Having fallen in my life’s greatest dungeon of despair nine years ago, I am writing this with a heavy heart. Every now and then at national dailies, I highlight the military and educational achievements of my martyred father Col Quadrat Elahi, who had the potential to reach the highest echelons of his career.
For someone who had graduated with flying colours from the Institute of Business Administration, Dhaka University, received a medal of gallantry from the then UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon and much more, perhaps it was the will of the Almighty that He took my father away from us at the zenith of his life.
This particular piece, however, contains my humble observation on various perspectives surrounding the tragedy that killed my father.
BDR mutiny and trial
Officers of the Bangladesh Army have, since the inception of the border guard force, been put to deputation at various stages of their careers to command the border guard battalions. But, on the early morning of February 25, 2009, sepoys of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) rebelled against their own officers and killed as many as 57, including doctors inside a conference hall at the BDR Headquarters in Pilkhana, Dhaka.
Their reasons for such brutality were unclear.
The force was then renamed as Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), and the trial began in August 2011. Two years later, a lower court handed death penalty to 152, and sentenced 161 to life imprisonment.
Following the High Court’s appeal verdict on November 27, 2017, which confirmed the gallows for 139, I was faced with a common question by journalists and friends as to whether I, as an ill-fated family member, received justice.
I thought to dedicate a few sentences to answer the question, which requires that I discuss the broadly categorized schools of thoughts (my personal take) that grew over the years in light of the carnage, trials, and justice.
Bangladesh versus international ‘human rights’
At first, I am uncertain as to how many of us agree with opinions by the international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Whereas their stance against the death penalty (which according to them violates human rights) and the mass penal trial of BDR sepoys conducted at the Bangladesh courts kept strengthening, they failed to provide a solution, as to how, according to their standards, a trial of such butchery would be satisfactory.
Local rights organizations funded by the international organizations since the beginning have been focused on reporting tortures of BDR sepoys inside the prison cell, however, I dare if they would ever openly express their viewpoint, differing from other Bangladeshi laymen, who I doubt are ready to accept the abolishment of capital punishment, given the culture of impunity by the mighty in the country.
Fifty-seven Bangladesh Army officers killed in the massacre were bred by the tax-payers, who pray that offenders receive the highest degree of punishment, in spite of however the international organizations choose to bookishly define “human rights.” Thus, Bangladesh, I would like to believe remains united here.
By now, I am exhausted. I feel that demanding the trial of the conspirators will be a cry in the wilderness
The complicacy starts when the country gets divided by the age old distinction along the political lines: BNP versus AL. The latter that took over power only a month prior to the tragedy, are blamed for the incident by most quarters (BNP at the lead) that hold an anti-government sentiment.
Critics of the government blatantly blame the AL for their historical ties with India, which shares most of Bangladesh’s borders -- with reference to an interest on the part of India to weaken our border force. Those with the better grasp of history discuss the cold relationship (power struggles) that many Bangladesh Army officers, during and post 1971 had with leaders of the AL.
They refer to incidents carried out by the army (or portions of such) in the past, which were to the disadvantage of the AL. Thus trying to establish that the AL has long grown a mindset of grievance and revenge against the army.
Justifying, in every possible way, that the bloody Pilkhana incident had the involvement of the AL, in many instances has become a political tool for this school of thought.
A common question they tend to throw is, why the military was not allowed inside the Pilkhana premises on time (or at all), referring to past instances when timely action by the uniformed had saved lives.
They feel that the trials are a farce, but never publicly stated anything to discredit such, probably fearing contempt of court, or more likely, due to lack of substantial evidence.
Arguments from their end are in abundance. To their credit, they mainly focus on two aspects.
First, they deem their decision of not letting the military handle the mutiny as an extremely smart one, given that such a decision had, according to them, significantly reduced the possibility of civilian casualties, both in and outside Pilkhana on the day of tragedy.
Second, the AL prides itself to be remembered for successfully making arrangements to hold the largest criminal trial in the history of this world. They refute arguments from oppositions, saying that the mass killing was a conspiracy to destabilize the government.
They now have cleaner hands, considering their leader Torab Ali, who the lower court, in 2013, had convicted and given life imprisonment due to his involvement in the carnage, has been acquitted by the High Court.
Getting hold of the full text of the High Court verdict would better explain the reasons for his acquittal. Supporters of this school boastfully believe that the nation has witnessed unbiased justice. Though the judiciary is independent, the trials being held and verdicts being given during their tenure give them a sense of accomplishment.
Answering the question
Like any middle-class chap, I earn no bread through politics. I do not possess the expertise to comment on how better the mutiny could or could not have been tackled. Regarding trials, it would be unfair to say that families of the victims received no justice. But for such unnecessary and cowardly killings, it is not, or should not, be a matter of glee that the perpetrators are being tried.
It is only normal that they should expect punishment, and of the highest degree when applicable. However, it is noticeable that the level of sensation the verdicts (of both courts) were expected to create, was absent. Somehow the general masses, other than staunch supporters of any of the two schools above, seem to be oblivious.
I think the reason for this is that people are of the opinion that there were men behind the guns, who are yet to be unveiled. Unsure of what reasons they might have had to instigate such bloodshed, or who they are, but it was certainly not just the BDR sepoys. Thus, my honest answer would be, yes, I have received justice, but partially.
By now, I am exhausted. I feel that demanding the trial of the conspirators will be a cry in the wilderness. The only beacon of hope is that the victims’ families’ ocean of tears will fall on the plotters’ fate. If earthly justice is denied, justice from the Almighty will never spare anyone, today or tomorrow. λ
Saquib Rahman is the son of Shaheed Col Quadrat Elahi Rahman Shafique. He is a lecturer in law at North South University.