On that fateful Wednesday, Nadeet Haque, son of slain sector commander of the Bangladesh Rifles' (BDR) Dhaka Battalion Col Mujibul Haque, was awakened by a loud thump on the door. “It was our waiter,” he says, “Who told me that a group of men in BDR fatigues were running towards our house.” Nadeet, who is doing his A' Level as a private student, called his mother, who was in the gym; she advised him to lock himself up in their room. Mili Haque, Nadeet's mother, was herself in grave danger. Another bunch of murderers were looking for her in every nook and cranny of the BDR compound. The guard of the gym locked Mili up and told the killers that no one was there.
Though her life was saved for the time being, her son, as the gunshots were becoming even louder, hid himself behind the compressor of the AC in the back veranda. “I found one of our maids hiding there,” he says, “In a few minutes I heard some footsteps and jumped onto the sunshade of the building. I clutched at her hand, trying to get her down to where I was. Later I let go of her because I realised that if tried further to get her to my side they would shoot at her.”
Hiding on the sunshade, Nadeet saw the killers set fire to his room to bring him out to kill him. “The fire was spreading fast, and within a few minutes it reached the sunshade. It was so smoky, I could not see anything properly, I had to get up and find a shelter. Some of the killers who were standing in a building construction site, noticed me. They sprayed a few rounds at me as I ran for safety. I am lucky that I am alive and talking to you,” he says in a voice choked with emotion. He broke the wire net of the kitchen and went into a room in the house and hid himself along with two others under the bed. Shaken, Nadeet does not want to name these two BDR-men who saved his life; when a few jawans turned up again in search of him, these two men, who do menial labour in the house, told the killers that “Col sahib's son” was not here.
General staff officer 1 (communication) of the BDR Lt Colonel Syed Kamruzzaman will never forget the last Darbar (durbar) of the BDR. The officer who had just taken part in the force's annual parade a day ago was sitting in the spacious hall of the BDR when immediately after the Director General (DG) of the paramilitary started his speech a young man, without his cap and belt went up to the dais.
Throughout the DG's speech, which was short-lived, there was commotion at the back of his audience. Some chanted slogans; some made catcalls. An officer and a non-commissioned officer jumped and accosted the young man in an attempt to stop him from reaching the DG. Shaken, the young man fell to the ground; while another man in BDR fatigues ran out of the Darbar. “Like magic, within a few seconds the whole darbar became empty,” says Lt Colonel Kamruzzaman. There were gunshots. At around 9:45 in the morning, a group of mutineers, wearing red bandanas, came up with guns and ordered the 12 officers present to come out and walk in a line led by the DG. "As the DG climbed down the stairs of darbar hall, one jawan sprayed him with bullets. Soon the other jawans there started firing on us," he says.
Some of the killers wore red masks.
Lt Colonel Kamruzzaman is lucky, so is Major Munir, who no sooner had the firing begun jumped into a sewer manhole. "It was dark and full of a foul smell. I kept the lid closed and could hear gunshots. I stayed there without any food and light. I could not separate day from night," he says. The marauding bunch of killers did not spare women and children. They separated the women and children from the officers: women with young children in one group were confined in a room with a ceiling fan; women a little older were kept in a separate group with the batmen; the officers, who were not hiding, were held hostage separately. Kamrunnahar Shampa, wife of slain Major Maksud, says, “The BDR jawans looted all my valuables, after I fled with my baby.” By the first night of the two-day mutiny, the murderers killed almost all the officers present in the compound. The barbarism was reminiscent of the genocide committed by the marauding Pakistani army, only this time the killers belong to the degenerate members of one of our security forces.
Mili Haque is a survivor of the mayhem. “Only that day he (Col Haque) told me that he had been neglecting us for his service to the nation. I can't fathom how can the jawans have killed someone who has given the topmost priority to the well being of the nation and his soldiers,” she has told the media. She cannot figure out how her husband's own troops could point their guns at Col Mujib, let alone kill him.
Not only residence of Col Haque, the BDR the killers also looted almost all the houses of the officers before setting them on fire. Some officers were killed in the most brutal way. After killing these brilliant sons and daughters of the soil, the killers dumped the corpses in a couple of mass graves; they dumped some bodies in the sewer, which carried the corpses to the dam near Keranaiganj.
