Sepoy Mutiny, Dhaka, 2009

Dhaka needs to regain control over its security apparatus

"They are firing rifles, machineguns, artillery and all sorts of weapons," one police officer near the scene said. The Bangladeshi army called on the attacking troops to "surrender arms and go back to the barracks."

So who just attacked the Bangladeshi army? It’s own paramilitary wing, as it turns out. The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) is tasked with guarding the country’s border with India and it sometimes gets into shooting matches with the BSF, its Indian counterpart. [See Fence, Phensidyl and border tensions] The current shooting match appears to be a mutiny by the BDR ranks against their (army supplied) officers.

It does raise serious questions about the Bangladesh government’s capacity to control the BDR troops. If Dhaka can’t prevent them from shooting at their senior officers inside their headquarters in the capital, it is quite unlikely to be able to prevent them from shooting at BSF personnel on the remote and complex border.

42 thoughts on “Sepoy Mutiny, Dhaka, 2009”

  1. “It does raise serious questions about the Bangladesh government’s capacity to control the BDR troops. If Dhaka can’t prevent them from shooting at their senior officers inside their headquarters in the capital, it is quite unlikely to be able to prevent them from shooting at BSF personnel on the remote and complex border.”

    This comments are highly objectionable. BFS Does always start shooting at BDR. BSF have alteast killed 500 times more people then BDR did in the border.

    Also BSF hv highly notorious reputation about looting at borders residents

  2. Zia,

    Even if the statistics you quote are true, this is not about the number of people killed. It is about the degree of control the civilian government has over the BDR. I also think it is highly objectionable for BDR people to shoot their officers.

  3. >it is quite unlikely to be able to prevent them from shooting at BSF personnel on the remote and complex border

    Hey, who’s side are you on 🙂

    Replace border with kashmir/mumbai and BSF with indian civilians or kashmiri pandits and BDR with ISI/taliban.

  4. It is all rubbish “It does raise serious questions about the Bangladesh government’s capacity to control the BDR troops. If Dhaka can’t prevent them from shooting at their senior officers inside their headquarters in the capital, it is quite unlikely to be able to prevent them from shooting at BSF personnel on the remote and complex border.’

    This is how Indian reporters depict Bangladesh. Inida is no way better than Bangladesh. BSF is a bunch of criminals, a gang of thugs. Khan

  5. It does raise serious questions about the Bangladesh government’s capacity to control the BDR troops. If Dhaka can’t prevent them from shooting at their senior officers inside their headquarters in the capital, it is quite unlikely to be able to prevent them from shooting at BSF personnel on the remote and complex border.

    You are generalising from a single incident. I don’t it raises many questions about control of the military at all; it looks like a mutiny by a single unit, the only reason it is receiving a lot of attention ie because it has happened in the capital and happened to be near a meeting of senior officers. Paramilitarty troops are less disciplined than the military across the region of south Asia and Bangladesh is not the only country with this problem. The BSF also have fire discipline issues and are trigger happy. The professional militaries involved being subject to much more intense training and rigid discipline have less problems in this regard.

  6. This is the pakistanis creating trouble in Bangladesh because of all the talk of a truth and reconciliation event on the Bangaldesh genocide of 1971 by Pakistan and its allies in Bangladesh (who are also supporters of BNP and Jamaat-e-islami in Bangladesh).

  7. @conrad,

    You think wrong. The mutiny was by several units who had gathered in the capital to mark BDR week. Following this, BDR camps in Chittagong, Khulna etc also rose in mutiny. We are yet to see how deep this goes.

    And dude, there’s a difference between indiscipline and mutiny.

  8. @conrad

    You are generalising from a single incident. I don’t it raises many questions about control of the military at all;

    Controlling BDR troops is *not* the same as controlling the Bangladesh army. Why set up a straw man?

