Thursday, March 5, 2009

The army and the prime minister of Bangladesh

For background, visit:

[For those who know Bengali, it is strongly recommended that you visit this site:]

Even 10-year-old girls were raped, murdered and interred. The BDR jawans stripped the officers' wives and kicked them in the back and legs, and forced them to walk in this condition. The officers were pierced with bayonets into mincemeat.

When, on the night of the 26th, Mrs. Moeen, the army chief's wife, came to Mirpur Cantonment to see the female victims, she got an icy reception. Usually, the docile and respectful wives of the officers would rise, greet her and go towards her – not on this occasion. She left the premises silently.

What was it that prevented General Moeen U. Ahmed from sending tanks to their rescue post haste?

After the incident, the American ambassador has again and again lauded him for supporting the recently democratically elected government of Sheikh Hasina. Why?

Were these, then, his alternatives, his choices: (a) either to back the civilian government of Sheikh Hasina and abandon the officers to their fate or (b) to bypass the civilian government (that is, take over state power) and help his officers?

It is becoming more and more evident that the the events of 25th and 26th February at Pilkhana has the ruling party's signature all over it. As well as the army's – that is, a part of it.

Over the last sixteen years of two-party politics, every institution has been politicized: the bureaucracy was the first to go to the dogs, then the judiairy and the army. The most egregious example of the latter was when Sheikh Hasina took General Mustafiz out – yes, out – of retirement (he was on LPR – leave preparatory to retirement) and made him army chief again for his loyalty to the dynasty (he was, in fact, related to Hasina, and the whole family are rabid supporters of the League). Apparently, the General was only 'slightly retired', as in 'slightly dead' or 'slightly pregnant'. The other leader – Khaleda Zia of the BNP – did exactly the same in office.

So, when democracy was restored after a two-year military interregnum spearheaded by General Moeen and backed by the western donor governments, the army was more or less evenly divided between those loyal to Hasina and those loyal to Khaleda.

Now, Hasina has a greater following: she is regarded as a continuation of her father, Sheikh Mujib, the demagogue who inadvertently created Bangladesh. Her followers regard her incarceration under military rule as an unpardonable act of lese-majeste. They were baying for blood.

And, it seems, they got it.

But the unholy alliance between the army and the two politicians has been forged under the watchful eyes of the western donors. They saw it happening: true, they tried to get rid of the two 'begums' in a minus-two formula, but such was the tenacious loyalty of the followers (especially of Hasina), that it proved impossible.

Instead of drawing the ineluctable conclusion, as the late Samuel Huntington would have done, that democracy here is a no-go, the west insisted on elections.

In the process, they have ruined every institution that stands between civilisation and barbarism.


[the material below is unedited, and is a first draft...more later]

[On 25th February, 2009, a section of paramilitary forces apparently mutinied against their army officers and killed over 150 of them, raping girls and women, and killing many of them as well]

The prime minister of Bangladesh was supposed to attend a dinner party at the Bangladesh Rifles Headquarters on the fateful day of the 26th of February, 2009. She declined to attend, and instead supervised the march past the previous afternoon. Apparently, she was warned on the 22nd not to accept the offer of dinner at the BDR HQ, but nobody at the BDR HQ knew for sure whether she was coming or not. She was sent the invitation card on the 23nd after 3:00 pm...and then her staff decided that instead of the PM, the Home Minster would attend. But the BDR HQ was nit informed.

Naturally, the PM totally refuses to acknowledge this as true – but the officers insist that this was true.

One officer maintained that the Home Minister left the officers in the hand of the rebels and walked out with only 25 weapons! How could she have done that?

In fact, if the army had been sent to succour them, those who were wounded but still alive would not have died, many women would not have been violated....

The PM's excuse is that the HQ is very big....and it was dark. The Home Minister rescued the families that she could.

Half an hour before the shooting began, General Shakil spoke with Sheikh Hasina, saying that, probably a section, the 54th battalion, of the BDR personnel had rebelled. Shakil was assured by the Prime Minister that the army was on its way.

They were told that forces were on their way from the 46th brigade ... if she had sent in forces then, the officers would not have died.

The rebels entered the Durbar Hall, where the officers were assembled, half an hour after the assurance was given that forces were en route. They started killing after 10:45 / 11:00 am. Everybody was told "They're coming! They're coming!" But nobody came.

