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Figure 12. Growth of the Armed Forces, 1973-87

Source: Based on information from The Military Balance, London, 1973-88.

Figure 13. Officer Ranks and Insignia, 1988

Figure 14. Enlisted Ranks and Insignia, 1988


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 (see Armed Forces and Society , this ch.; Political Dynamics , ch. 4).

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 has 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 (see Postindependence Period , this ch.). 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 (see fig. 12).

Zia reorganized the army following the military upheavals of the mid-1970s, in part to prevent coups and jawan uprisings. Under Zia's program, the reorganization was intended to neutralize rival factions of freedom fighters and repatriates. Bangladesh was divided into five military regions. The army--cooperating with civilian authorities while maintaining autonomy--preserved internal security and resisted possible Indian domination. Divisions coordinated their operations with paramilitary groups in their respective areas of command, and they mobilized mass support of the government.

The army in 1988 was divided into six strategically located divisions. The location of these divisions' headquarters, five of which were formerly brigade headquarters, underscored the army's primary mission of internal security rather than defense against external threats. The most powerful and prestigious commands were the Ninth Infantry Division, headquartered at Savar on the outskirts of Dhaka, and the Twenty-fourth Infantry Division, headquartered in the city of Chittagong. Elements of both divisions have been involved extensively in the military upheavals that have plagued Bangladesh since independence (see Restoration of Military Rule, 1975-77 , ch. 1). Although the Ninth Infantry Division has an armor regiment, the Twenty-fourth Infantry Division does not. The Ninth Infantry Division has played a central role in staging coups and maintaining military governments once they were in power. According to one observer of the Bangladesh Army, "the role of the Savar division would be crucial in any military coup." The Twenty- fourth Infantry Division, with four brigades, has conducted counterinsurgency operations against tribal guerrillas in the Chittagong Hills since the late 1970s. The army garrison at Chittagong was the site of the coup of May 30, 1981, that resulted in Zia's murder. Other infantry divisions were headquartered at Jessore (the Fifty-fifth), Bogra (the Eleventh), and Comilla (the Thirty-third). Each of these divisions has an armor regiment. In April 1988, a sixth infantry division (the Sixty-sixth) was formally established with headquarters at Rangpur, and plans were in place to raise its armor regiment. The major generals who commanded the six divisions, along with the army chief of staff, formed the center of power within the army and, by extension, within the government, in the late 1980s.

Army formations subordinate to the six division headquarters included fifteen infantry brigades, four armor regiments, nine artillery regiments, six engineering battalions, and various support elements, such as signals, medical services, and ordnance. In addition to the six division headquarters, major army cantonments (barracks and housing areas that serve as the focal point of army life) were at Saidpur, Tangail, Khulna, Jalalabad, and elsewhere. The army also has a small fixed-wing regiment stationed in Dhaka. Army units are not known to operate with the navy in an amphibious assault capacity, although an amphibious assault map exercise is done at the staff college. The army's lack of bridging equipment was a severe liability, especially for its armor regiments. Unlike armies in Pakistan and India, the Bangladesh Army did not have a specially designated "para" (airborne assault) brigade but in 1988 was planning to develop such a capability. In mid-1988 the army reportedly was planning to raise a seventh infantry division to be held in reserve.

The army adopted and has 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 (see fig. 13; fig. 14).

Recruitment into the all-volunteer army is 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.

Officer candidates must be unmarried and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. The minimum height requirement is 160 centimeters; the minimum weight is 49.8 kilograms. Promising candidates attend a two-year officer training course at the Bangladesh Military Academy at Bhatiary, near Chittagong. After successful completion of the course, graduates receive commissions in the army as second lieutenants. The academy graduated its first class in 1977. Advanced military training is offered at the Defence Services Command and Staff College, founded in Dhaka in 1977. Attendance at the staff college is a preferential assignment for mid-career officers. In addition, the army operates a number of combat schools, such as the School of Infantry and Tactics in Sylhet. The only advanced training beyond the staff college point is in foreign military schools, primarily in the United States or Britain. These choice assignments are reserved for a few select officers. An officer usually serves from fifteen to twenty-five years, after which he is eligible to receive a pension, as well as perquisites such as preferential hiring in the civil service, reduced-price housing, and free land on or near military cantonments.

Military pay and allowances are 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.

The army's armor regiments in the mid-1980s were equipped with Type 59, Type 54/55, and, its most recent acquisition, Type 62 light tanks (not to be confused with Soviet Type 62 medium tanks). The Type 59 main battle tank and Type 62 light tanks were supplied directly by China. Details regarding the terms of purchase, the training of Bangladeshi tank crews, and maintenance arrangements were never publicized. Following the series of coups and mutinies that erupted between 1975 and 1977, Zia removed the army's tanks from Dhaka in order to guard against further coups. The appearance of Type 59 and Type 62 tanks at the Victory Day parade in Dhaka in 1987, however, marked the first time that any tanks had appeared in a Victory Day parade and suggested that tanks may again be deployed in the vicinity of the capital. Other army weapons included 105mm and 122mm howitzers, 60mm and 120mm mortars, and 57mm, 76mm, and 106mm antitank weapons. The weapons had been acquired from a variety of sources, including as spoils of war from the Pakistan Army.

Data as of September 1988

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