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Blood brothers

The Bangladesh Rifles mutiny can be traced back to the war between two wings of Pakistan in 1971, writes Vikram Sood.

india Updated: Mar 07, 2009 23:31 IST

The body of Major General Shakeel Ahmed, commander of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), was found on the second day of the mutiny — bullet-ridden and stabbed by the men of the force he commanded. From the manner in which BDR officers were hunted down, killed and buried in a mass grave; the use of mortars; and the snapping of communication links it is obvious that the massacre was pre-planned. All it needed was an occasion.

Several army officers are still missing, including Colonel Gulzar Ahmed who supervised the operation that led to the arrest and execution of Jamaat-ul Mujahedeen Bangladesh chief Sidiqul Alam (Bangla Bhai). It is not known if Ahmed was specially targetted or an accidental victim, but it is true that the fundamentalists were unhappy over the execution of Bangla Bhai and other jihadi leaders in 2007.

Bangladesh’s short history is steeped in blood, starting with the killing by the Punjabi army of West Pakistan of three million men, women and children. The countless rapes and torture left scars that have not yet healed in many cases. The assassination of Banga Bandhu in 1975 was meant to wipe out the entire family but the sisters, Hasina and Rehana, got away. Khandaker Mushtaque Ahmed, who became president after Mujib-ur Rahman’s murder, granted indemnity to the killers and General Zia-ur Rahman later incorporated this indemnity legislation in his constitution. Other leaders were similarly killed and the cult of violence ultimately led to the assassination of Zia-ur Rahman.

It was only 21 years after Mujib-ur’s assassination, after Sheikh Hasina Wajed won the elections in 1996, that a case for the murder was filed — indicating how entrenched interests had taken over early in Bangladesh’s life.

Sheikh Hasina’s announcement this January that the collaborators in the Bangladesh Liberation War would be tried has almost sent Pakistan scuttling for cover. Apart from misguided conviction about their cause, Islamabad cannot afford another slur now. Besides, the trial of right-wing fundamentalists would cause anger in Pakistan. The other announcement, that Anup Chetia, the ULFA leader, would be handed over to India, would embarrass the ISI by making public their links to the ULFA. So far under Khaleda Zia, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, an ISI clone, had been the loco parentis of the ULFA.

The man linked to these unsavoury deals is Salahuddin Qadir Choudhry who, it is believed, helped infiltrate the BDR with men from Harkat-ul-Jihadi-al-Islami, Al Badr and others owing loyalty to the Jamaat-e-Islami. This is ironic since the BDR had fought on behalf of the Bangla nationalists against the Razakars and the pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami, and has known pro-Bangla credentials. Salahuddin also figures in the list of culprits involved in brutalities during the 1971 war; he is associated with the smuggling of arms and ammunition meant for Indian insurgents through Chittagong; he is also believed to be the conduit for funds from Pakistan. As a reward for services rendered, Khaleda Zia had proposed his name as secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, presumably at the behest of Islamabad. Now that Sheikh Hasina is in power, it is likely that Salahuddin will be brought to trial soon. She had to be stopped because Salahuddin apparently knows too much.

It is difficult to re-construct the entire drama but maybe the calculation was that the army would react violently to the killing of its officers, chaos would result and the Awami League would have to be jettisoned as incompetent.

But it seems that Sheikh Hasina did not blink, the army did not react (some say even General Moeen’s U Ahmed’s life was threatened) and the immediate crisis has passed.

Vikram Sood is a former chief of R&AW

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