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Islam and Politics ( 28 Feb 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A harrowing tragedy and a trying moment for Bangladesh

So much bloodshed for what?

Brig Gen (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan

Extent of barbarity shocks nation

Mass grave horror numbs nation

Brutally killed, 38 officers dumped in a small ditch

Army controls emotion, acts as disciplined force

20-25 soldiers behind carnage M Abul Kalam Azad




So much bloodshed for what?

Brig Gen (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan


Editor, Defence & Strategic Affairs,The Daily Star

February 27, 2009


THE BDR rebellion must surely be the ruling coalition's baptism of fire, coming so soon after its assumption of the reins of the government. And just as when the nation was feeling elated, now that an elected government was at last in charge, the mutiny was a rude awakening to the fact that not everything is well in this land of ours.


Reports of what went on inside the BDR headquarters on the morning of Tuesday are still very scanty, and are of little help in making an accurate assessment of the incident. But I shall try and piece together the fractured information and see if we can make a sense of what went wrong. What, however, must be made clear before we proceed any further is that not all the BDR sepoys joined the rebel ranks so far as I can assess, and some perhaps also offered resistance to the rebel group.


This incident, some say, is the outburst of many years of pent up grievances of the BDR jawans. And the major gripe was the command of officers seconded from the army. But one must understand that this was a well-planned and co-ordinated action which the intelligence agencies failed to get the wind of. And the time and space was well selected: the occasion of BDR reunion, a yearly event, and the darbar, where most of its officers would be present.


It is not quite the spontaneous outburst of resentment at not being heard by the DG. In the 35 years of my service in the army, a great portion of which was spent in the company of troops and in operation under very trying conditions I have never heard of or encountered a situation where grievances manifested in the form of violence that we are getting to hear about. No level of grievance can justify the mayhem.


The situation has been tackled in a very pragmatic manner by the government. The government troops were on a very sticky wicket tactically, given the location of the BDR HQ and the other installments inside it, and the heavy conurbations all around it.


It was an extremely judicious approach to adopt the path of least resistance. Knowing when to withhold from precipitate use of force that might risk civilian lives is the hallmark of good planning. But the fact remains that we have a rebellion on our hands. And a large number of officers have been killed.


I would suggest that there is much more than what is made out by the rebel troops justifying their action. No sane persons can indulge in random killings just because their officers refused to hear their grievances.


We have learnt that the rebels started laying down arms from the early morning of Thursday. We have heard, too, that there are many dead, and the state minister for law is on record that the number is near to 50. I suspect that the number of dead might be considerably more than that.


Did it need the lives of so many for the grievances of the BDR troops to be fulfilled? I suggest that there is much more than meets the eye. And those at the helm of the state machinery must comprehend why so many lives were lost just to have the grievances of BDR troops redressed.


There is no doubt that this is also a case of failure of command -- failure to see the shape of things to come, failure to address troops' needs timely. I would also suggest that it has also been a dismal and unpardonable failure of the intelligence agencies that are supposed to keep watch over these elements.


One can guess that there was lax oversight over the BDR command by the appropriate ministries. No doubt the DG's own mechanism failed him, because it must have been neutralised by the rebels well before they went into action.


But the issue is much more than merely invoking the demands of the troops of the paramilitary force. On the face of it, the demand to have the BDR officered by its organic element may sound innocuous, but it has much wider ramifications. And when they had been living with this system for the last 37 years, why mutiny now?


There are operational reasons why army officers go on lien to the BDR. It is an integral part of our battle plan, designed to operate alongside the regular forces and designed for integration in peace-time so that it is easier during the times of need to exercise command. Changes that have been demanded cannot be wrought overnight. And the mutineers must be made to understand that.


The most disconcerting aspect is that at the moment the BDR is without its commanders. The border as far as I am concerned is unattended and the BDR is virtually non-functional. That is something that the government will have to address urgently.


As for the grievances, while they may be genuine, the government must take a long-term view of the matter. All angles must be probed -- because there are reasons to believe that this was not a spontaneous rebellion.


