Feature Img
Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

Do we really need RAB? Has RAB really lost its relevance? Is it really time that the government disbanded the outfit?

The answers are not as simple as politicians make them look in their often irresponsible rhetoric.

While the BNP chief is all for dissolution of RAB, government ministers are going all guns blazing to defend it. The former founded it when the latter group would find nothing right about it.

Which only points to the almost universal allegation that RAB has been used for political purposes. One would only infer that Khaleda Zia needed it then and “used” it, and now the party in power needs it and using it to its political benefit. But how does one define political use?

A violent opposition campaign that threatens law and order breakdown in major cities will often require rapid response from law-enforcers. Will you call it political use if RAB is deployed, in aid of or along with other forces, to quell such chaos?

Violence unleashed by right-wing radicals – that often paralysed Bangladesh in recent years – will require a force superior to regular police. RAB’s operational superiority makes it a feared outfit that boasts battle-ready soldiers and agile officers from the armed forces.

Yes, police need a special unit to deal with special situations. Such a unit with real rapid response capability has to have more sophisticated logistics, more useful weapons and, most important, better-trained manpower. One, however, tends to forget the fact that police are very much part of the criminal justice system in addition to being responsible for law and order.

These jobs are better performed, in all decently organised societies, by police officers. But are armed forces, who are trained more to kill, meant to produce police officers who ought to be trained more to prevent crimes? After all, RAB’s perceived superiority is based on the fact that its key commanders are all drawn from the army. But are they good police officers? Are they prepared to be part of the criminal justice system when one fine morning they are asked to take on the role of a civilian officer?

In the mad quest for speed, quality of service often becomes the casualty; disproportionate, unlawful in many cases, use of force has been a common complaint. No wonder RAB has often been branded as one band of enforcers that fails to get convictions in the courts.

photoIn the mid-1980s, when H M Ershad needed a special force to secure himself he relied heavily on the army and drafted the smartest officers. The President’s Security Force or PSF that he created went through one small change under Khaleda Zia who succeeded the deposed military ruler. It became SSF or Special Security Force. The SSF officers carry state-of-the-art weapons and are armed with extraordinary powers while on duty. But more important is perhaps what is believed to be its no-nonsense approach as well as the public perception of its prowess and invincibility– these officers can shoot and kill anyone appeared to be threatening the safety of the VVIP they are assigned to protect.

That means a positive image of a public institution is key to delivering the service. Today, RAB has lost much of it. Narayanganj is just the latest on a long list of aberrations across Bangladesh.

The rise and the call for fall of the Rapid Action Battalion have been rather rapid – only in March it marked 10 years with much fanfare. It is good that RAB’s founders made it clear that it would be a unit within the national police force reporting to the Inspector General of Police. The ‘elite’ unit itself is headed by a senior police officer, and there are quite a few mid-level police officers who perform operational duties. But its short-sighted founders did not envisage a time when military officers would make way for an all-police RAB. This failure to foresee such a transition stemmed from the nation’s collective failure to recognise the non-military nature of these activities – law-enforcement to VIP protection.

“Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.”
On RAB: Toufique Imrose Khalidi on a live show broadcast on 13 May 2014

Police in recent years have raised new units such as SWAT or SPBn. The Dhaka-based elite tactical force, SWAT or Special Weapons And Tactics unit, has been in business since early 2009, being part of the Detective Branch of DMP. Police officers say SWAT has the training – at home and abroad – to deal with terrorist attacks or hostage rescue situations.
All 64 districts in Bangladesh have a unit of Special Armed Force (SAF), which is designed to deal with emergencies such as outbreaks of unrest, communal riots, anti-terrorist operations and even organised crime.

As recently as 2012, the all-police Special Security and Protection Battalion or SPBn was raised to provide protection for VVIPs including both the president and the prime minister. One only hopes that someday SPBn will replace army-dominated SSF for VVIP protection.

But until the de-militarisation of such forces becomes a reality, RAB, with its army-led structure, may have to stay as a special police unit. And all its flaws can be scaled down with some effort.

The to-do list would be a long one, but just to give one example: Does it really work when a junior or mid-ranking military officer – on a three-year attachment – serves under a police officer? How much does that police officer matter in assessing the army officer’s performance? Is that why there are many incidents of alleged violation of the chain of command? Why did the police need permission from anyone to arrest or detain officers suspected of role in criminal offences in Narayanganj? Police might be required to notify relevant authorities – in such cases the army and the navy. This one incident is good enough to create a situation when chain of command would not work.

It is true that those gun-wielding men – very rarely women – in black outfit roaming around the streets or alleyways have often deterred petty criminals and evoked fear in anyone aware of RAB’s treatment in custody.