As the mayhem was going on inside, army was rolled in to stop the murderers from coming out of Pilkhana, the BDR headquarters. The plan paid off; the murderers remained confined to the area. The negotiations ensued and the army waited patiently. As the negotiation with the Prime Minister ended, the government declared Prime Ministerial Amnesty to the mutineers. Brig. Gen. (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan, a national security expert, believes it was given on the spur of the moment, without taking into consideration of the ground realities. “In any case, amnesty can only be given for revolt, it can never be applicable to those who have committed murder, arson and other serious kind of atrocities,” he says.
The blood of the martyrs of Pilkhana carnage shall not go in vain.
Even though the government's approach of negotiating with the mutineers has saved many lives, it has also brought into light the other possible option the government could have taken. “The government's steps have not caused any further loss of life. There is always the temptation to think that if something could have been done, instantly perhaps…yes I agree, the government could have gone for a swift sharp action to surprise the mutineers, the rebel elements, who were not large in number,” Anam says.
He believes that there was a possibility of reducing the mutineers. The former Brigadier General says, “I do not know why it was not done… there may be some tactical problems such as the problem of the built-up area in the BDR Headquarters. There were a large number of families who were eventually saved who would have been killed had the mutineers got a whiff that there was an offensive. The government chose a path that saved more bloodshed.
Some BDR jawans shot at passers-by in Dhanmondi.
All the imponderables! In hindsight you can ask why it was not done, but what if the action would have resulted in more bloodshed; in that case we would have asked the government why it had taken action without going for negotiations. There are always two sides to an issue.”
What would Brig Gen (retired) Anam, a courageous commander in his prime, have done in such a situation? “If I came to know that some of my officers were in danger, I would have moved a company or two, would have gone for commando style operations, which would send the mutineers in several directions and split them apart. It might have been successful or it might not have, one cannot tell. I would not have waited; I would have gone for it. If I came to know that my officers were treated in such a way, I would not have been able to stand still. I would have relied on the element of surprise, being an infantryman I would have gone the whole hog. Everybody does not have to agree with me. There are so many other factors here-- this is my personal opinion,” he answers.
Syed Ashraful Islam, the Local Government Minister and spokesperson, has a different opinion. He says, “The prime minister sent out the troops no sooner had she got the news. But it takes time for the army to reach a certain place. Whatever happened in Pilkhana had happened before the army members had reached the scene. After that, our main concern was the safety of the hostages. The standoff was resolved quickly considering the security of the people in general apart from the BDR members.”
To avert what it says a humanitarian disaster, the government opted for a political settlement. The Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave a speech, which warned the murderers of disastrous consequences if they did not give up arms and freed the hostages. The PM's speech, along with the arrival of the tanks led by 9th Division of the army forced the killers to lay down their arms. Though most BDR members surrendered to the Home Minister, some of the killers have managed to flee. “Most of them crossed the perimeter wall near Hajaribagh, where the road leads to Kamrangirchar while the other path goes to Gabtali and Rayerbazaar,” says an officer of the Rapid Action Battalion, which has arrested some BDR-men.
Lieutenant-General (Retired) Harunur Rashid, a valiant freedom fighter and former army chief, says the mutiny was well orchestrated and it had little to do with the working conditions in the barracks. “There is the first soldier who wanted to start the killing; as he failed a second group turned up. There has even been a third batch of killers. The red clothes that they have used is not a part of their uniform, which shows that the killers have planned the event before,” Lt Gen Harun says.
Faces of Terror: Some BDR jawans carried out the well thought-out act of killing and looting.