The PM declared amnesty to the rebels and asked them to lay down their arms on Tuesday. Apparently, not all had complied and one could see the resolve in her address to the nation that the government would not hold back from the use of force should the rebels not comply.


However, one would hope that the issue would be resolved without further loss of life. And I for one also believe that the government should not and would not compromise with those that were responsible for the killings.


Brig Gen (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan is Editor, Defence & Strategic Affairs,The Daily Star



A harrowing tragedy and a trying moment


AS THE death toll in the two-day-long standoff at the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in Pilkhana rises to worryingly large numbers and as harrowing tales of brutality come to be known, it is clear that the rebellion by a section of BDR soldiers against the officers took the shape of nothing less than a massacre on Wednesday and Thursday. The sheer number and nature of fatalities during the standoff adds to our belief that whatever the grievances behind the mutinous actions, they cannot justify the murderous means taken up by the perpetrators. The discovery of the brutalities also means that the events of February 25-26 cannot be seen or analysed simplistically any more.

   While the government has been able to bring an immediate end to the impasse at Pilkhana, the aftermath of the bloody events leaves the government in particular and the nation-state in general needing to tackle a number of critical issues. To begin with, the indiscriminate and wholesale nature of the massacre of army officers leaves the BDR – the defenders of the state’s borders – completely devoid of a command structure, leading to a vacuum of dangerous proportions. Relations between the paramilitary forces and the armed forces also remain hanging on a knife’s edge, and only an urgent mending of those ties can ensure that the nation’s defence structure doesn’t disintegrate into complete disarray.

   The spectre of such dire consequences also means that the government cannot rule out the hand of outside quarters, both within and beyond the borders of the country, as instigators of the bloody events. The government in its investigation must explore all possibilities of such interference and disturbance of national security, as it must take to task the particular perpetrators on the field itself. It is understood that in the interest of an expeditious end to the standoff, the government has offered general amnesty to all BDR soldiers. But in the process of rebuilding the rank and file, as well as the command structure, of the border guards, such mutinous elements must not only be identified for their murderous actions but also ousted from the forces.

   Understandably, there is simmering resentment growing within the rank and file of the army, whose officers and their families have borne the fatal brunt of the tragedy of the last few days. It is also the government’s responsibility right now to keep those emotions of animosity and retribution, as genuine as their root causes may be, under check. Again, the entire defence structure of the nation-state may be at stake here, and the only way forward is not only peaceful coexistence between the army and the border guards, but a return to the spirit of cooperation and fraternity.

   The grave tragedy of February 25-26 is one that will have enormous political consequences, short term and long, and for almost all citizens concerned – military officers, soldiers, politicians, the civil society, as well as the man on the streets. It propels the nation-state to a trying moment, which, if not traversed prudently and unitedly, may lead to disaster for the nation. Right now it is incumbent upon the government, the military hierarchy, and citizens alike to draw on their reserve of prudence and the spirit of unity in the greater interest of the nation-state.




Extent of barbarity shocks nation

Deft handling of the crisis is creditable


THE extent of barbarity perpetrated by BDR troops on the serving army officers, as was revealed yesterday and the mass graves and bodies from sewerage that were uncovered have shocked us beyond measure. We have no words to express our outrage, anger and disgust at what a section of BDR jawans have done.


As the deep scar on the national psyche takes its time to heal, we can take a pause and draw a sense of relief at the speedy end to troops surrender at Peelkhana without any further bloodshed. We join the nation in expressing satisfaction over the political leadership's deft handling of the situation with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina leading the way with great sagacity and rectitude. We also praise the restraint and maturity shown by the army whose pride, self-respect and sensibilities have been hurt by these killers and who must feel a lot of anger and sense of outrage. We share these feelings and praise them more for their restraint, in spite of such provocation.


PM's series of meetings with her senior cabinet, party and alliance colleagues, and very cogently, with chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force laid the basis for a coordinated approach to the challenge at hand. The consultative process the Prime Minister engaged in before delivering her decisive speech blending a persuasive message with a stern warning of a tough action in case of non-compliance by rebel elements was of the essence to her mature handling of the crisis. This also helped galvanise the entire law and order and security machinery behind the task of disarming rebel troops, rescuing hostages and recovering dead bodies and weapons.


