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Monday, March 30, 2009

Islamic NGOs - a shadow government in Bangladesh

Photo: A UK based Green Crescent Islamic charity busted for suspected Jihadi activities after security forces hauled huge cache of arms in Bhola, a coastal district in south Bangladesh


NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOs) play a vital role in a developing country like Bangladesh. The number of NGOs in Bangladesh is in excess of 78,000 by the midst of the year 2009 registered with five different government instruments.

The news that Islamic NGOs with foreign funds are fuelling the Islamic militancy was bubbling all over Bangladesh. The Daily Star said that suspected NGOs include Rabita Al-Alam Al-Islami, Al-Muntada Al- Islami, Society of Social Reforms, Qatar Charitable Society, Islamic Relief Agency, Al-Forkan Foundation, International Relief Organisation, Kuwait Joint Relief Committee, Muslim Aid Bangladesh, Dar Al-Khair, Hayatul Igachha, and Tawheed-e-Noor.

The New Age of Bangladesh wrote, "During the previous BNP-led alliance government, some 473 local and 25 foreign NGOs were enlisted with the NGO Affairs Bureau. One hundred and twenty-nine of them are local and eight foreign NGOs who were enlisted in the financial year 2006-07. Since 1990, the NGO Bureau has approved 2,367 local and foreign NGOs who run on foreign funding."

When the Bangladesh National Party-led alliance government was in power, 90,000 core taka (approx. US$1,300) in foreign donations, in the name of 11,000 NGOs came into Bangladesh. That amount is nearly equal to the government's financial budget for the year 2009, which is 99,962 core taka (approx. US$1,450).

The main process of registering an NGO and funding its operations is highly dependent upon the bureaucracy. That was and is the main reason that NGO activities in Bangladesh have become politicized. As a result of this, during the term of the BNP-led alliance government, the institutional outfit of the Islamic fascist interest triumphed.

The NGO registration process involves some powerful intelligence instruments of the government, such as the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), the National Security Intelligence (NSI), and the Special Branch of the Bangladesh Police.

There is clear evidence of corruption and political interference in the NGO registration process. The government’s policy is tricky on the issue of NGO registration, especially the NGO affairs bureau, which is under the prime minister's office in name, but is mainly controlled by intelligence instruments like the DGFI and the NSI. It is notable that there are several Islamic fascist proponents placed in various important government instruments, including intelligence organizations, during the term of the BNP alliance government.

We have had a past record of 34 foreign funded major Islamic non-governmental organizations (NGO) and 15 are very active NGO’s back in year 2005. In 1999, the intelligence agencies tracked an NGO named Suffering Humanity International, which had vibrant relations with Islamic fascists to establish an Islamic dictatorship in Bangladesh.

The Islamic fascists have fully succeeded in forming a shadow government in Bangladesh. The Islamic fascist outfit Ngo turned the money in several long time investments such as in Banking, health and hospital and education sector. In the time of need they will control the market and destabilize country. Even the same quarter has engulfed in the print and media sector with an ulterior motive to play ideological propaganda.

The same quarter is nursing to bring new crisis before the government where the treatment of government is very poor. After the Pilkhana revolt the prisons are the next target of the vested quarter to destabilize the country. The vested quarter is using prisons as recruiting office to strengthen their terrorist activities. The young people come out from the prison and join the source outside and take part in destructive works.

The government should make it very clear to make the whole NGO activities free from the influence of the Intelligence and politics to safe the country from further massive failure. The Islamic NGOs has turned into shadow government in Bangladesh and the highest threat before Bangladesh as well as to the security of south Asian region. #

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William Gomes is an independent human rights activist, a Catholic ecumenical activist, and a political analyst. He is also the Executive Director of the Christian Development Alternative (CDA), a national organization against torture and human rights violations

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Un-elected democracy


BANGLADESHI NEWSPAPER, Weekly Blitz, published a front page report titled ´UN asked to return Bangladeshi Forces´, which might have drawn the attention of many readers around the world.

The news in brief is one Susan Ramgopalan wrote to United Nations (UN) Secretary General on March 15, 2009 titled ´Islamist inside UN Peace Keeping Force´, where she referring to the recent statement by Bangladeshi Commerce Minister, Lt. Col. (Retired) Faruk Khan, requested the UN Secretary General to send back all the participating members of Bangladesh Armed Forces and Police in the UNPKF for possible militancy connections.

In the letter, she said, "It has come to my attention that one of the front ranking leaders in Bangladesh’s ruling party, Awami League, member of the Cabinet and Member of Parliament, Lt. Col. Faruk Khan recently told reporters that Islamist militants like Jamiatul Mujahidin (JMB) has penetrated into country’s border security forces."

Susan also said" It is noteworthy that officers of border security forces are deputed from country’s armed forces. Under such authoritative statement from a senior member of the Bangladesh government, it is greatly assumed that there are unknown number of Islamist militants even within the other disciplined forces, including army and police.

For a number of reasons, I have confidence on the credibility of news published in Weekly Blitz. First of all, this newspaper mostly runs investigative reports on varieties of issues including terrorism. Blitz is the first newspaper in Bangladesh to disclose the silent strength gaining of Hizb Ut Tahrir (HT). During that time, at least, I did not write anything negative about HT in any other newspaper in the country. So, for sure, Blitz leads this investigative journalism. In this case, the above news item is truly worrisome for Bangladesh, its people and the Armed Forces. There is no room for anyone to be delighted at this news. Because, if Bangladeshi forces are sent back from UNPKF, international community will then turn absolutely sure about Bangladesh to have turned into another Taliban ruled avenue. Bangladeshi exports will be greatly hampered if not completely stopped. Tourism industry will be affected. Most importantly, Bangladeshis living abroad shall be treated by the international community as ´Potential Al Qaida member´. None of these are minimum good news for the people of this great nation in South Asia.

And, who should be held responsible for pushing the nation towards such dangerous fate? Bangladeshi minister for Commerce and chief coordinator of the three investigation committees, ex-army man Faruk Khan repeatedly told media in Bangladesh and abroad that militants have penetrated inside law enforcing and disciplined forces in the country.

Then he and some of his cabinet colleagues cracked another bomb saying, Bangladeshi militants have connection with Talibans. Possibly everyone understands the fact that in the international arena, Talibans are always considered to be the forefront forces of Al Qaida. So in other words, Faruk Khan and other Bangladeshi ministers wanted to convince the international community with the facts that, the country’s law enforcing and disciplined forces are containing militants and secondly, Al Qaida has already extended its network up to Bangladesh.

Anyone, with most elementary knowledge about today’s global scenario on the context of war against terror or combating religious militancy would surely agree with me that, such statements are ought to bring severe consequence for Bangladesh.

My personal curiosity is, whether Faruk Khan and others are desperately trying to welcome international intervention in Bangladesh for combating militancy and Al Qaida. They might be feeling encouraged with the 9 plus year tenure of President Pervez Musharraf, who enjoyed support from the Western world, because of his ´commitment´ in combating militant Islam.

Second reason could be, the ruling party in Bangladesh, wants to get into the top attention of the international community by pronouncing such risky statements.

But, possibly Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her advisors as well as members of her ´Chamatkar´ (surprise) cabinet fail to realize the fact that, because of their greed in holding power for decades (Awami League announced electoral manifesto titled Vision 2021, which indicates their desire of at least continuing in power till that time), through several senseless comments and statements, they are pushing the fate of Bangladesh towards destination unknown.

The worst affected parties of such statements will be Bangladeshi exporters, Bangladeshi workers abroad and of course, Bangladesh Armed Forces.

Due to economic recession worldwide, Bangladesh export is already suffering numerous threats and challenges. There are series of bad news from foreign nations on Bangladeshi workers. Now, if the armed forces, disciplined forces and law enforcing agencies are affected, how the ruling party can manage this?

Bangladesh Army has been actively involved in a number of United Nations Peace Support Operations (UNPSO) since its formation in the 1970s. Its first deployments came in 1988, when it participated in two operations - UNIIMOG in Iraq and UNTAG in Namibia. When announced by the then elected President of Bangladesh, Lieutenant General Hussain Mohammad Ershad, these deployments - particularly the contribution to UNIIMOG - met with considerable criticism in Bangladesh.

Later, as part of the UNIKOM force deployed to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia following the Gulf War the Bangladesh Army sent a mechainised infantry battalion (approx. 2,193 personnel). Since then, the Bangladesh Army has been involved in up to thirty different UNPKOs in as many as twenty five countries. This has included activities in Namibia, Cambodia, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, former Yugoslavia, Liberia, Haiti, Tajikistan, Western Sahara, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Georgia, East Timor, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire and Ethiopia.

As of December 2008, Bangladesh was ranked second (behind Pakistan) in terms of its contribution to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, with 9,567 personnel (military and police) attached to various UN peacekeeping forces worldwide. Today, the Bangladesh Army is one of the top foreign currency earners for the country due to the funding it receives as a result of its contribution to the UN.

Bangladesh’s present rulers are not only continuing senseless statements and comments but they also are applying various forms of repressive measures on political opponents, which may be termed as autocratic behavior of an elected government.

The government has started making use of hated Special Powers Act of 1974, which was introduced by the government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. This Act was created mainly to harass, repress and suppress political opponents. But, later, this law has been continuing to be applied on thousands of people in Bangladesh. And, ruling Awami League, being the beneficiary of Bangabandhu, now picked up this hated law as a tool of showing the muscle to political opponents and, possibly the people at a large.