In fact, the way some of the murderers have melted into thin air on the night of last Friday supports Lt Gen Harun's observation. “Not only that,” says an officer of the Rab who wants to remain anonymous, “Their escape plan has been done meticulously. They have used chairs to climb the wall near Hajaribagh. All of them have followed the same pattern. The three graves that the killers have dug are all evenly squared; so neatly the whole affair of killing and dumping has been done tells us that a group of people has orchestrated the massacre long ago. We are trying to pinpoint exactly where the plans were done and we have so far come across the area near 36 Rifles Battalion, which we think have been used to hatch the conspiracy.” He has also said that to do their killing smoothly the murderers wore red, yellow and blue vests. Some killers also fled with a procession that came near the Gate 5 of the Pilkhana. On the first day of the carnage the gate remained unguarded amidst intermittent shelling of the degenerate jawans. Some of these disgruntled mutineers abandoned their weapons in different areas of the compound; some, it is widely believed that, have carried small firearms with them. Some of these disgruntled mutineers abandoned their weapons in different areas of the compound.
Lt Col Shams, a survivor of the massacre, has said on Bangladesh Television that in the morning of the mutiny he saw arms being unloaded from an ash pick-up van while he was hiding. Lt Gen (Retired) Harun points out that the ammos used in the first attack do not match the ammos issued for the day's duty. “The ammunition fired by the killers is much more than the ammunition issued for routine duties. It suggests that extra ammunition has been collected beforehand from some sources. We do not know where the rest of the ammos that they have used have come from,” Lt Gen (Retired) Harun says.
The armoury, from where the weapons have been looted, is a heavily guarded affair. There are ironed collapsible gates, which are locked with two padlocks. All the rifles are on rifle racks and each and every one of them are chained to each other. Ammunition are kept in a different room, one has to go to a separate room to get them. There is a strip or magazine inside the ammunition box made of steel. Even the fastest loader will have to spend 10 minutes to get and load the ammo. The promptness with which the mutineers have turned up with automatic weapons also suggests that they have planned the massacre long ago.
“Immediately after the first bullet was fired at the Darbar Hall, a group of armed killers surrounded the family accommodations, which also shows previous planning,” Let Gen Harun says.
Brig Gen Anam thinks the Darbar mayhem was “pre-planned and all the so-called demands and grievances of the mutineers were excuses to draw public sympathy which the electronic media helped them gain by highlighting them.” He says that Bangladesh is no stranger to such incidents: “This is exactly what happened between November 3 and 7, 1975. Large-scale infiltration was carried inside the ranks, and these people went after the officers. But the causality then was nothing compared to what we have suffered on February 25.”
The armoury was looted
Major General (retired) Syed Mohammad Ibrahim, a security analyst, could not but agree: “It can't be the brainchild of soldiers who have just passed their SSC or HSC exams and a bulk of whom remain busy in strenuous border duties. Outsiders from X or Y corner must have contacted insiders well in time keeping in view the BDR Week. As more and more events are being unfolded, it is displaying the involvement of matured conspirators. It is only a question of time and sincerity, both used intelligently, for the conspiracy to be laid bare in front of the nation,” he says on the last day of February.
The incident has shown, to a great extent, intelligence failure, which Brig Gen Anam calls an “unpardonable failure.” That the preparations of such an incident can go unnoticed by the agencies is surprising. “It is unbelievable how the agencies have failed to get an indication of what was afoot. The whole area must have been secured, covered, screened because of the PM's visit the previous day. The idea is to keep such places under constant survey. I cannot see how the agencies did not see what was coming; I think there is a gross intelligence failure. The investigation will find out to what extent it failed, whether people were told about it at all or what was told about it.”
Meanwhile, the government has rightly declared that a fast-rack tribunal will be formed to bring the perpetrators of the BDR massacre to justice. Last Saturday, the Local Government Minister Syed Ashraful Islam has said that the law minister has already been instructed by the cabinet to form a special tribunal. "The law and the clauses under which perpetrators can be tried will be put before the cabinet and then a bill will be tabled in parliament to fast-track the trial process," he has told the media. "Every single one of those responsible will be put in the dock,” he has added.
| The killer group wore masks of different colour.
Like Col Mujibul Haque's residence, many houses were looted by the killers.
