Pulack Ghatack: Former Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni is weary of the speculative reports on a proposed Bangladesh-India defence deal, while political debates amid a culture of anti-India rhetoric mounting in the country.
The opposition party BNP has vowed to resist any defence agreement with India even by shedding blood as they believe that the deal would be against the interest of the country and will threaten safety and security of Bangladesh.
However, security experts are saying that a “defence co-operation agreement” with India can reduce Bangladesh’s dependence on Chinese military hardware and help enhance the capacity of the country’s defence forces through multi-sourcing.
Asked about reported defence discussions Dipu Moni, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Ministry, said, “Did the government say that it is going to sign a defence deal with India? Let us wait and see what the government says before the Prime Minister’s visit.”
“Everybody is speculating. Is it fair to make speculations over such an important issue?” Dipu Moni, who is also the joint secretary of ruling Awami League, said.
Meanwhile, the Press Information Bureau (PIB) of India’s Defence Ministry confirms that a military delegation of India led by the country’s Army Chief General Bipin Rawat will visit Bangladesh on Friday and talk to the policymakers on “defence cooperation.”
According to the release, “This visit will help strengthen mutual trust with immediate neighbourhood particularly in the field of defence cooperation.”
With the improvement of the bilateral relationship, the defence cooperation between the two countries improved significantly in the past few years.
There have been regular exchanges of visit between top leaders of the armed forces, the two countries are cooperating on training facilities and joint exercises, operation Sampriti between the armies of the two countries have completed sixth rounds, security analysts have said.
“The developments in the arena of defence cooperation with India have been encouraging and there is further scope for its enhancement without compromising the country’s independent decision making power,” Maj Gen (Retd) Abdur Rashid told this correspondent.
He, however, said, “There is no necessity to sign any ‘defence pact’ with India at present which might incorporate terms for joint military drive against any possible enemy, if attacked. A defence cooperation pact is ok.”
“Defence cooperation agreement with India is nothing new. Cooperative activities between the defence forces of the two countries have been continuing under different deals. Now, India wants Bangladesh to sign a comprehensive cooperation agreement,” he added.
The countries have reportedly agreed to sign a five-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) though India wanted a 25-year long defence pact. India will offer a US$500 million line-of credit for procuring arms from it.
Terms for purchasing military hardware from India, technology transfer by India, better coordination and cooperation among the armed forces, joint training and exercises will be included in the MoU.
Gen Rashid said, “This kind of agreement with China already exists. Bangladesh-China Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed during the regime of Khaleda Zia in 2002.”
Bangladesh is a buyer. It purchases military arms and equipments mainly from China, Russia and India. If India is added to this list, nothing new will happen. It will help diversify its source of arms crucial for strategic autonomy.”
India, for the first time in 45 years, sent its the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to Dhaka in late November for discussion on a broad range of subjects relating to defence. Parrikar was accompanied by the vice-chiefs of the Indian army, navy and air force and the chief of the Indian Coastal Guard.
Strength and capabilities of the armed forces of Bangladesh are well recognised and have made a mark globally in the area of peacekeeping. The country has recently acquired two Chinese Ming-Class diesel electric submarines, catapulting it to the club of Asian maritime powers with under-water combat capability.
Some critics are, however, saying that a defence deal with India might upset Bangladesh’s strategic partner and biggest arms supplier China. Pointing to the existing military cooperation some analysts in their write-ups even questioned the need for an agreement. Besides, doubts have been expressed about the quality of Indian arms.
Countering these arguments some others are saying that “to maintain a balanced relationship is important for a sovereign nation to draw its policies free of any biases, primarily while dealing with neighbours.”
There is a need for better coordination and cooperation among the armed forces as there are many common challenges like countering terrorism given the geographical and cultural closeness between the two countries.
An institutional framework with India will ensure continuity of the initiatives taken in the sphere of military cooperation despite regime changes in both the countries.
The joint training and exercises will help to bring symmetry in capacities of the armed forces and contribute to countering and managing common threats and challenges much better.
The agreement will bring armed forces of both the country closer and will contribute to peace.
With the offer of technology transfer, this is an opportunity for Bangladesh to also progress towards manufacturing of arms and thus improving Brand Bangladesh, producer of high-end technology.