As for the general amnesty announced by the government, we wish to reiterate our earlier editorial stance on the issue that those who were drawn into the rebellion and committed breach of discipline may deserve clemency, but not certainly those who perpetrated murder, mayhem and plunder. The latter category of offenders must be identified and brought to justice. They cannot go unpunished. We are happy to note that the PM has clarified her amnesty declaration in the above lines.


Indeed, as the full picture of the carnage unfolds, our heart goes out in sympathy to the families of the deceased and once again, we express our profound condolences.


We repeat what we said earlier, and we would like to place on record the calm, equanimity and fortitude with which the army has taken the loss of their peers. It only goes to their credit that they, out of a noble sense of duty to the country, gave peaceful resolution of the grave problem a chance.


Given the extent of the massacre the question that is naturally rising in the public mind is, could the mere issue of grievances about service condition or alleged mistreatment lead to such a huge number of officers being killed. The issue of intelligence failure has already been raised. Was there a total failure? Or was there a warning that was ignored? Obviously the situation calls for a deeper probe and unearthing of any relevant facts. We urge the government to launch such a probe as soon as possible and share with the public the findings through a discussion in the parliament.



20-25 soldiers behind carnage,

Claim survivors, some BDR troops

M Abul Kalam Azad


The mutiny in Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) was spearheaded by a group of 20 to 25 non-commissioned soldiers who forced others to take up guns and participate in the savagery that followed, according to information shared by surviving officers and some fleeing mutineers.


They said the small group of leaders, all of whom were based in Pilkhana BDR Headquarters, carried out all the mindless killings, most of which took place between 9:00am and 11:00am on Wednesday.


As soon as the first shot was fired, some of the rebel leaders armed themselves and locked the officers inside Darbar Hall at gunpoint, while some others rushed to the residence of the BDR director general and other officers.


Some went to the arms depot and broke open its doors. Then they forced other soldiers present in Pilkhana to take up arms as well, many of whom were there that day from battalions outside Dhaka, on the occasion of the BDR Week.


"If you don't take up arms and join us, you will be shot," a leader of the mutiny was quoted by a soldier, who like many others fled the headquarters on Thursday.


He said the majority of the soldiers were against the killing of so many officers.


"There were arguments between the mutiny leaders and other soldiers about the killings. Many tried to convince the leaders that all officers are not bad. But the leaders were furious," he said.


Another soldier said many of the soldiers felt deprived and were angry about the role of some top officers, whom they branded as corrupt. "There was no argument about the fate of the corrupt persons," he said adding some soldiers were also killed as they tried to stop the killings.


The soldiers said most of them broke down in tears seeing so many dead bodies of officers, scattered at different places in the compound. Initially many bodies were dumped in sewers.


The wholesale killing prompted them to flee the headquarters, the soldiers added.


They also said there was no specific leader of the mutiny. All soldiers of the small leading group seemed to be the leaders in the brutality.


They said a few officers were able to come out alive from Pilkhana, because many of the soldiers protested when the mutiny leaders wanted to kill them.


While narrating the horrible deeds that went on inside Darbar Hall, Lt Col Syed Kamruzzaman, who survived the killing spree, said he was saved by 'a few good soldiers'.


"They took me to another place and kept me hidden from the others," he said at a media briefing in the army staff college officers' mess in Mirpur Cantonment.


As the mutineers heard a rumour that the army could storm Pilkhana, the small group of leaders ordered the soldiers to bring out four armoured personnel carriers (APC).


"They pointed their guns at us and ordered us to operate the APCs," said a soldier, who was present in Pilkhana during the mutinee. The unwilling mutineers also had to take positions at different points to face any retaliation.


Some of the soldiers also said the mutiny bosses forced them to dig a mass grave behind the BDR mortuary Wednesday evening and dumped the bodies of dead officers in it.


"I saw three trucks with bodies parked there and some jawans were digging a ditch," said a soldier, who had hidden an officer inside a bathroom to save him. "There were many soldiers who tried to save the officers and their families in many ways," he added.


