Bangla Rebellion: The Challenges Ahead

The rebellion by the Bangladesh Rifles better known as the BDR portends tough times ahead for the Sheikh Hasina led Awami League Government voted to power with an overwhelming majority in the Jatiya Sansad and Upazilla Parishad elections held recently in Bangladesh. While the government has done well to survive the current crisis there are many question marks over its ability to handle the complex problems of the country which are a mix of rise in fundamentalism, extremism and criminalization.

While the BDR rebellion is reported to have been led by Deputy Assistant Directors (DADs) level personnel, they succeeded in eliminating over 100 army officers in the force. The four DADs Touhidul Alam, Jalil, Nasiruddin Khan, Mirza Mahbubur Rahman and jawans Abdur Rahim and Selim were the core group responsible as per bdnews24.Com. It is apparent that the mass killings took place in an hour or so in the morning of 25 February.

This is thus a premeditated attack by an organized group, either motivated externally or due to frustration and political aspirations from within. In both cases this is a singular failure of intelligence and would not augur well for the security in the country. Over 1000 BDR personnel have been charged but with more officers still missing the proportions of the rebellion could be much wider than assessed so far.

The key issue for the government is to ensure that it retains the loyalty of the army which has been shaken by this direct assault on its credibility for the insinuations and the demands made by the rebels have alleged wide scale corruption and ill treatment, something which the army brass may not accept very easily. More over the anger over mass killing of officers will not subside soon; therefore there is a need to treat the uniformed personnel with kids gloves in the days ahead. The Prime Minister has done well to visit the army barracks and have an open dialogue with the officers. She must win over and retain their confidence given the past history of coups in the country.

Speedy investigation and trial of the guilty and compensation to the families including a trust which would take care of the children of those killed would be necessary and would to some extent alleviate the trauma. These measures have to be taken on an emergency footing to ensure that the army's rightful sense of hurt does not exacerbate.

Another issue of concern is existence of a wider conspiracy given certain unpopular steps that the Awami League government was taking such as trial of 1971 war criminals. There were powerful forces which would have been affected particularly the Jamaat leadership who have supporters in Pakistan as well. Penetration of the BDR by cadres of the Jamaat cannot be ruled out and could have triggered the rebellion though more information would be necessary to come to firm conclusions.

There are likely to be significant barriers in the path of the new government from inimical forces who fear that their interests would be harmed if the Awami League, a secular and progressive party brings about radical changes in governance facilitated by overwhelming majority in the Jatiya Sansad.

The danger of rise of right wing extremism is also very grave. The threat was evident early during the month when there were reports from the US, United Arab Emirates and Pakistan that the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina was under threat from international terrorist organizations in league with local extremist groups. Hasina has been warned of possible attempts on her life by Islamist terrorist groups including banned Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJi), and JMB from time to time including by Indian intelligence agencies.

Student violence is another issue of concern. In February, there were many instances of violence by students with scores injured across the country from Dacca to Rajshahi, Patuakhali, Comilla, Rangpur, Sherpur, Satkhira and Gopalganj. Most of these rioting was by the Bangladesh Chatra League affiliated to the ruling party.

The global economic crisis is another worry for the government, which has seen the off takes from the ports going down even though remittances from the Gulf another key source of income continue to remain strong.

For Sheikh Hasina, who has been out of power for the past 10 years, getting hold of the bureaucracy, law and order machinery and the army would be essential at this stage to meet these multiple challenges. While the popularity of the lady with a smile which frequently hides her determination and patriotic fervor is not in doubt, the ability to control these fissiparous forces remains a question mark.

While she has spurned the offer of a joint approach with the opposition BNP presumably due to fears of the conspiracy theory, some political conciliation would be necessary to survive the blows to stability in the country.

Will Hasina survive this crisis would be dependent on her ability to mobilize the masses in her favor, retain the faith of the army and control law and order in that order, for if she has the faith of the people, the army would not take over knowing that they would be facing international ignominy further driving down the credibility of the country. More over the ability of the army to control through the power of the gun remains unproven. Thus strengthening Hasina seems to be the way ahead both at home, regionally in which India has a major role to play and internationally. She needs all the support that we can give to avoid Bangladesh go down the brink.


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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