Shah Mohammed Saifuddin
Since the independence, Bangladesh Rifles, the first line of defense, have been combating smuggling, human trafficking, drug trafficking and other illegal activities along the border and have made supreme sacrifices to protect the lives and properties of the people from enemy invasion with great courage and valor. Bangladesh Rifles have earned worldwide recognition for its determination, patriotism, and professionalism when they successfully repelled a large invasion by Indian border security force at Roumari point in 2001.
Despite its performance and patriotism, the members of Bangladesh Rifles got little attention from successive governments to alleviate the problem of poor pay and benefit structures allowed for them. Nevertheless, they continued to discharge their duties with utmost sincerity and took part in all nation building activities maintaining professionalism and discipline.
On 25th Feb, 2009, the nation was shocked at the news that some BDR members had revolted and killed many officers who were on deputation from Bangladesh army to protest against poor pay and benefit structures and alleged corruption by the late Director General.
The mutineers asked the government to implement a set of demands on a priority basis to address the problems of the members of Bangladesh Rifles. Some of these demands are as follows:
- withdrawing army officers from all command posts of BDR and recruiting new officers from BCS cadres
- allowing full rationing for BDR members
- sending BDR personnel to U.N. peacekeeping missions
- revamping salary structures and promotion procedures
- allowing defense allowances for BDR members
- procuring more transportation vehicles to guard the long porous border with India and Myanmar
- increasing the quality of food and
- improving educational and medical facilities for the family members of soldiers
Because of defense strategy and lack of manpower, it will not be possible to withdraw army officers from the command posts of BDR, but the rest of the demands deserve due consideration because these are logical and should have been given to the BDR members a long time ago for they put their lives in danger to safeguard the frontiers of the country. It is, therefore, hoped that the government will take appropriate measures to remove the grievances of BDR members to stop the occurrences of similar incidents in the future.
Now, let us examine whether there are any political motivations behind this unfortunate incident that shocked the entire nation.
The revolt: actors involved, motivations and methods employed
The relationship between Awami League and the defense forces of the country has never been cordial because of latter’s security outlook that anticipates no security threat from India and considers defense expenditures needless. A few clauses of the 25 year friendship treaty that virtually eliminated Bangladesh’s sovereign right to seek assistance from other friendly nations to expand and modernize its armed forces and the subsequent step motherly attitude of the government and the formation of Rakkhi Bahini had cerated widespread resentment among the army officers. Instead of taking appropriate measures to remove the legitimate grievances of the army officers, the then government continued with their suppressive and discriminatory policies to neglect, humiliate and alienate the armed forces, which ultimately led to the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with most of his family members at the hands of a few young army officers.
Awami League has never forgotten the incident nor forgiven the armed forces for the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and left no stone unturned to avenge the incident in 1975 by creating divisions in the armed forces through various political machinations.
The comments of LGRD minister after the BDR mutiny is a testament to the fact that his party still holds grudges against the army for the death of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and other four prominent leaders of Awami League in 1975 at the hands of a section of army officers. He said, “If the trial of Bangabandhu and four national leaders killing cases were held in time and the offender were brought into justice, the Pilkhana tragedy was not take place” (Feb, 28, 2009, The Daily Star). Does it not show the deep resentment of the current government against the army for the incidents in 1975?
After the political change in 1/11, the military backed government had thrown many Awami League leaders into jail for their alleged involvement in financial scandal and abuse of power, which, many believe, has caused further deterioration in the relationship between the armed forces and Awami League. After the elections, Awami League’s virulent verbal attack on the army for its role in 1/11 is a testament to the fact that they wanted to weaken the army so that the latter could never repeat a 1/11 like situation to bring about political changes in the country.
India has its own agenda to diminish our defense capability because it needs a subservient military in Bangladesh to easily establish total domination on 4096 km Indo-Bangla border and use our defense and intelligence resources to its advantage to quell ongoing insurgencies in its North East region. India’s abortive misadventure inside Bangladesh territory in 2001 forced them to reorganize their security policy vis a vis Bangladesh and emphasize the need to search for new avenues to play larger role in the matters related to defense of Bangladesh and neutralize Chinese influence on our defense forces. But this could only be accomplished through active cooperation from a friendly government in Bangladesh to create tension within our defense forces to break their morale and make it imperative for Bangladesh to seek Indian help in reorganizing the defense system.
