Dhaka’s horror

Fresh details show just how close has been Bangladesh’s brush with catastrophe

Written by The Indian Express | Published: March 2, 2009 1:46 am

The gory details of the Bangladesh Rifles mutiny emanating from Dhaka are worrisome for two reasons. First,because of the brutal massacre that constitutes a human tragedy of mammoth proportions and a potential for destabilisation. Second,the violent rebellion has exposed the tind-erbox that Bangladesh,and by extension,its neighbours — particularly India — sit upon. When Sheikh Hasina Wajed won a landslide victory in a legitimate democratic election in December 2008,there was hope that Bangladesh’s prolonged instability would end soon and the rule of law be restored,along with civil liberties. But the discovery of mass graves within the Pilkhana headquarters of the BDR in Dhaka demonstrate how close the country had come to another catastrophe. A stern threat from the prime minister and tanks rolling down Dhaka towards Pilkhana might have compelled the rebels to surrender,but the fear of imminent doom has far from subsided.

Inquiries into what happened on February 25 and 26,and why,are revealing a murky picture. As some had suspected,there appears to be an extremist cum political instigation. The name of Salahuddin Qader Chowdhury,a Bangladesh Nationalist Party MP and business tycoon,with ties to the Pakistan military and the ISI,has cropped up. Chowdhury was linked to an arms haul in 2004,arms meant perhaps for insurgents in India’s Northeast. BDR personnel under interrogation have disclosed that 1 crore taka may have exchanged hands before the mutiny began. All of this point to conspiracy and pre-meditation. According to information provided by Dhaka,the plan was to exploit BDR jawans’ grievances with the hope that once they had killed a “sufficient” number of army officers assigned to the BDR,the army would react violently. In the process,the Awami League-led government would have been toppled. Plots to assassinate the army chief,Moeen U. Ahmed,and the PM have also come to light.

The BNP leader,Begum Khaleda Zia,has pledged her support to the government in the ongoing inquiry. That is to be welcomed. However,a further cause for concern is the anger among army personnel to exact their revenge on the mutineers. They want exemplary punishment for the BDR personnel who instigated the rest. But they must persist in the restraint they have shown so far and have faith in the process of inquiry and justice set in motion. This episode is,in the end,Bangladesh’s internal matter; but given the potential threat to the subcontinent,New Delhi must be in constant touch with Dhaka and monitor developments.

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