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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Mutiny and slaying of a friend


On the border, they don’t fire at each other anymore… thanks to a DEAD SOLDIER, says Pathikrit Payne
Issue Dated: April 5, 2009
Tags : Bangladesh Rifles | Border Security Force | Standard Operation Procedure | Shakil Ahmed | Indo-Bangladesh border | AK Mitra | Director General level | battalion commander level | confidence building measures | Wild Wild West | nighttime operations | law-abiding citizen | radical elements |
Mutiny and slaying of a friend In the last week of February, when the news of the revolt by the personnel of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) started pouring in, India’s Border Security Force (BSF) was put on alert as per the Standard Operation Procedure. A mutiny by a border guarding force of a neighbouring nation is no ordinary incident and could have had many ramifications. Yet what sent a near shockwave across the BSF top brass was the news of the brutal killing of the BDR Director General, Shakil Ahmed, a man BSF would find difficult to forget for quite sometime to come.

Circa 2001 – April 18 was a red letter day in the history of BSF. On that day nearly sixteen BSF jawans were brutally murdered by personnel of BDR in the Kakripara border outpost on the Indo-Bangladesh border. More shocking was the manner in which some of the dead BSF men were then tied to poles like animals and carried away in Bangladesh. Initially, despite the outrage, the Government of India prevented the matter getting blown out of proportion by simply sending a strong message to the Bangladesh government. But spouting Indo-Bangla friendship was quite difficult for those at BSF to digest. So while the relationship between India and Bangladesh wasn’t much affected, in between BSF and BDR, unofficially albeit, relationship reached its nadir. And occasionally BSF, with its superior firepower, continued to prove to BDR as to who the big brother was. No one then had perhaps dreamt even in a dream that in a few years’ time, it would be the same BSF which would grieve with moist eyes the death of the BDR top brass.

In the last couple of years, things took a complete U-turn for the better between the BSF and BDR. When Major General Shakil Ahmed took over the reign as the Director General of BDR, it was a major initiative on his part ably complimented by the previous Director General of BSF; AK Mitra who decided to take matters ahead keeping aside the baggage of the past. The deteriorating security condition inside Bangladesh and the subsequent coming into power of the army backed caretaker government in Bangladesh also helped the matter. As a senior BSF officer on condition of anonymity stated, "the most horrifying fear is always the fear of the unknown. If you know what’s on the other side, much of the fear aroused by suspicion generally gets taken care of."

And that was exactly what Shakil Ahmed and AK Mitra started working on. Regular meetings at the Director General level, at the battalion commander level, at the sector commander level and flag meetings were institutionalised where all the pertinent cross border issues are discussed to make sure that issues don’t get blown out of proportion. The confidence building measures were taken a step ahead when 25 children (mostly of BSF personnel) from India were sent to Bangladesh where they were received at Benapole by BDR. Mutiny and slaying of a friend The BDR then made arrangements for a trip for them to Khulna in Sunderban area and then to Dhaka. As a quid pro quo, 25 children of BDR personnel came for a similar seven day trip to West Bengal. After the incident of 2001, that someday each would trust the other with their children was unimaginable at one point of time. But then it did happen. Yet it would not be prudent to presume that simply because the relationship between BSF and BDR has improved, things are calm on border. In most of the stretches along the Indo-Bangladesh border, after night curfew is imposed, the situation is much akin to the "Wild Wild West". Smuggling of items from India (especially cattle) goes on rampantly, thanks to the porous, unfenced and unlit borders. The smugglers often use the riverine border to smuggle cattle into Bangladesh and on being challenged, have often attacked the BSF personnel. In return fire many of the smugglers, from sides of the borders, do get killed. Yet the most intriguing part is that in the last couple of years, barring certain aberrations, every time BSF chased, fired and killed miscreants (mostly from Bangladesh) in the nighttime operations, there have hardly been any retaliatory firing by BDR. As a BSF officer states, "Let’s put it this way. In the border regions, there are several stakeholders who are interested in keeping the border an active zone through all kinds of illegal trading. And since on the border, we are the only resistance to it, ironically we are the ones on whom all kinds of allegations are put. Most of the border villages on both the sides are involved in such illegal trades. Yet amidst all the hostility all around, we have actually found a friend in BDR.’ In fact, on most occasions when Bangladeshi smugglers get killed during firing at night, the usual statement that often emanates from the BDR brass is, "No law-abiding Bangladeshi citizen would tread into such areas during curfew at night. Thus, those who delve are not the law abiding ones, and deserve to be dealt with stringency." It is this very change of perspective in the BDR crystallised by their top brass that brought about a paradigm shift in the BSF-BDR relationship. Today, even BSF is willing to forget the incidents of 2001 and move ahead.

In hindsight it now seems, as intelligence inputs start getting analysed albeit lately, that all the while Shakil Ahmed was trying to do the good work, a systematic infiltration of radical elements in the lower level of BDR was also taking place, which went completely unnoticed to the BDR top brass. While in the post mutiny scenario it is now proved that it was one of the worst intelligence failures of Bangladesh, one wonders as to whether the intelligence agencies in India were completely unaware of the same or didn’t expect it to blow out of proportion in such a manner.

For many in the BSF headquarters, Shakil Ahmed and his top brass had become dear friends. And while BSF gets prepared to carry forward the good work with the new regime, reminiscence of Shakil Ahmed and his pioneering work would be honoured for years to come. Of course, along with the hope that his successors carry forward the legacy of banter and brotherhood. Mutiny and slaying of a friend “We must carry the good work forward”

In the context of BSF-BDR relationship, Director General of BSF speaks exclusively to TSI

Mahendra Kumawat, IPS DG, BSF

Has the relationship between BSF and BDR come a long way since the mayhem of 2001?

We should leave the past behind. We should look forward and look for building up better relations. If we always look backward, we will remain backward. I believe in that. Nations have fought World Wars but now there is a European Union by the same countries that have fought World Wars. We should learn from elsewhere’s history. One or two such sad incidents always keep lingering in our mind. But if we keep those wars with Pakistan, or a few incidents with Bangladesh in mind and not move forward then millions will suffer. It is unfortunate but at least the nations have to forget, and start looking forward for a better future. And that is what I think is in the interest of both Bangladesh as well as India. After all, Bangladesh is a good neighbour and we have friendly government.

Will the mutiny in any way affect the relationship between BSF and BDR?

It's very very unfortunate that the BDR chief was killed and we express our heartfelt deep condolences on his killing by his own people. But the warmth continues to be there. The relations are at national level and nothing has changed in the relationship between India and Bangladesh. What happened is very very unfortunate but in no way that will affect our relationship. Rather our empathy is with the government of Bangladesh. We’ll further build on the relationship. The new DG of BDR is also visiting now on the 30th of this month and we hope to take the good work forward.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017