But the many murders they have allegedly committed in their “encounters” (allegedly is being used for legal reasons only) are many black chapters in their “glorious” 10-year history. The murders they wrote were all poorly scripted – borne out of brains that are probably taught to believe all other species that walk the earth are way inferior. The problem has been that, in all these years, the men in black got away with all that, thanks to the opportunist proponents of RAB. The policy to appease them has actually backfired. They are much less credible today, and thus much less capable of hitting the target.

The RAB, as it is today with the army virtually running it, has to be done away with some day. The sooner the better, because a tainted RAB only taints the military. Bangladesh has to protect the reputation of its armed forces – a resource this poor nation heavily invests in to create, manage and maintain. If the decision for now is to keep RAB as it is, the government must act, without any procrastination, to improve the force’s and thus its own image. It must deal with all the rogue elements, irrespective of their roots, that ail RAB.

Now, a simple question for Khaleda Zia: What has changed when you felt it necessary to raise such a super police battalion and now? A similar question for today’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina: Is it worse than 2004?

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Toufique Imrose Khalidi is the Editor-in-Chief of bdnews24.com

Toufique Imrose Khalidiis the Editor-in-Chief of bdnews24.com.

32 Responses to “To keep RAB or not to keep RAB”

  1. Uttom

    ….Deploying military person in civil function with civil force combined is very dangerous for the main organization. sucn as in RAB there are officers form army, navy and air forces with civil force police and ansar. it will destroy the basic of army , navy and airforces. Give the proper facilities and logistics to police , they will perform 100 times better than the so called RAB……

  2. probashi

    You are asking a funny question about RAB when people are seriously asking “Hasina/AL to keep or not to keep”. But the answer is very simple. It all depends on what you want to do. If you think business as usual everywhere by keeping unelected Hasina/AL government in power, then RAB remains essential for its own survival by enforced disappearance, abduction and events like Narayangoanj. But the side effect is one day there is a possibility that you or one of your family member may become victim of it.

    Your two questions at the end are more funny (like GMAT test :). You are claiming RAB had some reputations before which it obtained during around 2004. Now RAB is the most cursed name in the society. This clue will help everyone to find answer of both of your questions.

    Also look at the caption picture. Think about those man/women in that black dress are all AL goons. Yes Sir, this is what public (who are funding them) perception is. This is also the reason Shamim Osman/Noor Hossain and Lt Col Tariq work together hand in hand.

    Now I am giving you one question (like GMAT test :). What does a doctor do when the patient’s leg is infected by gangrene?

  3. golam arshad

    REMEMBER AL’S PARA MILITARY FORCE CALLED “RAKHI BAHINI! BNP LAUNCHED RAB DURING LAST TENURE! HASINA USING IT TO ANNIHILATE POLTICAL OPPONENTS! I CALL THIS A DARKLING WEAPON TO STIFLE POLITICAL FOES OF THE RULING PARTY!

    • Maulana Shish Ahmad

      RAB people have become monsters like the monsters of the war criminals belonged to Jamaat-e-Islami. This Bahini now needs to be disbanded. This neo-Rakkhi Bahini was created by Begum Khaleda Zia and her good friends Jamaati criminals to eliminate the-then opposition political parties. What does aka Mohiuddin Anwar alias Golam Arshad alias son-in-law of notorious killer Mulla Mannan of renowned Eye Specialist Dr. Abdul Alim Chowdhury want to say?

      We want to get rid of AL, BNP and bury Jamaati criminals for good.

  4. Rupa Akhtar

    Rab was welcomed by people immediate after its formation as at the beginning this (elite) force’s actions were only against hardcore criminals, who could not be dealt with normal legal process as witnesses could not dare to testify against them in court for fear of life. At that time, even many leaders of BNP and its front organisations were killed at the hands of Rab. Although we did not want such extrajudicial killing, but we had no other alternative to get rid of those criminals.
    The frustrating matter is, the present government has ruined this force by using it politically–only to suppress its political opponents, Rab has been used over the last 3/4 years, specially ahead of January 5 election.
    As a result, a sense has grown in the mind of Rab members that they are above law and they will not be made accountable for their misdeeds. But Narayanganj incident has exposed where the Rab now stands at. I agree, there are many brilliant, patriotic and honest officers in Rab but they are cornered.
    Not only Rab, the government has to stop using all law enforcing agencies for political purpose. Otherwise, disbanding Rab will not yield any positive result.

    • zafar

      I agree with you. The reply to my comments on 23rd May will be more supportive to your views. I don’t know why the concerned person or organization is not clarifying my points. Not even the writer of this article in debate has taken initiative to let the nation know the factual report instead of vague presentation of facts.

  5. Newton

    We must do something about the current situation we are in. I remember how disgusted it made me feel when people rejoiced the “crossfire” of criminals. Of course criminals need to be tried and punished. But without a legal procedure?! Without following the legal system!! How can people come to support this is beyond me!!!

  6. duniya

    In a civil society jungle law cannot go. ours is going towards that direction.

