Strategic Significance of Bangladesh Army Chief’s India Visit

It is believed that the two army commanders will also discuss how the geopolitical landscape was changing and how that would affect regional security.

by Dr Arpita Hazarika

Bangladesh Army Chief General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed left for India on Wednesday (April 26) on a three-day official visit at the invitation of Indian Army Chief. During the visit, he will attend the passing out parade of commissioned officers at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai, India as the chief guest and take the parade salute. During the visit, he will have a courtesy call on the chiefs of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the Chief of Defense Staff, Defense Secretary and Foreign Secretary and other senior officials.

During the meeting, they will discuss various issues of mutual cooperation and development of bilateral relations between the armies of the two countries. Besides, he will visit various important installations of the Indian Army during this visit.

From left to right: General Shafiuddin and NESA Deputy Director David Lamm. [Photo: Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA Center) ]

It should be noted that the existing relationship between Bangladesh and India Army has improved tremendously in the last two years due to the initiative of the Chief of Army Staff. After the tour, the army chief will return to the country from India on April 30.

The visit is obviously as part of the “outstanding” bilateral defense relations between Bangladesh and India. The two may discuss ways to enhance and strengthen bilateral defense cooperation. 

BD Army chief this visit can strengthen relations between the two armies on a bilateral level and served as a catalyst for improved coordination and collaboration between the two nations on a variety of strategic problems. India-Bangladesh relations would reach a new level. Bangladesh could gain trust from the Indian government because India is an active member of the Indo-Pacific alliance. Bangladesh, on the other hand, can handle the Chinese predicament intelligently because its goal is to engage structurally rather than militarily.  Bangladesh essentially sets an example for the other littoral nations by outlining its Indo-Pacific orientation. Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina Wajed government has recently set an outlook for peace in the Indo-Pacific through dialogue and understanding.  The foreign ministry of Bangladesh published the guidelines and objectives for the region at a press conference on Monday ahead of Prime Minister Hasina’s key visit to Japan, the US and the UK. 

The outlook has four guiding principles and 15 objectives. Four principles are mentioned in the outline. The first of these is ‘friendship with all, enmity with none’. The principles emphasize constructive regional and international cooperation for sustainable development, international peace and security, humanitarian action and upholding fundamental rights and freedoms.

It has 15 objectives. One of them is to maintain mutual trust and respect with a view to maintaining peace, prosperity, security and stability for all in the Indo-Pacific region. Expanding areas of partnership and cooperation and emphasizing dialogue and understanding. To contribute meaningfully and of international value to international disarmament, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and counter-terrorism activities in collaboration with relevant partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

Bangladesh has to clarify its position on the Indo-Pacific so that no one can misunderstand or mislead. As a result, Bangladesh has moved to a better position. Because there will be important bilateral discussions with the BD Army chief’s during his visit to India. Before this, India clearly knew Bangladesh’s position on the Indo-Pacific. The country’s relationship with Bangladesh will move forward based on this position.

The deep-sea port at Matarbari in Bangladesh has become a strategic issue for Japan and India due to various reasons. Because the Quad partners aim to counter Chinese influence. The geopolitical importance of Bangladesh’s first deep-sea port, Matarbari, was evident during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to India last March. The port has emerged as an important area for the free and open Indo-Pacific agenda. Again, in the same month, the Japan International Cooperation Agency agreed to give a new loan of 165 billion yen (1.2 billion) to Bangladesh in the infrastructure construction sector. During his visit to New Delhi, Kishida said that Tokyo wants the development of the states from the Bay of Bengal to Northeast India with the cooperation of both Bangladesh and India in South Asia. For this reason, a discussion was held in Agartala a few days ago.

Hence, Matarbari would not only be the most convenient port but also the most prudent choice for Indo-Japan, as New Delhi has much more cordial relations with Dhaka than its other neighbours. Bangladesh-India-Japan will benefit from this opportunity.

Bangladesh is now inching closer to embracing the Indo-Pacific Strategy. However, Bangladesh has never strayed from its founding principle of nonalignment and wisdom drawn from its independence hero Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which can be summed up as Friendship to all and malice toward none.

Bangladesh essentially aims to balance relations with rival states. Many explain that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina does not keep 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.

Bangladesh is moving closer to an embrace of the Indo-Pacific Strategy pursued by the Americans and its partners in the region, which revolves around countering 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 a Foreign Policy magazine brief. Dhaka has friendly ties with the USA, and other members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (known as the Quad) including India, and Europe.

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 the brief by Wilson Centre.

On the other hand, in South Asia, Bangladesh is an important ally of the 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. Defense cooperation between nations could strengthen bilateral ties. Both India and Bangladesh are essential to the region. Despite some bilateral issues, both countries are greatly interested in further solidifying their bilateral ties, which can made clear by this visit. This could assist in bolstering bilateral ties and reflecting better bilateral understanding. This visit is highly important for Bangladesh and India in the region. Bangladesh and the India must work together as reliable partners to address some shared issues. Through this visit, India and Bangladesh have further reinforced their defense ties.

