K. M. Shehabuddin was an iconic patriot, a successful ambassador and an intrepid freedom-fighter. He was the first diplomat to defect from the Pakistan Foreign Service on 6 April 1971 even before the provisional Mujibnagar government was formed and joined the Liberation War. K. M. Shehabuddin was born at the village of Mohammedpur in Chandanaish Upazila (then Patiya) under Chattogram district. He was a worthy student of historic Gachbaria N. G. Govt. Model High School and passed Matriculation in 1954. His elder brother K. M. Fariduddin, a renowned physician, educationist and retired high official (Secretary) also passed Matriculation from this school in 1952. Shehabuddin passed IA from Chittagong Govt. College in 1956. He passed BA (Honours) and MA in History from Dhaka University. He started his career as a lecturer in Sylhet Govt. M. C. College and later joined Azizul Hoque College, Bogura. As a teacher he was successful and popular. By this time, he tried his luck in the Pakistan Central Superior Service Examination and did a brilliant result in whole Pakistan based competition. He was appointed in the Pakistan Foreign Services in 1966. After an intensive training for twelve months at the Pakistan Civil Service Academy in Lahore he had to sit for the passing out examination. K. M. Shehabuddin successfully joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad towards the end of 1967. While he was in the Academy in training, his family arranged his marriage with Khaleda Khanum Bulbul. They were married on 28 January, 1967 at the Shahbag Hotel in Dhaka. Their first child Elora was born on 26 March, 1968 at Rawalpindi Govt. Hospital.
After a ten month on-the-job training at the Foreign Ministry, K. M. Shehabuddin was assigned to the Pakistani Mission in New Delhi as a third secretary in June, 1968 and performed his service as a diplomat there till 1972. K. M. Shehabuddin, a young Pakistani Foreign Service officer and a great patriot got much shock as the Pakistan army commenced brutal slaughter of innocent civilians in East Pakistan on the night of 25 and 26 March, 1971 in the name of ‘Operation Searchlight’. He also heard the announcements of Bangladesh’s independence on 26 and 27 March.Shehabuddin and his wife Bulbul immediately realised that they could not sit idle any longer. K. M. Shehabuddin decided on 28 March1971 that he would resign from the Pakistan Foreign Service, leave his job at the Pakistan High Commission and work for the new state of Bangladesh. His colleague Amjadul Huq decided to plunge himself into the movement for Bangladesh at the same time, and his presence and support proved invaluable. Shehabuddin met many important persons, including high officials of the Indian government secretly and sought their support to work for Bangladesh. The Indian government finally recognised the urgency of the situation and on 5 April, 1971 informed him that he could work for Bangladesh on Indian soil.
On April 6, 1971 horrified that the government they worked for and represented was killing the past, present and future architects of Bangladesh, K. M. Shehabuddin and his colleague Amjadul Huq defected from the Pakistan Foreign Service and pledged their support in favour of Bangladesh. At 0 hour
that night he along with his colleague rushed to the house of renowned Indian journalist Dilip Mukherjee in Greater Kailash-N for a press conference attended by representatives from BBC, AFP, UPI, TASS, PTI, UNI and several Indian dailies. The historic event received invaluable media coverage in India and abroad. The press conference was followed on 8 April by an interview to All India Radio and Doordarshan, the Indian television network. On 10 April, the political leaders under the leadership of Tajuddin Ahmed and Syed Nazrul Islam assembled the members of the National Assembly in Kushtia. They organised themselves and approved the Proclamation of Independence Order- dated 10 April, 1971, as deemed to have come into effect from March 26, 1971.
The Mujibnagar government was formed with Tajuddin Ahmed as the Prime Minister. Other members of the Cabinet were Syed Nazrul Islam, Khandaker Mustaque Ahmed, Captain Monsoor Ali and A H M Kamruzzaman. Colonel M A G Osmany was appointed Commander-in-chief of the Bangladesh forces. The oath-taking ceremony was held on 17 April in the afternoon in Mujibnagar. K. M, Shehabuddin made contact with the acting president and the prime minister and set up a meeting with them at Mujibnagar on 21 April 1971. Tajuddin Ahmed was pleased with him and accepted his proposal to open a mission in Delhi which would be named the Bangladesh Information Centre. K M Shehabuddin was appointed the Chief and Amjadul Huq its press attaché. This first Bangladeshi mission in Delhi played a very important role in the diplomatic front of the Liberation War from April to October 1971.
After independence he was sent to Paris. K. M. Shehabuddin retired in 2002 as Ambassador to the USA with concurrent accreditation to Mexico, Guatemala and Columbia. Earlier he served as Ambassador to Spain, UNESCO and the World Tourism Organisation, Ambassador to Kuwait with concurrent accreditation to Yemen, and Ambassador to Poland concurrently to Hungary. He also served as deputy high commissioner to Britain before his appointment as Ambassador. He became secretary to the Government in 1993 and participated in many international conferences and UN General Assembly Sessions. K. M. Shehabuddin depicted his prestigious professional life and recounted his memories of many historic events in his book- “There and Back Again: A Diplomat’s Tale”. He died on 15 April 2015 at United hospital, Dhaka leaving his wife Bulbul, four daughters — Elora, Farah, Sarah and Sharmin.
He was posthumously awarded Swadhinata Padak (Independence Award) by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for his unique contribution to the country. This writer had an opportunity of meeting him in the Reunion Festival of the ex-students of our beloved Gachbaria N. G. High School in 2010. After only five years on 17 April 2015 this writer attended his Namaj e Janaja at Mohammedpur. He along with some of his colleagues and students placed floral wreath on the grave of this veteran diplomat. We remember the great patriot with due respect on his fourth death anniversary. May Allah bless him with eternal peace!
The writer is a senior teacher, Gachbaria N. G. Govt. Model High School, Chattogram. E-mail: [email protected]