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IPCS Special

Report

70 Bangladesh
The BDR Mutiny

APRIL 2009

Sandeep Bhardwaj

Institute of Peace and
Conflict Studies

B-7/3, Safdarjung Enclave
New Delhi 110029
91-11-4100 1900

www.ipcs.org
© 2009, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS)

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies is not responsible for the
facts, views or opinion expressed by the author.

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), established in Au-
gust 1996, is an independent think tank devoted to research on peace
and security from a South Asian perspective.

Its aim is to develop a comprehensive and alternative framework for
peace and security in the region catering to the changing demands of
national, regional and global security.

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BANGLADESH
THE BDR MUTINY
SANDEEP BHARDWAJ
Research Officer, IPCS, New Delhi

An Overview their families, were at the Pilkhana
compound1.
On the morning of 25 February 2008 more
than one thousand jawans of Bangladesh According to witness reports, the mutiny
paramilitary force, Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) began at around 8:30 am in Darbar Hall
staged a mutiny at its headquarters in of the HQ. It quickly spread throughout the
Dhaka at Pilkhana. For the next 33 hours, compound and gunshots were heard along
the mutineers held the BDR HQ, keeping with grenade bursts. It is believed that the
several officers and civilians as hostage. mutiny began in the Hall during the
Initially confined to Pilkhana, the mutiny address of the BDR Director General Maj
later spread to other outposts of BDR. Gen Shakil Ahmed. Within a very short
There were reports of disobedience or time, a large number of troops were
violence from at least twelve other BDR involved.2
outposts. The killings, however, were
confined only to the HQ. By the end of the According to some unconfirmed witness
mutiny, 74 people including 56 officers accounts, initially there was little or no
had lost their lives. organisation or leadership among the
mutineers.3 Nevertheless, it was apparent
The mutiny has shocked the entire nation. that mutineers were NCOs and jawans of
Not only has the mutiny left a big question the BDR and their targets were mainly their
mark on the state of security in Bangladesh. officers. Several officers and their families
It is clear that for a long time to come the were rounded up, some from their homes in
ghost of the mutiny is going to haunt the residential complex.
Bangladesh.
By 9:40 am the situation had gone
I completely out of control. Mutineers even
THE MUTINY: RECONSTRUCTING THE sprayed bullets outside the complex,
EVENTS injuring the passers by and killing three.4
The mutineers even fired mortar rounds at
The mutiny began at the second day of the the army helicopter hovering over the
annual BDR Week celebration. The
celebrations had begun on 24 February, 1
Manik, Julfikar Ali and Khan, Sharier, “Mutiny,
inaugurated by Prime Minister Sheikh bloodshed at BDR HQ,” The Daily Star, 26
Hasina at BDR HQ, less than twenty-four February 2009,
hours prior to the outbreak of mutiny. http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=77491
Around 150 BDR Officers, including its 2
entire top-brass, was in attendance at the Manik, Julfikar Ali, “How it began,” Daily Star,
HQ for the celebrations. In addition, there 26 February 2009,
Http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=77496
were at least four battalions of BDR- 24,
36, 13 and 44- in the compound, with each 3
“Conversation between PM Sheikh Hasina and
battalion consisting of around 850 troops. surviving victims,” uncorroborated and anonymous
Additionally there were 3000 more source, http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-
soldiers from other battalions. The 3649058570203302495
estimates have been made of around 4
9000 people, including the troops and Manik, n.2