So, the BDR mutiny may be the case of a teamwork between a foreign external intelligence agency and some political elements within the country to set the stage for the departure of the army officers from Bangladesh Rifles to weaken it and to tarnish the image of the army before the whole nation to break their morale.
The assertion that some local political elements and India are working together to weaken the security systems of Bangladesh may be true because the government’s quick decision to grant general amnesty to all rebellious members of Bangladesh Rifles without assessing the ground reality and to not allow any military action to quell the rebellion, which gave the mutineers enough time to put forth a set of demands and flee in groups from the BDR headquarters seems to be a preplanned strategy to instigate a rebellion, break the chain of command, kill large number of officers, and to ensure safe exit for the mutineers.
If the local and foreign conspirators who planned, directed, and implemented the rebellion are not identified and the rebellious members of BDR who broke the chain command are not brought to justice such occurrences of rebellion may be repeated in other security forces to destabilize the entire nation and create a situation for external powers to intervene in the name of peacekeeping.
Findings of the army report
The army formed its own 20 member probe committee on 2nd March, led by Lt. General Jahangir Alam Chowdhury, to investigate into the gruesome murder of army officers by the rebels at BDR headquarters on 25th Feb, 2009 and this probe committee acted separately from the committee formed by the government to investigate into the same matter. After investigating for more than two months, the committee has made the summary of their report public for the sake of transparency of their work. The army report published in various newspapers identified the following reasons for the BDR mutiny:
- Wrong impression about the facilities of the army
- Lack of transparency in establishing and running BDR shops
- Delay in payment of duty allowances for the 2008 national elections
- Misunderstanding about lease and contracts of different works in the BDR headquarters
- Wrong impression about the BDR’s director general Shakil Ahmed, and his wife Nazneen Shakil and Dhaka sector commander Mujibul Haque’s alleged in irregularities
- Delay made by the Home and Finance ministries in resolving BDR problems
The army report on BDR mutiny did not find any convincing evidence of any direct or indirect militant links simply because of the fact that the extremists did not have the elaborate network and manpower to plan and execute a mission deep inside the military establishment of Bangladesh with a pinpoint accuracy to kill almost 15% officers of Bangladesh army within the space of 24 hours as the previous democratically elected government had already dismantled the countrywide terror network of JMB, the most powerful extremist group in the country and executed its top masterminds as part of continuous effort to fight terrorists for which Bangladesh has partnered with international community and received high praise from across the world.
Criticism of the army report
In investigating such a complex and dangerous incident that paralyzed the entire defense system of the country, the investigators should have proper authority to contact, interrogate, and collect information from people who had direct or indirect contacts with the rebels before and after the mutiny to explore local and external linkages. They also should have followed a similar structured method described below to accomplish the investigation process:
- Identifying and defining the scope of the problem
- Setting and determining the scope of the investigation objectives
- Assembling adequate manpower with appropriate skills and experience to form a committee
- Identifying target population for interrogation/questioning
- Verifying and confirming collected information for accuracy
- Submitting the findings and recommendations to the government
But the military investigators had to narrow down their scope of investigation to exclude exploring the possibility of political and external connections because of lack of proper government authorizations to contact and interrogate certain people. Many believe, the restrictions on the investigators may have been imposed to protect the local and external conspirators who had teamed up to play havoc with the defense system of the country.
Even though the army report did not find any convincing links of politicians and external powers to this sad episode that shook the entire defense system of the country, the involvement of some elements within the government and some foreign intelligence agencies should not be ruled out because, as per the report, the government imposed restrictions on investigators to limit their power to collect necessary evidence, verify obtained information, and confirm information sources to identify, investigate, establish and confirm involvement of political and foreign elements in the mindless killing of the officers at the BDR headquarters.
