Saturday, February 27, 2010

The BDR Mutiny and Massacre – Some Unanswered Questions

A year has passed since the sad tragedy of 2/25 at Peel Khana happened. People are still without satisfactory answers to fully understand who were behind the cold-blooded killings of 57 Army officers that were on deputation to the BDR and why. The government preliminary inquiry reports were slow in coming and not too satisfactory to quench their thirst. Many folks can’t accept the inquiry report suggesting that the crime was “pre-planned” and yet without involvement of any political party, and that only two politicians - Awami League leader Torab Ali and BNP leader Nasiruddin Ahmed Pintu – had known about the deadly conspiracy. They allege a massive government “cover-up” with the inquiry report. Not surprisingly, conspiracy theories are not short in supply.

Many readers would accuse the NFB editor of displaying gross partisanship, which in this case is anti-Awami League bias, for posting two articles lately - one by 23 anonymous writers, which I would call paper A, and the other by a retired Brigadier General, which I would call paper B - on a matter of enormous curiosity and national importance. Many would even consider these two papers A & B as two such additions to the “conspiracy” basket. (A closer examination suggests that the author of paper B was also a co-author of paper A; bulk of the material was same, almost a carbon copy.)

In a highly polarized environment that we live in, many would even discover ulterior motives of the unknown authors, who stated that the piece was written for only those who are genuinely neutral and unbiased. When it comes to politics, I consider myself neutral and unbiased. I am not apolitical though, and, as such, have never shied away from saying what I felt in my heart whether or not such views were politically correct. Consequently, many a time during the past BNP-rule I was called a BNP sympathizer or partisan by some die-hard Awami Leaguers and neoconservative touts. And these days, I am called an AL supporter or sympathizer, and even a RAW sympathizer for expressing my unbiased views that are at odds with those of the opposing camp! I am above such brandings. I don’t idolize any human being either, not even Prophet Muhammad (S), whom I consider the best of humanity. However, I am one of those who like to believe in inherent goodness of human beings, unless proven otherwise. And I am aware that there are many evil people in our world who are worst than beasts! In my human perception, I can tolerate larger beta errors at the expense of small alpha errors.

I was in Chittagong on my way to meet Mr. Bonoj Kumar, DC-North, Chittagong, when 2/25 unfolded. After the scheduled meeting with Mr. Kumar was cut short I returned home and sat in front of the TV, watching various channels to understand what had went wrong that day. It was a very painful experience for me and my family members since many of our juniors from cadet colleges were killed in that sad event. One such victim was Col. Enshad Amin, my brother Shameem's junior at the FCC. His parents were good friends to our parents and they also lived close to us. I remember visiting the family when Enshad’s father died a few years ago. From our close cadet college circle, we lost over 20 brilliant officers that tragic day.

A few days earlier, I had met with the ACC Chairman Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Hasan Mashhud Chowdhury discussing corruption, and the IGP Nur Mohammad sharing concerns that many of our expatriate community had regarding deteriorating law and order situation within the country, and why his police forces must deliver on the public responsibility to bring down crime and fight against land-grabbers that often victimize our family members. I admired both those individuals for their personal honesty. I remember praying in earnest that the IGP’s son-in-law was not another victim of the BDR carnage. But my prayer was not granted. He too was murdered. It felt like losing a loved one!

Like most Bangladeshis, I am, therefore, all for truth and justice, and want to see the true culprits and conspirators, whoever they are, brought to justice and punished for their heinous crimes. No compromise there! Such crimes can never be allowed to repeat.

I must admit that these papers were fascinating, and appeared almost incredibly mind-boggling, which many would dump as part of a ‘conspiracy’ theory. At best, they appeared to be based on hearsays; at worst, concocted to harm the current government’s image. No credible evidence or reference is provided to substantiate much of the accusations. However, if the information contained therein is true, it portrays a very damning, and almost an evil and sinister, image of a government that plotted to destroy its own forces. And worse still, it succeeded in killing 57 brilliant officers. In that plot, even the prime minister and her son, the Home Ministry, several MPs of the ruling party, few army officers and the BDR mutineers conspired with the (Indian) RAW to bring about the BDR carnage where some co-conspirators were even used as liabilities, sacrificial lambs or pawns, willingly or unwillingly! Simply inexcusable and gravest of the crimes imaginable for any government to commit! To most readers, therefore, the plot would sound as eerie and sinister as 9/11 when Bush Jr. is accused of planning it. Simply stupefying!

