Bangladesh mutiny - few important points

. 2/27/09

Analysis Report

Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has declared general amnesty to the revolting troops of Bangladesh Rifles [BDR], who virtually captivated the entire Head Quarters of the paramilitary troops of the country, assigned mainly to guard the bordering areas and combat cross-border terrorism.

According to press reports, State Minister for LGRD and Cooperatives Jahangir Kabir Nanak, who attended the meeting between the Prime Minister and BDR representatives that the mutineers were granted amnesty Wednesday evening. The prime minister also urged the BDR members to surrender their arms and return to barrack.

A 14-soldier BDR team went to the prime minister's official residence Jamuna for talks.

Mutinous BDR members earlier said they would call a ceasefire after holding talks with the prime minister and Home Minister Sahara Khatun.

Nanak said the prime minister would hold a video conference with the BDR jawans at Pilkhana in a bid to calm the situation.

The BDR is a paramilitary force guarding the country's long border line of 4,427 km with India and Myanmar.

The BDR is headed by a Director General with the rank of Major General of the army. Its total manpower is 67,000, organized into a central headquarters and various sectors, battalions and border outposts, mainly along the frontiers. Its headquarters is located in capital Dhaka.

The British had first organized the Ramgarh Local Battalion in 1795 by recruiting the native population. The battalion was succeeded by the Eastern Frontier Rifles, which guarded the frontier from 1891 to 1920, when it was disbanded.

Border duties were assumed by the East Pakistan Rifles before Bangladesh's independence in 1971 and later the force was renamed as Bangladesh Rifles.

Apart from its primary task of protecting the borders, the members of Bangladesh Rifles have taken part in other military operations.

This force was vested with the additional task of checking smuggling in 1958. Its members took up arms in an organized manner against the Pakistan Army during the liberation war of 1971 and several members earned gallantry awards.

But when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, wanted to merge the Bangladesh Rifles with the national militia named Rakkhi Bahini, the BDR stiffly opposed the move. But that was the first and last time the border force witnessed a situation close to mutiny.

Earlier heavy gun battle erupted February 24 morning between army and paramilitary border security forces in the congested capital of Bangladesh, less than two months after the country returned to civilian rule and security forces prepared to return to barracks.

The gunfight began around 10 a.m. local time, after members of the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles took an unknown number of army officers hostage inside their headquarters. Army troops, along with members of Rapid Action Battalion [RAB], took up positions in the narrow residential lanes surrounding the building.

Around midday, two army helicopters approaching the building were fired on and they swiftly retreated. Three hours into the firefight, the army had not been able to penetrate the border force's Head Quarters.

Police told reporters a local rickshaw puller was killed in the gun fight.

The mutinous BDR men were expressing anger and grief on the officers of the forces, who are deputed from Bangladesh Army. They [the mutinous troops] used abusive words against the Director General of Bangladesh Rifles, Major General Shakil Ahmed Chowdhury and other senior officers. They rose complains about everyday issues like the quality of their accommodations and salaries.

Meanwhile two leaders of the ruling party, named Jahangir Kabir Nanak [leader of the youth front] and a state minister for Local Government Ministry and Mirza Azam [another youth leader and brother-in-law of Jamaatul Mujahedin leader Shaikh Abdur Rahman] went to the Bangladesh Rifles Head Quarters to meet the mutinous troops for a dialogue. It was questioned by many that in such a crucial situation, why the government decided to send two of its leaders, who are famous for instigating various forms of political agitations in the country.

Although mutinous members of BDR were refusing to talk to members of media and even were firing at them, these two leaders from Awami League were virtually welcomed inside their Head Quarters by the mutinous troops and in less than 30 minutes, 14 members of their representatives even accompanied the two leaders of the ruling party to the official residence of the Prime Minister. The entire episode of meeting took place beyond the coverage of the media. But, Jahangir Kabir Nanak confessed to the press that, the representatives of the mutinous troops were 'emotional' in expressing their anger and demands to the Prime Minister.

Right after the hours long 'meeting' there had been official announcement of amnesty from the Prime Minister towards all the mutinous troops of Bangladesh Rifles. Prime Minister has also assured them to accepting all other demands in phases. One of the prominent demands from Bangladesh Rifles is to stop sending members of Armed Forces on deputation to BDR in official positions.

The gunfight came on a day when hundreds of the 42,000 Bangladesh Rifles forces gathered inside their headquarters for an annual conference. Their leaders, all serving army officers, were also present.

