The mutiny among Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) during annual conclave of the Force, resulting into the death of over one hundred army officers, including the General Officer Commanding, has buffeted Bangladesh with a force nothing short of a tsunami.
The officers killed were not integral to the force, being on deputation from the Army for a fixed duration and as their bodies were disinterred from sewers and mass graves, the threat of a retributive backlash from the Army, as an institution, were not lost upon any one.
Killing of such a large number of officers in a mutiny, or for that matter even during war in a single day is unprecedented and the Bangladesh Army must be straining at the leash to get even with the perpetrators of this heinous crime. However such an option can only be exercised at grave peril to the national unity and its cost in terms of bloodshed is so much so as to impose sobering restrains on the hotheads to temper their impulse for revenge with reason and cool headedness. The country may have edged back from the precipice but young officers are chafing at the bit and the leadership obviously has to tread the situation with much caution, wisdom and restraint to cool off the impulse for self destruction.
The uprising is being attributed to a simmering unease and discontent among the BDR rank and file over the service conditions particularly pay and allowances and the command arrangements whereby the BDR troops were commanded by Army officers. But this premise is hardly rational. In every army there are inbuilt safety mechanisms to let out the pressures of grousing; Bangladesh Army being no exception. If the scenario for a large scale mutiny was building up, the inevitable straws in the wind would have given it away but the agencies in Bangladesh remained oblivious to the evolving threat. The manner in which the mutiny unfolded and the perpetrators escaped belies the presence of a foreign hand with long term objectives of ensuring mutual destruction of BDR and Bangladesh Army in a bloody internecine war which would have left no winners.
There is a growing body of opinion in Bangladesh which considers that India is behind this well planned rebellion “The killing mission was executed from the Indian intelligence headquarters through close monitoring,” Matiur Rahman Nizami, the chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh said while addressing a meeting of his party. “India pulled a master stroke by destroying the border guards and trying to weaken Bangladesh’s Army and national security,” he said claiming that the Indian media ran the news of the carnage citing Indian intelligence sources before the local television stations could cover the incident.
The patriotism and commitment of the Bangladesh Army and the BDR have persistently rankled India by thwarting the Indian dreams of seeing Bangladesh emerge as a vassal state in the aftermath of its cessation from Pakistan. Such wishful dreams however began to unravel rather early. Within three months, strong resentment marked the mutual relations between the Bangladesh and the Indian Armies, with the latter assuming the role of an occupational victor. A Manchester Guardian correspondent reported on 22 January 1972 that Bangladeshi Officers claimed that Indian troops carried out organized looting of the factories. More reports emerged that equipment and machinery were being removed from many industrial sites in Bangladesh; Indian claim being that the property being looted was Pakistani, not Bangladeshi and therefore its commandeering was justified. The situation was not helped by the poor discipline displayed by the Indian officers and soldiers who began to get increasingly involved in incidents of rape, robbery and looting. According to Daily Telegraph information, thirty-one Indian Army officers and men faced court martial for offences committed in Bangladesh, a poor reflection of the state of affairs in the Indian occupational army. Indian Government and Sheikh Mujeeb would have liked to delay the withdrawal of Indian Army but public resentment forced the same by March 72. The Indian dream of maintaining permanent military presence in Bangladesh, thus, met with an early and sordid end.
If there is no love lost between Indian and the Bangladeshi Army the relations between BSF and BDR have remained on the edge in the manner of sworn enemies at the best of times. BDR is the custodian of Bangladesh’s 4894 KM long border with India which runs along five Indian states including four in India’s troubled North East. Contentious claims over the enclaves caused by meandering boundary, construction of Indian defence works within 150 yards of the border, infiltration of agents under the cover of fire provided by the BSF, killing of innocent civilians by BSF, discharge of toxic industrial waste into Bangladeshi territory and firing on developmental works by Bangladesh inside its borders are the persistent irritants that keep BDR in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation with its Indian counterparts. It is a measure of the Indian trigger-happiness that the BSF has killed more than 700 and injured 800 Bangladeshis between January 1, 2000 and January 31, 2009. It is to BDR’s credit that it has stood its ground while responding to the hegemonic and offensive Indian tactics. It earned an abiding hatred of Indian military establishment when on April 18, 2001, 16 BSF jawans were shot by the BDR during a border skirmish.
India, through a master stroke, has landed a crippling blow on the working bonhomie that has traditionally bound Bangladesh Army and the BDR. It will take a long time to heal the wounds caused by the merciless slaughtering of scores of Army officers at the BDR headquarters and the Army leadership will have to maintain a level head to begin a process of healing Army’s wounded pride and espirt de corps. To avert a catastrophe-in-waiting it is essential to objectively identify the hands that made the execution of this conspiracy possible. It will also be appropriate for the Bangladeshi authorities to take notice of the slandering campaign in some leading Indian newspapers which call into question the institutional obedience and discipline of the Bangladesh Army and its paramilitary forces and their penetration by terrorist organizations. Disinformation campaign concerning the rampant corruption among the Army officers that became a source of friction with the BDR is in full swing as well to further deepen the chasm that has opened up among the sister organizations.
The eruption of violence at such a large scale in the Bangladesh Capital has left the two months old democratic regime highly vulnerable. These are troubled times and at a larger plane India is seeking to gain a foothold for its military presence in Bangladesh by accentuating the prevailing fears and rage within the incumbent Government and the Army. Indian Foreign Minister has already made offers of providing required funds to Bangladesh for the BDR and of whatever additional assistance is required by Bangladesh to normalize the situation. Indian media is also talking of the regional implications of the fallout from mutiny. With India raking trouble and the internal dissensions getting accentuated; to analysts the situation in Bangladesh is reminiscent of 1971.