Major Firoz, who survived the mutiny, told The Daily Star that some soldiers helped his pregnant wife to leave Pilkhana on Thursday morning. "She became ill and they were kind enough to let her go outside."



Mass grave horror numbs nation


Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mutilated body of BDR DG found among 38 other officers in small ditch; death toll stands at 62; houses of many officers looted, ransacked

The softer side of a soldier is seen at BDR Gate-4 near Jigatola yesterday after hearing about 39 bodies of BDR officers being found.Photo: Shawkat JamilJulfikar Ali Manik


Army and Rab rescuers yesterday found a mass grave on the premises of BDR headquarters and recovered bodies of 38 officers including the slain director general of the paramilitary force.


With three more bodies pulled out of manholes, fatalities in the 33-hour bloody mutiny at BDR Pilkhana rose to 62. Those include around 50 army officers.


Of those retrieved dead, 18 were too badly decomposed to be identified immediately.


As of filing this report last night, rescuers were yet to trace at least 50 officers and late BDR chief Major General Shakil Ahmed’s wife, said sources.


Meanwhile, Brigadier General Moinul Hossain was appointed DG of the embattled force yesterday. He faces the task of reorganising BDR and restoring its chain of command.


The sheer scale of savagery the mass grave brought to light yesterday left the nation numb with grief.


Rescuers fear there might be more unmarked mass graves at Pilkhana.


“We can tell from the bodies many of the officials were first shot and then bayoneted to death,” said Major Momtajur Rahman of Rapid Action Battalion (Rab).


Major General Shakil Ahmed’s corpse was pitted with bullet holes and marks of bayonet charge.


Many of the bodies were in briefs as uniforms of the officers littered the lawn inside BDR HQ.


The mass grave is behind the mortuary of BDR Hospital. It is around a kilometre off darbar hall, where the bloody mutiny erupted at an assembly of BDR officials and jawans Wednesday morning.


“We have gathered that the bodies were carried there by two trucks,” added Major Momtaj.


A group of heavily armed border troops led the acts of mindless violence.


They said they were only protesting discriminations. But now as the extent of brutalities emerges, rescuers say, it seems the bloodbath might have been instigated by “some unseen quarters with an ill motive”.


They added that the atrocities remind them of the torture and genocide carried out by the Pakistan occupation army in 1971.


“Officers’ houses were looted and their cars set on fire. The two-storey residence of the DG was left in ruins. The staircase there was stained with blood,” said a rescuer who would not speak on record.


The mutineers ransacked and burned the house of slain Colonel Mujibul Haq.


“We suspect some of those missing were killed and reduced to ashes,” he said citing information gleaned from some BDR jawans who opted to stay put after the revolt ended Thursday evening.


Around 300 jawans are now inside the headquarters. They claim they did not participate in the mutiny or any brutalities. “But they were forced to cooperate with the culprits,” said the rescuer.


“They did not try to escape as they felt the army won’t do them any harm once things calm down,” he added.


Another rescuer who had talked to one such “involuntary mutineer”, told The Daily Star, “It seems there was a plan chalked out long ago. Those who committed the atrocities were young soldiers recruited in the last few years. They received huge sums from somewhere, and did not care much about their career.”


The police took control of the BDR headquarters Thursday. The army and Rab entered the compound with armoured personnel carriers at 10:00am yesterday.


At around 12:30pm, army rescue squads recovered huge Arges grenades, machine guns and ammunition and a mortar from atop the arch at the main entrance.


Some rescuers said they found arms and ammunition scattered all over Pilkhana. They recovered arms even from ponds inside.


Arms were found just outside the headquarters as well. “We believe some mutineers have fled with small arms,” said a rescuer.


All the arms recovered have been taken to the armoury.


Since early morning yesterday, people crowded the BDR gates and sites of rescue operation beyond the compound.


At the Jhigatala entrance, anxious relatives of the army personnel missing waited for hours with eyes brimming with tears. They kept enquiring if there was any news of their dear ones. Some of them resented the failure to save the family members.