  7. Bashirullah

    Whether we like it or not, RAB is here to stay. Disband it then police will be made to do those dirty work.

  8. cat man

    I don’t know why we call ourselves a democratic country. Ours isn’t any. Here people’s lives are up for sale and law and order is down the drain.

  9. Sonia Mohsin

    RAB is being used by politicians. It’s the politicians who should be put on the dock. They are the ones who allowed RAB to commit extrajudicial killing. They are the ones who has turned them into professional hitmen.

  10. mzamanmd

    Kudo to Mr. TIK.
    I did not expect him to talk like that.

  11. Manirul Islam

    RAB is necessary to protect innocent citizens…

  12. zafar

    The nation ought a breakdown of the deaths shown in the list given in this article.
    1- criminals having no political links
    2- Political criminals(mainly of the two major parties-AL,BNP)
    3- criminals of outlaw political parties(JMG,CPM etc)
    hope human rights activist will let know the nation the above breakdown

  13. Tanvir Raquib

    Today we are openly talking about the problems in RAB because of the incident in Naryanganj was very disturbing to all of us but don’t we also have serious issues in our judiciary, police, bureaucracy, healthcare, print and electronic media etc. What is the root cause of the problem in all these institutions?

    Answer: Whichever party is in power it politicize all the institutions and influence its decision making process. The end result is obvious and we are witnessing it every day. Both AL and BNP have ruined our institutions. Just see the names of the MPs and study their background, do you feel proud that they are representing us? How many of them are really qualified to be a MP and how many would have won in a free and fair election? Again, I am not blaming one particular party, I am blaming both the parties because they have ruined all our institutions in last 20 years. Country needs a new leader, a third party, without the baggage of the current two parties. We need to learn from India how to protect our institutions.

  14. Sabbir Ahmed

    bnp and awami league are equally to be blamed for today’s misery.

  15. a citizen

    i seriously think this is meaningless. if RAB is disbanded another one will be born in a different name. until and unless the politicians all together decide that rule of law is the ultimate solution and no one should be above law or denied justice, only then will RAB or any other similar organization will become redundant. the key to everything is in the politicians’ hands…

  16. Apple

    interesting thing is when rab carried out all those ‘extrajudicial’ killings, people in general welcomed it, more so, congratulated it. many media too supported their action in a subtle manner.

  17. ali zaman

    We need to ask why Editors suddenly become defenders of ‘special situations” when we need extrajudicial forces. But once RAb IS here we can’t think of life or death without them. In effect it’s the decline of the civil part of the state enforcing role which has been obliterated by RAB and the same role is with people lent from the military. In effect a state sponsored military take over. the enforcing civilian capacity of the state is gone while RAB as the representative of military enforcement in the civilian space continues to gain support. Doesn’t this equation bother the so-called pro-civilians like the Editor.

    Descending into describing what the AL-BNP-JP did with special forces was exactly what should have been avoided in the article which ends up as a justification. Uniform accountability, transparency and reward and punishment system are the key to any modern law enforcement. But we can’t have that and the kind of state we have created where criminals can’t be punished.

    The Editor has defended violation of human rights on political management grounds. The Editor is reminded that every killing that has happened in Bangladesh since 1972 has been justified in the same tone.

  18. Labik Akmal

    Every cloud has a silver lining. if the nararayanganj didn’t happen, people would not have been so aware of RAB extrajudicial look.

    • Tanvir Raquib

      The Hazari’s in Feni, the Osman’s in Narayanganj and the countless others are committing or have committed heinous crimes but are shielded from prosecution by their political parties. The baton has even passed a generation in few places such as in Chittagong. The root cause of all these problems is that the two parties are harboring and protecting known criminals. The parties in power have sacked competent officers and officials from many institutions because of their alleged or perceived political affiliation. Then these institutions were used to stifle democracy in the name of maintaining law and order. Slowly but surely we are turning our country like Kim’s North Korea through the steps taken by the two major political parties.

  19. Min Min

    These rhetoric is meaningless. The politicians would never realize what they have done and what they should do.

  20. Rishat Salam

    AL, BNP both are equally responsible for creating this monster. Both must share the burden.

  21. Toimur Rahman

    RAB must be disbanded. There’s no two way of it.

  22. nds

    Does this debate has any significance or relevance in our country.Suppose we,at least the majority people reach a consensus that Rab is no longer needed will government honour the people,s will? Yes,in democracy public opinion certainly matters but does any body think or believe that we are a democratic country. It is undeniably the most authentic autocracy in the present world.Here only thing that matter is what the ruling autocrat think to be necessary or unnecessary. Yes, as a sort of intellectual exercise you can keep debating which might keep your intellectual health sound and healthy but that have any relevance for the ruling government’s policy making.

    • Tanvir Raquib

      I am sure most people will agree with your opinion

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