I was visiting Bangladesh when pilkhana massacre happened. As the events were unfolding on the morning of February 25 2009, I was returning to Dhaka from Chittagong. As I returned to Dhaka that afternoon the general narrative dominating our media and civil society discourse puzzled me. I wrote the following post during late afternoon of February 25 2009. I lost the post as the blog website hosting the post went offline-
Today, after the trial verdict of the massacre came out, a friend discovered the post for me from a web archive-
The narrative of public mind, our media and educated class as I described that afternoon is a fascinating reminder of the fickleness of our collective thinking process –
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Exactly one year ago today, a group of violent soldiers belonging to Bangladesh border security force called BDR revolted, started murdering their officers, occupied a part of capital Dhaka and held hundreds of militray officers, general soldiers and civilians hostage. During this time of occupation of nearly two days, the marauding soldiers committed one of the worst massacres in the history of Bangladesh. During these two days, they searched and killed 57 senior officers of Bangladesh Armed forces trapped inside the compound.

During this occupation, rather than a bold decisive response against the soldiers involved in the killing spree, the one-month old government of Awami League opted to negotiate with the mutineers, thus indirectly giving those soldiers enough time to hunt and kill all the military officers trapped inside occupied Pilkhana campus and commit an array of other crimes including loot, arson, rape etc.

Immediately after the incident, considering the sensitivity of the issue or out of political indecisiveness, while the main opposition party refrained from being overtly critical of governments stand, the media gave the government a free ride by not critically discussing government handling of the mutiny.

The media spin that was most widely used during the immediate aftermath was that by sacrificing 57 senior army officers, government prevented an even bigger civilian casualty in the heart of Dhaka. This logic is based on a hypothetical scenario that a group of paramilitary soldiers without heavy weapons will fight a fierce artillery gunfight and war with a combined force of the army, Navy and the air force and thus would endanger the safety of residents living in nearby areas.

Although government’s decision got a free ride at the time of the incidence, it is imperative that we discuss the decision in a critical point of view. This kind of discussion is very important in formulating a national strategy for any such problem in the future.

First basic flaw in the civilian casualty spin is the hypothetical nature of the consequences. It is very difficult to believe that a group of BDR soldiers will be able to fight such a fierce war with armed forces. This sort of situation is not unprecedented in Bangladesh. Since independence there are instances where similar occupation/ hostage situation in the heart of Dhaka or other parts of the country were dealt with decisive military counter offensives. Examples can be cited are 1977 occupation of Dhaka Airport at Tejgaon, 1994 occupation of Ansar HQ in Khilgaon, 1977 revolt in Bogra cantonment.

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