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IPCS SPECIAL REPORT
No 70, April 2009

compound5. According to witness accounts, credited as the turning point in the
killings of officers began soon after. situation.
Several officers, including the top hierarchy
of BDR, were killed. Some may even have On the second day, the mutiny spread to
been tortured; officers were shot, hanged, other parts of the country. There were
mutilated or bayoneted. BDR DG Gen reports of disobedience and general
Ahmed was shot along with his wife, indiscipline in BDR outposts at Chittagong,
although the time of their death is still Rangpur, Chapainawabganj, Satkhira and
unconfirmed. Dhaka Sector Commander, Jessore. Several BDR bases reported gun
Col Mujibul Haq was killed and his house fire in the air, which led to at least three
set on fire.6 It should be noted that despite wounded. Two army officials were taken
contrary reports, there was no act of rape hostage in a village in Satkania.7
committed by BDR. However, there were According to Indian Border Security Force,
mass graves, with many bodies recovered BDR was not functional at many check posts
from the sewage pipes. on the border.8 Several of the highways
were barricaded by the troops. According
Soon afterwards the compound was to one report, the mutiny spread to at least
surrounded by Rapid Action Battalion, local 12 towns and cities across the country.9
police and Bangladesh Army. Mutineers However, there wasn’t any death caused
contacted the media and put forward their due to mutiny outside the Pilkhana
demands. They also accused BDR officers compound.
of corruption, exploitation and treason.
By late evening of 26th, a convoy of APCs
Within next few hours, there were three and tanks from the Army's 9 Division in
attempts by Bangladesh government to Savar and the 46 Brigade in Dhaka
negotiate a truce. One was led by a State Cantonment drove down surrounding the
Minister and Jatiya Sangsad Whip. compound at Pilkhana. This was the time
Another was made when fourteen BDR when mutineers, raising a white flag,
members visited PM’s official residence, surrendered. Finally the ordeal was
(check, I don’t think they visited the PM) brought to an end after 33 hours. At 7:00
following which, Prime Minister Sheikh pm, Dhaka police commissioner entered the
Hasina announced amnesty for the BDR compound.
mutineers. At 9:40 pm a team of
government negotiators, including the Immediate Aftermath
Interior Minister, Sahara Khatun visited the
HQ for another round of negotiations. The immediate reaction of public at large
After some preliminary negotiations the after the mutiny was one of relief. Clearly,
Home Minister entered the compound at this was a possible catastrophic crisis that
12:25 am, 26 February. In subsequent
negotiations the Home Minister succeeded 7
in release of 29 hostages. At 2:30 pm, 26 “Calm across country after chaos, revolt,” The
February, PM Sheikh Hasina in a televised Daily Star, 27 February 2009,
http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=77644
address to the nation, gave a firm line to
the mutineers. This calm but strong response 8
“BDR personnel missing from Indo-Bangla border
to the mutiny from the PM has been posts,” The Economic Times, 28 Feb 2009
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/News/Politics
Nation/BDR-personnel-missing-from-Indo-Bangla-
5
Ahmed, Inam and Hasan, Rashidul, “Bullets buzz border-posts/articleshow/4204714.cms
in the air,” The Daily Star, 26 February 2009,
9
http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=77494 Chowdhury, Khaled Iqbal, “BDR Mutiny:
Security implications for Bangladesh and the
6
Col Haq’s son confirmed so to a journalist through region,” Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security
an SMS during the mutiny, Manik & Khan, n.1 Studies

2
BANGLADESH: THE BDR MUTINY

was averted. However, at the compound, a though led by police, involved the army
lot of confusion ensued. An undetermined significantly.
number of BDR soldiers had escaped
during and after the mutiny. It was almost The government also set up a probe on the
impossible to hunt them all or identify which matter. However, the probe was
ones were involved in the mutiny. Due to reconstituted on 2 March, to exclude Home
the lack of preparation of any agency for Minister and State Minister for Law making
such a crisis, it took many days for the probe strictly apolitical12. This was
authorities to give a credible death toll. probably in response to the first significant
Similarly, due to the destruction of records political opposition government faced on
by the mutineers, it took the authorities the matter of the mutiny. The government
some time to reorganise. It was only two also asked US Federal Bureau of
days after the carnage that the army could Investigation and British Scotland Yard to
access the databases of BDR. aid in the investigation.

