Border with Bangla secure but situation serious: Officials

NEW DELHI, Feb 28 : Persistent threats to Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina continues to make the mutiny situation potentially explosive, but Indian officials, following the developments in Dhaka closely, said that notwithstanding the surrender by BDR rebels, the situation was "serious" because the real planners and causes still remained unclear.

What is clear is that after 50 dead and many injured in the clashes, which spread to several cities in Bangladesh on Thursday, the security implications of the BDR rebellion is only now unfolding.

In a bland response, MEA on Thursday said it was "an internal matter for Bangladesh. We are confident they will resolve the situation amicably. As regards our border (with Bangladesh), the area is safe and secure".

But the concerns are deeper than that. For starters, the Bangladesh-India porous border has been virtually unguarded for the past 24 hours, which means it's easier for terrorists to infiltrate into India from these areas, where only Indian forces are on guard, which is the chief concern of Indian security forces right now.

In the end, it took a visit by army chief Moeen U Ahmed to Sheikh Hasina's office to crystallise the official response. Hasina abandoned the political tack — where negotiations failed — and moved in tanks in the afternoon, hours after a sternly worded appeal and deadline expired.

According to Maj Gen Muniruzzaman, from the Bangladesh Institute for Peace and Security Studies, this operation must have been planned for months. "It was a huge intelligence failure and has security implications of a grave nature for Bangladesh and India." He added that for India, this event increased the threat of movement of "transnational terrorists into India".

Former security official Bhaskar Roy said, "This will seriously affect the stability of the Hasina government."

The Bangladesh government and intelligence agencies were blind-sided by the revolt, but as the rebellion spread to other parts of the country, from Cox's Bazar, Chittagong and Naikhongchari in the south, Sylhet in the northeast, Rajshahi and Naogaon in the northwest and Dinajpur, it became clearer that there was a larger, more insider design to the rebellion. The rebels were seen wearing distinctive orange-coloured bandanas, colours belonging to a UK-based Islamist organisation, Hizb-ut-Tahrir. According to terrorism analysts, Tahrir has been focused on Bangladesh for the past couple of years to turn the nation into an Islamist caliphate.

The immediate dangers for Hasina are several: first, there will certainly be short-term instability in her fledgling government specially if a concerted effort is made to weed out the rebellious elements.

Second, there is a total collapse in the command structure in BDR, specially after it's clear that at least 12 senior commanders (including the director-general and his deputy) were killed and their bodies dumped in the sewer.

But more positively, the army, under Gen Moeen Ahmed, weighed in on the side of the Hasina government. In the past few years, the army has taken great pains to cleanse its cadres of BNP loyalists, though, after Thursday, some suspect that a few of those remain. In July 2008, an internal rebellion was crushed and subsequently, many senior officers were "purged". Brigadier Amin of the DGFI was removed. General Masood, the second-in-command in the army, was also removed. Masood is a brother-in-law of Khaleda Zia's brother, and officials are now checking to see whether some of this family connection could have been used.

Indian security agencies are looking at a Pakistan ISI angle, because of a deep closeness with the BDR and DGFI. In many ways, this was a massive intelligence failure. But given the DGFI-ISI ties, could there be a different explanation, sources here wondered.

Despite amnesty to the rebels, a certain cleansing process of the armed forces will have to be conducted. That will add to the instability. On the other hand, other disaffected, pro-BNP groups could have joined the rebels, but resisted. This could benefit the army.

On Tuesday, Hasina had addressed the BDR forces and made two points which sources said, stood out -- that there should be an end to smuggling by the BDR ranks, and that her government would not tolerate moves to make Bangladesh a springboard of terrorism against India.

This, many say, could have been the immediate trigger. BDR ranks have a legitimate grouse against the army both in terms of pay and perks as well as in terms of better overseas assignments like peacekeeping operations. This makes the army a better compensated group than the paramilitary BDR. Many BDR officers killed by the rebels were on deputation from the army, hence a target of the rebels' ire.

On the other hand, over the past 6-7 years, the BDR has been stuffed with cadres from JEI-JMB and BNP, as Islamism spread inside the paramilitary outfit which guards the Indian border. In these years, Islamists have used this border to smuggle in weapons and terrorists, trained by Pakistan's ISI.