In her speech to the parliament the Prime Minister has said, "I opted for talks to save lives, to save the officers and their families," refuting claims that not resorting to force was a tactical mistake. She has also said that she has sought the help of the US and UN to probe into the killing. The PM, who has to handle such a big crisis on the 50th day of her tenure, has taken some widespread measures. Her government has formed a probe committee ensuring representation of the army, air force, navy, police and Rab. In an oblique reference to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, she has told the parliament that they (the BNP-men) brought out processions in Hajaribagh and other areas surrounding Pilkhana to encourage the killers.
There is no doubt that the crisis has been one of the toughest challenges that any new elected would want to see itself embroiled into. Sadly, there is no instance in our history that the probes into such carnages have been done in a transparent manner. We hope the BDR massacre will be an exception. Along with the entire nation we demand a neutral probe into the massacre, we also hope that the nation will be informed about the possible conspirators and their motives.
Given the nature of loss and the scale of brutality, our army, which was on duty during the crisis, has shown maximum restraint. No bullets were fired from their side, putting first priority on the safety of the women and children who were kept hostage inside. It only goes to the credit of the army that they have given peaceful resolution of the grave problem a chance. The government has started to probe into the carnage and we hope that the conspirators, along with the murderers, will be brought before justice. The brutality with which some of the brilliant officers of our armed forces and their family members have been treated cannot go unpunished. We do not have enough words to translate our anger and hatred to those who have committed one of the ghastliest crimes in the nation's recent history. The blood of the martyrs of the Pilkhana massacre shall not go in vain.
The government has said that it will form a special tribunal to punish the killers.
It is time to remain united as a nation. “We love ourselves, we love our friends and family members. But more than them,” says Lt Gen (Retired) Harun, “We love our nation. At a time of such grave crisis we should be united to safeguard our nation and its sovereignty.” He adds: “The pain that we are suffering should not deter us from safeguarding our country and putting the interest of it before everything. More then anyone else we love the country.”
On simply military terms, the loss for the army and the country is staggering. “The number of officers we have lost would be enough to man 8 to 10 regiments of the army,” he says. Even though any army in the world would find it difficult to stand such a massacre, Anam thinks, traumatised though its members are, “it is a disciplined force and is continuing to act in the highest traditions of professionalism.”
Besides the irreparable loss of life, which has given a big blow to our army and the country, the BDR, as a force, needs to be reconstructed. The mutiny has left our porous border unguarded and our nation's security has remained vulnerable. This is the time to rise above the occasion and get united as a nation. It is only the united effort of everyone that can save our nation from this catastrophe.
Tanks were brought in on the second day of the massacre.
Meanwhile, Nadeet Haque stares vacantly at the sky and remembers his father, who was the main brain behind the caretaker government's Operation Dal-Bhat, which was the lifeline for the country's poor. He says, “My father was a brave man, he worked really hard for the country. I do not know what has happened, I do not know how such an incident can happen.” Like the slain Colonel's son, the entire nation anxiously waits to see the culprits of the BDR massacre to be brought before justice.
Portrait of a Mutiny
The Unanswered Questions
Syed Zain Al-Mahmood
It was meant to be a celebration. Red, yellow and green flags fluttered atop the arched entrance to the Bangladesh Rifles Headquarters. A cultural show was planned for the evening. The annual Darbar of the Bangladesh Rifles brings together officers and men from all over the country, and celebrates the achievements of the paramilitary force over the course of the year. This year there was much to discuss, since the BDR had been involved in several high profile operations, including Operation Daal Bhaat -- a campaign to combat the rising price of essential commodities by importing and selling groceries at wholesale rates.
As the officers of the BDR -- all deputed from the army met the Jawans in the Darbar hall on the morning of the 25th of February, little did they know that the stage had been set for the bloodiest mutiny in the history of the country. Bangladesh has seen upwards of half a dozen coups and uprisings in the 37 years of its existence. But the sheer mindless brutality of this latest uprising shocked the nation. The basic facts of what happened on that fateful morning have been fairly well established. Gunfire broke out as the Director General of BDR Major General Shakil Ahmed was delivering his speech. In the first wave of shooting, the DG and other senior commanders were mowed down.
Speaking to the Star, Col. Syed Quamruzzaman, GSO of the BDR headquarters described the harrowing scene. “The jawans asked us to come out and said we wouldn't be harmed. We walked out with the DG in the middle. They told us to walk in single file. We fell in line with the DG leading the way. They started firing at close range…”
As the horrified nation watched on live television, machinegun toting BDR jawans, with red cloth covering their faces, took up position around the compound. Leaflets were distributed saying they had risen up in retaliation for “hundreds” of years of deprivation and unless they received pay hikes and better facilities immediately, there would be worse to come. Government ministers scrambled to negotiate. Rebel leaders were taken directly to the Prime Minister. But when the rebellious soldiers agreed to lay down their weapons thirty-six hours later, 69 army officers lay dead. Several of their family members along with three passers-by had also been killed. Mass graves with decomposed bodies, homes gutted by exploding grenades and walls pock-marked by hundreds of bullets the scene of carnage sent the nation into anger, disgust and later into mourning.
Anger, disgust and finally grief.
The BDR mutiny may be over, but disturbing questions remain. Why did the rebels kill all the officers if it was a dispute over pay and benefits? Could military force have been used to quell the rebellion? Could the deaths have been prevented? How could this have been planned without anyone knowing? What were the intelligence agencies doing? Who stands to gain from this horrific atrocity? What was the mutineers' exit strategy?
The sheer scale of the mayhem makes it unlikely to have been a violent agitation over things such as pay, subsidised food and holidays. Surely it would make more sense in that case to hold the officers hostage. Experts now believe the objective was the elimination of the army officers, and the demands were a smoke screen.
“They didn't give us the chance to say anything,” recalled Col. Quamruzzaman, who was wounded, but survived. “The DG kept saying tell me your demands. But they just opened fire.”
During the mutiny, unruly jawans repeatedly railed against their officers. They called for appointing officers from their own ranks rather than sending army officers on deputation.
Retired Major Yead Ali, formerly commanding officer of 21st Rifles Battalion, thinks there is another, darker, reason for the BDR soldiers to resent army officers. “Unfortunately, some jawans in the border areas become involved with smuggling rings,” he said. “Army officers are sent on deputation for relatively short periods of two to three years. It is difficult for the corrupt jawans to operate if the officer is honest. Sometimes they try to involve their officers. But by the time that happens, it's time for the officer to go, and another one comes in his place.”
Major Yead said part of the raison d'etre of a paramilitary force is to fight alongside the army in a war. “If the command structure is totally different, it becomes difficult to operate under a unified command when the need comes.”
Nayek Babul Mia of the 44th Rifles Battalion said although harsh punishment is often meted out for crimes, this would not lead to Jawans turning their guns on their superiors. “I have fought alongside officers on many border skirmishes with the Indian BSF. We support each other,” said Babul.
So if the rank-and-file Jawans were not that dissatisfied with their superiors, who started the killing spree? The evidence points to the existence of a hardcore element within the BDR headquarters on that fateful day. This core group was intent on eliminating the officers. This group planned and carried out the murders. They then incited other jawans by a variety of techniques. A rumour was spread that the DG had shot a soldier in the Darbar hall. Others were told that the army was coming and if they did not take up arms they would be massacred. Still others were swayed by the inflammatory rhetoric against the alleged oppression of army men.
In the last few days, some suggestions have emerged that agents may have come in from outside to lead the mutiny. But BDR soldiers, speaking to the Star magazine, have debunked that theory. “The soldiers are used to obeying their own JCO (Junior Commissioned Officers) and NCO (Non commissioned Officers),” said Imamul Hossain of the 14th Rifles, who won a BDR Medal for bravery from the prime minister the previous day. “They are not stupid enough to obey just anyone and start shooting.” Imamul said he was supposed to receive a cheque worth Tk 50000 from the DG during the Darbar, but fled when the firing started.
“I would have resisted if I could,” said Imamul. “But there were too many of them, and they were too organised. I received my medal for fighting off a BSF incursion in 2005 in which I saved many officers. I love my country. Why would I want to harm my superiors?” Imamul Hossain fled the Pilkhana, only to return after the fighting was over.
It is clear that whoever planned the mutiny knew the Pilkhana and the surrounding area intimately, and they knew how to incite the men. But if the issues of who and why are vexing enough, how the entire incident unfolded also raises many serious questions.
