Several MoUs in the defence sector were signed during prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent India trip. Prothom Alo talked on the issue to security experts and one of them is treasurer of Asia Pacific University retired air commodore Ishfaq Ilahi Chowdhury.
Prothom Alo (PA): What impact will the defence cooperation MoUs signed during the prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Delhi have on the geo-politics of the region?
Ishfaq Ilahi Chowdhury (IIC): I feel that the MoUs signed for defence cooperation with India will have a positive impact on the region’s geo-politics. The problems pertaining to land and maritime boundaries have already been resolved. Since the independence of Bangladesh, a situation has never arisen where it may be threatened by outside forces. There is no reason for such a situation to arise in the future either. However, the defence cooperation deals signed between India and Bangladesh will play a positive role in tackling the threat of inter-state terrorism and militant organisations.
PA: India wanted a defence cooperation pact, but Bangladesh insisted on keeping it within an MoU framework and that is what ultimately came about.
IIC: A memorandum of understanding is an understanding or consensus between two parties. It has no legal binding. A pact would entail lengthy legal process. A defence pact would have to be passed by parliament.
PA: A defence deal is normally signed when a country faces security threat. Does Bangladesh face any such threat?
ICC: I do not apprehend either Bangladesh or India facing attack from any outside enemy in the near future. The bone of contention between India and Pakistan is Kashmir. However, despite skirmishes, they never have had a full-fledged war since 1971. On the other side, India is in conflict with China over Arunachal in the northeast and Ladakh in the northwest.
China and India have not engaged in war since 1962. Both sides have accepted a ceasefire on the borders. I feel they will avoid military confrontation. Any clashes that may take place, will be restricted to the borders.
PA: Is there possibility of Bangladesh getting involved in a military conflict between India and China?
IIC: There is hardly any chance of India and China getting involved in military conflict. Even so, if clashes ensue in the Ladakh region, this will not affect Bangladesh. But if clashes ensue in Arunachal, Bangladesh must be careful to maintain a neutral stance.
PA: Despite being friendly nations, why is there so much agitation and killings on the Bangladesh-India borders?
IIC: The main reason of the agitation and killings on the border is smuggling, cow smuggling in particular. The joint statement has stern directives to stop smuggling. Contact between the people of the two countries has to be made easy. The barbed wire fencing erected along the border must be removed and deeper human ties must be established.
PA: Why are we so dependent on China for military hardware procurement?
IIC: After independence, we first purchased arms from the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The UK and certain other western countries provided assistance for our air force and navy. We turned to China after 1975. We buy weapons with cash. We do not take military assistance or aid from any country. Recently we purchased US$ 1 billion worth of arms from Russia. It is best if we diversify our purchase of arms rather than depend just on one or two countries.
PA: India military analysts reacted to Bangladesh’s purchase of submarines from China. How do you view that?
IIC: Submarines are used to destroy enemy warships. Indian military analysts feel that Bangladesh’s purchase of submarines from China may step up China’s presence in the Bay of Bengal. India feels that the Bay of Bengal is in its sphere of influence, just as the South China Sea is in China’s sphere of influence. Indian military analysts vehemently oppose China entering their sphere of influence. However, Bangladesh says the submarines will be controlled by the Bangladesh navy and so India has no cause for anxiety. Hopefully the MoUs signed during the prime minister’s visit will dispel India’s concerns.
PA: Many feel that these MoUs will facilitate an increase of Indian military influence on Bangladesh.
IIC: We will be able to purchase military hardware of our choice from India or any other country with the US$ 500 million credit assistance from India. We have a defence budget of US$3 billion dollars, so a US$50 million loan from India will not increase our dependence on India. This should be seen as a step to enhance trust between the two countries. This assistance from India will increase the competence of our armed forces. Increased transactions and communication between the two countries will dispel mistrust and suspicion, and consolidate ties of friendship.
PA: Thank you
IIC: Thank you