India and Bangladesh have a 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 significantly progressed in the last few years. It is depicted in the exchange of visits between the two countries’ leaders and 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 strengthen further the defence and bilateral ties between the two nations. Bangladesh General’s tour destination in India manifests his respect for Bangladesh and the historical and existing good relations between the two armies.
Bangladesh Army Chief General S M Shafiuddin Ahmed, who on April 27, arrived in 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 meet India’s senior military and civilian leadership, discussing 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 the 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 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, 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 April 27. 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 cooperate 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.
Former President Ram Nath Kovind and PM Narendra Modi paid a landmark visit to Bangladesh in December and March 2021, respectively. These regular top-level visits play a significant role in consolidating the dynamism of contemporary ties. The visits provided an opportunity to renew bonds between the two countries based on a shared geographical space, heritage, and history.
Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Pranay Verma proposed that Dhaka develop and produce defence equipment jointly, 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 a closer defence industry partnership.
The visit of Bangladesh General is testimony to the high priority that both countries attach 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 both parties harboured and contribute to a mutual understanding’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 have enjoyed 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.
Bangladesh had already addressed New Delhi’s major “security concerns” in seven sisters significantly. Former DG of the Indian National Security Guard said that the security challenges India faced in its northeastern region had been controlled and managed, partly thanks to Bangladesh’s enormous assistance.
India is today one of Bangladesh’s most important economic partners. Bangladesh is India’s largest trade partner in South Asia, and India is Bangladesh’s second-largest trade partner. Despite the pandemic, bilateral trade grew at an unprecedented rate of 14 per cent, from USD 9.46 billion in 2019-20 to USD 10.78 billion in 2020-21. Bangladesh is also India’s most important development partner regarding value and range of cooperation. India extends about a third of its global development assistance under the lines of credit to Bangladesh.
The recent trend of military ties
Bangladesh is one of India’s most outstanding strategic military partners 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 and 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 collaboration are expanding.
Under ‘joint training and exercises, the defence services of both countries now participate 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 allowed the contingents from both Armies to understand each other’s tactical drills and operational techniques and share their experience in Counter Insurgency/ Counter Terrorism, Peace Keeping, and Disaster Relief Operations under the United Nations mandate.
As the Bay of Bengal regions are prone to cross-border organised crimes such as human trafficking, fake currency, arms, and narcotics smuggling, a high level of cooperation between security agencies can help tackle such challenges and secure maritime trade for littoral countries, especially Bangladesh.
Though Bangladesh heavily depends on China for conventional military weapons, some security experts believe that the time has come to move away from a single source supply of defence equipment. Thus, China must be balanced by strengthening defence cooperation with India and Russia. It is worth mentioning Bangladesh and China has 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 agreements and MoUs to enhance cooperation in national security and strategic and operational studies. Both countries inked a pact on the defence cooperation framework apart from signing an agreement to extend a $500 million Line of Credit (LOC) to purchase 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 essential for Bangladesh and India in the region.