    Paramilitarty troops are less disciplined than the military across the region of south Asia and Bangladesh is not the only country with this problem. The BSF also have fire discipline issues and are trigger happy.

    This looks odd, especially if one takes seriously your suggestion not to reach conclusions without sufficient evidence. Could you cite evidence to support your claims?

  9. Looks like ISI wants to destabilize Bangladesh and encroach into India through the borders along Bangladesh, Hence it has encouraged revolt in BDR. A sad situation for the world.

  10. Looks like the mutiny may continue for some more days.

    Am happy but am wondering what prevents Indian armed forces also to react in a similar manner, given their grievances too about lesser pay!

  11. Could Pakistan have a had in this mutiny in Bangladesh? Or is this another of Bangladesh army’s attempt to takeover the rule?

  12. Conrad and Zia, the fact that so many Bangladeshis are trying to get across the border into India means they (and their supporters like you) will always claim the Indians “have fire discipline issues”, “always fire first”, etc, etc. Anything to justify the border infiltration and the lack of respect for the border. As far as I’m concerned, good fences make for good neighbors, and we ought to build something like the Korean DMZ along our border with Bangladesh. Good neighbors should have no problem with good fences, otherwise they’re not good neighbors.

  13. Venkat, why do you want Indian Army to revolt, and against whom. They are happy with their perks. This is evident from the fact that several pre-mature resignations have been withdrawn after Lt. Cols given pay band PB-4. If a Indian fauzy wants to die, he would like to die while kiiling an enemy, and not a fellowmen. Forget your dream of revolt in Indian Army over pay and perks.

  14. There is news that mutiny is spreading across Bangladesh. It seems there is more to it, than just overthrowing the govrnment. Why Bangladesh does not merge with India, for more stability. A feasible idea. All SARC country coming together can become a big POWER in world.

  15. @ Udayan,

    Yes, the mutiny was more widespread than initially cited in the post, I accept that. My comment was based on the information provided at the time.

    I also agree that indiscipline and mutiny are separate issues; the link was actually made in the original post where it was claimed that the inability of the Bangladesh govt to prevent BDR from firing in border incidents is linked to their ability to control them from mutinying. I am happy to address these issues as separate ones.

    @photonman,

    The original post relates to Bangladesh’s control over “its security apparatus” hence my comment about the military. The military is the key part of the security apparatus in South Asian countries, once it can’t be controlled then are serious problems. If a mutiny had broken out within the regular army, that would have been a cause for concern. I don’t mean to create a straw man but just to point out that paramilitary forces are much more prone to breakdowns likes this as has happened with units like the JKLF and CRPF in India.

    Re: evidence most of it relates to Kashmir but deals with the fire indiscipline of the BSF. I can’t think of any online sources but two books deal with this in some length – Vijay Karan’s “War by Stealth: Terrorism in India” and Sumantra Bose “Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace” official review that is available to the general public can be found in the 22nd report of the Standing Committee of the Lok Sabha (14th Lok Sabha). Unfortunately a lot of the original reports and documents cited, particularly investigations by the Ministries of Defence and Home aren’t open to the public but these works cite from a selected reading of them.

    @Sanjay
    I don’t think “fire discipline” issues are caused by illegal migration as such – to do so, like you are, assumes that the BSF targets civilians deliberately which is untrue imo. Exchange of fire where it has occurred has happened between the border forces of the two countries. Most migration isn’t driven by a “lack of respect” for the border, desire to infiltrate India etc. These are paranoid assumptions. Most illegal migration is drive by economic factors and illegal cross-border trade and it won’t stop because of a fence. We have a rapidly growing, booming economy that is diversified and sucks in labour, Bangladesh doesn’t. It is simple demand and supply; all countries with disparate growth rates and job opportunities face the same problem – like the US and Mexico. The fence along this border might have slightly reduced the flow of migrants but that is all. This is a largely demand-driven phenomenon so it won’t be eliminated by building fences, appeals to “being a good neighbour” (whatever the hell this means).

    I don’t support illegal migration, particularly on this scale and it is ridiculous to claim otherwise. Reducing migration will involve making more economic growth in Bangladesh so that migrants don’t have as much incentive to migrate and also to deal with the serious environmental problems Bangladesh has – if global warming continues unabated and the Bangladesh delta starts to flood permanently; no amount of fencing or border guards is going to stem the flow of refugees.

  16. Although a violent rebellion like this is reprehensible, the grievance brought against the Bangladesh army is totally justifiable. Bangladesh army has little respect for the constitution, elected officials and population in general, let alone for their apparent lowly cousins in BDR. How can the army chief boast in recently published autobiography how he decided to dictate (in reality ‘forced’) the president to declare emergency and took control power and commanded every major decision for two years henceforth. During that time harassment, torture, and extorting of money in the guise of corruption witch-hunting by the army was rampant. Bangladesh army itself set a bad example of not respecting any chain of command time and time again. Besides, the notorious army intelligence agency spread itself so thin by getting itself involved in sniffing after public that it totally failed to foresee the BDR mutiny.

  17. Seems to have been resolved; but quite a few officers have been killed in the process. A granting of a blanket amnesty while perhaps the quickest way to ensure a return to normalcy, is unwise given the tensions this will generate with the Army who have lost senior personnel. At the very least some restructuring of the BDR will be necessary to prevent a re-occurrence.

  18. Rumor has it that it is the steps by the Hasina govt to curb some lucrative BDR activities like smuggling dues etc that caused the mutiny. The foot soldiers my have been given pay and pelf as the reason but the senior mgmt in BDR likely has other reasons to start a shooting match and to do it now.

    Also, the Jamaat is openly proclaiming support for the BDR. Smells of Pakiness run amok within BDR onlee.

  19. All this is really odd.

    I think it is only common knowledge that who is more aggressive at the borders. While we hear only 1 or 2 incidences where BSF were wounded or lets say even killed by our force, we hear 5-6 or even more of those incidences where BDR were harmed by BDR. And all this is excluding those cases where our innocent farmers were killed by the BSF.

    i would know that as we get to see indian channels. Indians dont think it important enough to air our channels, so they never get to hear our side of the story

    The incidence that took place in Dhaka was a big misfortune.i don’t know how it relates up to what this certain person concluded. Where you as our neighbours should morally support us like we did during your mumbai attack, you jump into his kind of selfish conclusions,so sadly i cannot but judge my ‘humble’ neighbours.
    And i think the mature way in which our newly formed government have handled this crisis moments have been appreciated everywhere.Crisis situation happens every where. I can mention a thousand of those that took place in India, but its only unfair to jump into conclusions because of that.

  20. >>I think it is only common knowledge that who is more aggressive at the borders. While we hear only 1 or 2 incidences where BSF were wounded or lets say even killed by our force, we hear 5-6 or even more of those incidences where BDR were harmed by BDR. And all this is excluding those cases where our innocent farmers were killed by the BSF.

    I think a tally of casualties of both forces will show clearly that far more BSF soldiers have been killed/wounded than BDR ones. What the reasons for this are can be debated but I don’t think point-scoring or one-upmanship about whose paramilitary forces are better/worse is particularly productive – whether it is done by Indians or Banlgadeshis.

    The original post was about the control of the civilian govt over the BDR which I don’t think, is really “selfish” per se. Most Indians, as can be seen from the comments on this thread do tend to see developments from their own perspective, which is to be expected, and some of them obviously go overboard with their fears of external instigation etc. but the general sentiment is one which wants there to be a stable govt which is a civilian one that can control its armed agencies in Dhaka. This is clearly in the interests of both Bangladesh and India, so there is no divergence as both sides will benefit from avoidance of thise kinds of incidents.

  21. Like I said — Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. When you have a good enough fence, then you’ll have neighborly enough relations. When the fences are high enough and thick enough, then nobody has to worry about any firing incident by the other, just as nobody has to worry about any intrusion incident by the other. As many couples have found out, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and strict separation can make life much happier than it might otherwise have been.

    So the solution to all bilateral issues is to have the biggest and best fence possible. Then I don’t care what BDR and Bangla Army do to each other.

    link

    Just make sure to keep Calcutta on the same side of that wall. If necessary, we can send in Hrithik with an eye-patch.

  22. NEWSMAN
    Sorry I don’t want our armed forced to react like this.. I think I mixed some of my words. I meant, I am happy our guys don’t react like this though the media says our armed men have similar grievances. I also meant to ask how this [non-violence] was possible in India and how our democratic policies ensure such grievances are met through non-violent means, though they may take time to resolve.

    I surely see a Paki hand in this mutiny in Bangladesh. Pak military-jehadi complex may not like a stable democracy in its step-brother nation.

  23. Whose ever hand it is.When the dead bodies of our warriors keep popping out of the sewerage drains, i think we are beyond any kind of situation to blame any one. But i do have a very strong feeling that there is outside hand in this, be it Pakistan or any one else.The big question now is the fate of the soldiers.

  24. ‘So the solution to all bilateral issues is to have the biggest and best fence possible. Then I don’t care what BDR and Bangla Army do to each other.’

    How kind of you sanjay, not to care.
    And how easy to say.How respectful attitudes Indians have. Not much unexpected though.

    Talking about good fences, some how it is always India who is in need of them.Such crisis never occur in other far more developed countries than them.
    In Europe their is not even a sign of a border in between the EU countries.And hardly any between the less develpoed east europe and the west.And all the border issues be it india-pakistan or bangladesh-pakistan happen to bother mostly the Indians, in spite of their strong BSF and other border guards.
    And my question is how would you know whether BDR attack on BSF is more or the vice versa.All the news you get is those fed to you by your national TV.While India can afford to have random Chinese and Japanese channels, with whom they do not even share a common language,they think its a waste to broadcast our Bangla channels.That too because we don’t broadcast those unrealistic over dramatized soap operas.
    Thus they stay far away from our side of the story.The one or two news of BDR aggression leaves you all tense, while you remain completely unaware of our almost monthly news of the BSF attack.
    And When you say you are concerned about bilateral issues,it kind of comes as a surprise.Since it was the decision of India not to discuss any of those bilateral issues in the SAARC summits.That is when the terms ‘borders’ and ‘Farrakka embankments” keep vibrating in my ears…wonder why? me too.

  25. two bangladeshi villagers got killed by bsf today at dinajpur…you have got any thing to say about this, conrad, sanjay?

  26. Samia
    We do get to hear alleged BSF violations and killing and we also read about what happened today. But, our media has this propensity to sensationalise news about our armed forces and so we take such news with a pinch of salt. About Japanese and Chinese channels, I guess there may be a market for such channels in India, given the trade links, but a market for Bangla markets may not exist outside West Bengal? Not everything is driven by political considerations.
    About borders, I share views of others here. It is better to have strong walls between neighbours who are in their growth phase. Take the case of two young violent men living in houses next to each other with/without compound walls. Take the case of another two old senile men living next to each other with/without compound walls. “with” fits in the former and “without” fits in the latter. South Asia can be compared to the former while EU could be compared to the latter. It would not be appropriate to compare ourselves with EU. When have EU nations seen army walking into capitals and declaring army rule at the wink of eyes?

    Good to hear your views from across borders [assuming you are from Bangladesh!!]

  27. Samia – I haven’t heard that news but I did not say the BSF were blameless or that they don’t open fire when it is not necessary. In fact, if you look at my earlier comments, it is precisely my contention that the BSF HAS demosntrated poor fire discipline in the past. My understanding of the relative casualties of BSF and BDR soldiers is based on comparable news reports over the last few years and it is the strong conclusion that more BSF soldiers have been killed.

    The televisual media in India is quite sensationalist and poor; it is also very jingoistic. The print media of the main national papers/journals is much better; the major incidents of firing that have taken place such as in 2005 which they looked at, do end up with more BSF jawans being killed than their BDR counterparts and this draws on information released by the Indian and Banlgadesh govts. If this information is inaccurate from the Bangladeshi side, then it is due to the government there providing inaccurate figures as it is difficult for Indian journalists to verify this independently on the ground.

    I think it is simplistic of view to typecast what Indians think just because of one or two reactions. People will have a wide range of opinions on this, I have already stated that stability in Bangladesh and peace there is as much in the Indian interest as it is Bangladesh’s.

    I also don’t think building a strong fence etc. is the answer; that is just a delusion. There are serious problems that need to be addressed and constructing barriers to me is a failure of policy and strategic thinking not its outcome. Such solutions have not worked along the US-Mexico border or the Israeli-Palestinian one and anyone who knows anything about the Indo-Bangla border will realise it will not solve these issues.

    Sensible engagement on these and other bilateral issues is the only viable way forward.

  28. Samia, why don’t you explain what your BDR friends were doing with a mass grave in the middle of their HQ?

    link

    Would you care to explain this little anomaly?

  29. the BDR mutiny may have ended but several unaddressed concerns continue to linger.

    I think its more important to discuss these real concerns than turning this into a bilareal dispute. We, South Asian, have not been able to solve most of our problems because we camouflage our national challenges by pointing fingers at eachother.

  30. Samia,

    I for one was impressed by the way your PM handled the crisis. But something in me says,there must be justice(I am not saying revenge) for the murder of 137 officers.

  31. The Pioneer edit nails it.

    The whole saga has been scripted by BD islamists because the AL govt is moving against the erstwhile razakars with war crimes trials. Poor Pakistan twice jumped up and down, rushed in sepcial envoys and the like, to get BD to ‘let bygones be bygones’ etc to no avail.

    So, this is the ISI’s (and the Jamaat-e-islami’s) way of sending a message to the AL to layoff the issue. No doubt a section of the military with links to the BNP and the jamaat is also heavily involved.

    Mass graves, 100+ officers executed…. this isn’t the work of a spontaneous uprising of lower ranks folks. Smells of a far deeper conspiracy onlee.

  32. samia, just couldn’t help myself but joining the discussion. You talked about the fencing requirement of India…ya..it badly needs becoz at one side, one country is standing (surely Pakistan) whose half part has been lost with the help of India (Independence of Bangladesh) and in other side Bangladesh is, unfortunately ruled by the people till now who were against Independence of Bangladesh. So India had enemy at both the sides.

    Now when those pakistani supporters are out of the power, they are trying to trouble the govt.

    As far as the BSF and BDR issue is concerned, surely BSF is more powerful (surely powerful does not mean violent) than that of BDR. (hope u can remember once Ershad quoted that if Indian army attacks Bangladesh it will take just 10 mins for Indian army to win over Bangladesh army) Even then they are getting killed. why? can u please ask yourself? that is becoz they are not as violent as BDR is.

  33. samia
    “two bangladeshi villagers got killed by bsf today at dinajpur…you have got any thing to say about this, conrad, sanjay?”
    —The BSF are just doing their duty, that’s their job, well done boys.
    Bangladeshi’s indulge in all sorts of nefarious activities – illegal arms, terrorism, anti-social activities et al, almost 10%-15% of their citizens live illegally in India – pack em off – sadly we lack political will- & then someone has the cheek to give sermons on how to deal with this nuisance by emulating the ‘advanced’ countries, Yeah why not! how bout like the Americans where citizens living at the borders are given licensed guns with the license to shoot illegal immigrants….

