Kamal Uddin Mazumder

Kamal Uddin Mazumder, Security and strategic affairs analyst, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Bangladesh: Military Diplomacy

346 views
4 mins read

As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centrepiece of all geo-strategic play. So, Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year’s 46th Seminar, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest conference for land forces in the region and one of the preeminent army engagements that provide a platform for the senior military leadership of Indo-Pacific regional ground forces to exchange views and opinions on peace and stability.

This year’s conference brought together senior officers of the military forces of 24 countries. Under the theme of “Possibilities and Challenges for Maintaining Peace and Security in the Indo-Pacific Region,” the main focus of the event was “robust peacekeeping,” “women empowerment,” and “land power in regional cooperation.” Apart from these, peacekeeping operations, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, leadership development, countering transnational crime, and empowering women were being discussed.
Significance of Military diplomacy

Bangladesh has historically been part of ancient Indo-Pacific connectivity. It is indeed in Bangladesh’s interest to advocate and work for an open, resilient and interconnected Indo-Pacific. In a broader sense, its own continuing sustainability as an independent, sovereign, prosperous nation-state depends on this idea. With close to 40 nations comprising its make-up, the Indo-Pacific region covers more than half of the earth’s surface, home to 60% of the world’s population producing 60% of global GDP, contributing two-thirds of current global growth. By 2030, the overwhelming majority (90%) of the 2.4 billion new members of the middle class entering the global economy will live in the Indo-Pacific. 7 of the world’s 10 largest armies are in the region where border disputes and sovereignty concerns are headline events. Therefore, maintaining peace and security across the region is central to global progress.

However, the conference brings army senior leaders together to discuss differences, establish trust, mitigate miscalculations, resolve challenges, and find commonality among multinational-professional soldiers.There are issues that cannot be solved in isolation by just one or two countries. This platform allows military leaders in the region to get together, share their ideas, and find a collective solution to a pressing and immediate problems. The relationships developed throughout the seminar and through Army-to-Army engagements would help to identify issues of common interest for arriving at pragmatic multi-lateral solutions, and dealing with the escalating threats.

It is imperative to build trust at the strategic level. So, the armies need to work together with the public sector in policy-making and lay out a development foundation that links economic and social development with the protection of the environment and natural resources. The IPAMS promotes network building among military chiefs at all levels to join forces in coping with the world’s various changes and challenges for sustainable advancement of the region. The forums provide a unique opportunity to advance understanding of key issues while showing respect for each other’s role in promoting security and stability. It would build interpersonal relations, mutual trust, and confidence among the ground forces in the region, which would reduce tensions. “The IPAMS can create a sense of friendship and warmth so that peace and stability prevail in the region,” PM Sheikh Hasina said while addressing the opening ceremony of the seminar.

The meetings are yet another symbol of the close cooperation between Bangladesh and the United States. It also paved the way for stronger cooperation between the armies of the two countries. Charles A. Flynn, commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific, assured that the United States will cooperate with Bangladesh and other Indo-pacific countries to ensure the security of this important region. Again, the Bangladesh Army Chief expressed hope that working together will give the Bangladesh army a lot of scopes to learn as the US Army is one of the best in the world and very developed.

While the militaries of the participating countries discussed disaster management, transnational crime, security issues, and women’s empowerment, the issue of Rohingya refugees who have fled from violence in Myanmar is not overlooked. It is undeniable that since the Rohingya crisis erupted in the Indo-Pacific region’s heartland, it has all the potential to directly threaten the peace and stability in the region.

Because of the prolonged stay of more than 1 million Rohingya refugees in crowded camps, the economy, environment, security, and socio-political stability in the region will be seriously affected. A delegation of top military officials from 24 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, India, China, and Vietnam, visited the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, where Rohingyas expressed their desire to go back to their home country of Myanmar’s Rakhine State and not to any third country. The members of the group witnessed the plight of the Rohingyas firsthand and developed a “clear perception” of the gravity of the refugee crisis and the need for their repatriation to Myanmar.
Organizing such an international military conference is a great achievement for Bangladesh Army.

