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Indian Army Chief’s Bangladesh trip: Revisiting Indo-Bangladesh strategic ties

Indian Army Chief General Manoj Pande recently visited Dhaka on a three-day visit at the invitation of his Bangladesh counterpart General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed, to further strengthen the defense and bilateral ties between the two nations. This is the first foreign trip of General Pande since taking charge of the office. “Continuing with the excellent bilateral defence ties between India and Bangladesh, General Manoj Pande, the chief of army staff (COAS) has proceeded on a visit to Bangladesh from 18 to 20 July 2022.” Reads the Indian Defence Ministry statement. General Pande’s maiden overseas tour destination in Bangladesh, manifests his respect for Bangladesh and the historic and existing good relations between the two armies.

Indian Army Chief paid a courtesy visit to his Bangladeshi Counterpart at the Bangladesh Army Headquarters in Dhaka Cantonment where top military officials of the closest neighbors talked over prevailing good relations and various aspects of mutual cooperation for future advancement between the two military forces. He called on PM Sheikh Hasina at her official residence Gono Bhaban where she gratefully recalled the crucial role of the Indian government, the country’s armed forces, and the people during the 1971 Liberation War. 

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. 

The visit of Gen Pande 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 India and Bangladesh 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.

See Also: Bangladesh approach ‘not to face Sri Lanka like crisis’

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