Bangladesh was born through a bloody war, a war of liberation. The whole nation got united, took up arms and fought. The objective of the war was to create a country independent and sovereign, happy and prosperous based on democracy. The New Statesman of London commenting on the war said: “If blood is the price of people’s right to independence then Bangladesh has overpaid it.” This emphasized the value of our independence and sovereignty. It is most dear to us and we will protect it at any cost. We will build our defence capability, heighten it and make it a true deterrent against any external aggression. We need to build up a military machine, which will act as a bulwark of our national defence.
Geographically Bangladesh is placed disadvantageously. It suffers from the tyranny of a geography which gives rise to the concept of defence vulnerability. Because of Bangladesh’s political culture and weak governance, many security strategists cast suspicion on its internal security. But invariably the unique geo-strategic location directs its focus on its external national security.
Bangladesh does posses threats from external aggression. The tyranny of geography brings challenges to our security concerns. But we should not forget that all challenges bring new opportunities, unlock areas of new hopes and new potentialities. In one way we call Bangladesh a geographic tyranny but in another way some may call it a geographic boon. Geostrategically, geopolitically Bangladesh is placed in a most significant place - a place can be termed, pivotal. Bangladesh is in South Asia, the eastern most country. On the east of Bangladesh, there are the economically prosperous ASEAN nations. Bangladesh spans as a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia. Bangladesh is situated between two Asian giants. In the north just hundred kilometre away is China, and in the south surrounded by India with a land border of 4098 kilometre. The geo-strategic location of Bangladesh adds more to its importance being situated along the Shiligury Corridor, which very narrowly connects Arunachal province with mainlnd India. China claims 95000 sq km of land of Arunachal to be her own territory where she fought a war in 1962 and occupied it. Besides, the restive Seven States engaged in secessionist insurgency, a low intensity war are all located in close proximity to Bangladesh. Bangladesh as such is geo-strategic pivot in the South Asian sub system where active geo-strategic players like China and India are there. Bangladesh can exploit these very unique situations of geostrategy with correct vision and diplomacy, with appropriate military preparedness and right deterrence.
Bangladesh borders with only two countries - India and Myanmar. With Myanmar we have no border dispute but the maritime boundary is not yet demarcated. Although Dhaka’s relation with New Delhi is friendly but India’s military intervention may not be all together discounted in the event of any development in Bangladesh considered prejudicial to the regional giant’s perceived security thereat. The continuing insurgency in India’s north-eastern states might adversely affect Bangladesh’s security in that the common borders might not remain peaceful and India might attempt to use Bangladesh territory to quell the armed groups.
It must be appreciated that India has helped Bangladesh resolve it’s insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). However it can not be guaranteed and India could repeat its role by sheltering, arming and training the CHT rebels should they choose to launch another insurgency against Dhaka. India may very well use this strategy to provoke and incite the tribal community of CHT to fight against Bangladesh, in the name of secessionist movement when she requires to put pressure on Bangladesh to achieve her objectives, political, economical or both. Bangladesh has serious bilateral disputes with India over sharing water of 54 common rivers, demarcation of maritime boundary, sovereignty over South Talpatti Island in the Bay of Bengal, demand for corridor in the name of regional connectivity etc.
Against this backdrop of the threat perception, Bangladesh pursues a defence policy of no aggression but defend every inch of her land. To achieve a military deterrence in land, air and sea Bangladesh was looking for friends, who can help her to strengthen her defence capability. China, a close neighbour having ancient ties after opening diplomatic relationship in October 1975, immediately came forward. Bangladesh opened its embassy in Beijing and along with political and economic relations, defence cooperation also started. The writer was posted as first military attaché in Beijing, President Zia visited China in July 1980. He was given a rousing reception. After Chairman Mao Zedong’s death Hua Guofeng assumed charge. He assured all military support for Bangladesh.
Bangladesh almost from the scratch started building its armed forces, its Army, Navy and Air force with PLA’s strong assistance. Whatever the defence capabilities till today we could muster, are mostly procured from China. China supplied the military hardware and many of the consignments during my time as defence attche there in the 80s, were on gratis, free of charge or on special goodwill price. China during this period also modernized, upgraded and expanded our only ordnance factory at Gazipur built by them during Pakistan time. China as a sincere friend always wanted Bangladesh to be strong militarily and prosperous economically. China considers Bangladesh a good friend, a strategic ally and extends full cooperation in military supply, technology transfer and training of military personnel. In 2002 Prime Minister Khaleda Zia during her visit to China also signed a broad-based defence agreement. It is an umbrella defence cooperation arrangement. It provides very wide ranging defence cooperation scope.
China in recent decades has made a phenomenal rise as an economic and military power, positioned herself in the centre of world stage. China is winning over friends all over Asia, Africa and Latin America. She is opposed to big power chauvinism, opposed to expansionism and hegemony. She stands for world unity, peace and stability. South Asia is China’s backyard. She has her security concerns. China does not recognize Mc Mohan Line and claims much of Arunachal province of India as her own land. Dalai Lama, is an irritant to China on Tibet issue. In recent years a strategic special relationship of Indo-US has developed in the aftermath of civil-nuclear agreement, which China considers motivated against her in pursuance of US policy of containing China. China maintains excellent relations with all the small South Asian neighbours including Bangladesh. Bangladesh may find in China a natural ally in her strive to consolidate her sovereignty and security.
The caldron of South Asia is heating up. Terrorism is taking an ugly shape day by day. There are two nuclear power nations in the region. External forces are also getting involved to counter terrorism.
The doctrine of pre-emption practiced in Iraq may not be out of place for the region. Security in 21st century has become more complicated and it is taking new dimensions. South Asia and the region around are intensifying their military build-up. The countries with which Bangladesh shares land border and sea territory are already much more militarily strong and are trying utmost hard to become stronger. The Regional Cooperation Organization of South Asia, SAARC, which was expected to bring peace, harmony and prosperity, could not do so as desired. Against this background Bangladesh should not remain a passive simple onlooker of the events developing all around. She should make her armed forces appropriately up to date and modern to face the regional challenges. She should have long term vision and planning in her defence preparedness for the present era, next and beyond. We should not forget that not very distant past Kuwait, an oil rich Gulf country, Sri-Lanka, a model of developing country in South Asia had to pay very heavy price because of their neglect and failure to raise strong armed forces.
I would like to conclude with a small personal anecdote. I had the honoured privilege to pay a courtesy call to His Excellency Jiang Zemin, the President of China in 1996 when I visited China as Chief of Army Staff. I remember President Jiang told me that China had changed a lot. It was not the same China which I saw when I lived there in the 70s and 80s. He said, “It is a changed China, developed China and it is a new generation, a new leadership.”
He said, “The world is changing; I heard Dhaka skyline has also changed. But in all these changes one thing has not changed and it will never change and that is our relationship with Bangladesh, our policy for Bangladesh” He said, “I assure you, General, China will ever remain a friend. In time of need, she will be always beside you”. His words still ring in my ear. I treasure them. I believe this epitomizes our true relationship. It epitomizes the ethos and spirit of our defence cooperation in 21 century and beyond.
BY : Lt. Gen. M. Mahbubur Rahman (Retd)