BDR Carnage: The unresolved mystery

BDR Carnage: The unresolved mystery

Syeda Nazneen Ferdousi,

The 10th anniversary of the atrocious carnage at Pilkhana BDR Headquarters in the capital is being observed today. Families, friends and comrades of those brutally killed inside the BDR Pilkhana in the name of mutiny have learnt to move on. However, as they say, “Life will never be the same again”.  Even if few of the widows have re-married, the harrowing memories will be the life-long scar deep within their hearts.

On 25-26 February 2009, Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) rebels killed 57 Army officers and 17 civilians that ultimately ended with the rebels’ surrender. The cold blooded execution of 57 army officers, including the then BDR chief, is the “biggest massacre” of military commanders in the nation’s history. We know that a total of 47 Army officers were killed in the 9 month-long War of the Liberation in 1971, while 57 Army officers were brutally killed in just 33 hours!!

For me, this gruesome incident is a wound that will not heal completely. It is impossible for me to register any kind of cruelty to a living being……and here we are talking about senseless killing of 74 human beings.

Though I can understand how nerve-testing it is for the families of the unfortunate ones to cope with the irreparable loss, the reality is, I can express more about the families of the 57 slain Army officers as Colonel Mojibul Hoque was my sister’s husband. I get to hear about them from my sister, get to interact with a few at her place on occasion and meet most of them during the Doa Mehfil arranged every year to observe the anniversary on 25th February since 2009.

The matter that dismays me most is the assuagement of grief among people from every sector (except families of the victims)…..over these 10 years’ time. This is very much part of our history and should not be allowed to be forgotten.

I can very clearly recollect that on those two days in 2009, then on subsequent three anniversaries, there used to be serious discussions, interviews of family members of the slain army officers with clips of the incident aired by broadcast media and newspapers carried articles, Op-Eds and special features on the tragedy.

Popular lyricist and vocalist Hyder Husyn’s magnum opus penned down on 26th February 2009 using footage of havoc created inside the premises corpses……unfolding the grotesque disaster that will continue to ache the nation’s heart, was aired repeatedly on every television channel. The opening lines of Hyder Husyn’s immortal song are: “Nirmomota kotodur holay jati hobay nirlojjo?

Ami chitkar kore kaditechahiya korite parini chitkar” [To what extent should brutality be, to make the nation guilt-ridden? I failed to scream and weepeven though I tried.] We, the family members of Colonel Mojib had formed a Welfare Trust and on behalf of the Trust, we awarded recognition to Hyder Husyn for his soulful tribute to the martyrs….which anyone would listen with welled up eyes.

However, for reasons unknown, this song is hardly aired by television channels now. Though the song is still shared by social media users on the day every year, isn’t it depressing that paying tribute to the fallen souls once a year also comes under restriction? This is a very painful sting for us.

I am not denying that the day goes completely unnoticed every year. Floral wreaths are still placed on the plaque at the army graveyard where all the ill-fated corpses lie buried and media channels air pictures of significant personalities placing the wreaths and a few of them attend the Doa Mehfil arranged by some families of the slain army officers.

But such indifference towards this particular day will only create more dissatisfaction among the families and friends who have lost their loved ones. They still feel they have not been given due importance because their main Three asks remain unanswered:

  1. To expose the REAL cause and motive behind the barbaric incident. It is not logical why a group of paramilitary soldiers would start an armed mutiny and killing spree in a campus surrounded by the general population? They definitely knew that the news would get out quickly, and that they would be vastly outnumbered by the heavy panoply of the army. By all rational thinking, this was nothing but suicidal.

The mental incompetency can’t be ruled out. It could play in a few heads but not for the larger group. At least the leaders of the mutiny are expected to know the actions would take them to a ‘point of no return” and that their actions would result in court-martial and serious consequences;

  1. To complete all legal procedures and the execution of the judgment. Not that everyone was happy with the trial and verdict…..with as many as 50 custodial deaths before the trial and lack of transparency in the legal procedure – as they term it. Still, they want to see the execution of the judgment.

On 27th November 2017, the High Court had confirmed death penalty for 139 out of the 152 accused who were handed capital punishment by a lower court for their involvement in the killings during the mutiny. Terming the offenders “most brutal” and “cold-blooded” murderers, a three-member special bench of the High Court  pronounced the verdict in the biggest-ever criminal case in the country’s history in terms of numbers of accused and convicts;

  1. To declare 25th February as “Shaheed Shena Dibosh”. It is unfathomable for the victims’ families why this much respect cannot be spared for the officers – mostly of high ranks and portfolios. Their skill and loyal service must be recognized.

Before being promoted to the rank of Major in the army, one must have ten years of service, and at least two years serving as a captain. Most captains in some cases, get promoted to major, after five to six years as a captain. So, it is not hard mathematics to calculate how much in terms of resource we lost in less than two days.

Some have expressed grave concern over the multifaceted implications following the incident. It is not only about the murder of 74 people, relevant authority need to seriously take into account, the fact that the country’s security was put at great risk in the two fateful days of February 2009.

Undoubtedly, we have highly competent armed forces with well-trained officers to manage such unforeseen crises. But they were all helpless during those unprecedented, horrendous 33 hours on 25-26 February. That’s why it is imperative to execute the verdict – to prevent recurrence of such a tragedy, and to fend off any future attempt to target a security element of the government.

I have always admired the military people because of their discipline and decency. But I do notice how the military image has been stained….be it due to misreporting, misconception/ wrong perception or negative attitude towards the institution. It is therefore, crucial to strengthen civil-military relations and look at roles and responsibilities of different institutions, including the defense ministry and Parliament.

There is actually no reason for the sake of the state to provide extra secrecy cover to the armed forces when it comes to the people’s right to know. In fact, it’s a guarantee of transparency that must exist in a state institution for the people for whom they exist.

In any crisis – be it man made or natural, in disputes –  whether on land, in air or maritime, we have had our armed forces in the forefront to resolve those issues promptly and professionally.

Personally, I have watched how the army has worked relentlessly in resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis. Close to one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are said to be living in Bangladesh at the moment, nearly half of them having fled since late August 2017. The exodus is one of the world’s worst refugee crises in decades, and so far Bangladesh, already a very poor country, has borne much of the burden.

Though the army was doing its duty sincerely, I could sense through interaction with some officers how they were deeply concerned about the consequences of this flow of refugees.

They see it as a threat to the country’s overall security and stability, which is the primary mission of the army to ensure. I honestly hope that the draft policy, titled “National Defense Policy-2018” approved in principle by the cabinet last year will contribute to .enhancing the civil-military relations through various measures.

My brother-in-law always used to say, “I am a soldier and it will be my pride to die protecting my country”! Irony of fate! Did he, even in his wildest dreams, expect to die in his own country, at the hands of his own staff?This day will go down in Bangladesh’s history as one of the most infamous ones. Why were so many lives snatched away? This question will continue to haunt us.