Lt Col Sajjad’s wife was seen lying nearly unconscious on the pavement in front of the main gate at around 12:30pm. She kept mumbling, “They [authorities] must let me know if he is dead or alive.”


Sajjad’s body was among those recovered from the mass grave at around 5:00pm.


Meanwhile, the unrest at BDR outposts in different districts quietened down yesterday. At Kurigram outpost, the jawans released three officers taken hostage Thursday and sent them to Rangpur cantonment.


Brutally killed, 38 officers dumped in a small ditch


February 28, 2009


A shallow grave inside the Pilkhana BDR headquarters from which the bodies of 39 officers were exhumed yesterday.Photo: STARKailash Sarkar and Shaheen Mollah


Killers dug a hole and dumped 38 bodies of the officers of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) during the 33-hour mutiny of border guards at its headquarters in the city.


The mutineers buried the army officers deputed to BDR, including BDR Director General Major General Shakil Ahmed, in the mass grave after the gruesome killing, apparently to hide their brutality.


The hole, which is around 12 feet in length, 10 feet wide and 15 feet deep, is located on the eastern side of the BDR hospital. The rescuers found the bodies dumped haphazardly in the hole.


It was hard to identify many of the bodies as mutinous BDR men fired innumerable shots on the bodies and also charged bayonets to vent their anger.


Among the deceased officials, BDR DG Maj Gen Shakil received seven bullets in different parts of his body, including his arms, chest and head. One of his eyes was also gouged out.


Family members and relatives of the deceased BDR officers thronged Dhaka Medical College (DMC) and Sir Salimullah Medical College morgues since yesterday afternoon to identify their near and dear ones. They were facing difficulties in identifying the bodies.


The bodies of the BDR officers were decomposed and family members were seen identifying the deceased through different familiar marks on the body of their beloved ones.


A total of 30 bodies, recovered on Thursday night and yesterday, were sent to Sir Salimullah Medical College morgue while 21 bodies to DMC morgue for autopsy. Family members and relatives could not identify 10 bodies until yesterday midnight, sources said.


Anwar Hossain, a sweeper of Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) who assisted the rescuers, told The Daily Star, "I got stinky smell and requested the rescue officials to step forward. Later, they dug a place where they unearthed the mass graveyard."


Personnel from Bangladesh Army and Rab conducted the body recovery operation while the members of Fire Service and Civil Defence and DCC staff accompanied them.


Anwar said he also found three bodies dumped into two manholes inside the BDR headquarters.


A witness to the operation said the undressed bodies were dumped first inside the hole as these bodies were found at bottom of the hole while the uniformed bodies were found above.


Some rescuers suspected that the killers undressed many of the officials during dumping. At one stage, they dumped the bodies in uniform as they buried the bodies in a hurry.


Commander SMAK Azad, director legal and media wing of Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) who was present during the recovery operation, told The Daily Star, "It is difficult to identify the bodies, as the bodies were decomposed after burial."


He said one of the officials sent him a message while he was trapped in a room.


Witnesses said 16 bodies were found undressed while others in BDR uniform among the recovered bodies. It was difficult to identify the bodies of uniformed BDR men, as there were no badges on the uniform.


Sources said some officials removed their badges from the uniform to save themselves during the attack.


Many officers took shelter inside manholes and drains but they could not save themselves.


Army controls emotion, acts as disciplined force


Star Online Report


Saturday, February 28, 2009

The army today said the mutiny of the rebel Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) jawans that killed dozens of army officers had ignited anger among them, but they, as a disciplined force, have controlled their emotions.


"This is a brutal killing, so it is natural that there will be pent-up anger among us. But, we can control our emotion as we are a disciplined force," said Director of Military Intelligence Brig Gen Mahmud Hossain at a press briefing at the Army Headquarters in Dhaka Cantonment.


He also said they have solved the crisis politically following the directive of the prime minister, though they took all preparation for conducting military operations in the BDR headquarters soon after they had started getting information about the BDR jawans' mutiny on Wednesday.


He said so far bodies of 65 people including army officers and women were retrieved. Of them, identity of 47 was ascertained till 8:00pm today adding that 31 officers managed to escape their death during the incident while 72 officers are still missing.