Even as China is making attempts to increase its presence in Bangladesh, New Delhi has started negotiations with Dhaka for robust defence cooperation.
Sources have confirmed to Financial Express Online that “During the forthcoming visit of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh to India from September 5-8, bilateral defence cooperation agreement is expected to be announced. The draft of the agreement is already ready.”
In 2017, when PM Hasina was in India, the two sides had inked a MoU on Framework Agreement for defence cooperation. And, this Framework Agreement is expected to be upgraded during her forthcoming visit. In the 2019 visit the two sides had discussed deepening cooperation in aerospace research, cyber security, blue economy, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Importance of framework defence agreement
Gautam Lahiri, a senior journalist and Bangladesh commentator, tells Financial Express Online, “Initially New Delhi was trying to push its military hardware to Dhaka. However, sensing the sensitivity of it, India has now changed its strategy to rope in Bangladesh.”
“Now it will be a good initiative if Dhaka and New Delhi agree for joint production of military hardware keeping the needs of that country. Ahead of the visit of PM Hasina to India, this proposal has been discussed at the recently held defence dialogue between the two countries,” he adds.
Financial Express Online has reported that the two countries have already signed a MoU during PM Hasina’s last visit.
According to Lahiri, “The 500 million dollar Line of Credit was also offered but it is still lying unutilized. Earlier both sides agreed to install a coastal radar system to keep a watch in the Bay of Bengal. Hopefully the project may take off after the visit of the Bangladesh PM.”
He elaborated that, “The visit of Indian Army Chief General Manoj Pande to Dhaka sent a positive signal of deeper defence cooperation between the two sides. Since PM Hasina holds the Defence portfolio too, she met with the Indian Army Chief. Enlarged defence cooperation may be agreed upon for mutual benefit of two trusted neighbours.”
Chinese presence in Bangladesh and maritime security
Financial Express Online has reported earlier that China has been trying to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and India’s focus is on security and growth for all in the region – an initiative to further relations with not only the neighbouring countries but in the IOR. Both India and Bangladesh are working together to ensure that both reach consensus to secure maritime security in the region.
The two countries have naval training, bilateral exercises with the two navies. Coordinated Patrol along the International Maritime Boundary Line, is some of the issues that are being discussed.
In a desperate bid to expand its influence in the defence domain in Bangladesh and in the IOR, China has delivered two submarines to that country and is in the midst of expediting major defence projects in Bangladesh like building a state of the art submarine base — BNS Sheikh Hasina, in Pekua, near Coxs Bazar. To expand its presence deeper in Bangladesh, China has even given two of its decommissioned, old submarines to the Bangladesh Navy.
Defence cooperation agreement
The groundwork for the upgraded Bilateral Defence Cooperation agreement was completed at the fourth India-Bangladesh Annual Defence Dialogue on August 11 in New Delhi. This meeting was co- chaired by Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar and Lt General Wakar-Uz-Zaman, Bangladesh Principal Staff Officer of the Armed Forces Division.
Joint production of various equipment and hardware based on the requirements of Bangladesh is something India is interested in and this was the topic on the agenda of talks during the talks in New Delhi recently.
The two countries have great potential for cooperation in defence trade, joint production and co-development which will help in deeper defence cooperation between India and Bangladesh.
According to sources, joint production in the Special Economic Zone of various platforms including torpedoes and armoured vehicles, radars, among others.
A delegation from Bangladesh is expected to participate in the forthcoming Def-Expo 2022, from October 18-22, in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. At this edition of DefExpo, for furthering defence engagements with countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to inaugurate the multi- national defence production forum.
Execution of line of credit worth $500 million
Bangladesh is expected to send a list of items that it is interested in procuring from India using the line of credit worth $500 million.
2nd India-Bangladesh tri- service staff talks (TSST)
Both sides on August 10, 2022, had the second TSST in New Delhi co-chaired by Deputy Chief of Integrated staff Headquarters, Brigadier Vivek Narang and Brigadier Hussain Muhammad, Director General Operations and plans Directorate of the Bangladesh Armed forces. The two sides discussed the ongoing initiatives taken under the existing bilateral defence cooperation mechanism of all three services. Both sides agreed to further strengthen their bilateral defence engagements.