The events in the BDR headquarters were meticulously planned by some powerful quarters to use BDR against army to kill as many officers as possible to leave no able hands to lead this force in order to achieve the goals of destroying the border defense system of the country, avenging the incident in Roumari in 2001, proving BDR as an indisciplined force to create a situation to make it imperative to reorganize it with the help of a certain neighbor and creating a permanent mistrust and suspicion between the two forces entrusted with the responsibilities of protecting national security..
The political connections to the incident are visible from a series of events, including a section of politicians and media launched a vituperative attack on the army for its role in the events on and after 1/11 to instigate anti army sentiment across the country; the government did not order 350 RAB personnel, who reached the gate of BDR headquarters at 10:10 am, for an action against the mutineers, who were yet to be organized and set up heavy arms at the gates of the headquarters; the government ordered the 46th brigade of Bangladesh army, who reached the gates of the BDR headquarters at 10:50 am, to go out of sight from the headquarters which gave the rebels enough time to organize themselves to kill and torture more people in the BDR complex; the mutineers were given a chance to contact the media to propagate unfounded accusations against Bangladesh army; and a list was prepared in advance to torture and kill the wives of the army officers.
Even though the army report attributed the failure of Juba League’s president Jahangir Kabir Nanak and general secretary Mirza Azam in the negotiation with the rebels to surrender arms and release the hostages to lack of professionalism, the thing that is still bugging a lot of people is the reason why the prime minister chose these two fellows who had no prior experience in crisis management and had a criminal record of killing 11 Innocent civilians by setting fire to a double decker bus near Sheraton hotel in 2004. Let me quote the passage from the report published in a newspaper( The New Nation, Jun, 3, 2007), where one of the top Awami League leaders, Mr. Sheikh Selim, disclosed the cold blooded murder of innocent civilians by Nanak and Azam:
“He also disclosed that AL’s front organisation Juba League’s president Jahangir Kabir Nanak and general secretary Mirza Azam were involved in killing 11 people by setting fire to a double-decker BRTC bus near Dhaka Sheraton Hotel in 2004. Both Nanak and Azam held a meeting at Juba League office in the evening on that day and made a plan to commit the arson. “I protested the incident to our party chief and told her the politics cannot be done in such a way,” the investigators said quoted Selim as saying.”
Although the investigators were able to confirm the involvement of a local Awami League leader, Torab Ali, in the mutiny, they, however, were unable to establish a link between him and his partners in the political circle due to absence of government authorizations to contact and question the top ruling party leaders. This, many believe, may have been done to conceal the political connections to the mutiny and the subsequent murder of scores of brilliant army officers.
It is astounding that the military investigators did not even try to explore external connections to the mutiny because such an impeccable operation to carryout large scale killings of army officers was not the work of a bunch of youngsters, but rather the work of a professional organization who had inside information to plan and execute such a flawless military mission at the heart of the nation’s defense establishment to take out all the intended targets and ensure safe exit for all those who took part in it.
There is a growing fear of Indian involvement in the BDR revolt and the mass killing of the army officers at the BDR headquarters because of the comments of Mr. Pranab Mukharjee who said, “I had to go out of my way to issue a stern warning to those trying to destabilise the Sheikh Hasina government in Bangladesh that if they continued with their attempts, then India would not sit idle.” (OUTLOOK india.com, Mar, 16, 2009) , which is another way of saying that India would have approved a direct military intervention if developments in Bangladesh had gone against their strategic interest.
The same report also said, “New Delhi had conveyed it was willing to take counter-measures in Dhaka, direct intervention included.” Now the question is why did the Indian minister issue such a warning to Bangladesh? Did he not believe the people and the security forces of Bangladesh are capable enough to protect their own prime minister? Or did he want to conceal India’s own involvement in the mutiny through intimidation? Whatever the case may be, India’s over enthusiasm in our internal affairs has raised some serious suspicions about its intentions with regard to our national security.
