Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) is the rename of what we had in pre-1971 era in East Pakistan, the East Pakistan Rifles (EPR).
The task assigned to the paramilitary force then and now is similar - patrolling the international border with India and Myanmar. Whereas the troops are recruited and serve in the force till retirement, commissioned officers and commanders are seconded from the army for two to three years. For a Pakistan Army officer, in the past, a posting to EPR held great charm. Firstly, there was the monthly Rs200 East Pakistan allowance which was called the incentive allowance commonly paid to all West Pakistan-domiciled service officers for serving in the far-off wing of the motherland. Secondly, an army officer was entitled to draw additional pay besides enjoying other fringe benefits peculiar to the border force. To some officers the pleasure of living in lush green landscape, dotted with sparkling aqua streams and access to king of the fruits like mango, lichis, kathal was in itself a lure to compensate them serving a thousand miles away from their homes in West Pakistan. Therefore, an officer receiving his marching orders to EPR deserved facilitation from his colleagues.
In 2005 during a visit to Dhaka on the occasion of a get-together of our former Bengali fellow students, the Sargodhians, I learnt from our colleagues that the enchantment the BDR, (same as EBR), had held for the Bangladeshi army officers had not diminished.
Unfortunately, the political development in 1971, the very lucrative service, EPR, had turned into graveyard for the West Pakistan-domiciled army officers. The 33-hour mutiny that broke out on February 25 this year, in BDR against their officer cadre, seems to be a scripted replay of what happened in the force in 1971. In that year I was serving in HQs 16 Division which successfully quelled planned uprising of the Bengali troops on the night of March 25 in an operation codenamed "Search Light". Earlier, soon after my arrival in Dhaka, I wanted to satiate my wish to meet my former senior cadet in the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul, Major Kazim Kamal, who I learnt was serving in East Pakistan Rifles. Before approaching the sprawling majestic building of the EPR mess I received the shocking news that the very lovely, thorough-bred Major Kazim Kamal had been lynched by his batman who was joined in by other EPR troops in hacking his body into pieces. Similar slaughtering of non-Bengali officers serving in the EPR were reported in different locations of the force. The Bengali officers were hand in glove with the troops. The revolt against non-Bengali officers was in fact part of the general uprising to pave way for an independent state, carved out of Jinnah's Pakistan. The major instigator was the Indian secret agency Research and Vigilance Wing (RAW).
On February 25, 2009, when the news of mutiny of troops of the BDR against their commanders broke out it was, ipso facto, the replay of the ghastly drama played against non-Bengali officers by similar troops in 1971. Tension in the BDR had been simmering for months over an apparent demand of the troops for more pay, better service conditions and change in command structure. Seventy-six corpses of mainly senior officers, including Commander of the Force Major General Shakeel, killed by troops have been recovered in shallow graves and stuffed into drains and sewers at the headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles in the capital, Dhaka. As many as 72 officers were still missing in the wake of the 33-hour revolt. The fact of the matter is that the grievances of the troops for improvement of their service structure was only a ploy to instigate the revolt in BDR.
Many Bangladeshis cannot buy the idea as to how a dispute over pay could end so savagely. There comes a point where it becomes obvious that it must be the work of intruders from outside. It is well known that the key role was played by the Indian agency RAW as they did in a united Pakistan in 1971. The Awami League, led by Prime Minister Hasina Wajid is not only a lackey of India; it is manned by politicians who have past grievances against the Bangladesh Army. Link of the army with Pakistan and close army-to-army relations is being seen with suspicion. India particularly is averse to any friendly link between the armies of two brotherly Muslim countries. The week-long visit of the Bangladeshi army chief, Lt General Moeen last October to Pakistan where a number of military agreements were signed, had irked India.
The Bangladesh army is guarding a disputed border with India where cross-border intrusion leads to tension with Bharati forces. India wishes to lay a railway line across Bangladesh joining Kolkata with its eastern states Assam, Nagaland, Manipur. The Bangladesh army is an obstacle in the way of India's plans because the army feels that free passage to India will pose threat to the integrity of the country. On the other hand the ruling Awami League, an ally of India, is willing to give water and trade concessions to New Delhi. Therefore when Hasina Wajid granted amnesty to the February 25 paramilitary rebels it was seen as a move against the regular army. Fearing uprising in the army the Chief of Army Staff General Moeen had to intervene to compel the prime minister to change her decision regarding amnesty. She had to retract and announce that those rebels responsible for killing officers would be tried.
Bangladesh's army cadre is furious over the deadly mutiny by border guards that could boil over into deadly revenge threatening instability to Bangladesh which has recently commenced the democratic journey. The impoverished nation bears history of revenge attacks that could be a serious challenge to Prime Minister Hasina Wajid. The rival party BNP headed by another woman Khalida Zia is waiting in the wings to exploit an opportunity. Such a situation of internal disorder suits RAW that could carry out its nefarious design, in league with the Awami League, against the Bangladesh army. The Indians are once again active in destabilization of the Bangladesh army through the revolt triggered in BDR as she did to the Pakistan Army in 1971, by instigating troops of the EPR against West Pakistan-domiciled officers.