After The Massacre

When a crisis strikes in a country like Bangladesh, the civilian government usually faces two main challenges. First, it must deal with the crisis itself. Second, it must deal with the ever present possibility that the army may intervene and take control of the government. The latter challenge is no theoretical concern: in its short history as a nation, the army has intervened at least three times.

In the latest crisis that has struck Bangladesh, up to 170 army officers have been massacred at the BDR headquarters in Dhaka. The tragedy has been termed a mutiny by the BDR soldiers against their superior officers. However, it is far from clear what motivated the actual killings, and for that matter who planned and carried out these killings. The only thing we know for certain is where the killings took place and who were the victims.

What is noteworthy about the massacre at the BDR headquarters is that it merges the two challenges faced by the government. The crisis itself involves the army. It is the army that has suffered the brunt of this attack, with many of its officers now murdered. Added to the concern that the army may move on its own to restore “order”, there is now a desire for revenge within the army’s ranks. Public sentiment in Bangladesh is one of outrage and shock. There is justifiably tremendous sympathy for the army officers for the great loss of life and for the shattered families left behind in the wake of this tragedy. It is also no small matter that the killings have taken place at Pilkhana – a site of slaughter that launched the 1971 genocide against the Bangladeshi people. Pilkhana is embedded in the national consciousness.

There is tremendous pressure from within the army to act, and in turn, pressure on the government from the army. In the face of this pressure, the army chief Moeen U Ahmed has declared publicly that the army remains “subservient to the government.” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in a bid to quell rising army anger, went to the army headquarters in Dhaka to discuss the situation face to face with army officers. Perhaps as a result of those discussions, comes this news:

The government today decided to deploy the members of the armed forces across the country to arrest the fugitive rebels of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and seize missing firearms.

A home ministry official preferring anonymity said the troops would be deployed in aid of the civil administration under the ‘Operation Rebel Hunt.’

“Army will help the police to arrest the rebels and seize their arms,” the official told The Daily Star last night.

He said the army would be withdrawn after having the situation under control.

The decision came hours after the meeting of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with army officers at Sena Kunja at Dhaka Cantonment.

This is a very troubling development. The army is being deployed for law enforcement purposes across the country on a mission to hunt down those that have killed the army’s own. This holds the potential for further bloodshed. Whether the civilian government can keep control of the army once it is out of its barracks and amongst the population remains to be seen. Whether the army chain of command holds or can restrain the lower ranks remains to be seen. In an atmosphere where the army ranks are in a mood for revenge, putting them in charge of hunting down the perpetrators is ill advised. The urge for revenge combined with the natural and historical urge of the army to take control make for a volatile situation.

The government of Sheikh Hasina dealt with the initial crisis in a measured way designed to prevent further bloodshed. Some government officials, most notably the Home Minister Sahara Khatun, risked their own lives to bring the crisis to an end. It is the kind of bravery Bangladeshis have seldom seen from their rulers in recent years. The government’s performance in dealing with the initial crisis should be commended.

Now, however, the government faces the second challenge that all crises bring to Bangladesh. The fate of her government and that of democracy in Bangladesh depend on how she manages to navigate this challenge.

This entry was posted in Bangladesh and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to After The Massacre

  1. Tanoy says:

    Great write up.

  2. Farhad Mahmud says:

    The civilian government rose up to the occasion and proved that when it comes to dealing with a national crisis of this magnitude, even if it involves the armed forces, it is best served by an elected accountable government.

  3. Azad says:

    Hasina acted sensibly. The blame should be put on the shoulders of military intelligence.

    The civilian government handled it in a manner that is unprecedented in history. The government was basically kept in the dark as the DFI had no knowledge of what had happened inside. It took 36 hours following the mayhem with unconditional surrender of the BDR soldiers brokered by the PM to get first hand account of the casualties.

    This was an attempt to derail democracy once again. Bangladeshis should remain alert and vigil so that conspiracies hatched by jihadist terrorists don’t materialize.

    Its democracy that saved thousands of lives wheteher you agree or not. Any emotinaly charged miltary decision might have accelerated our fall into a ‘failed state’ entity.

    Military solutions are inherently bloody and costly in terms of human lives.

  4. Selim says:

    If even if what the proponents of military intervention are justified I am sure the Bangladesh army had neither the skills, expertise and million dollar high-tech weaponry and gadgets to launch an assault on the rebels. Even then it would have been risky as it has been proved time after time on much smaller scale operations.

    In Russia or India it was just a number of terrorists who killed at random many hostages and held a city to standstill in spite of attempts by specially trained commandos to liquidate the killers.

    In contrast the paramilitary rebels in Bangladesh were trained by the army and knew almost everything about the military options ad operational tactics because they were trained and comandeered by the army officers whom they brutally killed in the early hours of the rebellion. On top of that the rebels were several thousand in number and well armed.

    Any military action would have resulted in huge civilian and military casualty. This is precisely what the terrorists had hoped for to play the army against the border guards to destroy democracy.

    I am confident that the truth behind the carnage will be made public in the parliament as we have a popularly elected democratic government in power. In the past the unconstitutional military governments hid facts and even rewarded killers and assassins of statesmen. Farcical trials let killers off the hook.

    This is the first time a democratically elected government is probing the incident and must scrutinize why the defence forces intelligence DFI) and national security intelligence (NSI)failed miserably to ensure the safety and security of the army officers.

    I thank the PM for her wise decision that averted a bigger scale disaster

  5. ridhima says:

    i am very after that incident.but sheikh hasina tackled the situation very cleverly.

  6. ridhima says:

    i am very upset after that massacre.but hasina tackled the situation very cleverly.i am very glad to have hasina as a prime minister.i will always support her.

  7. confusedandstunned says:

    I’m a little confused. Ok, there was a “civilian response” to the BDR crisis but was it REALLY well handled? The massacre of so many military officers is a disgrace in any nation and there are so many odd questions about the government response. When there was a small army contingent there in the morning, would a preemptive strike really have brought greater bloodshed, or spare 2 days of carnage? Why didn’t the Home Minister leave the area WITH some hostages or go check on them when negotiating? Why did the PM wait till midday on the SECOND day of all this to issue an ultimatum? Of course hindsight is 20-20 but we all heard reports of what was happening and it was clearly more than a “mutiny” and the gruesome killings, burials and hunt for family members took a lot longer than the initial “hour or two.” No credible investigation would have the kinds of “leaks” that come out – so I am not sure this was that well handled at all. Nor am I sure there was any decisive leadership but rather it seemed ad hoc – by BOTH parties. Disgracefully, they have engaged in the usual politicking and shown themselves to be totally undeserving of the mantle of statesmen in their handling. Though it may have been worse, I would not give the govt such a resounding approval as has been politically correct ….I have doubts.

Comments are closed.