People of Bangladesh has no debate about contributions of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur in the creation of independent Bangladesh. But, his era was blackened due to massive misrule, corruption, terrorism and formation of one-party system named BAKSAL. Bangabandhu´s government suffocated freedom of expression and cancelled registration of all the newspapers in Bangladesh, except four owned or controlled by the state. Under the Special Powers Act of 1974, anyone can be held and detained for 90 or even unlimited period without any charge. Such law, causing gross violation of human and citizen rights was inacted by none but the founding father of Bangladesh. But, those who knew Mujib personally believe that, such measures might have been taken by the cabinet colleagues and advisors of Bangabandhu, as he had never been in favor of repression. Mujib loved the people of Bangladesh.

In this case, the group of people who mislead the great leader of Bangladesh are back with different names and identities now, misleading Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangabandhu.

Hopefully, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister will listen to this elderly journalist’s suggestions. She should realize her errors and quickly ratify. Otherwise, people of Bangladesh may start thinking, un-elected democracy is better than elected autocracy. #

First published in American Chronicle, March 22, 2009

Sunita Paul is a Indian writer, columnist, political analyst and regular contributor of American Chronicle, The Global Politician and The Asian Tribune

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Delhi can’t afford to let Dhaka slip off its radar


THE FALLOUT from Bangladesh’s February 25-26 sepoy mutiny is still floating in the wind. What first hits the senses is the sheer insensate savagery with which the mutinous riflemen of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) slaughtered their officers, and in some cases their families, reminiscent of March 1971 and the murder of West Pakistani officers and families in a similar manner, perhaps by some of the same units. Something must have gone very wrong indeed for uniformed troops to go berserk in this manner. What could it have been? Perhaps it was some form of radical indoctrination, possibly with a religious orientation, that could whip up frenzy on an intensity far beyond mere issues of pay, rations or other administrative problems? The timing of the mutiny too raises other obvious questions: Why now? Why not earlier when the political dispensation in Dhaka was different? Or why not later, by which time Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s Awami League government would, perhaps, have had more time to settle down in office and get a firmer grip on the mechanisms of power? All indications are that the BDR mutiny was a well-organised pre-planned manoeuvre to traumatise and unbalance Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her fledgling government, and pressure them from the very beginning of their tenure. The question is: by whom, for what purpose and who stands to benefit? Is there a foreign hand? If so, it is highly unlikely to be India, then who?

Three parallel inquiries have been instituted into the events of those fateful 33 hours at the BDR’s Pilkhana headquarters, to determine the causes, sequence and responsibility for the outbreak. The first is by the Bangladesh government, the second by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Dhaka police and the third by the Army. Bangladesh’s commerce minister Lt. Col. Faruq Khan (Retd) has been asked to coordinate all three inquiries whose findings are expected to be known by the end of March, depending of course on the progress made in each case.

Sheikh Hasina is known to be well-disposed towards India, something that would be anathema to many in the political, legislative, administrative and more significantly, the military and intelligence echelons of Bangladesh, where, as in Pakistan, political power frequently flows from the barrel of the gun. India must definitely be concerned at the turn of events because the situation developing from the BDR mutiny indeed has many disquieting overtones from earlier times, such as Ms Hasina’s somewhat precarious tenure as Prime Minister from 1996 to 2001 and, of course, the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975.

The Bangladeshi armed forces, particularly the Army and the BDR, have developed their professional and corporate ethos, culture and outlook more on the model of the Pakistan Army and the West Pakistan Rangers, rather than the Mukti Bahini, in particular the disdain for civilian political authority and antipathy towards India — it is part of a legacy transplanted by the large number of Bengali officers of the Pakistan armed forces who were reinstated in the Bangladesh military after repatriation following the break-up of Pakistan.

Sheikh Mujib’s largesse was against the recommendations of his advisers and would ultimately prove fatal in 1975. This is one of the reasons why Ms Hasina and the senior hierarchy of the Awami League have never developed a rapport with their armed forces, somewhat akin to the relationship late Benazir Bhutto had with the Pakistan Army. Ms Hasina has never been comfortable in office, neither in her earlier 1996-2001 tenure and not now. Both Benazir Bhutto and Ms Hasina reigned as Prime Ministers but were not really allowed to rule. This is not the case with Begum Khaleda Zia and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) who are more attuned to the Army, to which Begum Khaleda’s personal status as General Zia-ur Rahman’s widow has definitely contributed.

This is important because in one perspective, the war in Bangladesh between India and Pakistan never really ended on December 16, 1971, but continued thereafter as a "Great Game" between the protagonists to retain Bangladesh within their respective spheres of influence. Round one went to India with the military victory in East Pakistan in 1971, the creation of Bangladesh and the installation of Sheikh Mujib as its founding Prime Minister. He was accepted as India’s protégé, but his assassination within three years and the signal failure of India’s external intelligence services to detect, warn and protect Bangabandhu was viewed in some quarters as a substantial defeat of India’s policies and, by implication, a victory for the "other side". Round two, therefore, went to Pakistan, but the violent, tortuous course of politics in Bangladesh thereafter does not lend itself to easy or coherent encapsulation. That notwithstanding, every occasion the Awami League comes to power is good news for India, while the same holds true for Pakistan in relation to the BNP.

Since there is now an Awami League government in office, the sepoy mutiny sounds like the opening bell for the next round of the "Great Game", to destabilise the government and replace the India-friendly government of Ms Hasina and the Awami League with a Pakistan-friendly one of Begum Khaleda Zia and the BNP. New Delhi will certainly not want that to happen in a country which previous non-Awami League governments had turned into a sanctuary and base of operations for jihadi terrorists groups like Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) and anti-India separatist groups from our Northeast. New Delhi fully and totally supports the Hasina government in Bangladesh, but open Indian approval can also become a kiss of death for the Awami League. India has restricted options and has to play its cards very imaginatively and judiciously. It must, on one hand, tighten vigilance on the Indo-Bangladesh border in terms of border fencing, BSF manpower and surveillance devices and systems. And inside Bangladesh, India must encourage and accelerate economic, corporate, cultural and people-to-people, particularly Bengal-to-Bengal, contacts. All this requires hard and sustained diplomacy.

Meanwhile, even as a concerned Bangladesh awaits the outcome of the three inquiries, the names of hardcore jihadi organisations — including the Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMJB) and HuJI-B — have started emerging from the shadows. These organisations have well-known and long-established ties with counterparts in Pakistan such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and others, which tell their own familiar story. This is to no one’s surprise because the "Great Game" continues. But alas, too easily and all too often Bangladesh keeps slipping off New Delhi’s radar screen. This must not be allowed to happen now. #

First published in The Asian Age, India, March 24, 2009

Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury (Retd) is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Indian Parliament

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

British-run orphanage in Bangladesh 'is Islamist training camp'

Photo: Local security forces said there were about 11 children between the ages of 7 and 8 at the compound at the time of the raid, but no adults

AN ORPHANAGE run by a British charity in Bangladesh has been raided by local security forces who say that it was being used as a training camp and arms factory for Islamic militants.

The Rapid Action Battalion said today that it had arrested four people, including a teacher and three caretakers, and was searching for the head of the charity, a British citizen known only as Faisal.

The arrests came after a raid yesterday on the Green Crescent madrassa and orphanage on the remote southern island of Bhola, Lt Col Munir Haque, an officer involved in the operation, told The Times.

“We found small arms – about nine or 10 in total – plus equipment to make small arms, about 3,000 rounds of ammunition, two walkie-talkies, two remote control devices and four sets of army uniforms,” he said.

“We also found enough explosives and other equipment to make several hundred grenades. We found some ordinary Islamic books, but others that are in line with extremists like bin Laden.”
He said that there were about 11 children between the ages of 7 and 8 at the compound at the time of the raid, but no other adults.

Locals told the officers that the madrassa, or Islamic seminary, was a British charity financed by “Faisal”, who they said had lived in Britain for 25 years.

Green Crescent’s web site,, shows that it is involved in projects in Bhola, as well as several others around Bangladesh and at least one in Pakistan. The charity, which is registered in the UK under the number 1099233, was founded in 1998 by students in Britain and Bangladesh, and is based in Stockport, six miles from Manchester.

K.M. Mamunur Rashid, another officer involved in the raid, said that the charity had plans to build two more madrassas, although there were no details on the charity’s site.

"It is a big madrassa and we have so far gathered that this whole compound is being used for militant training,” he said.

Bangladeshi media reported that security forces suspected the compound was being used by Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a banned militant group.

Bangladesh, with 154 million people, has the world's fourth largest Muslim population after Indonesia, India and Pakistan.

The authorities have long viewed madrassas as potential recruiting grounds for militant groups such as JMB, which was blamed for a series of bomb attacks in the country in August 2005.

A number of investigations into dozens of Islamic charities were launched this month following a mutiny by border guards, which some officials believe was instigated or assisted by Islamic militants.

More than 70 people were killed, including at least 56 senior army officers, in the revolt last month at the headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles in Dhaka, the capital. #

First published in Times Online, March 25, 2009

Jeremy Page is South Asia Correspondent of The Times, London

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Remembering supports and efforts in 1971

Photo: W.A.S. Ouderland, BP

W.A.S. Ouderland, Bir Protik (4th highest gallantry award in Bangladesh), who was actually a Dutch citizen and was posted as the CEO of Bata operation in the then East Pakistan on the eve of the War of Liberation in Bangladesh, never thought that he would train and assist the freedom fighters to create an independent Bangladesh rather putting his attention to increase the volume of sales of his company.

The mass killings in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971 vie with the annihilation of the Soviet Prisoners of War or the genocide in Rwanda as the most concentrated act of genocide in the twentieth century. In an attempt to crush forces seeking independence for East Pakistan, the West Pakistani military regime unleashed a systematic campaign of mass murder which aimed at killing millions of Bengalis, and likely succeeded in doing so. The human death toll over only 267 days was incredible compare to other worst genocides of the World War II era. The Pakistani army and allied paramilitary groups killed about one out of every sixty-one people in Pakistan overall; one out of every twenty-five Bengalis, Hindus, and others in East Pakistan. Rape, abduction, and forcible prostitution during the nine-month war proved to be only the first round of humiliation for the Bengali women.

Today people of Bangladesh feel satisfied and contended as they can freely move around in the country without questioning or imposing any kinds of restrictions on them. But this satisfaction is due to the efforts taken by the freedom fighters to free the country from the authoritarian Pakistani rule. Freedom fighters gallantly fought with the enemies to free the country. The indomitable courage and commitment of freedom fighters helped to imbue Bangladesh as an independent nation.

Although freedom fighter" is a term for those, who engaged in an armed struggle, the main cause of which is to achieve, in their or their supporters' view, freedom for themselves or obtain freedom for others, but during the liberation war in Bangladesh, people from every part of the society took part in the war in a various way with or without arms as the liberation war and the independence was not an act of a single person or event and there was hardly any family who did not lose something in the war. The total number of freedom fighters during Bangladesh War of Liberation was not recorded anywhere, but according to the Bangladesh government in exile, the total number of freedom fighters was 105,000, which includes members of 11 sectors, Mujib Bahini, Kader Bahini, and Hemeyet Bahini while the present Minister of State for Liberation War Affairs A.B. Tajul Islam confirmed that in all 210,581 freedom fighters joined the liberation war.

The Bangladesh liberation war witnessed widespread atrocities committed mainly on the Bengali population of East Pakistan, at a level that Bangladeshis maintain is one of the worst genocides in history. Difference in religious standpoints in the then East and West Pakistan, economic exploitation towards East Pakistan, conspiracy to uproot Bengali language and nationalism, impact of cyclone in East Pakistan in 1970, dominating political attitude by West Pakistani leaders, military preparation in East Pakistan, Bangobondhu's speech of March 7, and finally the mass killing of March 25, apparently triggered the independence war in Bangladesh.

Every Bangladeshi in the then time was expected to involve in the war. A man fighting for his own country, no doubt, is an act of rare bravery, but it becomes unusual when an alien fighting side by side with the sons of the soil.

People, who were not in the course of such sufferings and were foreign nationals during the liberation war in Bangladesh, but felt the acute need to make the world aware of the extent of genocide and took part directly or indirectly in the war, are really highly respected and deserve heartiest gratitude. Brutal repression and occupation of unarmed Bangladeshis by the Pakistani occupation army reminded Ouderland of the similar brutalities perpetrated by the Nazis in occupied Europe. He was not the only one, who fully appreciated the legitimacy of Bangladeshi resistance against the brute forces of occupation, but there were several others, who felt the same ideology and directly or indirectly took part in the war. As the War progressed, Ouderland secretly began to train and assist local youths around the city of Dhaka in the art of guerilla resistance.

Although Ouderland was the only foreign national to have been honored with gallantry award “Bir Pratik” for his outstanding contribution to the war of liberation, but there were thousands of foreign nationals who had supported Bangladesh in many form and fashion during liberation war. They had raised funds, made posters, flyers, joined in rallies, wrote articles, raised awareness, and sang songs. They also gave shelters and words of comfort to those individuals who had disowned their nationality from Pakistan and had no country to call their own for nine months. These individuals did what they could out of their loves for humanities and had shown their utmost disgust against the inhuman atrocities and genocide against the people of Bangladesh.

George Harrison brought the attention of the world to what was happening in Bangladesh during the independence war through his concert in New York in 1971. Without his effort, much of the suffering endured by the Bangladeshi people at the time would have gone unnoticed. His concert for Bangladesh raised money for war-affected people with performances by Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, and Bob Dylan. On the other hand, Senator Ted Kennedy (MA-D) bravely exposed the plight of millions of Bangladeshi refugees in India during the liberation war. As a chairman of the then US senate's refugee committee, Kennedy tried to persuade the US to allocate funds for the Bangladeshi refugees in India.

With unprecedented support of India, it became easier to the local heroes to form an independent Bangladesh. The then Indian Government led by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi provided shelter, food, clothing, and medical aid for 10 million refugees. They helped freedom fighters with training, arms, and ammunitions, campaigned for release of Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and mobilized international public opinion in favor of independence of Bangladesh. According to the former chief of the Indian army’s eastern command Lt Gen (retd) JFR Jacob, 1400 Indian troops were killed and 4000 wounded during the Liberation War of Bangladesh.

To become the world’s 139th independent nation, Bangladesh suffered a genocide perpetrated by Pakistani Army and their allies. While millions of Bangladeshis are celebrating the country’s 39th Independence Day, they are remembering the supreme sacrifices and gallantry of the country’s bravest and enlightened people. But people who were not part of Bangladesh and not even the part of sufferings, but put their lives, emotions, and supports along with general people to form a independent Bangladesh, deserve the recognition out of decency, out of moral obligation, and out of gratitude as the people of Bangladesh owe this to them. #

March 24, 2009, New York

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York. The writer could be reached at:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In Silt, Bangladesh Sees Potential Shield Against Sea Level Rise

Photo Saiful Huq Omi/Polaris, for The New York Times: In Beel Bhaina, a low-lying 600-acre soup bowl of land on the banks of the Hari River, in Bangladesh, land that was once under water is now full of greenery

BEEL BHAINA, Bangladesh — The rivers that course down from the Himalayas and into this crowded delta bring an annual tide of gift and curse. They flood low-lying paddies for several months, sometimes years, at a time. And they ferry mountains of silt and sand from far away upstream.

Most of that sediment washes out into the roiling Bay of Bengal. But an accidental discovery by desperate delta folk here may hold clues to how Bangladesh, one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change, could harness some of that dark, rich Himalayan muck to protect itself against sea level rise.

Instead of allowing the silt to settle where it wants, Bangladesh has begun to channel it to where it is needed — to fill in shallow soup bowls of land prone to flooding, or to create new land off its long, exposed coast.

The efforts have been limited to small experimental patches, not uniformly promising, and there is still ample concern that a swelling sea could one day soon swallow parts of Bangladesh. But the emerging evidence suggests that a nation that many see as indefensible to the ravages of human-induced climate change could literally raise itself up and save its people — and do so cheaply and simply, using what the mountains and tides bring.

“You can do a lot with the silt that these rivers bring,” said Bea M. ten Tusscher, the Dutch ambassador to Bangladesh. The Netherlands, itself accustomed to engineering its vulnerable low-lands, helps Bangladesh with water management projects. “Those are like little diamonds,” Ms. ten Tusscher said. “You have to use it.”

Satellite images show that in the natural process of erosion and accretion — in some places speeded up by a series of man-made dams and channels — Bangladesh has actually gained land over the last 35 years.

Skeptics say it is folly to expect silt accretion to save the country. Accretion happens slowly, over centuries, they argue, while human-induced climate change is hurtling fast toward Bangladesh. The new land is too muddy and slushy for people to safely live on, and the force of the Himalayan rivers is so powerful that it can wash away newly gained land in one fluke season.

“If you have time to wait, it will happen,” said Atiq Rahman of the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies. His country, he added, does not have time to wait.

The silt-trapping experiment has yielded tentative but visible gains here in Beel Bhaina, a low-lying 600-acre soup bowl of land on the banks of the Hari River, a tributary of the Ganges, about 55 miles upstream from the Bay of Bengal. Even at this distance from the coast, it is among the country’s most susceptible to sea rise. The river swells each day with the tides. Creeping salinity in the water table is a harbinger of future danger.

Here, misery made way for a discovery. A devastating flood 10 years ago left this soup bowl — a “beel” in Bengali — inundated with water that reached above Abdul Lateef’s head. No paddy could grow, recalled Mr. Lateef, now 56. Houses went under. The river was so heavily silted it hardly moved. Many families were reduced to penury.

One night, desperate to drain the water, Mr. Lateef and his neighbors punched a hole through the mud embankment that encircled the soup bowl. They watched as the water rushed out. Then the high tide began to haul in sediment, and the soup bowl swiftly filled with silt.

When the chief engineer of the local water board, Sheikh Nurul Ala, came to measure it, he saw that in four years, Beel Bhaina had risen by as much as three feet or more near the river bank, and almost as much farther inland. Today, it is a quilt of green and gray square patches of paddy, cut by square ponds to cultivate fish and shrimp. The river flows more freely now. Mr. Lateef collects an annual harvest of rice, the local staple, and farms shrimp, the most lucrative cash crop, after the rains.

Mr. Ala is trying the experiment in other soup bowls upstream, with mixed results. At one site, the accretion was too limited; at another, it has been promising in patches, but uneven.

American scientists have recommended a somewhat similar silt diversion program: opening Mississippi River levees south of New Orleans to allow sediment-rich water to flow over the region’s marshes, which have been starved of silt since levee-building began in the region hundreds of years ago.

Bangladesh is among the nations most susceptible to climate change. Already prone to cyclones, it could be hit by more frequent and intense tropical storms. Seawater is creeping into the agricultural land. Its long coast is exposed to the hungry sea.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that a three-foot rise in sea levels could swallow nearly 20 percent of Bangladesh’s territory. The peril is compounded by the fact that every inch of this densely populated country is settled, even those areas at the constant mercy of the water.

Taming the waters that spill into Bangladesh is no easy task. The rivers change course, banks shift, channels meander at will. They swell when the snows melt thousands of miles away and then again when the clouds burst, turning the green fields gray. They are also heavily engineered upstream: a dam built upstream in neighboring India can critically stanch the flow of freshwater down here, increasingly the chances of salinity and siltation.

The simple silt-trapping engineering here was not designed as an adaptation to sea rise, but Mr. Ala is convinced that it can outpace the projected three-foot rise in sea levels and at least offer some protection. “Some benefit it will provide, I think, by raising the beels,” he said. “The problem will not be as severe for the land we can raise.” #

First published in The New York Times, March 20, 2009

Criminal justice reform for a better Bangladesh


THE POLICE are alleged of bribe, the army is incorporate with mass corruption, the BDR mutinied and drive brutal killings, the judges are influenced by the political pressure and favor or diverted by some means are the common scenario of Bangladesh.

While the innocent are languishing inside jail for the lack of legal aid, the criminals are enjoying freedom by influencing the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system today is a big business and affects large numbers of people. The criminal justice system is linked with key sociopolitical objectives, such as the maintenance of law and order and preservation of the peace, the security of the individual and the protection of property; and, increasingly, the protection of human rights and individual freedoms.

The Bangladesh penal code is drafted in accordance with colonial British law, which contains many conflicting and competing policies when applied to present-day situations. The paradox of that law is that it insists on the application of force and the violent deprivation of liberty, consistent with the British colonial perspective, in the name of limiting force and fraud and defending liberty.

The time for the reformation of the criminal justice system of Bangladesh has come. The question is how to achieve a proper balance between the provision of the criminal law and the preservation of liberty and freedom of the individual.

The police are an essential component of the criminal justice system in Bangladesh. The police play a very important and vital role for the implementation of fair trials. The Bangladeshi government is trying to fix the agenda for democratic policing by transforming the police force into a police service with the help of UNDP.

The prison system has become a vital component of suppression and brutality, even though prison should be a place for rehabilitation and correction. Simply put, justice is detained behind the walls of these Bangladeshi prisons. Prison reform is a necessary objective to ensure people's rights and "humanize" Bangladesh. Prisoners’ rights have become an important item on the agenda for prison reforms. Lawmakers should introduce a bill to humanize the prison system in Bangladesh, where the main philosophy of prison systems is based on colonial law.

Being so close to the delivery of justice, the criminal justice system of Bangladesh needs wide reforms that demand a revival in the criminal justice system. All past and present governments kept busy fulfilling their own agenda. George Gillespie said, “Reformation ends not in contemplation, but in action.” The question remains, who will end the empty talk for reform of the criminal justice system and ensure the people’s access to justice?

William Gomes is an independent human rights activist, a Catholic ecumenical activist, and a political analyst. He could be reached at:

Friday, March 20, 2009

The BDR Rebellion in Bangladesh: Prevailing Uncertainties

Photo A H Arif/DrikNews: As the conflict spread, rebel BDR soldiers took position with heavy guns in Sylhet BDR camp. 26th February. Sylhet. Bangladesh

The fallout from February's rebellion by Bangladeshi soldiers, and explains why the present remains so perilous

A subaltern uprising
That is how private TV channels had reported it, and how it had generally been perceived on 25 February when BDR (Bangladesh Rifles) soldiers – border security forces, additionally entrusted with anti-smuggling operations – rebelled at the Pilkhana headquarters in Dhaka city.

Discontentment had been the issue. Over food rations (three months, as compared with twelve for the army), denial of UN peacekeeping mission services, low pay (the average BDR guard earns about 70 dollars a month), non-payment of promised daily allowances for extra duties rendered, corruption in the officer ranks. What appeared to have rankled most was army control, since the BDR administration and nearly all its officers are from the army. In the words of one mutineer, ‘we are not against the nation, or the Government. We want that the BDR should belong to the BDR.’

It was the second day of the annual BDR week. Three thousand BDR soldiers, along with their commanding officers, had come to Pilkhana for the occasion, joining the three thousand plus stationed there. The 33-hour-long mutiny broke out at a meeting in the Darbar Hall of the BDR compound, which stretches over 3 square kilometres, and is located in the city centre. How many actively took part is anybody’s guess. The police have since filed charges of rebellion, killings, arson and looting of armories against more than a thousand BDR soldiers. The army, police and RAB (élite force) have launched Operation Rebel Hunt to capture rebel soldiers, missing firearms and ammunition. Two hundred and thirty six BDR soldiers have been arrested so far, including the suspected ringleader, deputy assistant director Syed Tawhidul Alam.

The horror and brutality
As bodies of army officers dumped in sewage canals far away surfaced; as mass graves in the HQ compound were unearthed; as the decomposed bodies of the director general, and others – mostly senior army officers – were discovered; as mutilated bodies were found, bayoneted, eyes gouged out, some burned: the subaltern uprising story receded into the background. Wives of two army officers and a domestic maid had also been killed. Allegations of rape surfaced. As horror at the brutality encompassed the nation (more than 74 were killed, including three civilians killed by random bullets, and seven soldiers; according to the latest updates, 2-3 officers are still missing, while 4 bodies remain unidentified), army officers publicly contested Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s decision to resolve the rebellion through political rather than military means. She should not have sat for negotiations with the mutineers, nor sent Government ministers and her party leaders to talk to the rebels, nor declared a general amnesty (later clarified to exclude the killers). Instead, the army should have been allowed to ‘crush’ the rebellion. It would have been over in a matter of minutes. Lives of precious army officers would have been saved.

Calmer, more reasoned voices argued, mainly in the blogosphere, since the national media (print, TV) was also under attack for having highlighted the BDR soldiers’ grievances, that a military operation would probably have resulted in more deaths, of hostage officers and their family members, and also of civilians, living in adjacent densely-populated neighbourhoods. That anti-aircraft guns could hardly have been used to flush out rebels hiding among innocent people living in residential quarters and office buildings. That terrorists and hostage-takers could have been attacked, but only after all other means had failed. That news of an army operation could have led to a nationwide escalation since the rebellion had spread to other parts of the country. That it was undoubtedly a massive intelligence failure. That even though the army had borne the brunt of the BDR carnage, parliamentary discussions and public debate on corruption in the army should go ahead.

Contesting authority
Rumours of an army take-over circulated wildly (not surprisingly, given that it has occurred three times in the nation’s 38 year old history). Grief-stricken and enraged members of the army were repeatedly urged to show restraint, even after the army chief General Moeen U Ahmed had declared that the army would be ‘loyal to democracy’, and would remain ‘subservient to the (elected) government’. Civilian authority was contested, at times outrageously, via widely-circulating e-mails purportedly from officers of the army, and leaked audio recordings of the Prime Minister’s closed-door meeting with aggrieved army officers in Dhaka cantonment. The US ambassador extended support to the newly-elected democratic government, adding later that the US Government would also assist Bangladesh in combating terrorism. As the immediate crisis was overcome, Sheikh Hasina’s display of leadership in having resolved it peacefully was lauded by other foreign dignitaries and leaders. And within the nation, the army was repeatedly congratulated for having exercised restraint. Even though, as a Bangladeshi blogger pointed out, this was precisely what the military should be doing, i.e., supporting the civilian government, and working under its leadership.

The Government has instituted a high-powered probe into the mutiny, assisted by FBI and Scotland Yard investigators. The army has launched an independent probe. However, there is nationwide apprehension that the truth may not be revealed, that the reports may not be made public, and that judicial processes may falter. Calls for the formation of an all-party parliamentary inquiry committee have not been heeded by the Government. Mud-slinging has erupted between the political party leaders, by the Prime Minister herself, and her ministers, equally matched by the ex-Prime Minister and the current leader of the opposition Khaleda Zia, and other BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) leaders. Meanwhile, the Government has done away with disparities in food subsidies that had existed between the officers and the lower ranks of the police force. Concerns are being voiced in human rights and political activist circles over a demonization of the BDR as a whole, even though individual soldiers had risked their own lives to save several army officers during the hostage crisis.

Tensions and turbulence
Several feminist activists think that questions need to be raised about military training per se, that rape, looting and utter disregard for human values seem to accompany the actions of armed forces the world over. Others feel this is not the time to raise these questions, or bring up the decades-long allegations of indigenous peoples in the militarily-occupied Chittagong Hill Tracts. The present, they say, is too perilous. That the worst may not be over is signalled by the Government's recent decision to cancel the Independence Day parade, on 26 March.

The subaltern uprising story has paled away as threats to the nation’s territorial sovereignty have become clearer. Were foreign forces involved? Did they capitalize on long-standing and simmering grievances among BDR subalterns, those who are regarded as ‘the nation’s first line of defence’? The Indian media has pointed its fingers at the ISI (Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence), at Pakistan’s reluctance for 1971 war criminals to be tried by Sheikh Hasina's Government. Counter-theories have emerged, arguing that RAW (Research and Intelligence Wing, India’s foreign intelligence agency), and thereby the Indian Government, stand to gain most from turning Bangladesh into a vassal state.

That the rebellion was pre-planned and could well have de-stabilized the Government and the nation by igniting a series of cascading ‘tensions and turbulence’ is no longer doubted. But it is also true that recent revelations by a government minister about JMB (Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh, a banned Islamist organization) links are not only pre-mature but also unwise.

Earlier, Sheikh Hasina had expressed her support for the US war on terror, and pledged to work for the formation of a joint anti-terrorism taskforce by SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries. Whether the rebellion will facilitate Bangladesh in joining the US-led ‘war on terror club’ remains to be seen. If it does, it will not help to build a strong national army free of political aspirations. Nor will it aid the people in their ongoing struggles for greater democratization of state and society. Clearly, it will not be in Bangladesh’s national interest. #

First published in The New Internationalists, March 17, 2009

Rahnuma Ahmed is an academic with an university in Bangladesh, a social justice activist and involved with Drik Picture Library (

More than a mutiny: ISI plot suspected

Photo: A Bangladesh army officer breaks down while lifting the coffin of a colleague

THE PLOT of senseless blood letting in Dhaka is thickening. And as the two-month-old government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina battles to bring stability to the country following the barbaric killing of over 140 top Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) officers along with their family members in Dhaka on February 25, reports of a Pakistan-sponsored plot to assassinate her are gaining credence.

Increasingly intelligence is uncovering that the original plan was to assassinate Hasina and army chief Moeen U. Ahmed on February 24, but due to lack of coordination, the required ammunition couldn’t be smuggled into the Durbar area at the BDR headquarters where Hasina had gone a day before the mutiny. The plan was reportedly hatched at the behest of the ISI which is concerned with Hasina’s moderate outlook.

On February 25, a group of BDR junior commissioned officers, lined up the top brass of Bangladesh’s border guards and killed them. The brutality of the killing was shocking as the bodies of the officers and their families were dumped into manholes and mass graves. While some of the ringleaders of the coup and their accomplices have been arrested, over 1,000 BDR personnel have been charged by the Hasina government.

A confidential report prepared by South Block suggests that Pakistani intelligence was behind the mutiny. The report claims “both Indian and some international intelligence agencies have received indisputable proof of the involvement of Salauddin Chowdhury—an influential BNP MP and a long standing Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agent of influence in Bangladesh with a strong criminal mafia nexus—in the entire episode”.

Chowdhury, a prominent shipping magnate, was a close associate and parliamentary secretary to former premier Khaleda Zia. His name also figured in the Chittagong arms haul in 2004, in which a lethal cargo of arms was unloaded for terrorist activities in India. But Chowdhury has denied such charges.

However, exclusive details available with India Today suggest that intelligence agencies had intercepted a telephone call from Pakistan’s defence attaché in Dhaka, Sajaad Rasool, to a contact in the Pakistani consulate in Dubai. Another intercept revealed Rasool was in contact with Chowdhury.

According to sources, the Pakistani defence attaché monitored the situation from the Gulshan area of Dhaka and was in constant touch with his handlers in Pakistan.

In fact, on February 25 he knew the precise details about the plot unfolding inside the BDR headquarters in Pilkhana. At 12.30 pm, Rasool made a call to the ISI headquarters in Islamabad reporting that DG BDR Major-General Shakeel Ahmed had been killed.

The big question is, how the Pakistani defence attaché knew what was happening inside when even senior officers of the Bangladesh Army and the Government were in the dark. Other intercepts that confirm the involvement of the ISI, include a series of phone calls made by some key Jamaat-e- Islami (JeI) leaders to their ISI contacts in Dubai, London and Islamabad updating them on the operation.

According to the report, the BDR was used by the plotters because resentment has been brewing in the lower ranks. Besides, the aim was to ensure a takeover by pro-Pakistan elements in the Bangladesh Army. So smooth was the planning that no intelligence agency got a whiff of the plot. Chowdhury allegedly used a former DG of BDR, Major-General Fazlur Rehman, as a frontman to instigate the troops.

Chowdhury is suspected to have paid Taka 40 crore (Rs 30 crore) to Fazlur Rahman, who in turn is said to have paid Taka 5 crore to four deputy assistant directors of BDR. While almost 400 sepoys were paid Taka 5 lakh, the key among them were paid Taka 50 lakh each, according to the report.

For India that has a vital stake in the stability of a moderate regime in Dhaka, the developments were worrying. In fact, on February 28, India had begun preparations to evacuate Hasina. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee was in touch with Hasina and assured her of Indian support. Sources say New Delhi alerted Dhaka.

Following this, Hasina was taken to a Bangladesh Army safehouse. Two teams of commandos were kept ready at a forward air force base in Tripura and another one in Kolkata. But when the situation turned around with the Bangladesh Army backing Hasina and the mutiny quelled, the plan was shelved.

But the big question is why the ISI plotted to destabilise the government. The reason is, compared to the fundamentalist regime of Khaleda Zia, Hasina’s government is considered to be moderate and has cracked down on Islamists. Sources say Pakistani intelligence fanned the conspiracy as it feared that many of its key assets could be tried for war crimes committed in 1971.

The Hasina government had moved a resolution in parliament last month to punish criminals of the 1971 war, something her party had promised in its election manifesto. Sources say JEI leaders Amir Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mujahid, who are alleged war criminals, provided logistical support to the mutiny.

The ISI plotted to kill Hasina as Islamabad has been uneasy with the Hasina regime’s policies and it’s perceived proximity to India. In fact the crisis in Dhaka should be another reason why India and Bangladesh should work together closely, especially on security issues. Besides, India has to align with the international community to ensure the stability of Hasina’s regime which is pivotal for India’s security concerns.

Experts say that New Delhi and Dhaka should use this opportunity to sensitise the world that Pakistan is the fulcrum of terrorism, and till its agencies, like the ISI, are neutralised, the world, beginning with our neighbourhood, cannot be free of terrorism. #

First published in India Today, India, March 5, 2009

@ Copyright 2008 India Today Group

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

BDR Massacre, aftermath and historical facts

Photo AFP: The army's commander has said that all who died in the violence will be buried with state honours

ON FEBRUARY 26, 2009 hundred and thirty six Army officers has been gun downed by the soldiers at Pilkhana, BDR headquarters, Dhaka, Bangladesh. List of the victim includes one Major General, One Brigadier General, Seven Full Colonel, Two dozen Lt. Colonel, Majors and Captains. In the recent memory of modern warfare, there has been no such huge casualty of officers in a day in any war. Pakistan and India fiercely fought each other in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 2003 but did not lose a single general. But Bangladesh Army lost its first senior officer, General Khaled Musharaf in 1975, General Ziaur Rahman in 1981, General MA Manzoor in 1981, and General Shakil Ahmed in 2009, by their own soldiers and officers. Bangladesh Army never engaged a foreign Army for its sovereignty, but lost so many officers and generals while fighting for political powers. Bangladesh proudly follows the legacy of Pakistan Army where the military is seen as a symbol of martial race.

During Mughal and British rule, Bengal was one administrative province of India. But in 1905, Bengal was divided on sectarian basis. The Muslim majority Eastern part became East Bengal, and the Hindu Majority Western part became West Bengal. Partition of Bengal was the seed for partition of India, which finally took place in 1947. In 1906, the first ever communal political party of India, Muslim League, was founded at Dhaka by the Muslims of East Bengal in the fore front. The referendum for partition of India was held in 1946; in that historic referendum 100% Muslims of Bengal voted for Islamic Republic of Pakistan and rejected the concept of a secular state. This is the mind set of Bengal/Bangladesh to-day.

In 1948 Member of Parliament Sri Dhirendra Nath Dutta introduced a language bill in the East Pakistan assembly, demanding inclusion of Bengali as an official language of Pakistan alongside with English and Urdu. But the language bill of Dutta was rejected in the East Pakistan parliament by its Bengali speaking members, saying it was a Hindu bill. Due to the mindset of 1905 and 1946 majority people including leading poets Farruk Ahmed, Gulam Mustafa and Jashimuddin spoke in favour of Urdu language. After such strong opposition, yet the language issue did not die down, because 80% teachers and 70% students of East Pakistan were Hindus at that time. The reasons for success in language movement came due to the student’s involvement. Presently Bangladesh has about 80,000 Madras in compare to only couple of hundred in 1947. Only the timing of Mohammad Ali Jinnah was wrong; he could have succeeded to-day after present declining minority population.

There are people who consider 1970 election results as a referendum for independence of Bangladesh, but in reality that was a mandate against disparity only. In 1971 India with the help of USSR, seceded Eastern part from Pakistan and Bangladesh was born. In the proclamation of independence, secularism and equality for all was the basic principles of Bangladesh. But in reality there was never been a secular practice in Bangladesh. The government and political parties never took serious attempts to change the mind set of 1905 and 1946. Some be leafs India has created two Pakistan instead of one in 1971 and Bangladesh is considers as the by product of India Pakistan cold war. In 1948 Pakistan fiercely fought India in Kashmir and Lahore in 1965, but there was no war between Pakistan and India in eastern theatre. East Pakistan people were made to be leaf that, Pakistani’s are a superior race and have an invincible army in the world. The might of Indian army was first seen in East Pakistan during 1971 war and that has created a sense of insecurity in Bangladesh. Right from independence the politics of Bangladesh is rotating around India with anti Indian views. Islamists be leafs Bangladesh can defend itself from mighty India with strong Islamic values. Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father and the first president of Bangladesh also moved around the Islamic views by creating Islamic Foundation, Joining OIC meeting at Lahore, Pakistan and by reinforcing enemy property act against the non Muslims.

A secular democratic Bangladesh can only assure security in the troubled eastern states of India, but an Islamist government will drag India into Bangladesh conflict for a low cost war like Kashmir and Afghanistan. Many be leafs Arabs with the help of west will one day bring down Federation of India like USSR in their common interest. The strategic advantage India gained in 1971 by seceding East Pakistan was reversed in 1975 with the assassination of Mujibur Rahman. By the incretion of “Bismillah” in the constitution, Bangladesh began its transformation to an Islamic state from 1975. Military dictator General Ershad with a decree incorporated Islam as state religion of the country in 1988 against the principals of its independence. Bangladesh is in the last leg of its journey towards a complete Taliban state.

In the past decade, two major political parties, Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) fiercely fought themselves for power, while Islamic parties like Jamaat-e-Islami has penetrated to the security forces with their radical Madrassa cadres during that time. It does now be leafed that, 15-20% members of Army, BDR and intelligence services are from Jamaat Islamic Madrassa educated cadre. It may apparently look so simple that, 80% of forces are yet not been radicalized, but that’s wrong. Because 20% religiously motivated can die for their cause while 80% don’t, that’s the biggest concern for the progressive forces. What we have seen in February 25, 2009 is just the beginning of a highly planned terrorist attack and may see more in future. After the tyranny of BNP/Jamaat rule, people overwhelm voted for more moderate political party Awami League in power for a change. In this election AL alone received 75% majorities in the parliament, which enabled them to make constitutional changes. Majority people of Bangladesh are now in favour of 1971 war criminals trail. This has been made possible due to the sectors commanders’ forum (veterans of 1971) nationwide campaign. Eleven out of fourteen members of Majlish-E-Sura (Jamaat-e-Islami high command) are accused of war crime.

Bangladesh Parliament anonymously passed a bill in the parliament for the trail of war criminals, which was a direct threat for Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamic party. It’s now believed that, hidden radical Islamists inside BDR has carried out this deadly attack. There were strong possibilities that, radicals hidden in the army could have also reacted in support of BDR. Bangladesh needs long term international assistance to fight back radicalism from the country. At this hour Bangladesh neighbours must extent their full support in favour of present elected government to abort being a Taliban state. #

Sachin Karmakar, is a Mukti Bahini officer during 1971 Bangladesh war of independence, a defence analyst and is living in exile in New York since 2001

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Killings in the Philippines and Bangladesh


WHAT HAPPENED on 25 February in Bangladesh and here? Killings within military units. So, are there lessons to be learned by both countries? What's the connection anyway?

To the complacent or uncaring, there probably are no significant connections, no lasting lessons. After all, Bangladesh is two time zones away, well beyond ASEAN and APEC clusters where the Philippines is active.

Bangladesh is a densely populated South Asian country of 153 million in a 144,000 sq. km. area or less than half the Philippines, with a population of 90 million.
The U.N. 2008 Human Development Index reveals:

In HDI, countries like Samoa (77) and Peru (87) surpassed the Philippines, while Bangladesh is below Laos (130) and Myanmar (132). Although Filipinos have higher Parity Purchasing Power per capita, Bangladesh has lower population growth and fertility rates.

25 February
The highlight of this year's People Power Revolution Anniversary was scheduled on 25 February. Not much happened on that day in the Philippines, except for the conspicuous absence of PGMA at the EDSA People Power Monument main event, plus a shooting incident at Army Headquarters, where a soldier-amok killed two officers and a fellow-enlisted men.

But, on the same day, murderous violence amounting to a national emergency took place in Bangladesh with the killing of 63 (body count) and 72 more missing -- most fatalities being Army officers including Army Maj. Gen. Shakil Ahmed, Director-General of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) -- the border security paramilitary organization -- and dependents, notably Ahmed's wife.

The bloodshed continued for several hours until order was restored with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's timely intervention and the deployment of larger Army units.

According to Bangladesh's biggest English daily, The Daily Star (28 February): "The mutiny of the BDR was spearheaded by a small group of militiamen who forced others to participate in the savagery, according to survivors. They said the leader group, all of them based in BDR Headquarters, started the killings. The rebels locked officers inside Darbar Hall (the main building) at gunpoint, while others rushed the officers' quarters and the arms depot."

The same Bangladesh daily described the massacre scene: "It looks like a war zone with hundreds of thousands of cartridges, several hundred pairs of boots and as many caps littering BDR Headquarters. The bloodstained floors remind anyone of houses of death."

Metro Manila
In Fort Bonifacio, a shooting incident of much lesser, but still tragic, consequence took place.

Reported the Manila Bulletin (27 February): "A distraught sergeant who failed to go home to Iloilo following his father's death, shot dead his three superiors and seriously wounded another inside barracks last 25 February. The suspect, Sgt. Elias Tial, fled after the shooting. The fatalities were identified as Capt. Dionilo Aragon, Jr., 1Lt Geraldo Fuentes, and M/Sgt. Eliseo dela Cruz. Wounded was Capt. Benito Ramos, Jr., the company commander."

The killer and victims belonged to the Army's Special Operations Command (SOCO), based in Fort Magsaysay. Subsequent investigation uncovered that before firing, Tial was heard to shout: "Hindi kayo marunong magpauwi ng sundalong may problema" (You don't know how to give passes to soldiers with problems). He had earlier asked for leave to attend his father's funeral.

Bangladesh aftermath
"Army Reins In Anger, Problem Solved Politically by Prime Minister" headlined The Daily Star (01 March).

Said Brig. Gen. Mahmud Hossain at a briefing: "We are in profound grief, but being members of a disciplined force, we have to control our emotions. If exemplary punishment is meted out to those who instigated the massacre, that will help pacify our angry officers and soldiers. The crisis was solved politically following the Prime Minister's directives.... We demand a speedy trial."

The police filed murder charges against 1,000 BDR militiamen believed to have been in the premises during the shooting. Meantime, Bangladesh authorities consolidated their control over the messy situation, even as the search continues for those still missing.

Morale: the basic issue
In both happenings, the root cause involved the most basic of a soldier's concerns -- MORALE, which encompasses many factors. In the Bangladesh BDR, initial issues were about low pay, inequity compared to Regular Army privileges, and clamour for inclusion in UN peace-keeping forces that Bangladesh deploys worldwide. The militiamen's anxieties about their poverty gave rise to deeper resentments about alleged corruption and injustice.

As for the Philippines, I wrote in my Bulletin column of 5 March 2006, titled "More Coup Plots, Conspiracies, Threats, etc. To Follow?": "Our people want change -- and quickly -- but it must be quality change done peacefully, without disruption of their daily lives and with foreseeable hope for solution of long-standing problems of poverty, corruption, injustice and inequity."

The Sunday night (26 February) confrontation among Marines in Fort Bonifacio was a powerful wake-up call. Just one burst of gunfire from a nervous Marine would have caused bloody shootouts -- considering that five different AFP/PNP units were in the immediate vicinity. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and a bloodbath was averted. That's how close to violence we were following the main 2006 EDSA Commemoration from which President Arroyo had again absented herself.

Vital lesson
Whether in the Philippines, Bangladesh or elsewhere, let us treat our military, police and paramilitary personnel well and equitably. They do not have to be coddled. Neither should they be involved in tugs-of-war among power-brokers manoeuvring for political ascendancy. What uniformed public servants expect is a level playing field of opportunity to enable them and their families to rise above the poverty into which they were born.

Morale is the key. Today, Filipino morale is way down. So are PGMA's trust-ratings. Need we say more? #

First published by ABS-CBN online, March 12, 2009

Fidel Valdez Ramos, former was the 12th President of the Philippines, an engineer by training and took military as career and became chief of military, February 1986 was swept into military leadership of the people power revolution (EDSA)

Mutiny tests Bangladesh's government

Photo Pavel Rahman/Associated Press: A Bangladeshi border guard's daughter was consoled by a police officer at the guards' headquarters. Her father was missing after reporting back


SHIEKH HASINA survived when gunmen executed her extended family late one summer's night in 1975. She survived again when assassins hurled 13 grenades at her political rally in 2004, instantly killing two dozen people.

Today, barely two months into her tenure as prime minister of this fractious, poor and coup-prone country, she confronts her greatest challenge yet: an unusually savage mutiny by border guards that left soldiers buried in mass graves late last month and widened the gulf between her fragile elected administration and a military just returning to barracks.

Altogether, 74 people were killed, mostly army officers in command of the border force.

Two separate investigations are under way — one by the army, another by her government. Whether either will yield credible results or whether their findings will be consistent remain a mystery. Hasina's fate and the stability of her country depend on it.

In an interview this week, Hasina called the mutiny "a big conspiracy" against her agenda to establish a secular democracy in this Muslim-majority nation of 150 million. She struck a note of defiant resolve.

"No one will stop me," she said. "I will continue." Then she raised her eyebrows and offered a hint of a smile. "We have to unearth all these conspiracies."

Hasina, 61, has the air of a strict grandmother. She speaks softly. She wears starched traditional Bengali saris that cover her head. Her eyes are a cool gray.

She said she was keen to swiftly hunt down and punish those responsible for the mutiny. She declined to say who they might be but suggested that several factions unhappy with her agenda could have been responsible, including Islamist militants whom she has vowed to crush. Among those killed, she pointed out, were army officers who had led the crackdown on terrorist groups in the country.

"There are many elements. These terrorist groups are very much active," she warned, speaking extensively for the first time since the Feb. 25 siege. "This incident gives us a lesson. It can happen again. The conspiracy hasn't stopped."

After two years of army-backed rule, Hasina's Awami League was elected last December with a resounding three-fourths majority and a slate of provocative promises. She said she would root out Islamist guerillas, try alleged war criminals that collaborated against Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan in 1971, nurture friendly relations with neighboring India, and stop anti-Indian insurgents from using Bangladeshi soil to begin attacks against New Delhi.

The election drew a massive turnout of around 80 percent. They were hailed as among the most credible and least violent in recent years.

Then came the massacre.

On the last Wednesday in February, at a conference in the headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles, a border guard pointed his weapon at the force commander. Some commotion ensued, according to investigators, and then other guards stormed the hall. Gunfire could be heard blocks away. Hundreds of civilians who lived, worked and went to school inside the compound were trapped.

Hasina allowed the army to take position around the compound but not to storm it. She negotiated with the mutineers for the next 36 hours, first directly, then with emissaries whom she dispatched to a sweet shop on the edge of the compound. She offered a general amnesty and promised to address the rebels' grievances. On day two, when they refused to surrender, she threatened to send in tanks. By the time the siege ended, more than 6,000 border guards had escaped. The armory was stripped of an unknown quantity of weapons.

No sooner did it end that argument began. Today, the bitter points of contention are whether the army commanders were killed before or after negotiations began (the time of death has not yet been established on all the victims), whether Hasina had pressed to know the scale of the killings before offering amnesty, and most important, why she did not permit the army to storm the compound early on.

"The government was not in charge," charged Abdur Razzak, a leader of the conservative Jamaat-e-Islami party. "This was an army problem. The army should have solved it in their wisdom."

Razzak saw the mutiny as a conspiracy designed "to weaken the army, to weaken the state." Razzak's party was trounced in the last election; its share of 300 elected seats in Parliament declined from 17 in the last election to two this time around.