After reading both the papers, I remain skeptical since I hate to believe the worst in a democratic government that had won election in a land-slide victory. Why would it conspire against a segment of its own armed forces to kill many of its brilliant officers? The claim sounds rather bizarre when one is reminded by the authors of the paper A that the election win of the AL in the last election itself was stage-managed by the CAS Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed and the DGFI. With those high-ranking generals on its side, was it that difficult for the new government to purge the so-called Islamists from the Army, or the BDR? The answer has to be an emphatic: no. Such conspiracy scenarios can happen with a fascist regime, but not in a democracy – even in an imperfect one - an illiberal democracy like Bangladesh.

Having personally met Sk. Hasina in an informal gathering in NY City when she was the leader of the Opposition (and behaved sister-like), I have difficulty believing that “PM herself gave the final nod for eliminating DG, his wife and Colonel Mujib before one week of the deadly mutiny.” How credible is this piece of allegation? It is difficult to imagine the daughter of a slain president who lost dozens of her loved ones on August 15, 1975 to approve such an evil plot. Only a monster, devoid of any human goodness, can approve such a sinister plan! Is Sheikh Hasina that kind of a cold-blooded murderer? I can’t imagine. And Allah knows the best!

We are told by the authors that this extermination plan was part of Plan B, the covert plan with RAW’s involvement, which was known to PM, her cousin and Taposh’s uncle Sheikh Selim MP and Abdul Jalil MP, besides Nanak, Taposh, Sohel Taj, Mirza Azam, Haji Selim, Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir and a few other members of the PM’s inner circle. We are also told, “Key BDR ringleaders, including DADs Towhid, Jalil and Habib, also knew about the Plan-B.”

We are further told that PM’s son Sajeeb Wazed (Joy) was the architect of the conspiracy who had previously accused the armed forces of “recruiting thousands of Muslim fundamentalist terrorists.” What Joy actually wrote is: “By 2006, at the end of the BNP’s reign, madrassas supplied nearly 35 percent of the Army recruits. In a country that has seen four military coup d’etats in its short 37 year history, the astronomical growth of Islamists in the military is troubling to say the least.” (Stemming the Rise of Islamic Extremism in Bangladesh by Sajeeb Wazed and Carl Ciovacco, HIR) While he could be blamed for exaggerating those recruitment numbers within the Army, it is silly to believe that this paper had seeded the conspiracy plan. Let’s review this accusation against what he truly wrote.

In his HIR paper, Joy stated: “As the country was founded on a secular system of governance, the entire political system is now vulnerable.” He asks, “Can the Awami League stop the growing tide of Islamism in a country that has seen the sale of burkas rise nearly 500 percent in the last five years? The answer is yes if it implements the following secular renewal plan.” To elaborate this renewal of the secular plan, he suggested: “First, it (government) must modernize the curriculum of the madrasses. Second, it must build proper, secular elementary schools and hospitals. Third, it should increase the recruitment of secular-minded students into the military from secular cadet academies. Fourth, it must attempt to rehabilitate known extremist clerics. Lastly, and perhaps the most abstract solution, it must push to vanquish Bangladeshi poverty and illiteracy that consistently ranks among the worst in the world. This plan would make the country less hospitable to a growing Islamist movement and help return Bangladesh to its secular roots.”

As can be seen from the above citation, this HIR paper, a flawed one in the estimate of some, could not have become either the justification or the blueprint for the BDR carnage. [Soon after its publication, I wrote a critique of the HIR paper, which was posted in the Weekly Holiday in Bangladesh (February 6, 2009) and the Internet. ] Those slain officers had no connection with the so-called Islamist terrorists. As a matter of fact some of them were at the forefront of capturing such criminals. Surely killing those officers was not the way of ‘revamping’ the Armed Forces “in order to rescue the nation,” as being alleged by the authors.

The retired Brigadier claims, “In his article, Joy, who is married to a Zionist woman, reaffirmed his personal commitment to the Indo-Israeli cause by asserting that he envisaged a Hindu PM leading the secularised Bangladesh within the next 20 years.” Having read the HIR article a few times, I have failed to connect the charges to the article. I am also not aware that he married a Zionist lady.

It is true that in his many TV appearances the quick-tongued Minister Faruq Khan tried to blame the so-called Islamists, probably parroting Joy’s line, as being the culprits. However, subsequent police inquiries have shown the utter hollowness of such claims. If the government, as alleged, was that bent on purging the so-called Islamists within the Armed Forces why the same government failed to pinpoint the blame on the so-called Islamist groups like the Jamat, JMB, etc. in its report? The Government Report instead showed that there was no connection with those suspected elements. As we can see, there was no witch-hunting with the “Islamists”! Moreover, according to the rules governing the Army, it’s not difficult to force retire any officer, if the government had decided to do so. Why kill them, if they were suspected of promoting so-called Islamism, when better and safer alternatives were available?

Joy is blamed by the authors of these two papers for saying to the world press that corruption of some Army officers within the BDR had contributed to the mutiny. But those papers substantiate that statement by stating that Maj. Gen. Shaqil and his wife were corrupt who had amassed at least Tk. 6 Crore. However, such accusations, true or false, could not have become the basis for killing so many Army officers on deputation to the BDR. There was no evidence of corruption or fund embezzlement against any of the other slain officers. Thus, the dal-bhat program alone could not have become the justification behind the massacre of all those officers. One can imagine that the Jawans who had hitherto enriched them as a result of cross-border smuggling were upset with those officers who did not tolerate such harmful activities. They were also not fond of demeaning attitude (tui tukari) shown to them by the superiors. But still such grievances could not have been the main justifications for killing those officers.

To answer this puzzle we are told that the BDR-carnage was a RAW-inspired crime with some foreign and local players and sponsors in which “RAW pumped in about Rs 60 crore for the entire operation,” and “about 15 foreign gunmen were hired for the execution of the army officers.” The major goal was to deprive Bangladesh of its patriotic Army officers who were not afraid to stand up against a hegemonic power like India. Thus, one clear objective of the plan was to teach a lesson to our brave Army officers that events like Roumari (April 2001) where 150 BSF personnel were killed for raiding a BDR camp inside Bangladesh territory would not be tolerated by India. We are also told that the motivation for some local conspirators, which included Mirza Azam, Haji Salim, Jahangir Kabir Nanak, Fazle Noor Taposh and Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, was pure revenge (presumably they hated the Army). How credible are such claims?

The paper A claims: “Tk 15-17 crore was distributed in Peelkhana between early and late February. Tk 4 lac was fixed per officer's head and the total money was redistributed. The killer group of BDR, who were fixed before, had a much larger payment. The distribution of money for Plan A participants was mainly through the connections of Fazle Noor Taposh, and the payment for the DADs and the main killer group was handled by Nanak. Payment for the hired killers was arranged by Sohel Taj and Joy, some advance made in Hotel Bab-Al-Shams in Dubai earlier.” We are further told, “And as the mutilated bodies of martyred officers were being removed from the mass grave, Mr Joy was handing over payment to a few foreign and a few BDR killers in Dubai.” These are no small charges, esp. against both Sohel and Joy! Unfortunately, the reader is left without any credible reference to check the veracity of such serious charges. The reader is at a loss to understand why the conspirators needed outside players if the DAD Towhid and many of his rank and file were on board with the conspiracy to kill those Army officers. For the right kind of money, those rogue elements within the BDR were enough to kill those unfortunate souls.

The paper A claims, “The final meeting of the hired killers was held at hotel Bab-Al-Shams in Dubai sometime on or near 19th of February. The meeting was attended by a Russian don Lazar Shybazan and a host of other Indians. The main focus of the meeting was to finalize the action and payment plan for Peelkhana massacre."

We are told that of the hired foreign gunmen “a few of them entered through the Benapole border on 21st February." The paper A further claims, “Sohel Taj was given the responsibility to ensure safe return of the killers to Middle-east, London and USA. It was decided that BG flight 049 would be used, if require it will be delayed to ensure safe exit of the foreign killers." Question is: if the killers came from the Benapole border on the eve of February 21, why do they need to be sent outside India, to places like Middle East, UK and USA? After all, it is easier to send them back to India than to far away places.

During the BDR carnage, all media reports said that Sohel Taj was outside the country. These two papers contradict such information. Paper A says: "But we are confirm that Taj didn't go to USA, rather he first visited India. As known by the entire nation, Taj was in USA during 25th-26th February. This is a blunt lie and bluff. He was at Dhaka at that time. On 28th February he was flown to Sylhet by an Army Aviation Helicopter in the evening and the same night he left for abroad by plane from Osmani Airport.” I remember having had to wait until mid-March to get an appointment with Sohel Taj in his office. He had returned only a few days earlier from the USA. He appeared genuine, sincere, smart and intelligent. Again, I have difficulty placing the son of (late) Tajuddin Ahmed as a calculating cold-blooded murderer. And Allah knows the best!

The paper A also claims that in 1975, prior to Bangabandhu’s killing, “Sheikh Kamal picked up the wife of Major Dalim and molested her.” My inquiry into the matter in the past 35 years has led me to believe that the accusation is absolutely false.

To most readers, those two almost identical papers would be viewed, rightly or wrongly, as parts of a malicious campaign to smear the Hasina administration. To some, they would be treated as dirty, hard facts. Flawed as these two papers are with some exaggerations, false information, innuendos and unsubstantiated claims and allegations, not all the charges against the alleged conspirators can be swept away though. However, the burden of proof lies with the accusers and not defendants, which is missing in these two papers. These papers provide plenty of ammunitions in the hands of anyone who is opposed to the current government. They will remain skeptical about the government side of the explanation for one of the most gruesome massacres in Bangladesh’s history. Surely, the distressing situation inside Bangladesh galvanizes their mistrust of the government.

In the post-2/25 period, it is disheartening to see some of the most patriotic Army officers either sidelined or retired. Of particular mention is the removal of the exceptionally brilliant Lt. Gen. Aminul Karim whom I had known since the cadet college days. I remember when I went to the NDC for a seminar he had arranged for me to give a talk in the third week of March he was by then put aside by the PM’s military adviser Tareq Siddiqui without citing any reason. As is well known today, he almost single-handedly restrained the young officers from taking matters into their hands which could have inevitably brought in the Indian forces into the soil of Bangladesh. We are told that a contingent plan of the conspirators was to facilitate such an event. It is sad to see how the genuine patriots are treated inside Bangladesh!

The situation around the border with almost daily killings of Bangladeshi civilians has not improved an iota. India, perceived by most Bangladeshis as a hegemonic power, is seen as an advisor today on how our BDR – the frontline defense force - should be organized, thus compromising our very national security. Such an arrangement is unacceptable and the Hasina administration is seen as a puppet of India. The recently concluded treaty between Sk. Hasina and Manmohan Singh is viewed by many as having benefited India more than Bangladesh. At least, these are unkind perceptions. Since perception often makes to formulate our reality, unless, the current government pays heed to correct such perceptions, right or wrong, it will lose the popular support it needs to remain in power.

We are told that the government investigation on the BDR carnage is at its final stage with some 7,974 persons, including BDR men, their relatives, Ministers, MPs, victims and their family members, police, RAB, army, newsmen and local residents, interrogated. Nearly 2,205 persons, mostly BDR jawans, have been arrested. Of them, 523 BDR men gave their confessional statements to the Magistrates under Section 164 of CrPC. Some 900 people will be charge sheeted. One can only pray and hope that the truth will come out of this investigation process, thus putting a lid to any conspiracy theory.

A special inquiry may be a good idea to probe the allegations brought against some of the politicians mentioned in these two papers, failing which, no matter how innocent they may be, suspicion against their involvement will always hang over their heads. They need it for their own sake.

People’s expectations are that the culprits will be found and punished while the innocents will be spared. Is Hasina government capable of delivering a clean and transparent judicial process where nothing but the truth will come out, no matter how unpleasant such may be? We hope to find out. After all, a Prophetic hadith says: as you are so will have your leaders. That is, if we are good, we shall have excellent leaders; and if we are bad, we shall have bad rulers to overlord over us. May Allah protect us from the latter kind!

References:
http://www.newsfrombangladesh.net/view.php?hidRecord=306551;
http://www.newsfrombangladesh.net/view.php?hidRecord=306815
http://hir.harvard.edu/index.php?page=article&id=1784
http://hir.harvard.edu/index.php?page=article&id=1784
In my Weekly Holiday paper, challenging Joy’s prescription of secularism as the cure-all system, I concluded: “Whether we like to admit or not, oddly, secularism has not always been the necessary protection or answer to stem religious extremism. In this age of ours, religious extremism is not a local phenomenon and is fast becoming a global phenomenon requiring cooperation between governments and NGOs to arrest this tide. What happens in next-door India cannot simply be hidden under the carpet. We need a comprehensive approach to understand why and how it evolves, and then find solutions that are meaningful.” http://www.weeklyholiday.net/2009/060209/edit.html
http://www.newsfrombangladesh.net/view.php?hidRecord=306815
http://www.ittefaq.com/issues/2009/03/09/news0717.htm

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