Noteworthy, The Bangladesh military’s positive and active role has earned the nation an international reputation with political and diplomatic mileage. The Armed Forces of Bangladesh have glorified the country on the global stage through their brilliant participation in UN peacekeeping missions. As the UN peacekeeping operations have been evolving continuously, Bangladesh has regularly been carrying out the performance appraisal of its peacekeepers and taking measures to cope with future challenges.

Despite being a late entrant (in 1988) as a troop contributor, Bangladesh has emerged as a credible UN partner over the last three decades. Since 1988, Bangladesh has participated in 54 peacekeeping missions in 40 different countries across 5 continents with more than 175,000 uniformed personnel, including over 1,800 female peacekeepers. Currently, there are over 7,000 troops and police deployed in 10 missions (as per data from the Armed Forces Division). Praising the Bangladesh Army, US Army General Charles A. Flynn said: “The Bangladesh Army is known for its leadership globally because of its contributions to UN peacekeeping operations. Its peacekeeping campus and training center are not just known within the region, they are known internationally. There are many, many things that the US Army and so many other armies can learn from the experiences of the Bangladeshi Army in their international and global commitment to humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and peacekeeping operations. “This acknowledgement has once again proved that our armed forces are a vital factor in upholding global peace and are able to keep our country safe from the subversive activities of internal and external enemies.

Last but not least, this conference is a critical opportunity to connect with the world’s military leaders to foster alliance partnerships and cooperative relationships. It is expected that dialogues like these will further strengthen ties between the Indo-Pacific countries and the Bangladesh Army and increase possibilities for mutual cooperation to cope with recent challenges in order for the region to move forward in a secure and sustainable manner.

Hasina’s India Visit: A Balance Sheet of Diplomacy

/
442 views
4 mins read

On Sept 5, India welcomed one of the closest friends in the neighbourhood, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who visited India on a four-day visit. During the course of her trip, she hold a bilateral meeting with PM Narendra Modi as well as interacted with President Droupadi Murmu. The immediate outcome of the visit was the signing of the seven memorandums of understanding (MoUs) in various fields, including the withdrawal of water from the cross-border Kushiyara river, cooperation in space technology, collaboration on IT systems used by railways in areas such as movement of freight, science and technology cooperation, training of Bangladesh Railway personnel and Bangladeshi judicial officers in India, and cooperation in broadcasting between Prasar Bharati and Bangladesh Television, aimed at boosting ties between the two countries.

Among the seven pacts signed on September 6, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on withdrawal of 153 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water from the Kushiyara by Bangladesh is most welcomed by Dhaka. It is the first such deal the two countries have inked after the Ganges River water-sharing agreement in 1996 and is seen as a breakthrough in addressing an issue that has cast a shadow on their otherwise close ties. The deal came to the Sylhet region as blessings that are expected to help alleviate some of Dhaka’s concerns. A pact to share water resources from transboundary rivers that run downstream from the Himalayas from India into Bangladesh has long been a priority for Bangladesh, a lower riparian state that suffers from crippling water shortages. Earlier, India and Bangladesh finalised the Teesta water-sharing deal in 2010 and it was likely to be signed in 2011. But it could not be inked due to opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banarjee.

The agreement will benefit southern parts of Assam state in India and the Sylhet region in Bangladesh. According to the agreement, the withdrawal of 153 cusecs of water from Kushiara river through Rahimpur canal will bring major changes in dry season farming in Jokiganj upazila bordering Bangladesh. At the same time, the farmers of Kanighat and some parts of Biyanibazar Upazila will benefit.

The two leaders engaged in talks on connectivity, trade, flood management, counter-terrorism, food security, and nuclear energy partnerships. In a bid to help Bangladesh deal with the energy crisis, the two leaders unveiled the first unit of the Maitree Thermal Power Plant, a 1320 MW supercritical coal-fired thermal power plant at Rampal in the Khulna division of Bangladesh. The project is being set up at an approximate budget of $2 billion out of which $1.6 billion was Indian Development Assistance that will enhance Bangladesh’s power generation capacities. Experts believe that the Maitree Power Plant will give citizens of Bangladesh access to affordable electricity, boosting Bangladesh face the difficulties that the country is facing in because of the growing energy prices worldwide.

