Growing Indo-Bangla defence ties will have a significant bearing on South Asian security and stability
India and Bangladesh have welcomed initiatives to strengthen their maritime security partnership. A MoU for the establishment of a coastal surveillance radar system in Bangladesh’s Chittagong and Mongla ports has been inked.
India and Bangladesh have a long history of working together, dating back to the 1971 Liberation War. High-level discussions between Service Chiefs, the annual defense dialogues led by the defense secretary, tri-service discussions, and staff meetings specialized to each service are all examples of the two sides' active engagement on security issues.
On August 28 this year, India and Bangladesh conducted their fifth annual defense dialogue in Dhaka. The meeting was co-chaired by Lt. Gen. Waker-Uz-Zaman, Principal Staff Officer of the Armed Forces Division, Bangladesh and his Indian counterpart, Defence Secretary Giridhar Aramane. This event took place during the two-day visit of Aramane to Bangladesh from August 27-28.
The Annual Defense Dialogue between India and Bangladesh is the most institutionalized interactive mechanism between the two nations. Within this dialogue, both nations emphasized their critical role in shaping the trajectory of relations between their respective armed forces.
At the meeting, the participants conducted a comprehensive review of the ongoing defense cooperation initiatives. Both sides expressed satisfaction with the escalating level of engagement in defense cooperation. The discussions encompassed the current bilateral exercises, with mutual consensus on elevating the intricacy of these drills.
Joint exercises and training
India-Bangladesh bonhomie in the security dimension has undeniably reached new heights in the past few years. Indo-Bangladesh strategic relations will continue to add "more depth and momentum" in the defense and security aspect of the bilateral relationship as both countries are committed to addressing each other’s concerns and working towards common solutions.
Two defense agreements were signed between Bangladesh and India during Sheikh Hasina’s four-day trip to New Delhi in April 2017. These were the first such pacts inked by India with any of its neighbors. Under these agreements, the militaries of the two countries will conduct joint exercises and training. India will help Bangladesh set up manufacturing and service centers with the aim of achieving self-sufficiency in defense manufacturing. India will also provide the Bangladesh military with expert training and technical and logistical support. India also extended its first-ever defense-related line of credit to a neighboring country by providing Bangladesh with $500 million to purchase defense equipment from India.
Under ‘joint training and exercises, the defense services of both countries now participate in joint exercises, medical assistance, and training programs. SAMPRITI, the joint military exercise operation to counter terrorism, completed its 10th edition at Jashore Military Station on June 16, 2022. The exercise allows the contingents from both armies to understand each other’s tactical drills and operational techniques and share their experience in counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, peacekeeping, and disaster relief operations under the United Nations mandate.
Reciprocity in security cooperation
It is noteworthy that India’s relationship with Bangladesh is one of the main pillars of its ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East policies. At present, India and Bangladesh share a warmer relationship and cooperate in the various socio-economic, political, military, technological, and cultural contexts of South Asia. There are now regular reciprocal visits by the leaders of their governments and armed forces.
Understandably, Bangladesh is key to India’s land links eastward. When Prime Minister Hasina came to power in 2009, Dhaka assured Delhi that it would never allow even "an inch of its territory" to be used by any extremist activity against India, in line with the former’s zero-tolerance policy against terrorism and militancy. New Delhi’s major "security concerns" in seven sisters had already been significantly addressed by Bangladesh.
The latest 5th annual defense dialogue underscores the significance of India-Bangladesh bilateral relations and defense cooperation, symbolizing the "Neighbourhood First" policy. Both countries are cooperating extensively in trade and commerce, power and energy, transport and connectivity, science and technology, defense and security, maritime affairs, climate change and sustainable development, training programs, joint exercises, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).
Through a variety of initiatives, including joint training and drills and defense discussions, the two countries’ armed forces have been working together more and more. Two Indian naval ships, INS ‘Kulish’ and INS ‘Sumedha’, made a port call at Bangladesh’s Mongla Port in March 2023. Bilateral visits by senior military officers contribute to enhancing military-to-military relations between both nations. The Bangladesh Chief of Army Staff visited India in April 2023.
India and Bangladesh have welcomed the initiatives to strengthen maritime security partnerships. A MoU for the establishment of a coastal surveillance radar system in Bangladesh’s Chittagong and Mongla ports has been inked.
US pressure and China factor
Ironically, the US has been pressuring Bangladesh, including through sanctions, without even discussing with India (the major power in South Asia) what should be the geopolitical equation in South Asia in order to check China’s expansionist designs. The Biden administration knows fully well that pressuring Bangladesh could push it towards China. The same has been the effect of US and Western sanctions on Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal that are already debt-trapped by China.
Both India and Bangladesh are members of SAARC, BIMSTEC, and IORA. Since the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh in 2015 and the reciprocal visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in 2017, significant progress has taken place in bilateral cooperation. It is in India’s interest that the Sheikh Hasina government continue in power to ensure stability in South Asia.
Bangladesh is a time-tested and strategic friend and partner of India. A regular dialogue in the security domain will play a significant role in consolidating the dynamism of contemporary ties and provide an opportunity to renew bonds based on a shared geographical space, heritage, and history.
(The author is a security and strategic affairs analyst in Dhaka. Views are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)