Terrified Government Forced to Accept All Demands of Mutineers and to Grant them General Amnesty
- by Rajesh Tyagi; 27 February 2009
After about 33 hours of storming and seizure laid by the rebel soldiers of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) to their headquarters, in Pilkhana, near capital city of Dhaka, the soldiers ended the seize after all of their demands were agreed to by the government, including a general amnesty to the mutineers.
It is however reported that in the meanwhile the mutiny among the BDR soldiers has quickly spread to other many areas encompassing the whole of Bangladesh and the government would find it more difficult to buy peace in these areas.
The rebellion of the troops was directed primarily against the corruption of their officers, appalling conditions of pay and work inside the force and the discrimination being meted out to the troops in this force as against their counterparts in army.
One of the hostages, Major Zaed, who was released later, told the media that more than 100 officers of the force, who were taken hostage, have been eliminated by the rebels. However, State Minister for Law, puts the number at 55. Till morning of 27 February, death of 77 persons, 67 among them officers of armed forces, is confirmed. This includes almost the entire top brass of Bangladesh Rifles, reported to have been wiped out at the hands of the mutineers, including its Chief Maj. Gen. Shakil Ahmed. More bodies of the officers are being recovered from the drains inside the barracks in Pilkhana.
Number of vehicles inside the headquarters compound, were torched, while massive smoke billowed out of the compound. Unceasing gunfire was heard for about first four hours of the seize.
Bangladesh Rifles, a 67,000 strong paramilitary force is deployed to secure the 4,427 kilometer frontiers of Bangladesh, with India and Myanmar. It is in accordance with the Indo-Bangladesh Treaty which bars both the countries to deploy army units to man the borders and provides for surveillance through paramilitary forces.
Origins of Bangladesh Rifles could be traced to 1795, when it was organized by British Colonialists, as ‘Ramgarh Local Battallion’. In 1971, the Bangladesh Riffles had pioneered the revolt against the control of Pakistani officers over its troops. It had played a major role in fight for independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan. But the structures of this force, like most of the other armed forces in countries of South Asia, continued to be colonial.
Long-standing demands of troops, which continued to be ignored by the officers and those in power, had gathered the storm for the present mutiny by the troops. These demands included end to corruption, a pay hike at par with army troops, opportunities of promotion, withdrawal of deputationist officers of army, better food supplies, stoppage of diversion of food supplies and funds.
In fact, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina had visited the barracks the previous day 24 February, 2009. Troops were pressurizing their officers to put their demands before the Prime Minister, on her visit to barracks. The officers, however, refused to do so.
The Mutiny had started at 8.30 a.m. on 25 February, 2009, local time, when about 300 troops in Pilkhana Barracks, west of capital Dhaka, housing the headquarters of Bangladesh Rifles, left the barracks to enter the conference hall, where among the annual celebrations of the Force, a meeting of top officials of the force was going on. The 300 troops laid seize to the conference hall and took all the officers present there, hostage. The Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs) however, supported the mutiny against the officer corps.
The troops later eliminated most of their officers selectively, while sparing a few. Those officers who had earned fame for their notoriety in amassing wealth by swindling rations meant for poor troops and oppression of their subordinate troops, were executed. According to rough estimates, about 14 were wiped out on the spot. For example, one Colonel Muzibur Haq, the third highest ranking officer in the force, who was individually responsible for gobbling food funds and supplies and had made millions dollars out of that, suffered the wrath of the anger of troops. Similarly, the Director General of the Force, Major General Shakeel Ahmad, killed by the troops, was famous for his lavish and corrupt lifestyle and for taking severe and repressive measures against the troops.
There had been long standing allegations of extreme corruption by the officers deputed from the army on short service of 2 to 4 years. The food funds and supplies meant for poor troops in the force, were being diverted in bulk by these officers to open market, out of which millions were being made.
While the officers’ class siphoned off the foods and funds, the average soldier in the Force received a meager monthly wage of around $70. The appalling conditions of the troops were not even heard by the officers, what to say of addressing them.
These elite officers imposed upon the force from the army, had remained totally insensitive towards the woes of ordinary soldiers. Instead of addressing the problems of rank and file in the force, they had rather focused on filling their coffers with booty generated from swindling of funds and food.
While the troops in the force originate from toiling layers of the society, the officers deputed from the army essentially come from upper layers and in most of the cases they have links with ruling elite of Bangladesh. Army officers are deputed in the force apparently to maintain bureaucratic control upon the Force through army. This composition of the force, resting upon the bayonets of troops, constituted a self-contradiction in itself, which ultimately has manifested itself in a rebellion of troops.
The elite Government is in a fix what to do and what ought not to do. Perplexed at the unexpected rebellion, first, it attempted to resort to force. It mobilized the army and Air Force against the mutineers. It failed in the face of mood of rebel troops, who threatened that they would destroy everything in and around Pilkhana, in case army attacks them. The next moment, the Government had to bend. Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister had to meet the 14 representatives of mutineer troops at her official residence. Frightened, she immediately agreed to accept all of the demands of troops and vowed to take no action against those who took part in the mutiny. It took hardly 4 hours that the government came upon its knees before the rebel soldierie.
