Thousands of mourners gathered in Dhaka to attend a state funeral for army officers killed in the mutiny by Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) a few days back. The scene was emotional with some relatives unable to control their grief. As the buglers played the Last Post, Bangladesh was once again in the news for violence and chaos with the newly elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina facing her first biggest challenge in the form of this heinous and unexpected mutiny.
The Bangladesh Rifles is a 200-year-old paramilitary force under the Home ministry responsible for defending the 4,427 km Bangladeshi border and conducting anti-smuggling operations. Bangladesh Rifles took part in many military operations including the First and Second World Wars and during the Bangladesh war of liberation, its soldiers took up arms against the Pakistan army. Prior to independence it was known as East Pakistan Rifles and after 1972 was renamed as Bangladesh Rifles. It is similar to the Indian Border Security Force (BSF). It has 70,000 men and 42 camps spread all over the country.
CHARGES OF DISCRIMINATION
As it is a paramilitary force the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) is commanded by officers from the Bangladesh regular army and not from its own ranks. These BDR officers are seconded from the army for two to four years. The mutineers hated this big brother attitude of the Bangladesh army and demanded that BDR must have officers from BDR itself. The mutineers also complained about poor pay packages and living conditions. The average BDR guard earns about Indian Rupees 3500 a month, the same as a low-ranking Bangladeshi government clerk. Moreover they complained that it was not adequate for a soldier braving the harsh remote areas. BDR jawans were also sore at the fact that they were disqualified to be part of any UN Force where the pay package would have been definitely very high.
A BLOODY MUTINY
Giving a chilling account of the bloody BDR mutiny, Bangladeshi Army officers have revealed that on the 25th of February about 20-25 soldiers instigated others to massacre their superiors. The Director General of the BDR Shakil Ahmed, the sector commander of Dhaka Colonel Mujib and many other high-ranking officers were killed in the ensuing violence. Among the unconfirmed dead is also the Sylhet sector commander Colonel Gulzar Uddin Ahmed. However by 26th of February security forces in Bangladesh rounded up hundreds of fugitive border guards after a two-day mutiny crumbled in the face of a government show of force. The arrests came a day after army tanks surrounded the border guards’ headquarters in the heart of this crowded capital. Army officers were quoted on Friday as saying “security forces set up roadblocks and arrested almost 300 border guards, many of whom shed their uniforms and fled after the mutiny fizzled.”
Soldiers in Bangladesh uncovered 38 dead bodies of senior army officers in a mass grave Friday, including the chief of the border security force. Major General Shakil Ahmed, chief of the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), was among the dead found in the grave which soldiers and sniffer dogs discovered following the revolt by rank-and-file border guards that began in the capital Dhaka on February 25.
The body of the chief of the BDR was found late Friday (February 27) buried along with many others. It had been shot several times and was badly decomposed. The fate of Ahmed’s missing wife and teenage son was unknown. “These senior military personnel have been killed in a planned and calculated manner. It’s a grisly slaughter. We will punish these criminals,” cabinet minister Jahangir Kabir Nanak told reporters.
As calm returned Friday to Dhaka, one regular army officer held hostage by the guards told AFP of his escape as his captors opened fire indiscriminately. “It was cold-blooded murder,” Syed M Kamruzzaman said, adding the BDR chief was gunned down in front of him. “They hurled abuse at us and gunned down whoever they wanted. I was shot at seven times and was lucky to get out alive.”
Although there was talk of an amnesty in the early hours of the crisis, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina soon became tough as the scale of the violence and killing came to light. A man hunt has been launched for the guilty and absconding. Prime Minister is appealing to UN, FBI and Scotland Yard for help. Police said they had identified up to 1,000 BDR members for investigation over the mutiny in a process that could lead to formal charges, including murder. Special tribunals will try the paramilitary mutineers. Government minister Syed Ashraful Islam said the decision to set up the tribunals was made at a cabinet meeting led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday. No details about the tribunals were released. An investigation led by Home Minister Shahara Khatun has been told to hand down its first findings within a week. Government officials said Hasina had told cabinet ministers and army chief General Moeen Ahmed during several hours of talks at army headquarters on Sunday that all those involved in the mutiny would be brought to justice.
PEACE AND JUSTICE
The Bangladesh Rifles mutiny was triggered over the simmering discontent over wages and living conditions between the BDR and the Bangladesh army. Bangladesh has a population of more than 140 million – 40 per cent of whom are below the poverty line. Bangladesh is dependent on foreign aid and investment and these incidents could put off investors and donor countries. The whole episode once again proves the adage that there can be no peace without justice.