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My Travels With Minister Kamaruzzaman-PartIII

My Travels With Minister Kamaruzzaman-PartIII

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Published by: zchoudhury on Aug 10, 2010
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My Travels with Minister KamaruzzamanPart III---Ziauddin M. Choudhury
In November that year (1973) Kamaruzzman was asked by Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibto lead a delegation of trade and commerce to the United States. This mission was notcontemplated at least until the completion of the EEC countries visit. The invitation wasarranged by the State Department, and it would take place a few months before thehistoric visit of Bangabandhu to the US. The delegation was as usual small, but inaddition to the three of us (Minister, Joint Secretary, myself), the Chairman of Jute MillsCorporation, Khurshid Anwar, joined the delegation.In a wintry November morning we all arrived at JFK Airport to be received by thenPermanent Representative to the UN, Anwarul Karim. New York was not the firstdestination, it was a stop on our way to Washington DC where we landed the followingday.The Embassy of Bangladesh in Washington DC was then located in a hotel near DuPontCircle where the Minister had his first meeting with the Ambassador, Hussain Ali, andother embassy officials including AMA Muhith, who was then our Economic Minister inthe US. Next three days, Kamaruzzaman would meet with Senators, Congressmen,President of EXIMBANK, and President of OPIC, besides the resident Bangladeshcommunity in Washington area.Kamaruzzman’s visit to the US was significant in many respects. He was the secondsenior minister in then Bangladesh cabinet to be invited by the US that would befollowed by the historic visit by Bangabandhu. (The first senior minister to visit US wasTajuddin earlier in 1973.) The visit was not simply for advancing trade relations with theUS, but more importantly to assess US attitude to the newly sovereign country, which the Nixon government had not supported during the war of liberation. To that endKamaruzzaman had meetings with two US senators (Frank Church, and Stan Percy), andseveral Representatives of the House, including Congressman Poage, who was Chairmanof House Agriculture Committee that period, all of which were fruitful.Senator Church, Democratic Senator from Illinois, was a staunch supporter of theBangladesh liberation movement. He had raised the issue of Pakistan army atrocities inthen East Pakistan in the Senate. In meeting with him Kamaruzzaman thanked him profusely for his support in our difficult times. Senator Percy, the Republican Senator from Illinois was a member the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (later becoming itsChairman). He was gracious in his meeting with Kamaruzzaman, and offered to supportall efforts to mitigate the plights of the fledgling country.I have a special recollection of the meeting with Congressman Poage because of a remark  by the Congressman. The meeting was mostly of a courteous nature, and it required a
substantial amount of diplomatic tact on Kamaruzzaman’s part to avoid the sensitive sideof the rather negative role that US had initially played in the war of our liberation.Bangladesh. The minister politely thanked the “people of the United States” for their support for Bangladesh, and hoped for US help for the country’s rehabilitation. Towardthe end of the meeting in the Capitol, the Congressman asked the minister what were thechances that the newly independent Bangladesh could eventually merge with WestBengal since both regions spoke Bengali. The minister politely replied there were no suchchances. If language were to be the basis of nationhood, all English speaking countrieswould be one country, he would later remark.A major event of Kamaruzzaman’s later visit to New York City was a luncheon hosted by the New York Chamber of Commerce in the deluxe Plaza Hotel. In an eloquentspeech, much like the one given by him in Brussels for the EEC lunch a month before,the Minister described the economic plight of the war ravaged country, and urged on hishosts the need for its rehabilitation with support from public as well as private sector. Asin the speeches before Kamaruzzaman made an impression on his audience by hiscommunication skills, be it in English or Bengali (for a domestic audience).My last foreign travel with Kamaruzzaman was to then Soviet Union in December of 1973. It was unforgettable for several reasons. First, it was the first and only Communistcountry that Kamaruzzaman would visit in his entire term as Foreign Trade Minister.Second, weather wise the timing could not have been worse—it was the dead of winter with temperatures never rising above zero. Third, the opulent reception given to theMinister and his entourage was nothing comparable to what we had witnessed in our other travels to the west. The Minister held meetings with his Soviet counterpart in theKremlin, was feted to lunches and dinners by two other Cabinet ministers, was taken toLeningrad (now St Petersburg), and honored by the City Council. A major outcome of this travel was a forma trade agreement with the Soviet Union much like the one signed by Kamaruzzaman with India earlier that year.There are a few concluding points on my reflections on Kamaruzzaman’s foreign travels.Bangladesh in the early seventies was characterized by a bias toward the socialist block in its foreign policy. Indeed, socialism was one of the four state principles laid down inBangladesh constitution that time. It is also believed that the top leadership of AwamiLeague that time was largely inclined to building friendship and trade relations only withthe socialist/communist block. Yet, out of the fourteen countries that Kamruzzamanvisited in his entire term as Foreign Trade Minister, only one was Communist. From myassociation with Kamaruzzaman in the three-year period that I worked for him I hadfound little evidence that he was enamored of the socialist system. Despite the rather egregious reception given to him in USSR, in his dealings with Soviet OfficialsKamaruzzaman was more restrained than he was with government and public sector individuals in the free enterprise countries. In a curious contradiction with thenBangladesh government policy on state ownership of major industrial enterprise,Kamaruzzaman was courting for private investment in his travels to the West. In personal comments abroad, he often expressed a desire for an economy that would have a blend of state controlled and privately owned enterprises.

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