Thursday 31 October 2013

Could a military operation have saved the day? : Brig Gen Sharif Aziz, psc (retd)

Almost five years have passed but sentiments and emotion are still running high in the absence of military action to quell the BDR mutiny

  •  The case for an armed response that could have prevented the massacre during the BDR mutiny in February 2009 and saved many innocent lives
    Photo- Syed Zakir Hossain
The memory is vivid and fresh: 2009 February 25. As many as 57 officers were brutally murdered. This day will go down in the history of Bangladesh as one of the most infamous days. Why so many lives had to be sacrificed is the question that will always haunt us.
As an ex-military officer I feel we need to go over and over again on the macabre incident to find out the justification of not conducting a “military operation” on that day and save many valuable lives. I think as a nation we will continue to deceive ourselves if we look away and do not draw appropriate lessons from the incident.
In my opinion a military operation was the most desired option to avoid the catastrophe on that day. Some of the justifications are narrated below.
There was no formidable leadership in the rebel forces that could be traced from the immediate video footage shown by the private TV channels on the 25th morning and afternoon. The personnel were unruly, haphazard in their pronouncements and announcements.
This very factor should have been enough of an indication to the military leadership or planners to deduce and decide immediate offensive in the form of commando attacks in small groups of five to six persons from five/six directions scaling the perimeter wall of BDR and generate faint/diversionary attacks. And there after one or two APCs appearing from the two gates from opposite directions could have created havoc in the minds of, by then, morally depleted BDR personnel.
Though BDR is located in a built-up area, it in itself is confined to a walled-up area. The confused and panicked civil population had already begun to flee the area fearing a confrontation on the morning of February 25.
Effective announcement through microphones and megaphones would have given enough opportunity for the civil population to abandon the surrounding areas for conducting an operation. Thereby false apprehension that thousands would have lost their lives had been a misleading statement.
The “weird” theory that the army attacking BDR would culminate into civil war throughout the country could only be circulated by people with unsound minds. In hindsight, the outpouring of sentiment and support throughout the country for the fallen soldiers seen the next day and hatred for the mutineers indeed evaporated the theory of civil-war in the country.
Therefore, the “cock and bull” story that a great confrontation would ensue and thousands would die in the area (heavily built-up) were not acceptable to a military man with even very basic knowledge of military tactics/operations.
After all, the mutineers were members of a para-military force who were weak in all respect in comparison to the regular forces. Poor in training, devoid of any knowledge of minor tactics and field craft as well as battle procedure, they could easily be beaten in no time.
They were ill-equipped, lacking tanks, APCs and weapons to confront the regular forces. Our own forces had many highly trained and skilled (commando) personnel, both officers and men, who could have stormed the BDR premise most swiftly and bring down the rebellion.
The unlimited delay or “never-done action” made the families face unforgettable nightmares and ignominy on the night of the 25th. By the afternoon of 25th it was getting known that the so called mutineers have committed the worst of crimes in world history. With such horrendous crimes committed these personnel could not have been at their best in vigour and gusto in pursuing their revolutionary goals.
They were psychologically completely broken. They were actually on the run and made safe haven in the face of the worthless military onlookers. We really cannot reconcile with the fact that when SOS calls were made by the officers, in peril, their wives in jeopardy and their children terrorised for 33 hours, their calls were not responded to.
So who is to be blamed for the carnage? It is not fair to blame the prime minister or the political people on the option to have been chosen to quell the BDR rebellion. The onus or the blame of not showing enough initiative to assert and convince the government must be borne by the hierarchy of the military.
If they had been logical and assertive in their spelling out of military objectives, we are sure that the prime minister would not have said no to their proposals. Neither the other ministers/politicians would have said no to any military options with definite objectives from the military experts on the subject.
The prime minister needed judicious and clear cut plan of actions from the military. Most of us believe that if the prime minister had been briefed correctly, she would have listened to any suggestions to save lives of so many bright officers in the first hour of the massacre.
If nothing else the families of the fallen officers would not have undergone an unforgettable experience and indignity at the later part of the evening. Therefore, it is the military command that should be blamed for it’s inability to act on a national crisis of the magnitude on February 25, 2009.
Let us now discuss as to why the Army hierarchy failed or acted so naively. Simple analysis have revealed that the Army hierarchy at that time was in a tremendous state of shock after the election and formation of the then new government. The attacks on the military was fierce from both position and the opposition, both in the media and in the parliament.
Most leaders including opposition were open and outright in their criticism of the “Triumvirate” sarcastically termed as “IMF” (Iajuddin, Moin Uddin, Fakhruddin). Bruised businessmen and highly polarised intellectuals were getting extremely vociferous in their criticism of the masterminds of 1/11. For a moment it looked like as if an impending avalanche was going to engulf the entire military hierarchy.
These attacks, in most cases sounding worthwhile must have created panic in the minds of Moin U Ahmed and his core group, who were naturally demoralised and dazed not knowing what’s coming next. With such disorganised leadership nothing better could have been expected to face the BDR debacle.
Almost five years have passed but sentiments and emotions are still running high in the absence of military action to quell the BDR mutiny. Most of the professional officers are sure that immediate and instantaneous military operation against ill-equipped and less trained BDR personnel by highly professional Army commandos would have had salutary effects, and within no time the mutiny would have fizzled out.
Most officers still talk of opening and keeping the subject alive for future scrutiny and review, so that the people responsible are made accountable and the military learns a lesson as a part of military history.
Though five years have elapsed, I feel the military must carry out a critical analysis of their actions on that day and they should not be complacent about their overall operational capabilities.
Their achievements in less-intense operations/conflicts like counter insurgency, UN missions, natural disasters, and of late, Hatirjheel, flyovers etc should not give them a feeling that they are prepared for combat or real crisis situations like BDR rebellion.
How far away they are from words like “hard hitting, real tough, grimfaced, serious, and speed” applicable for professional armies must be answered by them. We paid too dearly in the BDR mutiny. The damage has been colossal. A repetition of the like must not happen in the future.
There is yet another example I would like to cite here; when we came to know of the indecision, inaction and incapabilities of the higher military command of our army, when we failed to react with immediate counter measures after a raid that was conducted on BDR outpost by Burma’s NASAKA, a para-military border force in Naikhongchari area of Cox’s Bazar in the year 1992.
We lost all the weapons including heavy ones when NASAKA crossed international border and conducted a swift raid in the face of BDR Jawan’s abandoning the outpost altogether. The higher command, particularly the division which is supposed to be operational all the time due to their deployment in the Hill Tracts, only marked time.
Instead of military action we took refuge to diplomatic parleys. The result: till today we never got back the weapons we lost. It was again a big military failure and revealed our inherent weakness of un-preparedness and un-professionalism in real operational matters.
In the end I would like to humbly remind the people in the authority that we were eagerly and anxiously looking forward to the end of the trial and verdict of the murderous killers.
The Holy Quran repeats in several places that when you act as judges, do just and fair trial, come what may, or else in the day of judgment Allah will never forgive you and throw you in the Hell-fire. The Holy Quran also ordains that the judge is only next to Allah on earth in so far as dispensation of fair justice is concerned.
For a nation it is not good to forego justice. If not judged sincerely, this will sow the seeds of dissatisfaction in the minds of an organisation. Moreover, if true justice in not served, the most affected minds, i.e. the families, will never get solace and we owe it to them. Hence, the judges should take heed. If exemplary punishment is awarded to the murderers, our people will think twice before daring to commit barbarous crimes in the futur
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