As the reports of barbarity of some killing The PM held a meeting with survivors of
came out, the country was shocked. The mutiny after the carnage. In this closed
death toll of officers was 56, highest in the door meeting surviving BDR officers
history of Bangladesh. accused the army and government of late
response. They also criticised the
Amnesty and Prosecution government’s granting amnesty to the
mutineers. Some of the officers viciously
True to her word, Sheikh Hasina gave the attacked the government and the army top
absconding BDR soldiers 24 hours to return brass of being corrupt and ineffective.13
to their posts. Around 5000 soldiers
reported back for duty. There was not The audio recording of this meeting was
however, return to business as usual. The leaked and released on internet. On 7
soldiers were confined to their barracks February, Bangladesh government banned
and under close supervision of the army. websites like YouTube and eSnips from the
The BDR was stripped of heavy weaponry country without giving any reason. It was
like machine guns and mortars.10 alleged that the ban was imposed due to
this leaked conversation. Notably, any
Almost immediately after the mutiny, the news regarding the censorship was not
government argued that the general reported in the Bangladeshi media. Five
amnesty did not include those accused of days after the ban, government lifted it on
committing crime during the mutiny. On 28 12 March14. The significance of the
February, the government moved to setup
a special tribunal for quick prosecution of
those involved. On 2 February, government 12
“Govt probe body recast,” The Daily Star, 3
filed charges against a thousand mutineers March 2009,
although only six were identified by http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=78211
name11. On 2 March, government also
13
launched ‘Operation Rebel Hunt,’ to The audio recording is available at
capture the absconding mutineers. The hunt, http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-
3649058570203302495. It is in Bengali. It includes
several witness accounts of surviving BDR officers
10
“BDR men seen with rifles, not heavy weapons,” in detail. It also includes their criticism of the
The Hindu, 3 March 2009, government in not responding quickly to the crisis.
http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/002200903 The officers claim that the government could have
031869.htm averted the whole crisis if RAB or army had made a
rescue effort immediately after the outbreak of
11
“Over a thousand BDR men sued for mutiny,” mutiny when the mutineers were not organized.
The Daily Star, 2 March 2009,
14
http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=78082 “Bangladesh lifts YouTube ban over mutiny
row,” AFP, 12 March 2009,

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IPCS SPECIAL REPORT
No 70, April 2009

conversation remains puzzling, since benefits, less holidays and the bar on them
although it blithely criticises government, it from going to UN peacekeeping missions.
is hardly incriminating enough to be They were also irate over the army officers
suppressed to such an extent. deputed to BDR and also demanded
abolishing the discrimination in ration
Investigation entitlement as compared to the Army.

Immediate investigations have revealed The officer corps of BDR is on deputation
several interesting aspects. Numerous from the Army. Independent BDR
soldiers had fled the compound with their recruitment is only done at the NCO level
weapons, some which will never be with no prospect for promotion. This has
recovered. Search of the compound also led to general frustration among the
revealed a small amount of unauthorised BDR soldiers.
weaponry, including LMGs and SMGs. The
surveillance video footage also showed Assessment
some unknown personnel in BDR uniforms in
the compound during the mutiny15. Another The mutiny and mysterious findings after it
mystery was the appearance of two have led to several speculations and
Chinese nationals out of the compound rumours. The most popular theories
after the mutiny.16 currently are:

