What are (Were) we thinking? Are ( Were) we out of our minds?

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I was visiting Bangladesh when pilkhana massacre happened. As the events were unfolding on the morning of February 25 2009, I was returning to Dhaka from Chittagong. As I returned to Dhaka that afternoon the general narrative dominating our media and civil society discourse puzzled me. I wrote the following post during late afternoon of February 25 2009. I lost the post as the blog website hosting the post went offline-
Today, after the trial verdict of the massacre came out, a friend discovered the post for me from a web archive-
The narrative of public mind, our media and educated class as I described that afternoon is a fascinating reminder of the fickleness of our collective thinking process –

20131105-215646.jpg

Feb 25, 2009
Posted by- rumi
Tag – Army

Are we out of our minds?

Lets first see what happened today in BDR HQ in Pilkhana area of Dhaka.

The soldiers of an armed paramilitary border security force staged a public mutiny. As a part of the mutiny, it is near confirmed that they have killed senior leadership and their family members of this force. TV footages have shows footage of uniformed bodies lying on the ground within the HQ campus. They did not stop there. These rampant gun-trotting soldiers attacked civilians around the HQ. Poor people like rickshaw-wallahs, peddlers, pedestrians were killed. TV reporting has shown bodies lying near Dhanmondi lake and bleeding to death. There was no one to save that life. Another footage showed a father was running aimlessly helplessly holding his school dressed daughter on his chest. Undressed bodies are being recovered from sewage draining out of the BDR HQ area.

The government has shown utmost restraint so far. None other than the PM has declared a general amnesty. Political delegation has visited the revolting soldiers. Even PM and other senior leaders of the government met 16 members of the revolting forces.

In TV channels, all day we have heard how corrupt was the reportedly slain officers of BDR. Jawans staging the mutiny got unprecedented media access and a total one-sided propaganda dominated the media as well as the blogs all day. We’ve head all day how bad was BDR DG. We never bothered to dig his side of the story. And we’ve never bothered to ask even if all the corruption charges were true, is there any justification of the mindless killing that took place today?

Electronic media was one step ahead. They have transmitted all the real time info of all army movement to the BDR folks.

We have heard how deprived the BDR folks were. We were told again and again how army gets five times more benefits that of BDR. We were not told how BDR jawans get 100 fold more benefit that police forces. And how police forces gets thousands time more benefit compared to a vegetable vendor or a rickshaw puller.

The morning of August 16 1975 is still very vivid in my mind. The talk of the town that day was similar to all the talks we heard today. Stories of unbelievable massive scale corruption, arrogance of all those killed were all over the town.

We got to remember and remind ourselves that taking up arms and start indiscriminate killing just out of speculation is never a right thing to do.

Our government must take a decisive stand against this mutiny. This mutiny must be trampled first. If an investigating team identifies any injustice, necessary steps must be taken in the future. But negotiations must not be only option in dealing with such a situation. Once the revolting soldiers disobeyed and rejected the amnesty offer of the supreme commander, the immediate next step would be containment.

If government submits to BDR demands today, the police will revolt and kill tomorrow. Then army will also revolt with their demands. Not to mention other professionals like rickshaw pullers, street vendors etc.

I am hearing all the latest developments in negotiations. News tickers are showing that after a meeting with home minister and reps of the mutineers, the rebel soldiers have agreed to lay off their arms. If this turns to be true, this will be great news. I am however very skeptic about this. I fear this will end in total collapse of rebel chain of command.

While government need to be decisive in not tolerating such mutiny, utmost caution must be taken to minimize loss of lives. Sometimes simple waiting and patience game can do the job.

*****************************************************

And BTW, Bangladesh armed forces have done a super job so far. A reminder to all of us, this is the kind of job military is for. They have mobilized and got ready to storm the BDR HQ in a very quick time. Despite all the anger and provocation from inside, they have kept their fingers away from the triggers most of the time. And even they have been quite tolerant to the menacing natured electronic media people of Bangladesh and curious onlookers. 46th independent infantry brigade has done the job it is intended to do.

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The following are the comments made by bloggers and readers —

BDR, Mutiny
35 Comments

Globetrotter • Feb 26, 2009 @1:33 am
I agree. There can be no pardon for cold blooded murder. The story about the DG of BDR shooting and killing a Jawan is nonsense, and even if all the allegations of corruption are true, it doesnt justify a mutiny of this scale. The rule of law must be upheld at all cost.

