Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Periscope

Neither Forgiven nor Forgotten

top01Four years ago, on Feb 25, 2009, 57 of the most valiant officers of Bangladesh Army embraced martyrdom when they were murdered in cold blood by some degenerate jawans of the then Bangladesh Rifles (BDR). According to some reports, the jawans, who were directly recruited from the civilian population, mutinied as they were deprived of certain facilities in the force. Some even pointed at the alleged irregularities surrounding Operation Dal-bhat, which was meant to give the country’s poor rice and lentil at a cheaper price.
Truth however speaks otherwise. The BDR has been an organised and disciplined force. Its training and fighting spirit were at par with the border guards of developed countries. Mutiny at such a scale for such trivial matters is unbelievable, especially when Shaheed Major General Shakil Ahmed, the then Director General of the organisation himself had assured that the matter would be duly dealt with. And it is not about the killing of 57 officers, the incident is even graver than that. It is about hurting the pride of our Armed forces, exposing it to humiliation of a certain kind, which men in fatigues in any country would find it hard, if not impossible, to bear.
On that fateful day, the Darbar or the annual gathering of the BDR started at 9.02 in the morning, 24 minutes after which a bunch of bloodthirsty jawans barged into the hall. And the mutiny started. According to Prothom Alo, two minutes later Shaheed Major General Shakil Ahmed called the Prime Minister and the Army chief up, seeking help. He, along with most of the officers stationed in Pilkhana, was killed around one hour later.
Whether the government had handled the mutiny well or whether not sending the 46th Infantry Brigade (46-IB) of the Army, which could have been deployed within half an hour of the carnage, was the right thing to do, is a purely academic debate now. It does not really matter now if one asks why members of the special force were not parachuted (Pilkhana is a large place) to neutralise the mutinied jawans so that 46-IB could move into the BDR headquarters rather smoothly. All in the dark of the night: more deaths and assaults on civilian population in the occupied Pilkhana could have been avoided.
The government has its own explanation in favour of its stance. “I opted for talks to save lives, to save the officers and their families,” Sheikh Hasina told the parliament at that time, snubbing those who called her strategy a tactical mistake. Most of the officers were dead by 11 in the morning of February 25; her strategy has indeed saved some officers and other civilians. Still, what would have happened if the 46-IB and later the 9th Division had gone the whole hog is a question that will dog the nation’s heart for a long time.
There are myriads of ifs and buts. But more interesting ones start with why. The government could have published a White Paper to silence rumourmongers. It’s a wound after all, and like all other human injuries, it needs salve, along with time, to heal. When the powers that be shun transparency, rumours spread like wildfire, and they do not spare even the highest seats of power.
Eleven special courts have been set up, which handed down sentences to 10,878 jawans. No civilian has so far stood guilty. Some recommendations by the probe committee led by Anis-uz-zaman, a former civil servant, have been carried out. The BDR has been renamed Border Guards Bangladesh, so has the Rifles Square. Four new regions and 11 new battalions are being set up, and families of slain officers have been given monetary help. But have they helped to soothe the nation’s bleeding heart? Not till justice is handed down to all the perpetrators of the massacre that witnessed the death of more officers of Bangladesh Army than even the Liberation War!