After the stepping down of political  it was an attempt of anti-
leaders from government probe on the democratic or anti-Awami League
mutiny, Commerce Minister Lt Col (retd) forces, with or without help of
Faruk Khan was tasked to coordinate the foreign elements, to destabilise the
probe as its sole political member. On 13 country by provoking a violent
March, Khan issued a statement, accusing reaction from army17;
the Islamic terrorist organisation Jama'atul  it was a stunt from Prime Minister
Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) to be Sheikh Hasina to strengthen her
involved in the mutiny. This statement has position;
led to several rumours and finger pointing  it was a pre-planned mutiny
across the nation, leading many to believe financed by insurgent groups and
that the mutiny was orchestrated for other criminal elements, activities of
than the apparent reasons. whom, were being shutdown by the
new civilian government.18
II
ROOTS OF THE MUTINY Destabilisation Attempt Theory
The mutineers put forward several Foremost is the theory of destabilisation
demands during the negotiations. Their attempt. Several statements were made
main grievances were low pay, lack of from government sources suspecting
17
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALe Samanta, Pranab Dhal, "Dhaka rebels reveal plot
qM5gTD1NhCUbNtqxGK_wMcfs5VnUf0Q to provoke army, topple govt," Indian Express, 1
March 2009,
15
“Video footage shows outsiders in uniform,” The http://www.indianexpress.com/news/dhaka-rebels-
Daily Star, 4 March 2009, reveal-plot-to-provoke-army-topple-govt/429342/
http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=78384
18
Roy, Bhaskar, “BANGLADESH: Return Of The
16
Sarkar, Kailash and Mollah, Shaheen, “Some Razakaars?” South Asia Analysis Group, Paper no.
seizures puzzle army,” The Daily Star, 3 March 3080, 3 Mar 2009,
2009, http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers31%5
http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=78209 Cpaper3080.html

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BANGLADESH: THE BDR MUTINY

involvement of Islamic fundamentalists in It seems that the most logical explanation
the mutiny. Considering irregularities of the mutiny was the grievances of BDR
discovered at the HQ, it seems that there soldiers, which are genuine. It can be
was at least some involvement from speculated that behind-the-scene factors
outside. In examining the possibility that the for the mutiny involved corruption in the
mutiny was orchestrated by terrorist BDR. It has been reported that the dispute
organisations, one has to consider several between the officer corps and NCOs of
implications. If the fundamentalist or BDR was over the sharing of the profits of
terrorist organisations have the capability illicit activities of the force.
to mount such a massive operation, their
capabilities in Bangladesh are clearly far Corruption in the BDR, like in the rest of the
beyond any of the recent assessments. It country, is rampant. BDR is often accused
would also indicate a disturbing level of of being involved in illicit trafficking of men
influence these organisations enjoy in and material across its national borders.
Bangladesh Armed Forces. Such possibility During the mutiny, there were some
can spin off a number of hypotheses and statements by mutineers, which were lost in
require a more extensive investigation from the flood of information, indicating in this
the Bangladesh government and the direction.
international community.
One of the mutineers confided in the media
It would also indicate that a substantial that the late BDR DG had embezzled Tk 7
portion of state’s security infrastructure Crore from election duty that was
may be compromised, leading to a need supposed to be paid to BDR soldiers20.
for a substantial overhaul in the entire Another of illicit profits made from the
architecture. In a country like Bangladesh Operation Dal-Bhaat. Under CTG
with precarious civil-military relations, this government, this operation was to sell
would be a very tricky problem. vegetables and food items through BDR to
curb inflation.21 It is significant that Col
However, the possibility that the mutiny Haq was the officer leading the BDR Dal-
was orchestrated from outside has some Bhaat programme under the caretaker
arguments against it. First of all, if the government. Col Haq was also one of the
mutiny was directed against Sheikh Hasina, first officers killed and his house was set on
it seems strange that mutiny didn’t take fire by mutineers.
place twelve hours earlier when the PM
was visiting BDR HQ on a scheduled visit. Further Possibilities
Also, when the army did arrive in Dhaka,
threatening an action, the mutineers However, even the pent up anger over
surrendered without provoking any money is unlikely to lead to such barbarity
reaction. Moreover, if the attempt was to as displayed during the mutiny. It is
destabilise the government politically, why possible that this anger stemmed from a
wasn’t there any political opposition much deeper resentment towards BDR
mounted against the government by other officer corps. It has been mentioned that
political factions? In fact, in a rare display the BDR officers, brought in the force for
of solidarity, rival political parties offered only a short time, exploited the jawans.
support to the government.19 Since it was not a permanent deputation,
the officers had much less concern over the
Dispute over Profits Theory
20
“Demands they put forward,” The Daily Star, 26
March 2009,
19
In fact, since the mutiny, BNP chief Khaleda Zia http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=77501
has not even directly attacked PM Seikh Hasina,
21
something unusual for her. Manik & Khan, n.1

