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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Habibur Rahman . . . patriot who dreamed and delivered

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In the moving chronicles of life, there are people we meet along the way. The moments then go by, until life, for everyone, takes new turns, forks out in different directions and in the end gets to be embedded in our memories.

These are the thoughts which arise in me today as I recall Dr. Habibur Rahman on the twenty-sixth anniversary of his passing away. And yet, as I remember him, it only seems the other day when he, like so many of his colleagues in the Geological Survey of Pakistan (my father was part of it too, as he had been of the Geological Survey of India before Partition and the Geological Survey of Bangladesh after Liberation in 1971), fondly inquired of my education, complimented my parents on my good results in school.

Habibur Rahman chacha --- that was the way I addressed him in Quetta --- was one of those men through whose inspiration and encouragement I learnt to understand life in slow but sure steps. In a very natural way, much of the road I travelled in my boyhood has as much to do with Habibur Rahman and the Geological Survey as it has with the exciting times I lived through in the 1960s. Habibur Rahman, along with Abu Bakar, SKM Abdullah, Mujibur Rahman Khan, AFM Mohsenul Haque, FH Khan, Shah Fazlul Bari, Waheeduddin Ahmed, was my father's colleague. And my father was proud of being part of the group, that small group of Bengalis who in distant Baluchistan left no one in any doubt that they were proud to be from East Bengal. Heritage kept them together as much as their workplace did.

When I recall Habibur Rahman chacha --- and it was with a sense of absolute delight that only recently, after all these decades, I re-established links with his daughter Tahmina Rahman and son Aminur Rahman, a little girl and a little boy who have grown into two admirable adults --- I invariably remember the huge degree of patriotism which underlined his character. He was in what was still known as East Pakistan in the heady days of the gathering movement for autonomy, which was soon to lead to a momentous War of Liberation. When the moment came for a decision to be made at the end of March 1971, Habibur Rahman --- brilliant man, capable geologist, proud Bengali --- did not hesitate. He went off, like so many others, to the fields of war.

At Mujibnagar, he organized a youth training camp, the overarching goal of which was to inform the young that it was not only a war they would wage against a predatory enemy but also a battle they would need to conduct in the reconstruction of a ravaged Bangladesh when freedom came. In the days prior to the war, Dr. Habibur Rahman moved from the Geological Survey to the Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources wing of the Pakistan central government in Dacca (as the name of the city was spelt at the time). In March 1971, he moved, or you could say he took a giant leap, into the national struggle for liberty at the inspiration of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The man of conviction that he was, Habibur Rahman hurled himself body and soul into the cause of independence. At Mujibnagar, he was unwilling to confine himself within a single area of activity. Quite natural for him, as he was part of a political legacy that had been shaped assiduously over the years by Bangabandhu --- whom he knew as a friend when both men were students in Calcutta.

The future founder of Bangladesh was at Islamia College and the future founder of Petrobangla was at Presidency College. That last bit about Petrobangla is surely one of the many laurels that came to Habibur Rahman in the course of his life. In 1973, entrusted with the responsibility of exploring the future of the new nation's resources and their utilization, Habibur Rahman set up Petrobangla and took charge as its first chairman. His rich background in geology, in studies and development of oil, gas and mineral resources in pre-1971 Pakistan helped. Bangabandhu gave him a free hand. He played that hand well.

It was at Mujibnagar that Habibur Rahman, through regular interaction with Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad and other members of the provisional government, prepared the groundwork for an exploration and optimum utilization of natural resources of a soon-to-be-born Bangladesh. His one worry was the dire possibility of a long-drawn war that could lead to increasingly new risks for the country.

Fortunately that fear dissipated with the arrival of Liberation. And Habibur Rahman did not lose a single moment once he knew that the Pakistan occupation army had laid down arms in Dacca. He made his way back home, to the country he had fought for through the nine tortuous months of the war. He did not flaunt his contributions to the attainment of liberty. His goal was simple: build on the liberty attained. With three million dead, with infrastructure damaged and destroyed, with the future demanding action, Habibur Rahman was one of those illustrious souls who symbolized the nation's collective hope of prosperity based on democracy.

It was this same hope which Habibur Rahman, as Abu Yusuf, disseminated on Shwadhin Bangla Betar even as Bengali guerrillas battled the enemy in the hamlets and villages of occupied Bangladesh. He wrote commentaries that were broadcast on the clandestine radio. And there were the moments when his voice came over the airwaves, speaking of the priorities before an embattled nation. In occupied Dacca, my father and I listened to him. My father was terribly excited at Abu Yusuf's discourses on Shwadhin Bangla Betar, for he knew it was none other than Dr. Habibur Rahman, his colleague and friend, waging war for those of us in internal exile in occupied Bangladesh.

There was suavity about Habibur Rahman. Character was of essence to him as it was to the generation he belonged to and spoke for. Educated in his native Comilla and Calcutta and in distant America, he knew of the wider world out there. His reading was comprehensive. In my boyhood, through my years in school, he was forever proffering me advice on the kind of reading that I needed to do, the kind of books I ought to peruse. It was for me inspiration dipped in intellectual richness.

This morning I remember, with profound respect, my Habibur Rahman chacha, the Abu Yusuf of the glorious days of war, the Dr. Habibur Rahman emblematic of supreme patriotism.  This remarkable freedom fighter, in the days following the assassination of the Father of the Nation, chose of his own volition to go into retirement earlier than he was supposed to. The sinister twists the country began to take in August 1975 left deep, painful scratches on his soul, for the country he had fought for had been seized by rapacious wolves lurking in the dark wilderness of time.

Our tribute to Dr. A.Y.M. Habibur Rahman will have meaning, will be deep and substantive, when those in political authority comprehend the vastness of the man and dreamer and patriot he was. In life, he was a soldier of liberty. In death, he remains an epitome of national dignity. He deserves to be honoured, in the name of this land and in a remembrance of the war we waged long ago, with the Shwadhinota Padak --- posthumously.

(Dr. Abu Yusuf Mohammad Habibur  Rahman --- geologist, founder-chairman of Petrobangla, freedom fighter --- was born on 30 November 1926 and died on 11 January 1991)


The writer is Associate Editor the Asian Age

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