One crucial issue being hotly debated is the government response to the mutiny. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered the army to stand by while her government pursued a negotiated solution. The government, she said, opted for talks to save lives. While she has been lauded for solving the crisis “without expending a bullet”, questions have been asked as to whether the delay ultimately increased the death toll, and whether the general amnesty declared early on Wednesday was properly timed.
Could a rapid strike from the army have saved lives? Many military experts believe it could. “It would take APCs (armoured personnel careers) fifteen minutes to get from Jahangir Gate to the BDR HQ,” said Lt. General Mir Shawkat Ali. “The BDR men with their rifles wouldn't have been able to resist. I think they would turn tail.”
An officer of Military Intelligence said on condition of anonymity that RAB units in the area could have been used as a striking force while army reinforcements moved up. “It takes time for tanks to mobilize,” he said. “But RAB units are usually ready to move quickly.”
The sequence of events clearly demonstrates that both the government and the army were aware of the fatal attacks by 9.30 AM. Eye witness testimony said the DG Major General Shakil spoke to the Prime Minister by phone immediately after the first shots were fired outside the Darbar hall. The officers who fled the Darbar hall also contacted their superiors.
“I called my cousin Lt Col. Elahi Manzoor Chowdhury at 10.15 AM,” said Abdul Mugni Chowdhury who works at a university. “In a whisper, he said he was holed up in a bathroom with other officers. He said he had called the cantonment for help.”
By the time the order came to move troops, the rebels had dug in. By 11.30 they had taken women and children as hostage. The soldiers who had rushed out to surround the Pilkhana were told to await further orders. Government ministers and MPs arrived to begin negotiations, and helicopters dropped leaflets asking the rebels to surrender.
Eyewitnesses said the mutineers created smoke by setting fires. They also shot at anyone who tried to see into the Pilkhana. “I had no idea at the time that such a massacre was going on in such a beautiful place. We couldn't even hear the cries of the victims because of the continuous firing,” said Dr. Shamsun Nahar, an authoress who lives in a flat overlooking the Pilkhana.
The mutineers' attempts at concealment have left many observers perplexed. The rebels knew that the authorities had an accurate tally of how many officers were in the Pilkhana. They also knew that the officers who survived the first wave of shootings must have contacted their superiors by cell phone. So why did they try to hide what happened? The mass graves in themselves pose a vexing question. The rebels knew the murders would soon be discovered. Then why did they go to all the trouble of hiding the bodies?
The answer may lie in the killers' exit strategy. The rebels initially took control of the Rifles Square shopping mall, although they left in the evening. Why capture the shopping centre? Could it be because it had a birds' eye view of the Pilkhana? For two days the rebels claimed on TV that the DG and other officers were “in custody”. But they must have known both the government and the army were in possession of the real facts. So who were they trying to deceive? Could it have been the general public?
Nasir, a shopkeeper in the Azimpur area, said he had seen BDR jawans escaping. “Many locals actually helped them,” he said. “If we knew then what we know now, we would have caught them and handed them over to the authorities.”
The Pilkhana is surrounded by densely populated areas, and any exit plan would be heavily dependent on sympathy from the public. The rebels knew that if the atrocities became widely known, they would be mobbed as soon as they scaled the wall.
From the very first day, there was a conscious attempt to rally public support. Questions
The army exercised restraint despite emotions running high.
have also been raised about some of the reporting by sections of the media on the first day of the mutiny. The rebellious jawans were given plenty of airtime, and many talk shows seemed to be taking the mutineer's words at face value. In a hostage situation the spotlight is usually on the condition of the hostages, but in this case the talk seemed to be about how the BDR were oppressed. There was very little focus on the fate of the army officers and their families. Security experts have also raised serious concerns about the power cut which they say allowed thousands of BDR Jawans to escape.
Reports in the Daily Star quoting a mutineer said that the BDR jawans had printed leaflets headlined “Save BDR! Save the Country!” Yet no one knew about this. The intelligence failure is doubly shocking considering that the Prime Minister had been to the Pilkhana on Tuesday. This usually means a blaze of scrutiny from various agencies. At what level did the intelligence failure happen? Did the agencies fail to report anything, or were their warnings ignored?