India played a significant role in the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971, helping the 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.”

Defense, security, and strategic connections between India and Bangladesh are expanding daily. Bangladesh is seen by India 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. Bangladesh is still India’s “closest neighbor,” and relations with it are at a “golden age.” India wants to strengthen its relationship with Bangladesh just as the US wants to engage with it more strategically. Of sure, both nations would benefit from the situation.

In an effort to improve bilateral defense cooperation, Bangladesh’s army chief Gen S M Shafiuddin Ahmed and India’s new army chief General Manoj Pande spoke via video chat earlier last year.

It is believed that the two army commanders will also discuss how the geopolitical landscape was changing and how that would affect regional security.

In recent years, India and Bangladesh’s defense and security relations have improved. The 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s Liberation was in 2021. Both India and Bangladesh have highly trained, experienced military, and they work together to keep the Eastern region peaceful.

Due to the close ties between the two countries, India is also hosting a number of events to commemorate the liberation of Bangladesh 50 years ago. The Bangladeshi and Indian militaries are increasingly collaborating on defense. Through a variety of initiatives, such as joint training and drills and defense discussions, the two countries’ armed forces have been working together more and more.

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 and any of its neighbors. According to the accords, the troops of the two nations would engage in cooperative training and exercises.

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. India also gave a neighboring nation, Bangladesh, its first ever line of credit for defense-related purchases, in the amount of $500 million.

Additionally, 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).

The visit most importantly took place at a time when Myanmar and Bangladesh are trying to solve the Rohingya crisis from the inspiration of the Chinese mediation. Discussions would also be held about various ways to improve the conduct of military exercises at a more rapid and decisive scale.

Defence and security are significant elements of India and Bangladesh’s bilateral relations, and the armed forces of the two nations cooperate and coordinate with one another on numerous levels.

As some selected items are being prioritized, Bangladesh would soon import goods connected to defense from India under the US$ 500 million Line of Credit offered by New Delhi, according to Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on December 16.

On December 15, 2021, President Ram Nath Kovind met with the top officials of Bangladesh during his first state visit there at the invitation of his counterpart, M Abdul Hamid, to attend the golden jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina welcomed President Ram Nath Kovind, and the two leaders spoke about a range of topics of bilateral cooperation and shared interest. They talked about the development of their intricate and extensive bilateral relations.

The defense issue came up during President Kovind’s meetings with Bangladesh’s top officials.

India has added an additional $500 million to its line of credit for defense products. Under this line of credit, a number of items have been identified and are being accelerated quickly; their processing is at a fair degree of sophistication. (In accordance with news reports)

India presented Bangladesh with a $500 million line of credit in 2019 to help the neighboring nation purchase defense equipment.

The Armed Forces Division of Bangladesh and the Export Import Bank of India (Exim Bank) inked a contract on April 11 to allow the latter access to a US$ 500 million line of credit (LOC).

The Memorandum of Understanding aims to finance Bangladesh’s acquisition of defense equipment. In April 2017, India promised to provide Bangladesh with a US$ 500 million Line of Credit during Prime Minister Hasina’s visit to New Delhi.

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.

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 space to conduct activities against India. In response, India should keep up its efforts to stop any terrorist group from using its territory to harm Bangladeshi interests.

India had encountered challenging circumstances in some of the States bordering Bangladesh, but since Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina’s government came to office in 2009, it has provided all assistance.

It made sure that no one could hurt a neighboring country by using Bangladeshi soil. 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, Indian President Ramnath Kovind, Indian Foreign Minister, Indian Home Minister, and Chief Ministers of surrounding states have frequently voiced their praise for Bangladesh’s zero-tolerance approach to combating terrorism.

As a result of the insurgency’s current low point in North-East India, Chief Minister of Assam Hemant Bishwa Sharma has thanked Bangladesh for its assistance and emphasized his wish to improve trade and connection between Bangladesh and North-East India.

To strengthen the defense and security facets of their alliance, Bangladesh and India can cooperate in the field of defense. The two nations should be dedicated to further developing the defense and security component of their partnership based on the needs expressed and each party’s ability to respond to them using different methods, including through capacity building and potential technology transfer. India can assist Bangladesh in achieving the goal of implementation of Bangladesh’s visionary military plan “Forces Goal 2030.”

Dr Arpita Hazarika is a Gauhati University, Assam, India-based researcher. She is interested in refugee affairs, political economy, security and strategic affairs, and foreign policies of the Asia-Pacific region. With numerous foreign exposures, she has conducted research works on India-Bangladesh affairs.

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