But desperate to settle the accounts with rebels, the elite officers in the army and bourgeois politicians, wanted to play intrigue upon the mutineers. The army continued to surround the barracks. The mutineers demanded that the army should be sent to garrison first and then only the mutineers would leave the barracks.
As army continued to surround the barracks in Pilkhana, the troops of Bangladesh Rifles started mutiny at other places including Dinajpur, Chittagong, Naugaon etc. Rebellion was reported to have spread at leat to 16 other places in Bangladesh. This widespread uprising, ended the isolation of troops at Pilkhana and prevented the Government from concentrating its forces at Headquarters at Pilkhana.
Emboldened by the support lend by their brothers in other towns, the mutineers extended their demands and raised a comprehensive charter of 50 demands, which calls for complete democratization of the armed forces in Bangladesh. This charter of demands is virtually a manifesto against the bureaucratic control of the armed forces by the elite of Bangladesh.
While seizure of headquarters at Pilkhana continued, the Government of Bangladesh, taking advantage of the low political consciousness among the troops of army, harped upon instigating the army troops to confront the rebel BDR, on the intriguing perception that the BDR has eliminated the officers on deputation from the army. However, in anticipation of a fatal probability of fraternization among the troops of BDR and the army, the government could not dare to permit a face to face confrontation among the two.
The Prime Minister, called an emergency meeting of the Cabinet at her residence to chalk out a strategy on 26 Feb. 2009. The grim situation did not permit the cabinet to take any decision. The Prime Minister only issued a usual warning that if mutineers would not surrender, hard steps would be taken against them, while repeating the offer of general amnesty. The rebel soldiers however, rejected the proposal pressing for 50 demands to be met in bulk and withdrawal of army from the headquarters of BDR.
The Government scared by the spreading mutiny to other areas in the country, had to accede to the demand of rebel soldiers. Normalcy could be restored at headquarters in Pilkhana, only after Home Minister Sahara Khatun and Finance Minister AMA Muhith, themselves arrived at headquarters to observe the laying down of arms by rebels.
With a total population of about 150 million, Bangladesh is a failed State, where living conditions for the mass of population are unbearable and one of the worst in Asia. Poverty, unemployment, backwardness, illiteracy mark the social life of the country. Two Presidents have been slained in military takeovers of power since 1971, while 19 big and small failed coup attempts have taken place, since independence of Bangladesh in 1971. As recent general elections have shown, the ruling classes, as a whole, have taken a sharp turn to fundamentalism and conservatism.
The ruling elite in Bangladesh has become weaker than ever and the present abortive uprising of troops of BDR would surely contribute to their disintegration in its own way. While the political turmoil in Bangladesh requires a resolute action on the part of revolutionary forces, especially the working class in this country, the Stalinist left in Bangladesh continues to be in a state of inertia, unable to play any role in rapidly changing circumstances. The absence of revolutionary leadership of working class inside Bangladesh, thus seems to be the only missing link in the chain of revolution.
What distinguishes the present action of soldiers from the previous one that this time the rank and file had fought for the issues which pertain to its own conditions of life and which are fundamental to political life in the country and its toiling masses. Corruption of the elite, is one of such fundamental issues.
This time, the soldiers’ mutiny has taken place at a time when the elite governments, including that of Bangladesh are engulfed in economic crisis and are worst hit by it. The mutiny, which itself is offshoot of this crisis, because of worsening economic conditions of soldiers, is the first shot of peoples’ unrest in Bangladesh.
While the structures of the armed forces of countries in South Asia remain colonial as a whole, their composition has continued to change. The devastation and proletarianisation of peasantry is reflected in the changing composition and mood of the rank and file of these armed forces. As we know, the regimes of elite classes, of the capitalists and landlords, today rest upon the might of the repressive apparatus of these armed forces, more than ever. Repression of troops, who come from working masses of the people, at the hands of officers, who emerge from upper classes, is the condition precedent for maintenance of this repressive apparatus over and above the people and against them. ‘Discipline’, is the cover for this barbaric repression. The elite regimes, like that of Bangladesh, and in whole of South Asia for that matter, already alienated from the people, have become completely degenerated.
The mutiny had sent shock waves in the ruling elite of the world, especially that of the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh. Home MInister of India Pranab Mukherjee, immediately went on hotline to be in contact with Prime MInister of Bangladesh, to show concern over the situation.
The mutiny shows that these regimes would not be able to count upon the blind strength of their armed forces, for long. We are not far from the time when the poor and oppressed inside and outside the armed forces would come to aid and support each other and would rise in unison with each other, against their common enemy-the elite, the capitalists and landlords.
Mutiny also demonstrates that the development in backward countries would be sudden, unexpected and abrupt, as Leon Trotsky had pointed out, long ago. The mutiny contradicts the preaching of Maoist leaders, who falsely claim that the backward countries would tread the path of ‘protracted’ struggles. After innumerable opportunities had already been missed, because of bogus policies of Stalinists and Maoists, more and more opportunities to move forward are presenting them for revolutionary forces, in this period of crisis and many more would present them in future. Only lacking factor continues to be the absence of revolutionary leadership, capable to consolidate such revolts into conscious revolutionary overturns.