Fariha • Feb 26, 2009 @1:34 am
kintu rumi bhai, amnesty na dile plan-B ta ki hoto?

Globetrotter • Feb 26, 2009 @1:38 am
fariha, the amnesty should cover those jawans who got caught up in the events, and took up arms later. But those who first broke the command structure and slaughtered their officers must be tried and punished.

Fariha • Feb 26, 2009 @1:41 am
hmm..but in the face of the growing unrest in the city, what else could the PM have done but grant them all general amnesty? A full investigation to find out who broke the command chain first would’ve been impossible in the afternoon, no?

Arif • Feb 26, 2009 @1:46 am
Faria,

Plan B jodi kono akta follow hoito, tailay plan A niyee akta lekha akhon lekha hoito.

Globetrotter • Feb 26, 2009 @1:47 am
…and what signal would that send, fariha? If you don’t like your superiors, kill them. Create enough “unrest” and lo and behold! You will be granted amnesty!

Shabab • Feb 26, 2009 @1:50 am
Fariha,

In this extraordinary situation, I think its fair for the government to withdraw its amnesty. I agree with you that there was little to no options for the government in the evolving crisis. It did the right thing to go ahead and negotiate, offering amnesty as the bate. However, there is a serious concern of the precedent this amnesty sets – for the sake of the nation’s integrity, the government will have to deal with this strong handedly, even if that mean going back on their promise.

Fariha • Feb 26, 2009 @1:51 am
but that is exactly what happened.

what do you think the PM should’ve done to tackle the situation?

Globetrotter • Feb 26, 2009 @1:57 am
I think I am repeating myself, but the general amnesty should not cover the ring leaders of the mutiny. Let us uphold the rule of law, otherwise this will happen again and again.

Fariha • Feb 26, 2009 @2:01 am
And you think just granting general amnesty to only the seemingly innocent jawans (who in all likelihood could’ve fired at the civilians and media) as opposed to all of BDR with the mutiny planner would’ve helped resolve the crisis?

The BDR reps who went to Jamuna would’ve happily gone to gallows knowing that their voice was at least heard and their lower ranking jawans would get amnesty?

Either you’re naive or i’m just disillusioned!

Badmarsh • Feb 26, 2009 @2:03 am
Preventing future mutinies should be done through institutional reform. The sub-game perfect outcome (in game theory jargon) of crushing this one violently to prevent future mutinies does not apply here. Institutional reforms in the police & BDR have been long overdue.

mamoon haroon • Feb 26, 2009 @2:09 am
How can Sheikh Hasina “pardon” killers within the BDR while she pursues the killers of her own father and family. Shoudn’t justice be awarded to all, without prejudice!

Bluish red • Feb 26, 2009 @2:29 am
Uff horrible…if i work with a group…and if someone from other part comes and shoots at any of my friend/collegue…i’ll definately shoot them back.,thats a reflex…
Bdr’s dint start it..1stly some of bdr shoulders were killed by DG and highier officials…that is what triggered them up…and i think u guys know it well…after watching whole days news..

Bluish red • Feb 26, 2009 @2:32 am
Someone has compared bdr jawan with veg vendors or rickshaw pullers…well bdr and army’s r said to get the same benefits …ensured by their ranks,,….comparing them with veg vendors or civillians is very low level joke i guess

Globetrotter • Feb 26, 2009 @2:34 am
Fariha, I am not naive, I just believe in the rule of law. And I am against appeasement. I think youre taking a myopic view. Other countries have had mutinies. The lesson to be learnt is appeasement brings more pain, not less. Usually this is done by initially diffusing the situation, and then investigating and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Globetrotter • Feb 26, 2009 @2:36 am
Let’s use common sense here, shall we? The DG and about 40 of his fellow officers are surrounded by 10000 BDR jawans. But the DG shoots and kills a BDR jawan anyway. Makes sense, doesnt it?

