Boosting India-Bangladesh Defence Ties Through the Army Chief Delhi Visit

India and Bangladesh have close and friendly defence relationship that covers diverse areas of cooperation and is guided by the spirit of their shared sacrifices during the Liberation War of Bangladesh. Defence cooperation between India and Bangladesh has made significant progress in the last few years. It is depicted in the exchange of visits between the leaders of the two countries, as well as the conduct of training programmes, joint exercises, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR). Bangladesh Army Chief General S.M. Shafiuddin Ahmed has just completed a tour to Delhi to further strengthen the defense and bilateral ties between the two nations.  Bangladesh General’s tour destination in India, manifests his respect for Bangladesh and the historic and existing good relations between the two armies.

Bangladesh Army Chief General S.M. Shafiuddin Ahmed, who on Thursday arrived India for a three-day visit, met General Manoj Pande, the Chief of the Army Staff, and discussed anti-terrorism collaboration and overall bilateral cooperation. Apart from this, the two Army chiefs also discussed various issues pertaining to enhancing and strengthening interoperability, training, and overall bilateral cooperation as part of the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two nations. During General Ahmed’s visit, he will also meet India’s senior military and civilian leadership where he will discuss avenues for enhancing India-Bangladesh defence relations.

After meeting General Manoj Pande, General Ahmed later called on General Anil Chauhan, Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral R. Hari Kumar, Chief of Naval Staff, Air Marshal A.P. Singh, Vice Chief of Air Staff, Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary. The Ministry of Defence informed that he was also briefed on the Indian indigenous defence equipment manufacturing eco-system by the Department of Defence Production (DDP) and the Army Design Bureau. An ‘Implementing Arrangement’ for UN Peacekeeping Operations and Training Cooperation between Centre for United Nations Peacekeeping (CUNPK), India and Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operations Training (BIPSOT), Bangladesh was signed between both Armies during the visit, the defence ministry official added. The Bangladesh Army Chief was the Reviewing Officer for the Passing Out Parade at Officers Training Academy, Chennai on April 29. He also visited the Officers Training Academy Museum and interacted with the cadets of the passing out course. 

The Ministry of Defence said that India and Bangladesh share the historical legacy of cooperation and support during the Liberation War of 1971. The active engagement on the defence side includes high-level exchanges at the level of Service Chiefs, conduct of the inaugural Annual Defence Dialogues by the Defence Secretaries, Tri- services and Service-specific Staff Talks. The exchange visits of Bangladesh Mukti Jodhas and Indian war veterans take place every year in December to mark the Victory Day celebrations in Dhaka and Kolkata, the ministry officials added. 

The Bangladesh Army Chief commenced his visit by paying tributes to the fallen heroes of the Indian Armed Forces by laying a wreath at the National War Memorial on Thursday. The General was accorded a Guard of Honour at the South Block Lawns after which he called on General Manoj Pande, the Chief of the Army Staff.

Significance of regular bilateral visit

At present, India and Bangladesh share a warmer relationship, and they are cooperating in the various socio-economic, political, military, technological, and cultural contexts of South Asia. There are now regular reciprocal visits by leaders of their governments and armed forces. 

President Ram Nath Kovind and PM Narendra Modi paid a landmark visit to Bangladesh in December and March 2021 respectively. Undoubtedly, these regular top-level visits play a significant role in consolidating the dynamism of contemporary ties. Because, the visits provided an opportunity to renew bonds between the two countries based on a shared geographical space, shared heritage, and shared history.

Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Pranay Verma last month proposed Dhaka to develop and produce defence equipment jointly while inviting Bangladesh Armed forces to benefit from India’s cost-effective and high-quality military gear.

The envoy also expressed India’s readiness to partner with Bangladesh in its defence modernisation through the $500 million Defence Line of Credit extended by New Delhi to Dhaka earlier.

The Bangladesh Army chief praised India’s defence manufacturing capabilities and proposed closer cooperation between the two sides for closer defence industry partnership.

