Barely months after its inauguration, Bangladesh’s civilian government is faced with a crisis. Members of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), the paramilitary force that guards the country’s border, have mutinied.
BDR men had mutinied at the headquarters of the force in the capital, Dhaka, on Wednesday. There were conflicting reports on Thursday that suggested the mutiny had spread to other locations. At least 10 people were confirmed dead in Dhaka. The number, officials said, could be as high as 50.
Initial reports suggest that pay, perks and terms of service disparities between the BDR and army units were behind the mutiny. Bangladesh’s recent bout with inflation (food prices have risen by some 30% in recent times) may have fuelled unrest. In this case, there is more to the disturbance than mere inflation.
The fact of the matter is that Bangladesh has been prone to such problems. It has a history of revolts by junior military and paramilitary personnel demanding better working and service conditions. Things may be different this time, however. The army, if initial reports are anything to go by, has supported the government. The Sheikh Hasina government, too, has been swift in attempts to quell the problem.
For a resource-constrained country such as Bangladesh, any diversion of resources to meet the demands of soldiers and paramilitary, legitimate or otherwise, is a painful experience. It has a low Human Development Index rank (147). It has the lowest per capita gross domestic product among major South Asian economies. Stability may well require that such demands be met, but they will exact a cost.
The more pressing dimension to the problem, however, is political. Almost two decades of political instability have created a legacy of institutional weakness that does not permit an easy and lasting resolution of such problems. The damage done to these institutions under the prime ministership of Begum Khaleda Zia was considerable. Packing of BDR ranks with Bangladesh Nationalist Party loyalists was just one instance of such problems. Under these conditions, to ensure smooth functioning of BDR, there may be no alternative to operational command of the force by the Bangladesh army.
BDR revolt: a specific problem or a deeper malaise? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org