Sunday, March 01, 2009

BDR mutiny: A real test for the new government

Photo: Rescuers recover bodes from shallow graves at BDR headquarters in capital Dhaka

RIPAN KUMAR BISWAS

THIRTY FIVE hours might have ended with the surrender of arms and ammunitions, but the awful course of the event that disgruntled everyone who witnessed and experienced the bloody mutiny by Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) soldiers at their headquarter in the city of Dhaka, sullied the image of century long defence institute of Bangladesh.

What they said they were repressed, oppressed, and tortured by the Army officers posted in BDR sectors, are no longer excuses to anyone as they amounted to a national security breach and were engaged in gruesome killings.

Nonetheless to say, the way the rebelling soldiers of BDR put their grievances on the table making Dhaka into a war zone, is not the judicious way to demand anything, especially as a disciplined force that are highly and admirably recognized to secure the country’s border, but primarily as long as we heard and learned about corruption, confrontation between junior and senior officials, intelligence failures by respective authorities, mismanagement, serious breaching of national security, defying chain of command, and long-pending grievances regarding pay and allowances and food rations within the country’s prestigious defence institute that apparently triggered the revolt, raises so many questions as nothing in the present world beyond criticism and scrutiny.

But according to the many military critics, the mutiny which started in Dhaka on February 25, 2009, and later spread to other parts of the country, was not only for the long-pending grievances. Although, during the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) rule between 1991 and 1996, the lower tier of BDR had staged mutinies in Dhaka, Chittagong, Feni, Jessore, Khulna and Naogaon, expressing the similar kind of grievances which, however, never executed and solved, but those mutinies did not gun down anyone or witness bloodshed. Troops who took part in these latest barbaric and grisly acts and took control of the 2.6sq km BDR headquarter compound, was not only for their enrage over the BDR’s ‘dal bhat (rice with lentil)’ programme, discrimination and alleged repression and corruption by the officers of the nearly 70,000-strong force, there might be a different reason or conspiracy behind this serious incident, says many survived BDR officials.

The director of Military Intelligence (DGFI) in Bangladesh, in addition in a press conference on February 28, 2009, confirmed and general people do believe that all BDR members at the headquarters did not take part in the mutiny and those who were engaged in the brutality even were discarded and defended by those who weren’t. Commerce Minister Mohammad Faruk Khan also uttered the possibility of such quarters who might had been behind the BDR mutiny “We are suspecting involvement of other elements behind such an unfortunate incident at BDR headquarters Wednesday,” he said during the inaugural ceremony of the three-day 18th US Trade Show 2009 at Dhaka on February 26, 2009.

In a meeting with Information Minister Abul Kalam Azad at his ministry on February 28, 2009, editors and senior journalists of the national dailies and news agencies termed the heinous incidents at BDR headquarters as a deep-rooted conspiracy. Political leaders from all parties and eminent personalities called for proper probe into BDR mutiny, role of intelligence and any such information regarding conspiracy if exists. UN chief Ban Ki-moon termed rebellions’ enrage as brutal acts of violence in his condolence to the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina while US and UK condemned the violence associated with protests.

BDR, the war-hardened professional paramilitary forces in Bangladesh, however, hasn’t only started its journey to patrol along the country’s 4,427-km long border with India right after independence, but also it has a military history going back more than 200 years. BDR was first raised in 1795 while the then British government in India had introduced the Ramghar Local Battalion by recruiting the native population. The battalion was succeeded by the Eastern Frontier Rifles, which guarded the frontier from 1891 to 1920. Establishing its first camp as Special Reserve Compaq in the lush green Peelkhana area in Dhaka in 1799, today’s BDR has now an estimated strength of 70,000 men with 142 gallantry awards for their service in liberation war.

But this defence institute that is rich in heritage and demonstrated its superior fighting skills and velour during the liberation war in 1971 by sacrificing of its thousands of soldiers including the country’s highest gallantry award recipient Bir Srestho Shahid Lance Nayak Munshi Abdur Rouf and Bir Srestho Shahid Lance Nayak Nur Mohammad Sheikh, is now counting the 77 dead bodies of their own while 72 others remained untraced till date. This is believably the biggest incident Bangladesh has had since 1975 when President Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated in a coup.

Everybody lauded the roll of the government to overcome the whole situation except some people who suggested that the government should have consulted with the opposition during the crisis, not just the partners of its ruling coalition. The turmoil was the first real test for the new Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina since she won parliamentary elections in the last December by which Bangladesh embarked upon a new democratic journey after nearly two years of army-backed emergency rule. Her rational approach to the situation including appeal and warn of tough actions to the rebellions through a televised speech, announcing general amnesty, series of meetings with cabinet members, party and alliance colleagues, chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force, and direct orders to the respective authorities putting all her regular schedules aside, compelled the insurgents to surrender their arms and went back to the barracks.

The mutiny occurred a day after Hasina visited the BDR headquarters and addressed the troops on February 24, 2009, urging them to become "more disciplined and remain ever ready to guard the country's frontiers". As it is a reasonably fact that BDR are used in many activities outside the role of border security, including distributing food, conducting elections peacefully, or helping victims in any national emergency like Sidr or other natural disasters, but it’s members aren’t rewarded accordingly in return. Their grievances including the monthly pay which is as low as $70 are not compatible with the present financial meltdown worldwide.

Prime minister’s bold action and announcement that their grievances would be listened to and met and wouldn’t be shelved like before, has had merit while her stern warns and orders starting prosecution by forming special tribunal for fast trail against those who involved directly or indirectly in the mutiny and those who instigated it, would pacify the anger among victims and general people. Her government, Awami League-led multiparty alliance, resolved amicably the situation, but if it is believed that it was the outcome of a secret conspiracy well-planned and well-executed by some differed quarters that have some different interests, then it is a big blow towards the two month old democratic government.

The incident was happened while the law enforcement agencies are in thirst to round up militants of the banned outfit Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) who are working relentlessly to gain their lost ground. The recent arrests and seizers throughout the country bear witness to JMB's widespread reach and presence in Bangladesh and also dangerously reflect the resurgence of JMB in rural as well as urban areas, such as in the capital, Dhaka. Meanwhile, the government is considering to start prosecution against war criminals which is one of the major key points of their election manifesto and a long cherished demand of each and every Bangladeshis.

Well, each and every possibility are subjected to be verified, but whatever the reason, as the BDR mutiny was not a mere instant incident, the government should be cautious and well informed in advance as much as possible through its respective channel against such propagators and their conspiracies.

First published from New York, March 1, 2009

Ripan Kumar Biswas [http://www.blogger.com/Ripan.Biswas@yahoo.com] is a freelance writer based in New York