fund for economic and social development. The Conference urged all non-aligned countries to recognise the government of Cambodia under Sihanouk, provide diplomatic support to the government of the People's Republic of Vietnam, and assist Egypt, Syria and Jordan in liberating their occupied territories from Israel. In addition, there were calls for the withdrawal of foreign military bases and troops from all over the world.
On Palestine issue, many heads of state or government agreed with Bangabandhu’s stand. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi supported the just demands of liberating of the Arab territories occupied by Israel and the protection of the Palestinians' inalienable rights. She said, “Israel must realise that it could not be able to buy security by creating animosity with its neighbours. Short-term gains are detrimental to the long-term." President Boumedienne said," It is imperative for all to support the Palestinian people." The Yugoslav President suggested the non-aligned countries to discuss the ways to force Israel to implement the UN resolution.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary