Photo: Former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Matiur Rahman Nizami & Awami Leader Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina
HAD THE Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) mutiny on March 25-26 been successful, it would have brought the BNP rightists and Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) Islamists coalition back to power in the country. That would have plunged Bangladesh into a new political and social crisis, and lighted new militancy fires in North-East India. The mutiny was a meticulously planned conspiracy in which disgruntled BDR men were used cleverly as a foil for a much larger game plan.
The political threat to Indian security from Bangladesh’s soil if the BNP-JEI combination returns to power can be understood from the confessional statements of the main accused in April 2004 arms landing case, Hafizur Rahaman. Rahaman has told the new Investigating Officer (IO) of the case that four different IOs during the BNP-JEI government (2001-2006) declined to take down his statement and asked him to change it.
Parts of Hafizur Rahaman’s on going statements to the case IO and Chittagong Metropolitan Magistrate Osman Gani, as reported in the Bangladesh media, are explosive and incriminates top functionaries of the BNP-JEI government, if not the entire government yet. Rahaman, a known smuggler of the Port city of Chittagong, has revealed that he was first contacted in 2001, by a person in Dhaka who called himself Zaman at first but later identified himself as ULFA Commander-in-Chief, Paresh Barua. It is known that Barua holds a Bangladeshi passport in the name of Kamruzzaman which he uses for his travels to Pakistan to meet his ISI handlers.
Paresh Barua started developing Hafizur Rahaman from January 2002, paying him 50 to 70 thousand Taka a month. In March, 2004 Barua gave Rahaman Taka 50 lakhs to arrange for the landing of smuggled machinery. According to Rahaman, Barua assured him that the Chiefs of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), and the National Security and Intelligence (NSI) were on board. The then NSI Chief Maj. Gen. Rezakul Haider Choudhury, was a close confidante of Tareque Rahaman, the elder son of Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia. Tareque was also the Senior Joint General Secretary of the BNP and reputed to be the most powerful and corrupt man in Bangladesh through sheer muscle power. Maj. Gen. Haider is reported to have accompanied Tareque and businessman Giasuddin Al-Mamun for a meeting with Indian underworld don Dawood Ibrahim in Dubai in 2006. The meeting was allegedly to procure arms for the elections and also had to do with some property in Dubai.
The then DGFI Chief Maj. Gen. Sadiq Hasan Rumi was Tareque intermediary with the extreme Islamist International Katme Nabuwat Movement (IKNM) Chief Maulana Noorani. Tareque’s contacts with the out lawed Islamic terrorist group, Jamatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB), were handled by two BNP Ministers Amin Huq and Ruhul Quddus Talukdar Dulu. These information have been authenticated by Bangladeshi terrorism experts.
It is also alleged that following the arrest of six top JMB leaders in March 2006 under pressure from the USA in which President George W. Bush took a leading role a top JEI leader met Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to advise her not to harm the JMB leaders as they would be useful in the Parliamentary elections. The JMB was also being pruned to launch terrorist attacks in West Bengal.
It is evident that the BNP-JEI government was planning to wage a terrorist attack against India on the one hand, and radicalizing Bangladesh on the other. Awami League leader Sk. Hasina survived three terrorist attacks by terrorists under BNP-JEI instructions.
It is, therefore, of concern if about one hundred JMB women terrorist suicide cadres have entered Dhaka, as reported by the reputed daily, Janakantha. Their target is obviously the top level of the ruling party, especially Sk. Hasina. It would be impossible for the JMB to continue their activities if they did not have support from BNP-JEI supporters inducted in critical sections of the administration, police and intelligence.
These developments were, however, pieces of a much more fundamental political and ideological war that goes back to 1971 and even earlier. This involves the break up of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh for which Pakistan still blames India, as reiterated by former Pak President and army Chief Pervez Musharraf at the recent India Today conclave in New Delhi.
A Bangladeshi security investigator who is examining intercepts of telephone conversation of the BDR mutineers, told the press that the conspiracy was planned at least two months in advance. That would set the date approximately the time when the Awami League won the December 29, 2008 Parliamentary elections with more than two-third majority, giving it the numbers to amend the constitution.
A senior army officer, Lt. Col. Shamsul, and the leader of the BDR mutiny Deputy Assistant Director (DAI) Towhid Alam, have separately talked about involvement of outsiders.
DAD Alam is reported to have confessed that outsiders were involved. Full details may come out only after the special commission’s investigations are over. But what is evident is that a core group took advantage of the disgruntlement in the force. Some joined in the heat of the moment not fully realizing what they were doing. Some left the station and ran away.
According to Bangladesh media reports, the investigators are looking into a number of small processions taken out in the vicinity of the BDR headquarters after the mutiny started shouting pro-BDR and anti-army Chief Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed slogans. Knowledgeable observers in Dhaka say these processions were taken out by the JEI to encourage the mutineers and bring them into a confrontation with the army to create a highly unstable situation. These observers also say tensions remain very high, and the government is being extremely careful with information to prevent a public outrage. Bangladeshis are highly volatile people emotionally, especially where Bengali heritage and nationalism are concerned.
Two developments which may hold the key to the intentions behind the BDR mutiny are being debated. One, why did the 14-member BDR delegation led by DAD Towhid Alam meet Prime Minister Sk. Hasina for negotiations on February 25 and assure her that the BDR Chief was safe when they had already killed him and his wife, and most other army officers? Were they buying time for other forces, political and security, to join them?
Two, why did the Pakistani government send a Special Envoy, Pervez Ishpahani, to Dhaka two days before the mutiny to persuade Sk. Hasina not to pursue with the trial of the 1971 war criminals? Why did Pakistan take such a serious view with an internal issue of Bangladesh so as to send a Special Envoy?
With an unchallenged majority in Parliament, Prime Minister Sk. Hasina is determined to bring the war criminals to justice, try the 1975 killers of head of the nation Sk. Mujibur Rahaman and Awami League top leaders, and promised to eradicate the menace of terrorists using Bangladesh as a spring board. Her proposal for a South Asian counter-terrorism force did not go down well with Pakistan. It is also for the first time that an army Chief has given full and open support to the trial of war criminals.
Almost the entire top leadership of the JEI stands to be indicted as 1971 war criminals. They stand to lose the most, and their political legitimacy and social acceptability would get a serious battering. The party would be in danger of being banned, as happened after 1971 till President Zia-ur-Reheman, the Chief architect of the BNP, retrieved them. President Zia is the late husband of Khaleda Zia. Some top BNP leaders cannot escape the trial either. BNP leader and Advisor to Khaleda Zia, Salauddin Qadar Choudhury, headed the dreaded Al Shams created by the Pakistani army in 1971.
The other major party that could be affected will be the Pakistani army. A preliminary list of war criminals compiled by the freedom fighters include the names of twelve Pakistani senior army officers including generals. Today, with the activations of the International Criminal Court (ICC) even old war crimes cannot be wished away. It would also be a serious blow to the reputation of the Pakistani army.
The trial of the 1975 “killer majors” as the coup leaders are popularly known, could open up a veritable Pandora’s box. It could even incriminate Zia-ur-Reheman whose role, covered with killings and closed door executions, still remain questionable. Did Pakistan have a role in 1975 carnage in which even Sk. Mujib’s nine year old son, and Sk. Hasina’s youngst brother, Russel, were not spared?
Eradication of terrorism from Bangladesh will seriously affect the ISI operations against India from the eastern wing. The ISI has been working with elements of the intelligence apparatus and the army in Bangladesh. Their best period was 2001-2006, when the BNP-JEI led alliance was in power. And that was also the worst period of Bangladesh’s relations with India. Sk. Hasina had already started re-organizing the intelligence agencies and the army.
That the stakes are very high is no in doubt. The JEI and the BNP stand to be severely damaged by Prime Minister Sk. Hasina’s policies. The ISI stands to lose one of its most important operational arms against India. Pakistan’s influence in Bangladesh is also challenged.
Sk. Hasina and the liberal and pro-independence forces are acutely aware that unless the events of 1971 and 1975 are conclusively put to rest the religious and political turbulence will continue to haunt the country’s progress.
Dhaka, today, is in the grip enormous tension. The people there say anything can happen at any time as the forces against the bifurcation of Pakistan are very much alive and have ingrained themselves in the arteries of the government and sections of the society. This is an ideological and historical war.
Prime Minister Sk. Hasina has handled the situation with great political astuteness and sagacity. But she will be making a grave error if she stops mid-way. If she makes truce in the interest of short time stability she may be signing her own death warrant and that of her country, as her father did. Compromise would be a sign of weakness, and the weak have no place in Bangladesh as the BDR mutiny conspirators have signaled. For them, it is a matter of survival. Hence, nothing in beyond the realm of any act. #
First published in South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG), March 13, 2009
Bhaskar Roy is a defence analyst who is specialises on Bangladesh current affairs