The army is the dominant service in Bangladesh. Because of its historic role in influencing civilian governments and taking over the administration of the country, the army is also a critical political institution. Bangladesh Army has come a long way since then. Its transformation from a nondescript entity to a credible defence apparatus has not been without its share of vicissitudes and trying times. As an institution, the Army today is self-contained, with tremendous potentials to sustain growth, expansion and modernisation in their totality. Every corps can proudly claim to have an institution of their own where men and officers alike are trained in their respective trade. Looking back, one can take pride from the fact that it was worth all the effort and sacrifice.
After the partition of India in 1947, the Pakistani authorities began to show a similar antagonism and attitude towards the Bengalee community, which made it extremely difficult to develop and sustain a military heritage. But this inexplicable hostility and cynicism of the Pakistanis did not stand in the way of legendary performances by the valiant and courageous Bengalees. Even with a token presence in the Pakistan Army, the Bengalee soldiers created history by their exemplary courage and valour in the Indo-Pak War of 1965.
The year 1971 saw the Bengalees in their finest glory. Although countless number of people embraced martyrdom to liberate their Country, the year also saw unimaginable acts of bravery and courage, as well as meticulous military planning. The stigma of 'a martially inferior race' that was so unfairly and revengefully attached to the Bengalees by the Pakistanis finally disappeared in a blaze of glory.
Bengalees proved that although they were peace-loving people, they could also rise to defend themselves whenever there was an attack on them and take the fight to the enemy's territory. After independence, a new journey began with small but sure steps to rebuild the military institutions and a defence structure. It was a gigantic task and a huge challenge to the competency of the planners.
In the absence of a strong foundation and background, a painstaking process to rebuild the total infrastructure was initiated. The legacy inherited was one of bankruptcy. Not a single Armour, Engineers, Signals, Ordnance, Supply and Transport of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering unit was in existence when the country emerged as a free nation. There was no military institution other than the East Bengal Regimental Centre where only the infantry soldiers could be trained.
Starting with a nucleus of Bengali deserters from the Pakistan Army -- paramilitary personnel, police, and civilians who had fought with the Mukti Bahini -- the Bangladesh Army expanded considerably although erratically since its formation on December 26, 1971. Between 1973 and 1975, the army absorbed many of the 28,000 personnel who had been detained in Pakistani jails for the duration of the war of independence. Following the 1975 coup, additional personnel were absorbed into the regular army when the martial law government abolished the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini.
Under Zia's rule, army expansion slowed, in part because of his campaign to purge mutinous elements and collaborators from the ranks. When Ershad assumed power in 1982, army strength had stabilized at about 70,000 troops. Starting in 1985, Ershad accelerated the transition from martial law to elected civilian government. The army then experienced another spurt in growth. As of mid-1988, it had about 90,000 troops (although some observers believed the number was closer to 80,000), triple the 1975 figure. And by the year 2009 the active duty strength had grown to 200,000 soldiers, with another 50,000 in the individual reserve.
The army adopted and retained the British Indian Army system of ranks. As of mid-1988, Lieutenant General Atiqur Rahman, the army chief of staff, was the only three-star general in the army. Immediately below him were twenty-one two-star generals, eighteen of whom were from the more prestigious combat arms (fourteen of the generals were infantry officers). The remaining officers ranged in rank from brigadier to newly commissioned second lieutenants. Between the commissioned officers and the enlisted ranks is a separate category of junior commissioned officers (JCOs), who act as a bridge between the officers and their troops. Borrowed from the colonial commissioned officer system of the British Indian Army, JCOs are roughly equivalent to United States Army warrant officers (although few JCOs are technical specialists). JCOs are selected from noncommissioned officer ranks and advance through a three-tier ranking system (naib subedar, subedar, and subedar major). At the bottom of the hierarchy are the jawans, or common soldiers, who make up the bulk of the army.
Recruitment into the all-volunteer army was open to all male citizens of Bangladesh. There are no restrictions based on religious or ethnic affiliation, though the army is composed almost entirely of Bangla-speaking Sunni Muslims. The language of the military is Bangla. All officers are required to have at least a working knowledge of English. Army officer recruits must be between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one. Before 1980 the maximum age for both officer and enlisted recruits who had fought in the war of independence as civilian irregulars was twenty-three years. With the aging of the liberation generation, however, the army discontinued preferential recruitment of freedom fighters.
Military pay and allowances were fixed by the National Pay Commission into ten grades with a total of seventeen steps, or pay scales. Nevertheless, the range in pay between the upper and lower strata of the officer corps remained basically the same in 1988 as in earlier years.
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