Saturday, February 28, 2009

At BDR Gate

This afternoon I went to BDR gate for the first time since the BDR mutiny, with a friend.

A crowd of people waited outside, many of them journalists. They perked up every time someone came outside. Several vehicles went in and others came out - they were pretty much all Army. We did not even try to get in because they were extremely tight about it.

I am not even sure why I went there. I do not consider myself a journalist or a photojournalist. I certainly did not expect any photo opportunities. In fact, events of the last few days have once again reinforced my belief in not taking photographs during other people's misfortunes (specially moments that should be private.)

However, I still went because something inside nudged me. I can't explain.

Most of the time the journalists stood around bored.

At one point, a village family with a suitcase - looked like they just got off the train - came looking for their loved one. I spotted them as they came towards the gate. Within minutes they were being mobbed by the journalists and photographers. I could not get myself to point my camera at them.

As we waited, this truck full of soldiers went inside the compound.

Some time later, two BDR jowans came out. They had been on leave during the mutiny and had just returned. The press asked them many questions. Here is one of them, Hasibur, listening to a reporter's questions. A part of me could not accept that other jowans, dressed like him, had committed some pretty savage acts. Yet it had happened.

I was there for about 45 minutes. It seemed quite far from the place where so much atrocity had been committed just two days ago. A small trafic jam resulted from the crowd of onlookers. There was a circus atmosphere (and you could argue that me and my friend were also in the audience.) So I left as soon as my friend was done taking his photos.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Who? Why?

As the extent of the mayhem inside BDR headquarters becomes clear (over 200 Army officers killed), two questions in everyone's mind: Who? and Why?

Who were the planners, ringleaders and assassins of the mutiny? It was a planned event to decapitate the border protection forces. It boggles the mind that the same jawans who were selling low-price rice and daal to the poor during the food crisis after Sidr are the ones who planned and committed these acts - it was not a spontaneous rebellion. If there were indeed cold-blooded assassins let us find them.

Why? I have heard many reasons for this. Suggestions include built up grievances over pay, not being allowed to participate in UN peacekeeping, not getting a share of profits made from selling food.... Someone else suggested that whoever did this wanted to paralyze the border protection (why?) Finally, an intriguing theory from a friend this morning: BDR Headquarters sit on 2.6 sq km of prime land inside Dhaka but if they can be ousted from there, someone can grab this land.

Perhaps we will never know :-(

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Day After

For once I was actually missing the traffic jams on Dhaka streets this morning. While there were cars out, and children were going to neighborhood schools, traffic density was 1/2 to 1/3 of normal. My car was not allowed to go into New Elephant Road from Shahbagh, though I did go into the University area - and then Nazimuddin Road - without any hassle. Needing to go to Kalabagan, I found that entrance to Mirpur Road south (ie, towards New Market) from Pantha Path was closed. I got down and walked a bit - the Uttara Bank on Mirpur Road was closed, but other shops were open - and saw several big military vehicles headed the way of New Market.

I was informed that at noon the cellphones would be disconnected. It appears that connections with the rest of the country and within Peelkhana is disrupted, but mobiles within Dhaka work.

Then I heard that a lot of firing was taking place at Peelkhana. Speaking to a photographer friend who lives in Dhanmandi near there, it transpired that the newly appointed boss of BDR is someone that the Jawans had wanted, and so they were celebrating by firing into the air. Hopefully that is the correct explanation.

There is talk of shots being fired at other BDR camps inside the country. I don't know how much of that is true. I spoke with my contact in Sylhet town and he said things were pretty normal there. I cannot contact anyone in Srimongol/Mouvi Bazar because cellphones are down.

BDR needs to restore chain of command asap. This is the most crucial thing, I think.

Waiting for PM's address to the nation. In the meantime, foreign press trashing of Bangladesh has resumed with a vengeance. "Bangladesh Becomes Battle Ground" says BBC. Not yet.