It has been suggested that an outside group might have assisted in the massacre. Since this episode has seriously weakened both the army and the BDR -- tactically and strategically -- mutterings about a conspiracy cannot be ignored. But talk about an outside group should not distract from the failings within the BDR, the army, the intelligence community, and indeed, the administration. Blaming outside groups is an all too common phenomenon whenever something violent happens- be it student violence or garments workers running amok. It should not stand in the way of identifying weaknesses in our institutions.
The ringleaders of the mutiny had no problems getting a large number of BDR jawans to join them. Although bodies of slain BDR jawans proves that at least some soldiers died trying to resist the mutineers, most of the rank-and-file soldiers either fled or took up arms.
Any investigation into what certainly seems to be a conspiracy needs to dig deep and present us with the whole, unvarnished, truth. The nation stands united today. United in grief, united in seeking justice and united in trying to rebuild what we have lost.
Thirty-six Hours in Hell
Lt Col. Elahi Manzoor Chowdhury, Assistant Adjutant General at BDR Headquarters, is among the slain soldiers whose remains have not been identified. His wife Tanni Yafta Chowdhury has been combing the pilkhana and the hospitals for her husband's body. She spoke to her husband at 10.30 AM on the morning of the mutiny. Shortly afterwards, she herself was taken hostage. Tanni Chowdhury spoke to Syed Zain Al-Mahmood about her horrific nightmare.
Late Lt Col. Elahi Manzoor Chowdhury with his family.
When did you first become aware of the mutiny? Can you describe that morning?
At around 9.15 AM I got a call on my cell phone. It was my husband. “There has been trouble, he said. The jawans are shooting. Close all doors and windows. Don't come out.” I was very frightened. By then I could hear gunfire. He called again a few minutes later. “A lot of officers have been killed. I am taking cover in the bathroom.” I started to call my relatives and my husband's colleagues. Help is coming, I was told. Every second seemed like an eternity.
Did you hear from him again?
Yes, he called at around 10.30 AM. He said, “They're coming. Amar jonno dua koro. Ar dekha hobe na.” Then the connection was lost. My husband was Asst. adjutant general -- he had nothing to do with the jawans. I hoped against hope that they would spare him. But that's was not to be.
Did you try to save him by calling for help?
I tried calling everyone I could think of. I was told that help was on its way. I kept praying for the sound of the army rolling in. But nothing happened. I don't understand why it would take so long for troops to get to the pilkhana from the cantonment? Does it take hours? You tell me?
What happened next?
Around 11.30 there was loud knocking on the door. I didn't want to open up, but they said they would shoot. I opened the door and four jawans came in with rifles at the ready. They pointed their weapons and asked for my husband. I said he was at the office. They took me and my children to the Quarter Guard where we were held with a number of other families.
Please describe how you were treated?
There were clearly two groups. One group had their faces uncovered, and treated us well. They gave us water when we asked for it. The other group came now and then. They covered their faces with red cloth and seemed very violent. They said things like, You've lived in air conditioning all your life. How does this feel?
What happened then?
I lost track of time. It was dark. At one point, the guards suddenly went out. I think it was after midnight. I heard voices. It was the Home Minister Sahara Khatun speaking. I couldn't clearly make out the words, but we were very hopeful. I heard the BDR jawans clapping. Then she asked them to hand in their weapons. “Apnara nij dayitte ostro joma diye den”. A few minutes later the guards came back and sat down facing us.
Were you hopeful that you would be rescued?
Very much so. She was right outside. One Bhabi had a 4 month old baby who was crying. Elderly people were coughing. We were sure she could hear us. But she never came in. I later heard she rescued two families from the residential quarters and went away.
When were you finally rescued?
It was in the afternoon of Thursday.
Please tell us your thoughts at this point.
Look, my husband was on three UN missions. Liberia, Kuwait and Ivory Coast. I used to be so afraid for him. But he came back unharmed. His country men did to him what foreign soldiers did not do.
I have only one wish now -- that we should know the truth. His killers should be punished.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009