Bluish red • Feb 26, 2009 @3:20 am
Huh…the dg shooted at one shoulder inside the darbar hall…ya use common sense,,how can 10000bdr be inside the darbar hall in a meeting,surounding the dg?? Does it make sense…we all heard it through news channels,only a limited no of jawans had the chance to be in the meeting which were held early in the morningwhere the 1st incident took place…
So i think u guys shuold use commomsense,as well as hear the full news before u make any silly comment here.,

Muhit Rahman • Feb 26, 2009 @5:14 am
It is nice to see and read so much interest in developments in Bangladesh. Most of the comments have some merit and some of the comments have considerable merit. However, if one were to make just one conclusion from all the reports – that would be that it is clear that a definitive account of events is yet to be established. Given that, I’d encourage everyone to be a bit more patient and a bit less judgmental. As facts are determined – and surely [I hope] there will be some serious investigations – the right course of action will become more apparent.

Meanwhile, I will commend the restraint shown by the Bangladeshi government and all other powers, whoever they might be, in their response. I only wish that curfew had been slapped on immediately in the affected neighborhoods (with exceptions to allow people to go home or pick up children, etc., and for reporters and emergency personnel) in order to limit the onlookers who, in famous Bengali tradition, seem to have come out in thousands!

There will be a time for finger pointing and for justice. The first and foremost job at the moment should be to bring the situation under control. I am happy to see that that seems to be the way we are going. Meanwhile, once again, I would suggest that we (the commentators) hold our fire as well.

Regards.

mamun haroon • Feb 26, 2009 @9:05 am
I am curious whether the Prime Minister of our country has the constitutional power to pardon murderers, which she promised to the mutineer.

Doesn’t the ability to arbitarily pardon murderers tentamount to or even exceed dictotorial power??

Does her pardon mean that the families of those who have died during the mutiny will not be able to file charges againts suspects involved in the murders which took place inside the BDR compound?

Asif Syed • Feb 26, 2009 @9:56 am
Why do we hate BD Army so much ?

Arif • Feb 26, 2009 @10:00 am
What is the just thing to do?
– Announce amnesty and solve the crisis for now.
– No amnesty, use force, kill more (including civilians).
– Promise amnesty, make them surrender, break the promise, and lose all trust from the border security force.

I am not sure what is the just thing to do.

Robot • Feb 26, 2009 @10:14 am
Arif, what abot amnesty for the movement but not for killing?

I think Blogger Rumi made a good point on the August 75 issue. Was the young chidren of sheikh family made any crime?

The army budget/army adminstration need to be more transparent.

Arif • Feb 26, 2009 @10:23 am
How you know who killed whom? Did you see Munni Saha’s report? Did you find any command? But lets wait few more hours to figure out actual loses.

Arif • Feb 26, 2009 @10:24 am
ps. 75 has nothing to do with this incident. This analogy is very annoying.

Rakib • Feb 26, 2009 @10:27 am
I am sad to write this. Unconfirmed report indicates much more ghenious disaster. Brutal killing took place. Women, children are taken hostage and here we are doing what! Bashing army! We talk about due process and here we are castigating one side without knowing what is taking place! I hear 100s dfead and here we are pardoning the killers!

From TV, a pregnant lady locked in quarter gurad, woman with children hgiding in bathroom, corpses hidden, thrown in sewerage line, only to float in kamrangir char! I just heard one officer dead, who I know to be honest personally and here we are raping the deads, castigating them without due process without even knowing what they did!

Did the officers commit such crime to deserve such indignity! Such brutal killing! Raped in dead!

Blogger, its time to think. This mutiny will have far reaching consequences if not addressed properly. Tomorrow, Ansar will revolt. Day after Police. Next Army.

Its time, we condemn the killers.

Thank you RUMI……………For being the sane voice in the middle of nowhere.

THANK YOU.

SC • Feb 26, 2009 @10:57 am
Just finished talking to my family in Dhaka. Two of my relatives (both army officers) and their young son are among the hostages. No whereabouts of them till now. Heard Matia Chowdhury is going in again to continue the discussion. Talking to a crying teenager whose mom, dad and brother are still missing in the melee is not easy. Army did not setup any information cell for the families.

I made my opinion known in http://unheardvoice.net/blog/2009/02/25/bdr-mutiny when the events were unfolding. I heard some other voices here and in the TV expressing similar thoughts addressing “amnesty”, “intelligence failure”, “corruption rumor”.

I will start with the quotation from a passionate blogger, “They’ve already killed their officers, so they know that they will have to face the music from the army.” Note that, not “music of the law” not “music of the land”, I guess it was not poor choice of words; it just reflects our national psyche and might be one of the root cause of the somber happenings. “Army as institute, as individual is superior to the rest of us and they can do anything they want” – has destroyed the essential characteristics of a patriotic army. This fact along with the failure to maintain chain of command from the officers, the lack of loyalty among the jawans, killing of a general in front of his officers (I hear the number was around 100 in the Darbar Hall) is disgracing to any professional army. The managers should go back to the drawing board and look deeply in their training program rather than lecturing on democracy.