With the amnesty, it looks like the standoff will be over soon (hopefully.) MyTV is reporting that the BDR folks in headquarters are waiting for their delegation to return before they release the hostages and lay down their arms.

I for one am looking forward a return to the diet of climate change, corruption and fighting students.


Bangla Vision TV reporting that PM has announced general amnesty for all BDR memberss and assured them their demands will be met.


Those must be some tough negotiations going on right now at the PM's residence where the BDR delegation of 14 arrived about an hour ago.

I understand from my friend in Dhanmandi that the Army and RAB posted outside BDR is waiting, not shooting.

Standoff at BDR

I was in the car near Gulistan at about 11:30am when I got a call from my Aunt who sounded quite alarmed - "Do you know trouble has broken out in BDR and there is lots of shooting. Army and BDR are fighting. Go home and don't go out of the house." Two minutes earlier, as I was getting in the car, I had overheard a man speaking on his mobile " have lots of people died?" I should have stopped and asked him, but can you really butt in like that?

From the car I made several calls and found out that the BDR (Bangladesh Rifles) - or some members thereof - had indeed mutinied to vent their demands for higher wages etc. It was not clear who they had shot at - one version said their own higher-ups, another version said random shooting. What was clear was the Army and RAB (a SWAT-like task force) had been brought in to contain the mutiny. My friend in that area confirmed that they were setting up machine guns and heavy armaments outside the BDR headquarter, in what looks like a standoff.

In the meantime Prime Minister has apparently sent a delegation to negotiate with BDR and bring this thing to a peaceful end. A curfew is expected tonight. I got two SMS's from my kids' school about limited bus services and cancelling tonight's school events. What's weirder, I got an SMS from another school (where my kids have never attended) asking parents to pick up their kids.

I really really hope and pray that this thing ends without further bloodshed.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Budget Airlines Redux

Back in September I complained about the absence of budget airlines in Dhaka.

Things have changed. Air Asia will start a DAC->KL service on March 12. According to their web site, the price can be anywhere from around USD 60 to USD 100 each way (after adding taxes.) (Compare with current Thai or Malaysia Airlines pricing of around $550 RT to KL.) In Air Asia, you have to pay extra for checking baggage and for your meals, but you still come out way ahead.

This is really great news. After flying to KL, one can fly to various SE Asian countries (or even London) on Air Asia for discounted fares. I fiddled on their website and realized that a RT ticket to London came to about USD700, compared to the pricing of USD1000 for Emirates et al.

Finally, some relief on this front. I hope this service from Air Asia is very successful.

This should also be a good thing for bringing in more tourists to Bd. Now, if GOB would only lower the cost of getting a visa :-)

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Six Hundred Thousand Dollar Man

The talk of the town: Bangladeshi cricketer Mashrafee who was "sold" to an Indian outfit for $600,000 in an auction. As a friend pointed out, we are now a cricketer-exporting nation :-). AFAIK, the deal means that he will have to play between 15 and 30 days of cricket for this team. In exchange he gets to keep a cool $600k (sans taxes.)

The amount may not be much compared to what Western sports stars make, but here it is staggering. "What will you do with all that money?" appears to be the most common question the cricketer is facing.

Heartiest congratulations to Mr. Mashrafee.

Wish: maybe now Bd national cricket team can stop being surprised by minnow teams?

I am also thinking what this money deal will mean to the younger generations. The good thing is that many more from all strata will feel inspired to play cricket. OTOH, I sure hope that Bd kids don't end up with a bad case of the "inner-city kids NBA dreams syndrome." In the US, lured by dreams of multi-million dollar NBA contracts, many poorer kids give up on their studies, then also fail to make it as basketball stars. The reason is simple: the odds against are astronomical, no matter how good one is.

Nevertheless, this is a Good Thing. It boosts self-confidence on all levels and shows we-can-do-it-too. In a nation so short of visible heroes, one hopes Mr. Mashrafee will end up being one and inspire many others. (Eg, he could publicly encourage kids to stay in school and finish their studies while working on the sports.)