The rebellion erupted during a 'Darbar' or meeting between seniors officers and soldiers, where sources said the lower-rank troops got agitated alleging that the top brass had not taken up their grievances relating to pay hike, promotions and to make the paramilitary force an autonomous body with Premier Sheikh Hasina when she visited the headquarters a day earlier.

Earlier, a number of mutinous BDR men gave interviews to a number of private television channels. They expressed anger and uttered abusive words about the officers of BDR, who were deputed from army. Interestingly, almost all the mutinous members of BDR, who appeared before the media hail from the Southern part of the country, which is considered to be a strong vote bank of Bangladesh Awami League. Many of them were speaking like politicians or politically motivated elements.What impact Wednesday's clashes will have on a still fragile civilian government depends on how the mutinous members and Bangladesh Rifles will behave in the next coming weeks.

Political analysts believe that the revolt won't be a threat to the stability of the state, but it's certainly a serious threat to the security forces and their standing, their place in the structure of the state.

They said, "This is a fragile time, and this could be a very destabilizing factor."

Wednesday meeting of the representative of the mutinous troops of Bangladesh Rifles with the Prime Minister and the general amnesty will surely leave a long-standing impact on the very discipline of this extremely important institution of the republic.

There is yet to be exact picture on the degree of casualties during the day-long gun battle within the huge compound of the Bangladesh Rifles. According to various sources, a large number of officers on deputation from Army, who were present in the Head Quarter might have been seriously injured or killed by the mutinous troops of Bangladesh Rifle. At least two dead bodies of BDR members [their jackets and badges were removed to suppress identity] were recovered from a nearby area in the city. BDR men pushed the dead bodies inside a manhole, wherefrom the dead bodies moved to the nearby opening point at Buriganga River. It is believed that the dead bodies might have been of the officers from Bangladesh Army, who were on deputation in BDR.. There is even rumor centering the Director General of Bangladesh Rifles, Major General Shakil Ahmed Chowdhury, who was inside the BDR Head Quarters during the incident. It is assumed that, General Shakil might have been either seriously injured or killed by the mutinous troops of the border security forces. The present BDR chief, Shakil Ahmed, who is said to have been attacked by his irate troops on Wednesday, has promised to work closely with India countering terrorist groups active along the borders. Indian Border Security Force officials talk of him as a "very friendly person always willing to co-operate."

The entire episode of BDR mutiny is a clear confrontation between the paramilitary forces and army. No one should try to play with such extreme sensitive issue. There is no way either to undermine any justified demand of BDR men, but on the other hand to put a bad name of the entire armed forces. Army in Bangladesh is generally corrupt.

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Sabirul said...

Its a shame… its a shame. Its obvious that the BDR atrocity was not merely over their demand for better pay or ration but something that is not yet obvious.

I condemn the fierce killings of member of arm forces and their family that took place that day. Such brutal act cannot go unpunished.

The army has shown great patience and maturity in holding back their emotions and the way they dealt the situation.

Its undoubtedly remarkable the way the honorable PM Shekh Hasina handled the situation.

The country and all the political parties should now work together to identify the culprits and bring them to justice.

My heart goes out to all the souls that were lost and the family of the effected who have a difficult time ahead of them.

bombousboy said...

Blood begets blood.

I am not Bangladeshi, but I have lived many years in a developing country under a military regime, and personally mixed with their army officers, and so I have a general good idea of how such army officers behave. Particularly those that have held and tasted political power.

Whilst there will undoubtedly be many contributory causes to this appalling murderous mutiny by the BDR, one factor that I suspect would have played a major role is the Army's general arrogance to non army cadres and civilians. Army officers generally cannot listen, take advice or criticism, or yield even minimally to people they conciously and subconciously perceive to be beneath them. This means that grievances that could have been solved by dialogue and compromise fester till they blow up. The problem for the Bangladeshi Army Officers is that in this case the aggrieved party had guns too.

The army in Bangladesh is now calling for justice, which from my distant view point is rather amusing, as they have shed so much blood themselves, often on civilians, and yet in most cases if my reading of Bangladeshi history is right have never been served the justice they very richly deserve, and now cry out for.

Obviously the perpetrators of this recent atrocity will have to be punished both for the sake of justice, and to assuage military anger, but the Bangladesh government needs to also seriously address the underlying grievances, and rein in the military from outright revenge on the BDR. And work hard towards equal justice for all in Bangladesh, not just the powerful Army which has often acted itself with total disrespect for the law, and with utter impunity.

As they say, Blood begets Blood.

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