Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh mass graves
Pavel Rahman/AP
Bangladesh Prime minister Sheikh Hasina

Behind the Mutiny Within Bangladesh’s Army

March 04, 2009 07:30 AM
by Shannon Firth
Police continue to search mass graves and name suspects while the new Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina tries to restore order.

Tragedy in Bangladesh

Early on the morning of Feb. 25, more than 80 army officers were murdered during a meeting of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) at their headquarters in Dhaka. The Bangladesh Rifles are a group of paramilitary border guards who call themselves “The Vigilant Sentinels of Our National Frontier.”

The Daily Star, a Bengali newspaper, announced that police named six of the accused mutineers, including Touhidul Alam, deputy assistant director of the BDR. The police chief has accused more than 1,000 others for their alleged involvement in the massacre.

Last week, scores of bodies were found buried in mass graves, many so mutilated that they were unrecognizable. Time magazine reports that dozens of other officers are still missing and are likely dead. In addition, unofficial reports claim relatives of some officers were also raped and killed. There is confirmation that the wife of the BDR’s commanding officer was murdered.

The motivation behind the mutiny is still uncertain. Although there has been tension over the border guards’ wages, Time magazine theorizes that “the extent of the carnage now appears to raise concerns about the depths of the anger that led to the uprising.”

Al-Jazeera journalist Nicolas Haque reported that most people believed the mutiny had been “pre-planned” as the perpetrators knew where in the army compound to find individual targets. Haque also observed, “The common perception here is that various groups of paramilitary groups and army officers are involved in corruption, many of them believed to be competing for business interests including offshore oil exploration.”

According to Time, the people’s response to newly elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and her handling of the crisis, has been positive overall. However, some critics argue that instead of trying to negotiate with the mutineers, she should have ordered troops to storm the headquarters. Some of the mutineers surrendered Thursday evening.

Brig. Gen. Shahedul Anam Khan, an ex-senior army officer, defended the prime minister’s actions, saying, “If they had stormed the compound and it had gone wrong, it could have been an even worse catastrophe."

Zafar Sobhan, a writer for Time, wrote, “[T]he prime minister's challenge now will be to ensure that the anger within the armed forces is kept in check and poses no renewed threat to the authority of her fledgling democratic government.”

Qwidget is loading...

Background: The two begums in Bangladesh

On Dec. 29, 2008, Bangladesh held its first elections in seven years. In relative terms, the process was largely peaceful, except for 18 reported injuries. The United News of Bangladesh agency reported that fighting erupted in the Madaripur district, 45 miles southwest of the capital of Dhaka, between supporters of opposing parties.

Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League Party and Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party represented the two begums (high-ranking Muslim women) in the elections. Hasina won the election with a two-thirds majority in parliament. In response, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party claimed voter fraud. However, The Daily Telegraph reported that more than 12 million “fake names” were removed from the lists prior to the election.

According to The Associated Press, the two begums “have traded power back and forth for 15 years in successive governments marked by corruption, mismanagement and paralyzing protests.” In 2007, an emergency government of technocrats formed when the elections were called off due to violence. Both Zia and Hasina served a year in prison on corruption charges. In September 2008, Zia was released and Hasina was allowed to return to Bangladesh after receiving medical treatment in the United States while on parole.

Key Player: Sheikh Hasina

The Daily Telegraph reported that Sheikh Hasina's father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, liberated Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. He was killed during a military coup in 1975. According to the National Web Portal of Bangladesh, all of Hasina’s family were killed except for her and her younger sister, Sheikh Rehana, who were both in West Germany at the time. Sheikh Hasina became president of Bangladesh’s Awami League in 1981 and was first elected to the post of prime minister in 1996.

Reference: Bangladesh


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines