And,over in Dhaka

Sheikh Hasina’s record in quelling the BDR ‘mutiny’ will have deeper implications

Written by The Indian Express | Published: February 27, 2009 2:27:30 am

The last thing a country that had just begun to recover from prolonged instability needed was further turbulence,and that too of a gruesomely violent sort. The mutiny begun by jawans of the Bangladesh Rifles at the BDR headquarters in Dhaka on Wednesday had spread beyond the capital to border districts by Thursday,with the death toll reported to have crossed 50,and despite the general amnesty granted by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed to the mutineers earlier. The uncannily deserted streets of Dhaka,punctuated by anti-aircraft guns placed by the army near the BDR garrison at Pilkhana and shaken by the occasional mortar rounds,bore witness to unhappy times,not long past. So did the smoke billowing from the BDR headquarters and the exchange of fire between the regular army and the paramilitary.

The BDR’s declared casus belli was poor pay and other long-held grievances. The rank and file also complains of being mistreated” and “exploited” by BDR officers,who are seconded by the army. Many of those killed in the violence were such senior army officers assigned to the BDR. Notwithstanding the mutineers’ claims that the clash was between them and the army and had nothing to do with politics,the political implications of an armed mutiny by jawans of the country’s first line of defence run deep. This rebellion is the first

extraordinary challenge faced by the Awami League-led government. Hasina had to issue a threat to the mutineers and also make a promise to look into their demands; but how the government handles the larger dimensions to what has just been rudely demonstrated will determine not only the fate of Bangladesh but also the stability of the subcontinent. This outbreak of violence may already have dented Hasina’s projected image of Bangladesh as an attractive destination for global capital. And once the situation subsides,the new administration will have to ascertain how a “mutiny” of such magnitude could have remained unanticipated. After all,Hasina attended the BDR annual day parade just on Tuesday.

Bangladesh,like Pakistan,is no stranger to political volatility and India has every reason to be apprehensive. New Delhi is an obvious stakeholder in political stability in its neighbourhood.

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