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IPCS SPECIAL REPORT
No 70, April 2009

well-being of soldiers under them, possibly Throughout the country the new civilian
leading to the carnage of 25 February. As government has been praised for its calm
for the irregularities discovered in the and level-headed response during the
investigation, they cannot be dismissed out crisis. Hasina’s address to the nation during
of hand. But it has to be noted that the crisis and the brave negotiations
Pilkhana HQ is a huge compound with over undertaken by Home Minister Sahara
9,000 people present during the mutiny. It Khatun have earned the government a lot
is very likely that among such a large of political points. Although the rival party
number, in any place, at any given time, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has
there are some irregular or illicit activities since the mutiny, voiced usual accusations
taking place. against the government, they have been
largely ignored. In fact, except for a half-
The theory that it was a political gimmick hearted political opposition there has been
by Awami League to strengthen its position no major campaign against the
sounds too farfetched. Even accepting the government.
fact that Awami League was evil enough to
orchestrate such inhumane massacre, simply More importantly, during the crisis the
for political gains, there seems no need for Bangladesh Army demonstrated that it will
AL to do so. It should be remembered that remain apolitical and subservient to the
AL came into the government only two civilian government. This is a significant
months ago, with largest majority in the development since it was feared by many
history of the country and is still in its that after the restoration of democracy,
honeymoon period. Further, arranging such army will continue to interfere in civilian
an elaborate mutiny would require massive matters. It should be also noted that the
resources and influence along with time. army followed the civilian government
Under the CTG rule till December 2008, AL lead, despite the fact that many in the
lacked at least two of the three factors. army favoured a violent solution. Clearly
the army top brass is intending to keep a
As for the interest groups like criminal professional and disciplined image of
elements orchestrating the mutiny as a Bangladesh Army.
beginning of a civil war to take over the
government is, again, very implausible. Moreover, the mutiny has tarnished the
One thing that has to be considered is that image of Bangladesh Armed Forces. The
law and order has actually deteriorated in military has recently retreated from power
Bangladesh since the return of democracy. leaving high inflation rates and a failure of
The CTG was actually far more efficient in political reforms campaign. This setback
keeping crime down because of its has further weakened the position of the
emergency powers. Moreover, such a civil military making it unlikely that it would be
war would definitely have been short-lived interfering in civilian matters for quite some
since Bangladesh army is far superior in time to come.
strength and equipment, has the capability
to crush such mutiny. Also, it should be Security Implications
considered that the mutiny was against the
officers of BDR. How is any army expected BDR is a force of 67,000 troops entrusted
to win a war, even a civil war, without its with guarding the national borders. The
officer corps? mutiny has left the entire operation in
disarray. Both India-Bangladesh border
III and Myanmar-Bangladesh border are
RECOMMENDATIONS notorious for smuggling. From FMCG
goods, petrol and fertilizers to arms and
The mutiny, if anything, has only drugs all are smuggled across these
strengthened the Sheikh Hasina borders. Illegal immigration is another
government, at least in the immediate term. problem that these borders face.

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BANGLADESH: THE BDR MUTINY

Moreover, the borders also provide a stability in the country. With a new and
perfect cover for criminals and insurgents fragile democracy, a crisis like this tends to
to slip past the security forces. shake the faith of most.