Hasina said sending in the army would have resulted in a bloodbath in and around the compound and risked a potential civil war between 46 border guard battalions scattered across the country and their army commanders.

In any case, few here believe that the mutiny was what it first appeared: a rebellion of rank-and-file border guards aggrieved by their commanders and working conditions. In a country where conspiracy theories are a national sport, the mutiny has become a screen onto which many anxieties are projected.

Some point to terrorist groups and anti-Indian insurgents. Others allege that it was fueled by intelligence agencies in either India or Pakistan; both countries have been alternately friend and foe to Bangladesh. There are still those who suggest that it could involve politicians who lost the last election, while others attribute it to elements within Hasina's party as a ploy to keep the army in check.

Whatever the results of the official inquiries, they may well be divisive and painful.

Equally likely, the truth of what happened may never be known. Bangladesh holds many mysteries in its heart, including the question of who ordered the killing of Hasina's father, the former prime minister and the leader of Bangladesh's war of independence, Sheik Mujibur Rahman, on the night of Aug. 15, 1975. Hasina was spared only because she had been visiting her husband, a nuclear physicist on a university fellowship in Europe at the time. Eighteen members of her family, including her brothers and their wives, were executed.

Her chief rival, Khaleda Zia, head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has also lived with mystery and loss. It is not fully known who ordered the 1981 assassination of her husband, a former military ruler named Ziaur Rahman.

The two women, bitter rivals, have alternately ruled Bangladesh for more than 15 years. The army-backed caretaker government sought to sideline them from politics. It charged them both with corruption and kept them in solitary confinement. They both survived. Released from jail, they returned to contest the election.

The key to Hasina's survival today is keeping the military on her side. Her face-off with the army came into sharp focus three days after the mutiny ended. She confronted an unusually rowdy room of army officers. They berated her for failing to crush the mutiny quickly enough and for not allowing the army to take charge early on. The screaming match was recorded and put up on YouTube. Such a no-holds barred confrontation between uniformed soldiers and the prime minister shocked the nation.

This week, in the interview, Hasina said she sympathized with the soldiers' grief even as she cautioned them against taking revenge – or power. She said the army would only damage its own credibility if it did. So far, the army does not seem interested.

Hasina's most dangerous enemies have been the Islamist militant groups that have sunk their roots here in recent years. They have been implicated in assassination attempts against her, including the grenade attack on her political meeting in August 2004, and another on the British ambassador to Bangladesh earlier that same year. They have killed an Awami League politician named Shah A.M.S. Kibria, carried out suicide bombings, and killed judges in their quest to establish Islamic Shariah law in the country. Several have been sentenced to death.

Hasina lost partial hearing as a result of the grenade attack. This morning, she sat under a framed portrait of her murdered father and said she would not be bowed.

"If I am afraid for my life, the whole nation will be afraid," she said. "I know some bullets, some grenades are chasing me." #

First published in the International Herald Tribune, March 14, 2009
Somini Sengupta is New Delhi Bureau Chief, The New York Times. She is presently on assignment in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Carnage of Bangladesh Army officers

Photo: Mutinious para-military border gaurds in rampage in BDR headquarters


RELIABLE DETAILS of the two-day (February 25 and 26, 2009) mutiny of some junior ranks of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) against Army officers are still scanty. However, even the limited details available so far indicate that the situation was and continues to be much more serious than was originally thought. It could flare up again if not handled with care by the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, the Army Chief , General Moeen U Ahmed, and the new Director-General of the BDR, Brig Gen Moinul Hossain.

2. Sheikh Hasina and the Army chief are till now acting in tandem in dealing with the sequel to the mutiny, but the critics of Sheikh Hasina are already turning their guns on her as the holder of the defence portfolio for not reacting promptly to the mutiny in order to put it down and prevent the massacre of a large number of senior officers of the Army by the jawans (soldiers) and other junior ranks of the BDR. While the Army chief himself has reiterated his faith in the civilian leadership, individual senior officers have been critical of Sheikh Hasina for allegedly not allowing the Army to intervene on February 25 itself after the mutiny broke out and for trying to deal with the situation through her Home Minister, Sahara Khatun, under whom the BDR comes.

3. The constitution of two parallel probe committees-----one by the Home Minister and the other by the Army--- speaks of the lack of confidence of the army in the thoroughness of any probe by the committee set up by the Home Minister. Reports indicate that only those, who did not participate in the mutiny, have so far surrendered to the Army or the police and that many---if not most---of those who participated in the mutiny have managed to go underground. The Army is focussing its enquiries on those , who held the peace talks with the Home Minister in a local restaurant in response to his appeal before the talks broke down. The suspected ring leaders are four Deputy Assistant Directors (DAD) of the BDR-----Touhidul Alam, Nasiruddin Khan, Mirza Habibur Rahman and Abdul Jalil, --- sepoy Md Selim and Abdur Rahim, whose rank in the BDR is not known.

4. The National Standing Committee of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Begum Khalida Zia,in a statement on February 28,2009, alleged that the 'action and reaction' in the wake of the killings in the mutiny proved the Government's total failure to resolve the crisis. “Narrow mentality and controversial steps and statements of the Government made the situation more complex,” it said and added: "The Government could not take timely steps to prevent the killing of army officers and their family members, and torture on women and children.The Prime Minister, who is also the Defence Minister, cannot avoid responsibility for the failure to take effective measures to protect arms and ammunition, and prevent escape of criminals.”

5. From the details available so far, the following reconstruction is possible: Maj Gen Shakil Ahmed, who was the Director-General of the BDR, and his wife were extremely unpopular with the jawans of the BDR, who used to accuse them of being corrupt and of misusing or misappropriating funds meant for providing relief to the families of poor jawans. The BDR was observing the BDR Week from February 24,2009, to mark its raising day. About 6300 personnel of the BDR were to participate in the various functions organised in this connection. About 3300 of them belonged to BDR battalions stationed in Dhaka. The remaining came from the various field units. Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the Week at a function in the Darbar (conference) hall of the BDR headquarters in their campus at Pilkana on February 24. Some directly-recruited junior officers and other ranks of the BDR had requested Maj. Gen. Shakil Ahmed to allow them to meet her separately after the inaugural function to express their grievances to her. He turned down their request. On coming to know of this, she wanted to meet them. He advised her not to do so on the ground that it might weaken the discipline. She did not insist on meeting them.

6. That night, pamphlets criticising Shakil Ahmed, his wife and other army officers circulated in the campus. Either the army officers and military and civilian intelligence agencies were not aware of it or they ignored it under the impression that this was one of those things which keep happening in the BDR. On February 25, a conference was held in the Darbar Hall, which was addressed by by Shakil Ahmed. As he was interacting with the staff, some persons wearing red head bands and wielding machine guns forced their way into the hall and started shouting slogans against him and opened fire indiscriminately.

7. There are two versions as to what happened to him. According to one version, he was shot dead inside the darbar hall itself. According to the other version, he and other Army officers ran out of the hall in panic and fled to their residences or offices located inside the campus. Shakil Ahmed himself ran to his house. Some of the mutineers chased him there and killed him and his wife, Some other mutineers chased the other officers to their offices or residences and killed them.

8. A number of other jawans and junior officers of the BDR, who initially did not participate in the mutiny, took guns from the BDR armoury and joined the mutineers in their killing spree. Thousands of bullets were fired indiscriminately all over the campus by rampaging personnel of the BDR. When Sheikh Hasina heard of the mutiny and the firing, she thought that the mutineers had taken some Army officers hostage. She, therefore, asked her Home Minister to establish contact with the mutineers and persuade them to release the hostages. She was reportedly not aware that the mutineers had started massacring the officers the moment the mutiny started. It is understood that even the Army chief was not aware of this.

9. The moment the mutiny broke out, there was an almost total black-out of communications between the Army officers caught inside the BDR headquarters and their superiors in the Army headquarters. Before the mutiny, the mutineers had disrupted all land line telephones. All the army officers caught inside had mobile telephones. Only one of them managed to send out a distress message. Others could not communicate. It is not known why this was so. Some reports suggest that the mutineers had seized all mobile telephones from the officers inside. Thus, while the mutineers were able to remain in touch with their colleagues all over Bangladesh, the Army officers caught inside were unable to communicate with anybody. The Army sent an armed group to the BDR campus to find out what was happening. It also sent two helicopters to fly over the campus. They all withdrew when the mutineers opened fire on them.

10.Only by the morning of February 26, 2009,did the extent of the savagery become evident to Sheikh Hasina and the Army. She authorised the Army to intervene and broadcast a warning message to the mutineers. The sight of the deployment of Army tanks and heavy artillery around the campus unnerved the mutineers and they called off the mutiny. It is not yet known how many of them managed to escape from Dhaka and how many surrendered.

11. When the Army entered the campus and started looking for the Army officers caught inside, it realised with shock the extent of the savagery perpetrated by the BDR mutineers. So far, the Army has recovered the badly mutilated bodies of 73 army officers and some civilians including wives and other family members of the killed officers. It is reported that there were 137 Army officers of various ranks inside the BDR campus when the mutiny broke out. The remaining are missing and feared killed. Their bodies have not yet been recovered. Many of the recovered bodies carried bullet as well as bayonet injuries. The bodies of the wives of some of the killed officers had been disfigured. Neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh, where military revolts and rule are common, had seen a savagery of this kind since the British left the sub-continent in 1947.

12.Brigadier General Mahmud Hossain, Director of Military Intelligence, told a press conference in Dhaka on the night of February 28,2009, that the army was ready to storm the headquarters of the BDR soon after the mutiny erupted, but heeded Sheikh Hasina's advice at the last minute to resolve the issue politically. "The Prime Minister directed that the crisis should be solved politically and it has been resolved in that manner." He described the incidents as "possibly the worst massacre of army officers in Bangladesh's history", and added that the anger among the armed forces was "very natural". He said the army has begun its own probe into the killings of its officers during the mutiny even as the investigation ordered by a government-constituted committee continues.

13. One of those missing is Colonel Gulzar Uddin Ahmed, of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), who had played an active role in the drive against the jihadi organisations such as the Jamia'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Before being promoted as Additional DG of the RAB, he was in its intelligence wing and had commanded the operation that had led to the capture and execution of JMB operations commander Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai.

14.The belief in Bangladesh official circles is that the BDR mutiny was triggered off partly by the unaddressed grievances over the living and service conditions and partly by anger over the action of the Army chief in carrying out the death sentences awarded to Bangla Bhai and other jihadi leaders in 2007. There has reportedly been a penetration of the BDR by the Hizbut Tehrir which was very critical of the executions which were projected by it as carried out under US pressure. #

First published in South Asia Analysis Group, India, March 2, 2009

B Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Government. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bloody mutiny shaken Shiekh Hasina, democracy and region

Hasina now has to deal with Islamist forces, hardline officers and political opponents
Photo: The manhunt Bangladesh army soldiers try to identify the bodies of missing Bangladesh Rifles officers


WHEN GUNFIRE first echoed through the morning of February 25 in Dhaka’s normally amiable Dhanmondi neighbourhood, few realised that an event that could change the landscape of Bangladeshi history was unfolding at the headquarters of the country’s paramilitary border forces, the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR). Over the next two days, nearly 3,000 BDR men turned their guns on their command superiors before the revolt was called off, leaving 77 officers, eight BDR men and five civilians dead. Among the killed whom firefighters later exhumed from a mass grave discovered in the compound grounds was Major General Shakil Ahmed, the BDR’s Director General.

Over the days that followed, questions over the events of February 25 and 26 have pointed to sinister possibilities. The mass graves, the scale of the killings and the meticulous way in which the insurrection was carried out indicate that this was an attack engineered by a hand far more powerful than a group of young soldiers disgruntled over pay scale, as was initially thought. Some are even asking whether the intelligence agencies knew of the outbreak, as a possible explanation for their failure to prevent it. The government, meanwhile, is engaged in conciliating the armed forces over its handling of the crisis. In particular because it refused to send the army in immediately, which, it is being claimed, led to further deaths. Meanwhile the world is watching, to see if, and when, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina delivers on her promise to ensure that those responsible are punished.

Theories have emerged from sections of the Indian press that shipping magnate Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, alleged to be close to Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, was involved. Growing counter-claims have also been made, primarily by Pakistan, of the role of India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing. While experts agree that affixing blame is still premature, they are also unanimous about the involvement of a bigger player than just the BDR.

According to Major Muniruzzaman, who heads the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security: “What happened is in the interests of anyone who wants to weaken Bangladesh to the level of a failing state. Anyone looking at border capacity would be hitting the BDR, as would anyone who wants to settle scores with the armed forces or the BDR. But there is a complete lack of information. We can’t jump to any conclusions without an investigation.”

Another security expert, who asked not to be named, looked at the possibility of a terror group being behind the attack. “These symbols — the red headscarves the BDR snipers wore, the bayoneting, the three bullets in the neck, the gouging out of eyes — are not coincidental. They are used by specific groups.”

Minister for Cooperatives Jahangir Kabir Nanak, who was in the thick of negotiations with the rebels, called the revolt “a conspiracy”, and said the officers were murdered in a well-planned way. He said, “a vested group” had “distributed millions” among BDR soldiers to kill their officers.
Sheikh Hasina, however, has so far refused to be drawn on the possibility of foreign involvement. A six-member team headed by Home Minister Sahara Khatun has been charged with investigations, but, as critics point out, the probe has not begun in promising circumstances. Crucial forensic evidence was destroyed within days, possibly hours. At the BDR compound’s Darbar Hall, for example, where the massacre allegedly began, blood had been washed away and chairs neatly stacked at the side by the evening of February 27. In addition, it is suspected that the scenes of the mutiny and the accounts of what happened were manipulated.

Major General Ahmed’s house, for instance, was found in a shambles, with every item of furniture strewn across the floor. Blood and shattered glass covered all available space. Yet, in the midst of the chaos, a five-foot glass cabinet containing heirloom crystal was left completely untouched, apparently because the mutineers “didn’t want the antiques”, according to Major Shumon Ahmed, who led reporters around the ransacked home. Was the destruction visible at the house enhanced after the event to make the BDR attack appear even more vicious? Why, after all, would soldiers bent on havoc reserve care for glass ornaments in an otherwise plundered house?

There are other conflicting accounts of what exactly happened, and to whom, which the investigation will be expected to reconcile. The rebellion broke out at about 9.30am while Major General Ahmed was addressing around 3,000 BDR men in the Darbar Hall — on this, survivors agree. From there on, versions vary. A source close to the army claims a soldier stood up and began demanding to know whether he had raised BDR grievances with the Prime Minister during her visit the previous day. Ahmed was shot when he refused to ‘obey’ orders to sit down. Survivor Colonel Shams says the soldier ran out and tried to put a gun to Major General Ahmed’s head. According to others, a group of soldiers, waiting behind the main stage with guns, ambushed the Director General during the meleé. While there will inevitably be differences in the way events are recalled, the discrepancies only add further complexity to an already problematic situation.

Hasina has a lot to worry about. There are many sidelined army and intelligence officers who have links with hardline Islamic groups who consolidated themselves during the tenure of Khaleda Zia who formed a government, in 2001, with the support of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Many in Bangladesh agree that the mutiny was the handiwork of ‘antidemocratic’ forces comprising Islamic organisations, mainstream politicians and hardline army officers. The officers, in particular, fear being prosecuted if the 1971 cases are reopened.

Bangladeshi intelligence is also under the spotlight like never before. Serious questions have been raised about both the National Security Intelligence and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, which were unable to provide warning of the revolt. Some, like Lt Colonel Kamruzzaman, have claimed that the only way it could have happened was with intelligence complicity: “Field agents of intelligence agencies were involved. They knew everything.” Sheikh Hasina herself has said little — it is only too obvious that Bangladeshi intelligence was on the ball when they told her to leave the country two years ago because she was facing death threats. But she is facing mounting pressure to hold intelligence to account. Even if the theory of its involvement does not ultimately hold, the questions over its failure will remain.

And what about the role of the armed forces? Immediately after the attack, they were given the opportunity to communicate with the public on a new footing, on a fresh wave of public support. Media analysts have commented on how the massacre gave the army an opportunity to repair its battered reputation following the two-year rule of the military-backed caretaker government. While the army was previously held in some mistrust, it became the victim overnight. And all talk vanished of the alleged excesses of its term in behind-the-scenes power.
Now it faces an uncertain future, and is still testing its relationship with the government. Having taken a severe hit, with some claiming the number of officers killed was the same if not more as that of the war dead of 1971, action is being drafted to restore the army to even better form than before. Within a week, Sheikh Hasina had signalled major changes to the defence forces, including the reorganisation of the paramilitaries’ operational responsibilities.

Yet many in the army are still sore, it is claimed, over the way the mutiny was handled. While troops were in place in the vicinity of the BDR compound by 11.30am on February 25, they received no permission to enter — Sheikh Hasina preferred talks and negotiations with the rebels while the bloodbath was in progress. This has led, in the aftermath, to “awkward questions” from officers during closed-door talks, and rumour has it that the army is looking to avenge for its losses. Says a source close to the army: “If they had gone in with tanks, its true there would have been more deaths, but they would have been BDR deaths. It is possible that they will continue to ask for concessions, because they believe they suffered needless casualties. They will want something in return.” This has placed complete pressure on Sheikh Hasina to rebuild their confidence, not only for the defence of her country, but also for the stability of her government.

The BDR also faces a new future under the command of its new Director General, Brigadier General Mohammad Mainul Islam. Amid calls to have it disbanded due to the spectacular failure of the chain of command, it is clear that there is little possibility of its remaining as it was before the uprising.

As for Sheikh Hasina, how she will be seen by Bangladesh is still to be decided. So far, she has earned praise from some quarters for her initial handling of the crisis, just weeks into her administration. The fact that the crisis was handled and directed by the government, and not the military, is being interpreted as a sign that here is an administration prepared to take control. While some in the army may have felt aggrieved, it was reassuring to others that the country was now under a stable, civilian, democratic government, depriving the military of the dominant role it has assumed at various stages in Bangladesh’s history. Sheikh Hasina’s stance has also enhanced her global standing, but the real test is still to come, and will depend on the transparency and credibility of the mutiny investigation. The reformed BDR will be under constant watch, and a new reservoir of trained, capable soldiers will have to be gathered quickly. In the process, the government and army will be expected to ensure fairness and address all major personnel issues.

How Sheikh Hasina handles wavering army support is also being monitored as a key indicator of her government’s ability to survive. Ultimately, the crisis represents her finest balancing act: her negotiations to address army grievances risk her being seen as too far in its camp, which would cost her the public legitimacy she appeared to win in epic proportions during last December’s election. And if she is unable to win army favour in the coming weeks, she faces the risk of military discontent, raising the threat of a possible coup. There is also the question of whom an independent, full investigation implicates. If there are actors involved in the mutiny who are in current positions of power and responsibility, Sheikh Hasina will face the tough test of removing them, even if they have previously served her interests.

Maintaining equilibrium in the circumstances will be a major task, and perhaps not what the government was expecting so soon into its honeymoon period. But to resolve these issues is the only choice it has. #

First published in Tehelka magazine, New Delhi, March 14, 2009

Fariha Karim is a freelance journalist based in Bangladesh and the United Kingdom