During the four-day official visit from 5 to 8 Sept. the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi relished a palatable bunch of Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs). In the bilateral summit, both parties signed seven MoUs mostly focused on connectivity, trade, security, water sharing, R&D, space technology and so on. Although the parties didn’t mention the facet broadly, the notion of defence cooperation was also focused at the summit. However, by signing “important first step”, the prime minister of Bangladesh urged India to implement the $500 million Line of Credits (LoC) that India extended for the imports of defence equipment and items. Along with that, both countries homologated to combinedly work on security issues such as space security, border unrest, terrorism, radicalization, smuggling, trafficking and the security of the Bay of Bengal. Vinay Mohan Kwatra, the foreign secretary of India in the following Q&A session made the issues more obvious wherein he alluded to the dynamics of defence cooperation between the two countries regarding border security, counter-terrorism and so on.
With the vital priority of energy cooperation, enhancing trade and connectivity through CEPA and the extension of the $9.5 billion concessional loans from India with a view to bolstering people-to-people connectivity, multimodal economic connectivity and railway connectivity, this summit marked a breakthrough progression in the relationship between the two neighboring countries. Besides, the mutual partnership regarding defence has also been discussed covering the labyrinth of border security and terrorism to space security and the BoB security. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar along with other officials reiterated the significance of Bangladesh in their ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ from a geostrategic and geopolitical perspective.
New Strides in the Defence Cooperation
Both countries, however, have been working jointly in the arena since the independence of Bangladesh. Recent developments in the defence collaboration suggest that Bangladesh and India are enjoying the most palatable era of cooperation in security ties. However, from the summit, Vinay Kwatra, the Indian foreign secretary noted some crucial aspects of cooperation in defence. He focused on the $500 million LoC extended by India in 2019, the key areas and interests related to defence such as — border security, smuggling and trafficking, counter-terrorism and radicalization, security of the Bay of Bengal and so on– in which Bangladesh and India are indispensably complementary to each other. From that perspective, this summit has marked a significant trait to spur further cooperation.
$500 Million LoC
In respect of discussing mutual defence, Vinay Kwatra first talked about the most talked-about LoC extended by India. Under the $500 million LoC, during the summit, Bangladesh and India have signed the first contract which India considers as “important first step” in this current. In the summit, the notion of $500 million LoC, however, comes with greater focus. During the signing of defence MoU in 2017, India assured Bangladesh to have $500 million LoC for buying defence equipment. In 2019, India extended the LoC but still it is yet to be implemented in a full manner. In the recent ‘Fourth Bangladesh-India Annual Defence Dialogue’, Bangladesh urged India to implement the LoC. However, Vinay Kwatra, is very optimistic about the implementation even beyond defence arena. He said, “although the LoC is for the defence, it is a fraction of the development partnership framework. It also has a role in security and strategic cooperation.”
Terrorism, however, is a pressing concern for both countries in the region. Since the 1990s, both countries have undergone the egregious rise of Harkat-Ul-Mujahidin and JMB. Despite persecuting Siddique ul-Islam (Bangla Bhai), the has not been yet wiped out as the South Asia region suffers from the massive problem of violent extremism. According Global Terrorism Index data, South Asia remains highly vulnerable that requires a robust bilateral cooperation between Bangladesh and India. In this regard, the foreign secretary of India, Vinay Kwatra hinted to ink further collaboration.
Border Unrest, Smuggling and Trafficking
Likewise, border killing, smuggling and human trafficking are other non-traditional security cruxes that were discussed in the summit. A study shows that nearly 500,000 Bangladeshi children and women were trafficked to India in the last decade. On the other hand, cattle, phensedyl, narcotics and yaba are the core materials that are smuggled in the Bangladesh-India border. Therefore, this summit can be gauged as a catalyst to stir further cooperation in dwindling border unrest, smuggling and trafficking.
Security of the Bay of Bengal
In addition, The security of the Bay of Bengal and water sharing are also exigently cogent for both Bangladesh and India from geostrategic and geo-economic perspectives. This summit also slightly focused on the security of the BoB. Along with the territorial sea, in order to ensure the security of the exclusive economic zone, piracy and smuggling are common labyrinths in the area faced by both countries. Besides, the geopolitical and geostrategic leverage of the BoB is well-known to the great powers that prospectively invoke robust defence cooperation between the countries. Moreover, to talk about water sharing conundrum, more importantly, Bangladesh-India ink pact on sharing water of common rivers which is undoubtedly a remarkable accomplishment from the summit.
Recent Developments and Future Prospects
Recently, ‘the Fourth Bangladesh-India Defence Dialogue’ was held in India between Bangladesh and India’s military personnel where the focal issue was to implement the $500 million LoC. In December 2020, Bangladesh Army was provided with 18 brand-new 120 mm mortars. In the subsequent year, INS Kulish and INS Sumedha, two Indian naval ships visited Mongla port, the first ever naval visit of India since 1971, as a gesture of showing homage to the golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence.
Moreover, Sampriti, the joint military exercise operation to counter-terrorism is gauged as a suitable path to bring about tremendous progress in the way of cooperation. In June 2022, This initiative completed the 10th joint military exercise at Jashore, Bangladesh. Bangladesh-India Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT), is another robust instance of defence cooperation that mainly deals with joint naval exercises. Since 2002 this joint naval exercise has brought many positive outcomes for both countries and the last time the countries arranged CORPAT exercises was in October 2020.
However, along with that, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is another breakthrough initiative in which Bangladesh is playing a leading role. These developments, however, hints that Bangladesh’s Prime Minister would certainly want to have a discussion regarding improving and bolstering defence cooperation and security ties. Despite the labyrinths of ‘the China Factor’, rising tension in Indo-Pacific among great powers and regional economic instability, the defence always matters to a great degree in the relationship between Bangladesh and India keeping aside all the challenges and predicaments. Therefore, in this regard, the visit and summit between Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi marks a rejuvenation and impetus in which the leaders of both countries are highly optimistic to have strong, comprehensive, prosperous and constructive, defence cooperation.
[Photo by Narendra Modi/Twitter]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Kawsar Uddin Mahmud is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs.