|Relatives of a BDR soldier in front of the force’s headquarters in Dhaka. (Reuters)|
Calcutta, Feb. 27: The root of what is turning out to be the world’s worst mutiny in recent times could go all the way back to an event Bengal and the rest of India cannot forget: the Liberation War of 1971.
The Bangladesh Rifles mutiny, in which scores of army officers and several others have been killed, could have been engineered to thwart a determined effort by the Shiekh Hasina government to punish the pro-Pakistan collaborators of 1971 who are still friends with Islamabad, sources told The Telegraph.
The Bangladesh government today said the mutiny was “pre-planned” and that “millions of takas” had been spent on its execution. No suspect was officially named — that task has been left to a six-member committee which will probe the carnage.
But government sources said they saw an “ISI hand” in the mutiny. “The issues involved — pay and perks parity — were not so grave that it could have led to a spontaneous revolt of such magnitude that it warranted the killing of so many army officers,” an official said.
The sources said the real cause of the revolt could be linked to the drive to punish the “war criminals” — one of the most important promises made in the Awami League’s election manifesto.
After coming to power two months ago on a landslide, Hasina’s Awami League moved a resolution in parliament that all “war criminals” would be tried and punished.
The sources said many of the “war criminals” were now leaders of the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami and were known for their close ties with Pakistan. “This resolution by the Awami League and its resolve to push ahead with the election promise obviously upset the Jamaat leaders who realised that sooner rather than later the government would zero in on them,” an official said.
The extent to which the Jamaat leaders were upset can be gauged from the fact that recently Pakistan sent Zia Ispahani, a special envoy, to Dhaka to discuss the issue with Bangladesh’s foreign minister.
After the meeting, the special envoy had told reporters that this was not the right time to punish the war criminals. “Pakistan wants to help Bangladesh now, so they should not go ahead with their resolution,” Ispahani had said.
If the suspicion of the Bangladesh officials turn out to be true, it will mark a disturbing turnaround for the BDR which, in its earlier avatar as the East Pakistan Rifles, had taken up arms against the Pakistan Army in 1971. Since then, barring some skirmishes, the border force has been largely accommodative of India’s concerns.
However, over the years, the lower ranks of the force could have been infiltrated by hardline elements, the sources said.
Hasina today said the violence was a “plot by a section of conspirators” to destabilise her government and refused to grant amnesty to those who indulged in killings.
She told reporters after a visit to Dhaka’s Mirpur Cantonment to console the families of the dead commanders: “It seems a certain group staged the incident. It must also be inquired if any quarter provoked this incident. We must see whether there was any plan to use this incident for a different purpose.”
Jahangir Kabir Nanak, the minister for local government and the key negotiator with the rebels, said “millions of takas” were distributed to make the plot a success.
He also wondered who was behind the group of people seen egging on the mutineers by standing outside the complex and shouting slogans such as “BDR, you go ahead, we are with you”.