  34. Samia, I notice that investigations seem to be turning up links between BDR and some suspicious Pakistan characters:

    link

    I can see why Pakistan/ISI would be interested in destabilizing the govt of Sheikh Hasina, who has recieved an electoral mandate of historic proportions. The Pakistanis don’t like Hasina, who eschews their brand of fiery Islamic politics for more developmental social issues. You see, Bangladesh can’t extort aid money from the US like Pak is doing, so naturally Dhaka is going to focus more on development.

    The setback to Islamic sectarian forces in Bangladesh must be causing Pakistan a lot of heartburn. Thus they would look for ways to destabilize the current Bangladesh govt, to bring back the old dispensation. Islamabad hasn’t let go of its feudal attitudes toward East Pakistan.

  35. The agenda of Bangladesh freedom from pakis remained half filled. It was only political freedom. Actual freedom would come with peace, stability and growth. Poverty is a major problem of bangladesh. I feel India should help development in bangladesh, heavily. So many military turmoil in 4 decades is not good for existence of a country.

  36. There is an organization of islamists, calling itself the Tablighi Jamaat which is very active in this south asia region. Its chain extends from UP right up to the Indian North East region. Its project islamiization is very active in rural Bangladesh. I think this jamaat has played a major part in this fiasco.

  37. Dear SAMIA I told on 27 Feb 2009, about the possibility of paki-hand in this. And now there are news about the ISI being actively involved in the act. Why can’t this country which calls itself PAK(means pure), remains limited to itself, instead of meddeling in others affairs. I feel since its inception in 1947, it has been a pain in the subcontinent to have pakistan. The thoery of two-nations has failed. It was divide and conquer strategy of Britishers, which is giving imense pain to this region. Why all the members in SAARC can’t talk to each other and come to unification like in Europe. It would be a great power. It can bring prosperity to the region.

  38. You are getting me all wrong.
    I salute the Indians.I believe without their help it would have been something near to impossible to get a sovereign state called Bangladesh. And my opinion is not much different from our ex-president Ershad,that it would probably not take much time or effort by India to DO any sort of Harm or lets say take over my land.
    And it is not because i think your Bsf is stronger or that your Army is more well trained, but because you have the weapons and the economic and social capacity to do so.India has nuclear weapon if i am not wrong, and its existence it self is sometimes enough and not its use. And how is Bangladesh still intact 1.Because of our carefulness 2.because of India’s humbleness.
    And when our bdr soldiers goes wild leaving our borders almost unattended, and when this certain article says that the the borders of India is at risk. that is when i call it selfish.
    And we are neighboured by two countries, one of which is a big with more benefits and power, and separated from another. through a barbaric war,i hope it is not hard to realize what kind of danger we are in.whether anything is intended or not, the risk is there.
    About outside influence,beyond doubt that it is there, be it from country or abroad and before further investigations it wont be right to point any fingers.

    Yes and i cannot justify how this crisis is being handled, nor why there’s a mass grave in the head quarters, because this is what the crisis and our misfortune is all about.And it is Bangladesh who is in a helpless position right now.And it was expected that our neighbours would support and understand us,since they themselves have faced situations like this at a tender age of 37.

    Aam Insaan

    As for 10-15% of our population living there, all i have to say, that as far as i know 100% of our neighbours are also not living where they are supposed to live, Certainly India is in a better economic state than ours,But when you have illegal “NRI”‘s all across the globe then i really don’t get the justification of what you are saying .
    And at least we don’t boast off when our soldiers kill the innocents,if that is a credit to you, then so be it.
    I did not intend all this to be verbal war between Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh is in debt to India in more ways than it can be expressed or ever returned.And we recognize that.In each of our Independence days we do not only salute our martyred souls but also those Indian soldiers who gave their lives for our freedom.And you Indians yourselves have raised our expectations from you.So i guess it wont be asking too much to support us morally, spiritually rather than doing all this

    ANd that is the only reason, i expressed my opinion against this article.

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