At first only 20 to 25 soldiers were circling the Durbar Hall with rifles...They had no live ammunition, but were firing blanks. Ten to fifteen minutes later they broke into the armory and, before of the officers, started shooting inside. They still did not dare to enter the building, even though the officers were unarmed. .

Who put it into her (the PM's) head, that this had to be solved politically?

If the army chief had sent just one talk, or one platoon of commandos, they would have run like ants! [In fact, this is precisely what they did when the tanks turned up on Stamasjid Road, a couple of hundred yards from the scene – but the tanks arrived after 32 hours!]

The rebels had only one desire – to kill army officers. And this hatred for the army had been engendered by the politicians.

Parliamentary sessions broadcast on TV show that the ruling party MPs keep preaching hatred against the army. [Is a fact that both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina had been kept in a makeshift jail for two years by the army. Every person loyal to the Awami League – like everyone in my family, for instance – hates the army for this reason. Yet the army was merely carrying out the instructions of western powers!]

After General Shakil spoke with the prime minister, the army chief, the director general of the Rapid Action Battalion...they waited, in vain.

There were 2,200 soldiers who were involved in the tattoo show and they comprised the initial group of rebels [remember that on the 26th, the BDR officers were still expecting the PM to come: hence the arrangements for the tattoo]. And who encouraged them? Outside the New Market gate, civilians were shouting through megaphones "Don't worry! The people are with us!" Who were these civilians?

Shakil told the officer the troops were on their way: but they never came.

A few jawans fired blanks – they weren't even armed. It was half an hour later that they broke into the armory and, in front of the officers in the Durbar Hall, armed themselves.

The officers were forced to march in single file, and the moment General Shakil stepped outside the door, four people came from outside and shot the General four times in the chest.

They not only killed the officers, they pierced them with bayonets - after killing them. If the PM had sent in troops, they wouldn't have dared to do this. They had no leadership till 1:00 pm...and then they started becoming organized.

There were around 7,500 to 9,000 soldiers – plus their families – in the BDR HQ – and they all escaped overnight. How?

The strength of a battalion is 840; there were 4 battalions; that makes it roughly 3200 soldiers; there were over 1,200 in HQ; 2,225 soldiers came with various attachments; signal personnel....altogether 9,000 to 10,000 soldiers were posted there – and their families of the same number. Now, the question is: how did so many people creep ant-like out of the HQ...who allowed this to happen?

MP Golam Reza was able to take out 10 army officers and certain families. He warned one of them not to say anything against the BDR because then many officers and their families were still inside the BDR.

If you ask a second lieutenant which Generals will lose their jobs when the Awami League loses power and the BNP form a government....the army has been thoroughly politicized over the last 18 years of political rule.

A certain colonel had not been given promotion by the senior officers, for whatever reason, after Sheikh Hasina became PM he became deputy commander of her regiment! He had not received his comeuppance because he 'smelt' of the Awami League under BNP rule!

Why should a general be promoted on the instructions of the PM?

If it was found that the son of the paternal sister of the maternal uncle was a BNP man, then the officer so (unfortunately) related would not get a promotion!

The PM insists that the army had been immediately deployed. One soldier died and another even received a bullet wound to his head. "If it'll take a long time to send the army, then tell the air force to send a helicopter so they'll be scared and won't do anything further."

The PM maintains that she had worked with the army, and if it hadn't been made a civilian affair then many more people might have been killed. [This claim sits oddly with the fact that the mere sight of the tanks sent the rebels – indeed the entire force inside HQ – running for cover.]

"As for the soldiers escaping, gate number 5 was totally open." Why was it open? And how did thousands leave through that aperture? "

"As for the civilian processions, I asked the police why they were allowing people to come near the gate?" [It would e incredible if ordinary people were coming near the gate; they – all of us – were terrified out of our wits, and the place was devoid of people.] "There are videos of the processions; why don't you, officers, have a look at the videos and see who was involved?"

On the question of intelligence failure, the PM was heard asking somebody "How many kinds of intelligence branches do we have? What kind of branches?" [She had no idea!]

At Senakunja, officers nearly begged her to issue an immediate order to hunt down the rebels.

"The defence forces have certain rules. We have given them 24 hours to surrender; and we have to wait. We have to give them this time. Search will begin right after 24 hours" This was the prime minister's reply.

Meaning: give them 24 hours to escape?

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