The visit of Bangladesh General is testimony to the high priority that both countries attach to each other and their desire to further strengthen this relationship based on shared values, mutual trust, and understanding. It will act as a catalyst for closer coordination and cooperation on a host of strategic issues. Ongoing talks between the top leadership of the armed forces can help dispel misconceptions harboured by both parties and are contributing to a mutual understanding of each other’s viewpoints.

Growing Indo-Bangla relations

It is noteworthy that India’s relationship with Bangladesh is one of the main pillars of its ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East Policies’. Recently, India and Bangladesh enjoy robust and multifaceted bilateral cooperation in diverse areas, including trade and connectivity, energy and power, border management, defence and security, culture, and people-to-people links.

Understandably, Bangladesh is key to India’s land links eastwards. 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 addressed significantly by Bangladesh. Former DG of the Indian National Security Guard said recently that the security challenges India faced in its northeastern region have been controlled and managed, in part thanks to the enormous assistance Bangladesh has provided.

India is today one of Bangladesh’s most important economic partners. Bangladesh is India’s largest trade partner in South Asia and India is the second largest trade partner of Bangladesh. Despite the pandemic, bilateral trade grew at an unprecedented rate of 14 percent from USD 9.46 billion in the year 2019-20 to USD 10.78 billion in 2020-21. Bangladesh is also India’s most important development partner both in terms of value and range of cooperation. India extends about a third of its total global development assistance under the lines of credit to Bangladesh.

The recent trend of military ties

Bangladesh is one of the most outstanding strategic military partners of India from a security standpoint. Defence cooperation has seen significant progress in the last few years. This push is demonstrated in the exchange of visits between leaders of the two nations, as well as the conduct of training programmes, joint exercises, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).

Bangladesh is a long-time tested and genuine strategic friend of India. Apart from economic cooperation, major engagements in border management, counter-terrorism, capacity-building, technology exchange, space research, cyber security, connectivity, shipping, and other areas of cooperation are expanding. 

Under ‘joint training and exercises, the defence services of both countries are now participating in joint exercises, medical assistance, and training programmes. SAMPRITI, the joint military exercise operation to counter terrorism completed its 10th edition at Jashore Military Station on June 16, 2022. 

The exercise provided an opportunity for the contingents from both Armies to understand each other’s tactical drills and operational techniques as well as to share their experience in Counter Insurgency/ Counter Terrorism, Peace Keeping, and Disaster Relief Operation under the United Nations mandate.

As the Bay of Bengal, regions are prone to cross-border organized crimes such as human trafficking, and fake currency, arms, and narcotics smuggling, a high level of cooperation between security agencies can help tackle such challenges as well as secure maritime trade for littoral countries, especially for Bangladesh. 

Though Bangladesh is heavily dependent on China for conventional military weapons, some security expert views that time has come to move away from a single source supply of defense equipment and thus China needs to be balanced by strengthening defence cooperation with India and Russia too. It is worth mentioning Bangladesh and China have an umbrella agreement on defence cooperation signed in December 2002, under former PM Khaleda Zia.

During Prime Minister Hasina’s 2017 visit to India, the two countries signed a series of agreements and MoUs for enhancing cooperation in the field of national security, and strategic and operational studies. Both the countries inked a pact on the defence cooperation framework apart from signing an agreement for extending a $500 million Line of Credit (LOC) for the purchase of military hardware.

To conclude, India-Bangladesh bonhomie in the security dimension has undeniably reached new heights in the past few years and it can easily be speculated that Indo-Bangladesh strategic relations will continue to add “more depth and momentum” in the defence and security aspect of the bilateral relationship as both countries are committed to address each other’s concerns and work towards common solutions. India can assist Bangladesh in achieving the goal of implementing Bangladesh’s visionary military plan, Forces Goal 2030. This could assist in bolstering bilateral ties and reflecting better bilateral understanding. This visit is highly important for Bangladesh and India in the region.

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