A border security force functioning at less However, it should be noted that at no
than its usual capacity is a serious security point during the crisis the government or
concern. Moreover, BDR plays an important democracy itself was under threat. Though
role in counterterrorism effort in the it can be argued that had the mutiny
country. A dysfunctional BDR can hamper spread to other parts of the country it
the government’s counterterrorism efforts. could have resulted in bloodshed of much
greater degree. Nevertheless, it is highly
Another question remains of looted unlikely that it would have resulted in a
weapons. Not only did several soldiers destabilisation of democracy.
escape with their weapons, some of the
weapons were looted by civilians in the The mutiny was a law and order issue,
chaos22. These weapons, in the hands of though of massive proportions. To
criminals or militants add to the security destabilise democracy or to take over the
threat. country, the mutineers needed several
essential components they did not have.
Economic Implications First, with an army much larger and better
equipped than BDR, the mutineers could not
Except for a minor initial slump in stock expect a victory of any sort. Second, the
market during the mutiny, domestic mutineers were contained in one small
economy of Bangladesh is yet to show any compound. It should be also noted that BDR
signs of significant economic backlash. does not signify any kind of political force
However, internationally the mutiny has or agenda. Thus any action by them would
come off as a sign of instability in the be purely criminal.
country. The images of tanks rolling down
the streets of Dhaka have tarnished the Though the mutiny has tarnished the image
country’s image. In times of recession, with of Bangladesh as a stable country in rest
a slowing growth rate and increasing of the world, it has failed to actually
unemployment of Bangladeshis the world destabilise the country in any significant
over, the mutiny has made the task of manner.
attracting investments in the nation more
difficult. Portfolio investment in Bangladesh Implications for India
is already showing a downward growth
and FDI has not shown any signs of The Indian government took a position that
improvement23. After this fiasco, it is the mutiny was entirely an internal matter,
unlikely that these indicators will be which required no interference by the
climbing any time soon. Indian government. The primary concern
for India after the mutiny is border
Political Stability security. Fortunately, given the animosity
between BSF and BDR, there is hardly any
During and since the mutiny, almost cooperation and interdependence between
everyone has expressed fears over the two forces. Therefore, a partially
functional BDR doesn’t affect Indian border
22
Chowdhury, n.10 security significantly.
23
Bhardwaj, Sandeep, “Bangladesh: Forthcoming Much more importantly, the mutiny has
Election,” Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, highlighted the state of affairs in
Issue Brief 86, December 2008, Bangladesh Armed Forces. Bangladesh
http://ipcs.org/publications_special_details.php?rec military has often been accused by Indian
No=178&pT=1
security forces of harbouring and

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IPCS SPECIAL REPORT
No 70, April 2009

supporting anti-India terrorists. There have other internet websites has done damage
been several reports from across the world to its democratic image.
accusing factions of Bangladesh security
forces having links with insurgents and The government must bring in a swift
terrorists like ULFA, HUJI and AL Qaeda. conclusion to this tragedy by completing
the probe and prosecution in a timely
Given the concern over the state of fashion. Openness in the investigations is of
discipline in BDR, India may persuade the utmost importance.
Bangladesh government to strive for better
discipline in the armed forces and a tab on
any possible activity linking terrorists and
militants to service personnel.

The decision taken by the Bangladesh
Government now to diband the BDR and
constitute an entirely new force, albeit with
many of the soldiers from the BDR may be
the right decision. Its implementation will
remain a challenge.

IV
CONCLUSIONS

It must be reiterated that the mutiny, no
matter how bloody and tragic, was a law
and order problem not a direct threat to
democracy. However, it did highlight
several problems with the armed forces in
Bangladesh.

The mutiny has emphasised that change is
desperately needed in the armed forces in
Bangladesh. Like any other government
institution, military too must bring reforms
and checks against corruption and
exploitation. Hopefully, with a willing top
brass in the army and a firm government,
this mutiny can be the trigger to undertake
these reforms.

The government should also look into the
matter of treatment of BDR and other
security forces. Some of their grievances
seem to have benn genuine.

With calm response of the government the
mutiny was brought to a peaceful end.
Performance of the newly-formed
government must be praised. However,
subsequently the government seems to be
losing the credibility earned. The
censorship it imposed on YouTube and

8