Bangladesh Army Chief's India visit is imbued with great strategic significance
India can assist Bangladesh in achieving the goal of Bangladesh’s military plan “Forces Goal 2030,” a modernization programme that aims to transform Bangladesh's army into a technologically advanced, multi-domain force by 2030.
Bangladesh Army Chief, General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed is in India on a three-day visit at the invitation of Indian Army Chief, Gen Manoj Pande. During the visit, he will attend the passing out parade of commissioned officers at the Officers Training Academy, Chennai as the chief guest and take the parade salute. Besides meeting the chiefs of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the Chief of Defense Staff, he will also meet India's Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary, and other senior officials.
The visit is part of the “outstanding” bilateral defense relations between Bangladesh and India and the two army chiefs are expected to discuss how to enhance and strengthen bilateral defense cooperation.
The Bangladesh government has recently outlined an Indo-Pacific Strategy with a 15-point outlook policy document. The foreign ministry published the country's guidelines and objectives for the region at a press conference ahead of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s key visit to Japan, the US and the UK.
The deep-sea port at Matarbari in Bangladesh is seen to be of great strategic importance to Japan and India. The geopolitical importance of Bangladesh’s first deep-sea port was evident during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to India last March as the port has emerged as an important plank of Tokyo's Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) agenda.
In the same month, the Japan International Cooperation Agency agreed to give a new loan of 165 billion yen (1.2 billion) to Bangladesh for development of its strategic infrastructure. During his visit to New Delhi, Kishida said that Tokyo wants the development of the region from the Bay of Bengal to Northeast India with the cooperation of both Bangladesh and India in South Asia.
Embracing the Indo Pacific Strategy
Bangladesh is moving closer to an embrace of the Indo-Pacific Strategy pursued by the US and its Quad partners in the region, which revolves around countering an expansionist China. This move comes as the US and a few key allies have signalled that Bangladesh should be a part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, according to American analysts.
Bangladesh essentially aims to balance relations with rival states. Analysts say that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina does not keep all eggs in one basket. Thus, she wants to maintain diplomatic, economic and strategic partnerships, albeit “unequally”, with the United States, Russia, China, European Union, Arabs and of course India.
The current governments in Bangladesh and India are very close, and New Delhi is likely to have encouraged Dhaka to embrace the strategy, according to s brief by Wilson Centre.
In South Asia, Bangladesh is an important ally of India. The two nations work closely together on problems like climate change, counterterrorism, and regional security. This visit may serve to cement bilateral defense ties.
Deepening military ties
India played a significant role in the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971, helping then East Pakistan transform into the new country of Bangladesh, which permanently altered the dynamics of South Asia. India and Bangladesh agreed to a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation that would last for 25 years. Given the numerous cultural, diplomatic, economic, and security linkages that exist between India and Bangladesh today, the two nations’ bilateral ties are now stronger than ever. Bangladesh occupies a special place in India’s heart as a close neighbor and an essential part of the country’s “Neighborhood First Policy.”
Bangladesh is seen by India now as an enduring strategic ally. In addition to giving 18 brand-new 120mm mortars to the Bangladesh Army in December 2020 as part of army-to-army cooperation, India has granted a $500 million line of credit to Bangladesh for defense procurement from India.
A 122-member group from Bangladesh’s tri-services also took part in the Republic Day parade in India in January 2021. From March 8–10, two Indian naval ships—INS Kulish and INS Sumedha—visited Bangladesh’s Mongla Port, making it the first naval visit India had made in the previous 50 years. India wants to strengthen its relationship with Bangladesh just as the US wants to engage with it more strategically.
The Bangladeshi and Indian militaries are increasingly collaborating through a variety of initiatives, such as joint training and drills and defence dialogues.
Two defense agreements were signed between Bangladesh and India during Sheikh Hasina’s four-day trip to New Delhi in April 2017. In order to achieve self-sufficiency in defense manufacturing in Bangladesh, India will assist Bangladesh in setting up manufacturing and service facilities for the defense platforms that both nations currently possess. Additionally, India will offer the Bangladesh military specialized training as well as technical and logistical support.
The forces of the two nations have taken on a significant role in conducting training programs for dealing with counterterrorism challenges, natural catastrophes, and ensuring humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).
India and Bangladesh have been providing the most soldiers to United Nations peacekeeping missions in terms of bilateral military cooperation. The two armies' collaboration has grown in the field of counterterrorism.
Building on political goodwill
India’s determination to combat terrorism in all its manifestations was echoed by Bangladesh’s resolute stance against terrorism. India is aware of Bangladesh’s efforts to prevent terrorist organizations from using its soil to conduct activities against India.
Bangladesh has made a commitment to not support terrorism or radicalism in any form and to prevent these activities from taking place on its soil.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief ministers of northeastern states bordering Bangladesh have frequently voiced praise for Dhaka’s zero-tolerance approach to terrorism.
Building on such political goodwill, the two nations are expected to further develop the defense and security component of their partnership, including capacity building and technology transfer. India can assist Bangladesh in achieving the goal of Bangladesh’s military plan “Forces Goal 2030,” a modernization programme that aims to transform Bangladesh's army into a technologically advanced, multi-domain force by 2030,
(The author is a Gauhati University, India-based researcher. Views are personal. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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