The incident in Bangladesh should cause a serious concern to the policy makers and the senior officers of the uniformed forces in Nepal as well.
By Lilu Thapa
The recent mutiny of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) Soldiers in Bangladesh has raised a lot of questions in the security arena. It practically seems to have spread to Bangladesh from their twin’s inspiration in Nepal. It must be studied closely in Nepal by all those who are involved in the management, control and use of the armed forces here as well. The contemporary importance of this revolt which took lives of hundreds of officers by their subordinates, in an armed force, is very real in Nepal. Also, this can have impact further on to the whole of south Asia as all of the countries here in South Asia have the similar force structure and general conditions in the armed forces.
Almost all countries in South Asia (perhaps apart from Bhutan and Maldives) have similar kind of force structure i.e. the Military, the police and the paramilitary. These paramilitary forces are somewhere between the police and the military in their structure and functions. Most of them have varying degree of functional mandate and authority delegated to them by the constitution of the country. But primarily and basically these paramilitary forces are the military forces for the aid of the police where the latter has difficulty dealing with the civil unrest with its level of force. In some cases these forces are given some definite roles like industrial security, border security and anti terrorist operations in some cases. Normally these forces resemble a regular military in their structure, functioning and training and more importantly in the weapons allocation because they are designed to be more robust than the delicate responsibilities of the Police force. The problem arises right there. These forces are characteristically police forces with more weapons and firepower.
The uniformed forces which normally epitomize the “Discipline” have sometimes come to the fore with much undisciplined incidents which has proved fatal and taken lives of many people and destabilized the national life itself. The incidents with the Armed Police Force in Kusma, Samshergunj and other places have shown these in Nepal. Most recently and most devastatingly, the revolt and cold blooded murder of officers amounting to hundreds, by the lower ranks of the Bangladesh Rifles, shows how devastating the people with weapons can be.
In the South Asian region (and Nepal is not an exception) the paramilitary forces are seen as something of a second class military force, not only by the Military forces themselves but also by the general civic. This has given rise to a sense of somewhat being an underdogs to the members of paramilitary forces themselves. In some countries (like in case of BDR) these forces get their officers, the decision making core, from the regular army and this is an obvious cause for friction between the officers and the commanded soldiers, and this has been one of the primary causes in the revolt of the Bangladesh Rifles. Fortunately it is not the case with the APF in Nepal.
The forces are a large group of people with a strict hierarchy of people working in a chain of command. The nature of work and the function requires strict discipline and an unquestioning loyalty towards the people higher up in the chain of command. And sometimes or rather many a times this requirement for an unquestioning loyalty becomes a cause of many complex problems. Man, by nature, does not want to take instructions from others. It takes a lot of training, chain of command, a system of reward and punishment and an extended welfare scheme, including a decent salary, to keep that discipline in place. When any of these components go missing the discipline is bound to go out of the window. As has been the case with the BDR, they were in disparity on wages with the regular army soldiers; they are not entitled to take part in the United Nations missions (which is one of the perks for uniformed people in the impoverished countries).
Salary for an average has also been a said cause of the revolt in BDR. An average soldier in the Bangladesh Rifles gets paid about the same as the lowest level government servant. This is same here in Nepal, where average new recruits get paid less than an entry level government servant. By comparison India and Pakistan have done quite well in paying its soldiers with an average soldier getting more than an entry level government employee. It is very important to note that a soldier normally works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and in some cases 52 weeks a year. Compared to the commitment, longer hours of work, separation from the family and risk of losing life while carrying out the job, what they really get is a salary equal or less than the government employees. It is very important to understand that ultimately everything works well when a person is economically sound. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows that a person can perform well only if his basic needs are fulfilled and his other worries are taken care of.
Another thing very relevant to Nepal has been the cause in the revolt of BDR, the rations. The soldiers in BDR get about three months ration allocation whereas; a regular army soldier gets a full year’s ration. The mutineers alleged that the Chief of BDR Maj Gen Chaudhury (one of the killed in the mutiny) made millions from the commission paid on the procurement of rations. The rations have been the cause of the rebellion in the APF camps in Nepal as well. It is worth remembering that Napoleon said, in one of his speeches, that an “Army marches on its stomach”. The ration procurement has always been a concern of the soldiers and has always been disputed. The senior officers are alleged with taking bribes in exchange for accepting low quality rations. In some cases these have been true. But, this is also a good opportunity for rumour spreading. In a group of many people, rumours spread really easily through hearsay.
The incident in Bangladesh should cause a serious concern to the policy makers and the senior officers of the uniformed forces in Nepal as well. The reasons for which the BDR soldiers killed over a hundred of their own officers and caused an upset in the whole country exists in the armed forces of Nepal as well, though in varying degree. The incident in Bangladesh should be studied well and in-depth. Measures to avoid these kinds of recurrences in Nepal should be well thought and implemented. The reasons to believe that the same kind of rebellion can again spark in Nepal are not far from reality.