Another one, “However, there is a serious concern of the precedent this amnesty sets – for the sake of the nation’s integrity, the government will have to deal with this strong handedly, even if that mean going back on their promise”. I was among the first who questioned the amnesty and asked for clear answer from the PM, but, I think it is a heinous suggestion. PM is not a police officer who can make false promises in order to draw a confession.

Another blogger used smiley faces and other jolly expressions in the same link. It is purely distasteful when we are facing a grave situation.

Not everything is dark and gloom. A civil government handled the situation with dignity and without huge loss of life. We have seen courageous young leadership Gini, Taposh, Nanak, Azam. Even at the height of the tension, parliament continued the regular business. The civil government was able to rein in the military. Someone, please, confirm that army was deployed at the direction of PM, not by some general to save their comrades – that will make my day.

Though the slain officers, jawans did not receive the dignity they deserve, we as a country should not treat the rebels the same way. Let them face the army court or civil court as appropriate and NO retaliation against the families.

Ahbab Aziz • Feb 26, 2009 @11:50 am
Many, if not most, of the people of Bangladesh have been surprised by the turn of events surrounding the BDR mutiny. However, is there any reason to be so surprised? I don’t think so, as this sort of event is not totally unexpected when lack of accountability is rampant in the armed forces, as in other sectors of the country. To stop this kind of marauding things from recurring, accountability must be established in the defense services, which cannot be done keeping them beyond the purview of civilian / elected authority. The elected govt. must take the lead in ensuring accountability in the armed forces if healthy chain of command is to sustain.

Fariha • Feb 26, 2009 @11:57 am
Ahbab Aziz, you’re right..

With due respect to the dead, I don’t think anyone was surprised by the stories of rampant army abuse and corruption.

As far as the chain of command of BDR being broken, that is a shame. But we have to remember here that this is, as some have correctly pointed out, a failure of their commanding officers who turned out to be members of the army. Bullying is not the best leadership style.

Abul • Feb 26, 2009 @12:11 pm
The Mutiny and the Untold Stories

The recent mutiny of the BDR is the result of extreme polarisation that have developed within BDR forces along the dividing line of Army vs Non-Army. And this polarisation has come into fruition involving this DAL-BHAT KORMOSHUCHI. This DAL-BHAT has been enough to spark the whole tragic event. In analyzing the even, one must reflect on it. Blame game will not lead anyone to anywhere else.

Indeed, it has been very naive on the part of our army personnel to get involved in profit making activities. For that, they have now paid a heavy price. Their image has been tarnished to a large extent. It is not good for the country. It will only contribute to the loss of people’s trust on them in the long run.

However, one must acknowledge that this state does not appear to have any mind or vision. The short-sighted policy makers never realise that the security forces can never be monetised which can only breed greed. This is not the proper economic force to generate money by doing ’social business’. Indeed such kind of activity always weakens their morale. As a result, in many cases, the border line between an army officer and a businessman gets blurred, creating further ‘anti-army’ sentiment among mass people even.

It is also true that it seems sky is the only limit for the army officers. They get plots at DOHS, almost free of cost and many other facilities which no one can get even by doing a very decent job in Bangladesh. Taking the advantage of their structural closeness with the government, the Army officers always make fortunes not only for themselves, but also for their families. Indeed, they have already established medical college, engineering college, university and what not with the money of the tax payers. Still their children and relatives get preference for admission. Their children/relatives pay less amount of money than general students for studying in those institutions. Just imagine how this structural position of advantage is being institutionalized by the Army officers for their next generations also in a country which already has huge gap between poor and rich.

Bangladesh army is also doing business in many other sectors. Even for purchasing armaments, some retired army officers do commission business. Their ‘military-business empire’ have also extended more rapidly particularly in the last two years. Even the Cantonment area now includes Bijoy Shoroni with a new connecting road for Mirpur and Old Airport cantonments. Still some people are more concerned about the subsidy of the state for the public universities. None raises eyebrows with regard to the business ventures of Bangladesh Army with tax payers’ hard earned money or to the issues of transparency and accountability in financial matters. It reminds me of the book written by a Pakistani Author Ayesha Siddika titled PAKISTAN MILITARY INC. Under the circumstances, Army officers should also realise what actually has gone wrong on their part taking the condition of present Pakistan into account.

