It has been twelve years since the day 57 brilliant army officers were brutally killed by the BDR mutineers. Time cannot erase the hurt, neither can the killings be forgotten. As a modern poet has so aptly summed up, “Some pain has no relief, it can only be sealed. You can grasp the wound to feel the scar unhealed.” To forgive may be divine but no ordinary mortal can rise to that level of divinity to forgive those that had brought such a gruesome fate upon their husbands, fathers and sons during the mutiny. The kindred ones of the dead will carry the pain till their last day.
With the legal process having run its course and a large number of mutineers tried, convicted and sentenced to various degrees of punishment, including the 139 whose death sentence has been upheld by the Appellate Division, and the 154 who were awarded life term, it is perhaps time to put a lid on the matter and go about with our business as usual, some may aver.
Well, not quite!
Handling of the mutiny has received mixed reactions. However, while it is easy to be wise after the event, I personally believe that there are many unanswered questions, and one needs to ask them if a closure on the manner of dealing with the mutiny is to be arrived at. I also believe it is necessary to delve further into the cause of the mutiny—i.e. grievances of the BDR soldiers—and to seek explanation for the omissions and commissions of the agencies involved in dealing with the mutiny and the mutineers.
Nothing can cause us to forget the brutal massacre, however. Just think, we lost 47 officers during the entire nine months of the Liberation War in 1971. Between February 25 and 26 in 2009, we lost 57 gems. Some of the family members of the officers were also subjected to disgrace and ignominy. The bestiality of the perpetrators defies description, as much as the inability to react appropriately resists rational explanation.
Some may well counter it by suggesting that any other action might have caused more collateral deaths. Well, that may have been true. But there is no way of knowing what would have been the outcome if any other course of action had been adopted, since none else was adopted. However, what is indisputable is that the strategy that was employed resulted in the loss of 57 officers and 17 others. There were many alternatives, and one is not talking of merely use of overwhelming force against the mutineers. I am afraid the unfortunate BDR officers and the country were let down by the incapacity of the planners to employ two most important principles of war—speed and surprise.
When an objective is achieved with such a high casualty, then questions naturally arise about what the objective of the planners was. The only objective—when it became very apparent that several officers had already been killed—should have been to save the rest at any cost. In my view, every other consideration should have been subordinated to this. Thus, one wonders if negotiation was the best strategy at that point in time. But these commanders survived the mutiny without a scratch on their leadership credentials. The only heads to roll in the aftermath of the mutiny were that of a few budding young officers who had the gumption to offer their opinions as they saw fit. And they did so only after being invited by the Chief of Army Staff. Another shameful example of a commander’s failure to stand by his officers and abandoning them to their fate.
We are compelled to revisit the matter for other reasons too. The mutiny staged by the so-called disgruntled BDR Jawans was as unprecedented as were the consequences. It occurred just two weeks into a new government being elected to office.
I believe the questions surrounding the mutiny and massacre have not been adequately answered. And I strongly suggest that further investigation be launched not only into the causes of the mutiny in order to identify the masterminds behind it, but also to determine the shortcomings and lacunae in dealing with the mutiny. It is essential to know how and where the intelligence agencies failed (or if they indeed failed at all). The purpose of any investigation is not only to hold people accountable; it is done to ensure that by rectifying the mistakes at every level of responsibility, such incidents are not repeated.
The report of the government enquiry committee has not been released in full. But whatever has been made public raises a few questions. First, the real planners have not been identified. Second, the reasons cited in the enquiry committee report are too glib to be believed. My experience of command does not allow me to accept the contention that soldiers would collectively resort to such extreme actions just because their grievances were not met. The said report, I would like to add, reflects some of the analysis that I had done in a series of articles following the massacre—that the BDR soldiers’ grievances were exploited by a third party to perpetrate the massacre.
In fact, the committee itself has recommended further probe. Let me quote the relevant portion here: “The real cause and motive behind the barbaric incident could not be established beyond doubt. The committee feels that further investigation is required to unearth the real cause behind the incident. The negative attitude among the general BDR members towards the army officers, and their discontent over unfulfilled demands, may be identified as the primary cause of the mutiny… such small demands cannot be the main cause of such a heinous incident. These points have been used to influence the general BDR soldiers. The main conspirators may have used these causes to instigate this incident, they themselves working from behind curtains to destabilise the nation.” Shouldn’t the recommendations be followed up?
We would also like to know who organised the processions that were brought out around the Pilkhana area in support of the mutineers on February 25 and 26, which were attended by some residents of Azimpur, Hazaribagh and New Market areas in support of the BDR men.
The said probe body report also reveals that several mutineers had tried to contact some political leaders to garner support. It would help to know who these political leaders were, and more importantly, whether these political leaders had informed the intelligence agencies or their own leaders of the potential upheaval. Many such small but significant questions remain unanswered. The findings of the said inquiry body cannot be left to meet the same fate as do the recommendations of other committees. It is too important to be treated in a similar manner.
The many unanswered questions should be answered if we as a nation want to truly put the tragedy of February 25 behind us. No amount of monetary help can be adequate recompense for the families of the victims. We must follow up on the recommendations of the probe committee and identify the masterminds and see them punished. Only then can the souls of the dead officers rest in peace. Only then will the aching heart of the nation find some solace.
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc (Retd), is a former Associate Editor of The Daily Star.