In the wake of 2009 BDR mutiny, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked for assistance from the US government to make sure “the [Bangladesh] military is really very careful” and accepting of the civilian authority, said a leaked diplomatic dispatch.
The premier made the request in a one-on-one “off-the-record” conversation on November 5, 2009 with the then US ambassador James F Moriarty, according to the cable sent to Washington four days later.
“The Ambassador commented that he still had concerns about civilian-military relations in Bangladesh and viewed the BDR Mutiny as a symptom of historically poor civilian-military relations,” said the cable posted on the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
PM Hasina had emphasised establishing a new structure to expedite progress in civil-military relationship, another cable sent to Washington on May 28 quoted PM’s Adviser Gowher Rizvi as saying.
Then US ambassador James F Moriarty
PM Hasina’s Adviser Gowher Rizvi with his foreigner wife
At a meeting with the then US ambassador James F Moriarty on May 26, 2009, Rizvi said the prime minister continued to look for ways to tackle a key priority, strengthening civil-military relations in Bangladesh, said the cable.
“Early in her tenure as PM, Hasina talked about establishing a civ-mil structure that might include a Joint Chiefs of Staff and/or a Defence Minister/Advisor,” the dispatch quoted Rizvi as saying. It noted there was no separate defence minister in Bangladesh then; the prime minister held the defence portfolio herself.
“The Bangladesh Rifles mutiny in February made this objective both more difficult and more urgent, Rizvi observed,” the cable said.
Quoting Rizvi, the cable said, “Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina continues to grapple with thorny problems like improving civil-military relations and overcoming inept bureaucrats.”
Before meeting Rizvi, the then US ambassador held a meeting with LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam who told Moriarty that he urged PM Hasina to appoint a full time defence minister, said another cable.
Ashraf said the BDR issue seemed to be settling down. He was critical of opposition efforts to second guess the government’s handling of the issue, said the cable.
The ambassador stressed the importance of a credible investigation into the mutiny and noted the US government concerns about deaths in custody of accused mutineers.
LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam
The cable reads: “Ashraf said he shared these concerns and claimed he had argued in cabinet for a civilian trial for those accused. The Ambassador said it was important that any legal process be transparent. Ashraf noted the Army should not be ‘too enthusiastic’ and realize excesses would reflect poorly on the institution. Ashraf predicted there could be sympathy in army enlisted ranks for the BDR jawans if they were mistreated.”
The ambassador noted US government’s offer to help Bangladesh to strengthen civil-military relations. He underscored the need to look at roles and responsibilities of different institutions, including the defence ministry and parliament.