A mutiny took place in Dhaka today. The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), the paramilitary border guards, mutinied against the Army, who they say discriminate against the paramilitary forces. The statement, made by an unnamed BDR officer to BBC Bengali Service, said that the BDR has nothing against the government and they expect that the government will be humane. The latest reports indicate that the Prime Minister, along with her cabinet colleagues, met the representatives of the mutineers, and offered a general amnesty to mutineers in exchange of laying down of arms and release of the officers held hostage. Dhaka had a tense day - with visible military action on the streets, general panic and fear that this will snowball into something more sinister. Hopefully, it won't get there and normalcy will be restored soon. However, in my mind, this mutiny indicates how difficult it is to govern Bangladesh now and how urgent is the need for action to restore the faith in democracy and fair governance.
It is interesting to note that a general amnesty of mutineers is being offered. This is an extremely difficult decision and possibly made with short term considerations. This breaks down the gold standard of discipline in the armed forces and politicizes its operations. It also sets a precedence, both inside the forces and in the eyes of general public, and this is where the danger lies. Bangladesh has a history of coups, and an amnesty for the mutineers is indeed a dangerous thing in the context.
It is almost besides the point that this mutiny was against the army. One can not mutiny against the army - it breaks the law of the land, so by implication, it is against the government. If an unit takes its commanders hostage, it becomes un-commandable, and therefore, useless. But, in the context of Bangladesh, such a story has an interesting sub-plot. It is almost as if the mutineers are addressing their grievances from the period before the last election - when the army ran the country. It is 'revenge' when things have changed and the army has relinquished power.
On the same note, the army is unlikely to take this generously. The army took the power a couple of years back and recently handed it back to a democratically elected government, but they will be less than willing to cooperate if this new government undermines their position in the society. And, that's exactly what the government may end up doing by being soft on the mutineers. By design or default, this will undermine the authority of the army overall, and let people on the street laugh at them.
I spoke to friends in Bangladesh today and they assured me that the situation is well under control. They saw little chances of a snowballing of this incident. However, that's because there still seems to be some faith in the newly elected government. If the same incident happened before the election, it would have had explosive consequences. If the government does not deliver on the promises and meet the high expectation bestowed on them, a similar incident some months later will destabilize the country and undermine the balance in the region.
So, it is imperative that the government delivers, soon. The general economic climate is getting worse. The gloom in Dubai will hit Bangladeshis hard - several of them will return home and many of them will not be able to go. The most dangerous moment in the history of Bangladesh is now - when hope may dwindle and faith may fail. It is in everyone's interest in the region not to let that happen. The mutiny has been a wake up call - let us not sleep any more.
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