The order to put Indian air force on a stand by mode (Samachar.com, mar, 2, 2009) and deploy para commandos from Agra to West Bengal (The Times of India, Mar, 4, 2009) to deal with emergency situations can also be construed as Indian attempts to interfere in our internal affairs using the tensions created after the mutiny, and if we combine this with the comments of Mr. Pranab Mukharjee then a strategic scenario emerges where Bangladesh is being destabilized with the intent to force herself into a long term bilateral security arrangements to pave the way for India to play greater roles in the matters of Bangladesh’s security and defense. And the proof of it can be found in a report in The Telegraph, a Calcutta based newspaper, where India offered to send a peace mission to give security to the Calcutta-Dhaka-Calcutta Moitree express and termed it as the first international bilateral peace mission by India after its peace mission in Sri-Lanka (The Telegraph, Feb, 27, 2009).
Another report from the same newspaper that said “Details of the talks were not immediately available but the US has been keen that India plays a stabilising role in the South Asian region. It is in this context that the Indian effort to send a peace mission, not only for the security of the train service between Dhaka and Calcutta, but also in a larger context, preferably on an appeal from Dhaka, will be internationally acceptable to Washington.”(The Telegraph, Feb, 28, 2009) is detrimental to our national security because it proves, in light of recently concluded Indo-U.S. Strategic agreement, there is ample international support for India to play larger role in South Asia, in general, and Bangladesh, in particular. This is what many have been saying for a while that the bilateral task force, military exercise between Bangladesh and Indian armed forces and the revolt by the BDR members are all part of a grand design to make the security forces of Bangladesh subservient to the strategic and political interests of India and Awami League.
External linkages to the BDR revolt can also be found by the seizure of various fire arms, equipment and other military gadgets at the BDR headquarters that are not used by any security agencies in the country (The Daily Star, Mar, 3, 2009). Experts believe such sophisticated military gadgets were supplied by external sources to perform the killings of the army officers in the BDR headquarters complex.
With the growing suspicion of involvement of some elements within the government in the well orchestrated revolt at BDR headquarters firstly, to rid BDR of army officers for the purpose of weakening our border security and secondly, to kill the brightest army officers with an ultimate plan to destroy our defense system, the government is feeling the heat from both the army and the people of the country.
Sensing the impending danger of being exposed, a certain quarter has revived the old arms smuggling case and is frantically trying to associate the opposition parties, the intelligence agencies, and even Pakistan and its external spy agency, ISI, with ULFA to convince the public of the existence of a nexus among the nationalistic forces and defense establishment of the country, Pakistan and United Liberation Front of Assam with a sole purpose of falsely accuse them of sponsoring terrorism and masterminding the carnage at the BDR headquarters. In order to make their case more convincing and deal a heavy blow to our national defense, they even dragged China, the largest arms supplier and trusted defense partner of Bangladesh, into this complex scenario.
Gruesome murder of the army officers, prompt announcement of general amnesty by the prime minister without properly understanding the ground reality, unabated media propaganda to humiliate the army, reluctance of the government to order for a military action against the rebels, decision to send Jahangir Kabir Nanak and Mirza Azam, who have criminal records of killing 11 innocent civilians, as negotiators, stern warning by Indian minister Pranab Mukherjee of military intervention against Bangladesh, and the subsequent deployment of Indian troops along the border suggest the involvement of powerful local and external elements in the BDR revolt to accomplish a diabolical plan to inflict enormous damage upon the defense system of Bangladesh.
The army investigators should have done an exhaustive investigation into the possibility of involvement of political and foreign elements in the BDR revolt to expose the real conspirators for the sake of our national security, but unfortunately the army report made no attempts to do so probably because it had no mandate to explore political and foreign connections, or the Indian threat of military intervention might have forced them to confine their investigation to only a small area just to identify the BDR jawans who were involved in the killings of the officers and bring charges against them.
Lastly, the defense forces of the country should know that similar attempts to incite rebellions in other security forces will be attempted in future if the real culprits are not exposed and punished with iron fist.
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Shah Mohammed Saifuddin is a contributor to News From Bangladesh and is founder of Bangladesh Strategic and Development Forum