In fact, it is the ultimate outcome of the whole society becoming a MONEY SLAVE. Defence officer seeks to have a comfortable life like a businessman and businessmen want to have state-power along with their money power. It is also true for other professionals. None is satisfied in this age of ECONOMIC GLOBALISATION. Thus it is more like that this kind of events will take place in the coming days also.

On the other hand, the whole event has also put the utility and credibility of the DGFI into question. If they are very good in arresting students and teachers and punishing them for collecting statements, why they were not being able to sense this incident! Indeed all the intelligence agencies failed in the past to prevent some zealots from hurling grenades on the political leaders and exploding bombs countrywide.

However, it is really shocking for all citizens of Bangladesh to witness such tragic event. Not a single citizen likes to see such event in the country. As citizens of Bangladesh we must condemn the incident.

Asif Syed • Feb 26, 2009 @8:06 pm
Is it really that hard to condemn the killing of a human being ? Do we always have to find some reason behind the killing ? Do we need numbers to make this situation more dramatic ? Isn’t every single life precious whether that person is an Army, BDR or civilian ? There is no doubt that the demands of the BDR revolters legitimate, but was this the way to go ahead ? Do you think this wound will just heal in few days ? Can anyone here please answer ?

Abul • Feb 26, 2009 @9:44 pm
“An eye for eye an makes the whole world blind”.

Rudro • Feb 26, 2009 @11:48 pm
It is so disheartening to watch this killing and chaos. Our society could not get over with the culture of ‘taking law in own hand’ and ‘extreme mrasures’. If this kind of mutiny still happens, we do not have the assurance that another coup would not happen and disrupt the present positive politacal development in the country.

But I see some encouragement in fact that army showed tremendous restraint so far letting PM, Home Minister and MPs tackle the situation. I think the political leadership has also shown maturity.

Finally one suggestion: Can we start a discussion and campaign for REMOVAL AND RELOCATION OF MILITARY AND PARAMILITARY ESTABLISHMENT FROM THE HEART OF THE CAPITAL DHAKA. It will diminish the influence of the entrenched power structure for the better future of Bangladesh.

Saleh Tanveer • Feb 27, 2009 @3:47 am
This mutiny brings to the fore deep problems within BD society and culture at the present time:

No grievance, no matter how legitimate, gets attention of authorities unless aggrieved people resort to violence and destruction. On the other hand, no matter how unfair demands may be, aggrieved parties feel that violence will get them what they want.
We have degenerated into a culture where burning of random cars following an accident, random killings and destruction of property to advance a political cause, mutiny in the armed forces are all considered legitimate tools by the aggrieved. There is no societal outrage unless it touches our near and dear ones.

Beyond punishing some of the involved Jawans of BDR, which many in the privileged class will call for, our politicians are incapable of arresting this destructive trend since they themselves have contributed to this culture in the name of “brihottoro shartho”.

indianguy • Feb 27, 2009 @1:31 pm
I feel bad for he senseless loss of life. A few important things come to mind. Sheikh Hasina just won a landslide victory, after 2 years of military rule. This is one incident that would at the very least strain her relations with the army.
The army I am sure realises that the mutineers have shaken the very core of the army command structure, and would have pushed to use force. Sheikh Hasina keen to avoid bloodshed would do anything to avoid use of force.
But the general amnesty, granted to those who were supposed to protect Bangladesh but instead turned their guns on their fellow citizens is a terrible idea.
All their gripes do not take away from the fact that they have killed Bangladeshi’s. I am not sure why I don’t sense aany public outrage.

Reza • Mar 1, 2009 @1:24 am
Mr. Saleh Tanveer,

Your comments came across as insensitive and cruel.

Are you sure that only representatives of the “privileged class” will seek punishment for the BDR criminals? Is there no room for punishment proportionate to the criminal act in your book.

I am confident that the vast majority of Bangladesh will seek justice for the prematurely killed soldiers of our army. And as for societal injustices, mass rebellions have never been the solution. By killing innocent officers, the BDR soldiers have made it exponentially difficult for future generations of their rank to seek any benefits.

One thought on “What are (Were) we thinking? Are ( Were) we out of our minds?

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