Both leaders also discussed the issue of counterterrorism. “Today we also stressed on cooperation against terrorism and fundamentalism. To keep the spirit of 1971 alive, it is also very necessary that we face such forces together, who want to attack our mutual trust,” PM Modi said. In flood management, India has extended the period of sharing flood water-related information in real-time which will help Bangladesh counter the annual floods.

Connectivity boost

An important project that was inaugurated was the Rupsha bridge. The 5.13 km Rupsha rail bridge is a key part of the 64.7 km Khulna-Mongla Port single-track Broad Gauge rail project, connecting for the first time Mongla Port (Bangladesh’s second largest port) with Khulna by rail, and thereafter to Central and North Bangladesh and also to the India border at Petrapole and Gede in West Bengal. “The inauguration of the railway bridge over the Rupsha river is a remarkable step towards enhancing connectivity. This bridge is an important part of the new railway line being built between Khulna and Mongla Port under India’s Line of Credit” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement during a joint media appearance with Hasina.

An announcement was also made that India would supply road construction equipment and machinery in 25 packages to the road and highways department of the Bangladeshi government. The Khulna-Darshana railway line link project was also announced to upgrade the existing (doubling of broad gauge) infrastructure, linking the current cross-border rail link at Gede-Darshana to Khulna and thereby augmenting the rail connections between the two countries, especially to Dhaka, but also in future, to Mongla Port. The project cost is estimated to be USD 312.48 million. Another project, Parbatipur-Kaunia railway line, will see the conversion of the existing metre-gauge line to dual-gauge line at an estimated cost of USD 120.41 million. The project will connect the existing cross-border rail at Birol (Bangladesh)-Radhikapur (West Bengal) and enhance bilateral rail connectivity. The connectivity initiatives are part of the ongoing projects in Bangladesh that are aimed at converting the country into a major connectivity hub of South and Southeast Asia.

It is mentionable that, India has provided concessional loans worth $9.5 billion for development projects in Bangladesh, especially connectivity initiatives. These initiatives include improving rail connectivity between Khulna and Dhaka, Chilahati and Rajshahi and connecting Mongla port with Darshana-Gede at a cost of $312million, the Parbatipur-Kaunia rail project to facilitate the transportation of fuel that is being built at a cost of $120million, and the supply of road construction equipment and machinery worth $41million to repair and maintain Bangladesh’s road network. With the expansion of connectivity between our two countries, and the development of trade infrastructure on the border, the two economies will be able to connect more with each other.

Trade prospects under CEPA

It is true that While India is Bangladesh’s largest trade partner in South Asia, with bilateral trade reaching a record $18 billion in the last financial year, there has been a significant trade imbalance between the two countries. To narrow the trade gap and to further accelerate this growth, two sides agreed to begin negotiations on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) this year. When the CEPA is operationalised, bilateral trade potential would be USD 40 billion. Moreover, the CEPA will boost bilateral and sub-regional connectivity that Bangladesh is championing in its policy initiatives.

During this trip, PM Hasina met with Indian industrialist Gautam Adani, who recently became the world’s third-richest person, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. Adani Power, a subsidiary of Adani Group, will supply power to Bangladesh from its upcoming 1,600 MW thermal power plant in the Godda area of Jharkhand. The project is significant as Bangladesh has been recognised as an important partner under India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy.

Finally, it is observed that the cooperation during the visit extended to all fields, including trade and commerce, power and energy, transport and connectivity, science and technology, rivers, and maritime affairs. The visit will act as a catalyst for closer coordination and cooperation in resolving all issues, including Teesta river water sharing. It is also expected that Indo-Bangladesh ties will touch new heights and will continue to add more depth and momentum in the coming days.