Indian Army Chief, General Manoj Pande, recently visited Dhaka for a three-day visit at the invitation of his Bangladeshi counterpart, General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed, to further strengthen defense and relations bilateral between the two nations. This is General Pande’s first trip abroad since taking office. General Pande’s first overseas tour destination in Bangladesh, shows his respect for Bangladesh and the historical and existing good relations between the two armies.
The Indian Army Chief paid a courtesy visit to his Bangladeshi counterpart at the Bangladesh Army Headquarters in Dhaka Cantonment, where senior military officials from nearest neighbors discussed the prevailing good relations and of various aspects of mutual cooperation for future advancement between the two military forces. He visited Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at his official residence Gono Bhaban where she recalled with gratitude the crucial role of the Indian government, the country’s armed forces and the people during the 1971 liberation war.
Importance of regular bilateral visits
At present, India and Bangladesh share a warmer relationship and cooperate in the diverse socio-economic, political, military, technological and cultural backgrounds of South Asia. There are now regular reciprocal visits from the heads of their governments and armed forces. President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid historic visits to Bangladesh in December and March 2021 respectively. Undoubtedly, these regular visits at the highest level play an important role in consolidating the dynamism of contemporary ties. Because the visits were an opportunity to renew ties between the two countries around a shared geographical space, a shared heritage and a shared history.
General Pande’s visit demonstrates the high priority the two countries attach to each other and their desire to further strengthen this relationship based on shared values, mutual trust and understanding. It will serve as a catalyst for closer coordination and cooperation on a host of strategic issues. Ongoing talks between senior leaders of the armed forces can help dispel misconceptions held by both sides and contribute to a mutual understanding of each other’s points of view.
Growth of India-Bangladesh relations
It should be noted that India’s relationship with Bangladesh is one of the main pillars of its ‘Neighborhood First’ and ‘Act East’ policies. Recently, India and Bangladesh are enjoying strong and multifaceted bilateral cooperation in various fields including trade and connectivity, energy and power, border management, defense and security, culture and interpersonal ties.
Naturally, Bangladesh is the key to India’s land connections to the east. When Prime Minister Hasina came to power in 2009, Dhaka assured Delhi that he would never allow “an inch of his territory” to be used for extremist activity against India, in line with the policy of tolerance zero of the first against terrorism and militancy. New Delhi’s main “security issues” in Seven Sisters had already been significantly resolved by Bangladesh. The former Director General of India’s National Security Guard said recently that the security problems facing India in its northeastern region had been controlled and managed, in part thanks to the huge assistance provided by the Bangladesh.
India is now one of Bangladesh’s most important economic partners. Bangladesh is India’s largest trading partner in South Asia and India is Bangladesh’s second largest trading partner. Despite the pandemic, bilateral trade grew at an unprecedented rate of 14%, 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, both in terms of value and scope of cooperation. India provides about a third of its overall development assistance through lines of credit to Bangladesh.
The recent trend of military ties
Bangladesh is one of India’s most notable strategic military partners from a security perspective. Defense cooperation has made significant progress in recent years. This push is manifested in the exchange of visits between the leaders of the two nations, as well as the conduct of training programs, joint exercises and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).
Bangladesh is India’s long-time and proven strategic friend. In addition to economic cooperation, major commitments in border management, counter-terrorism, capacity building, technology exchange, space research, cybersecurity, connectivity, maritime transport and other areas of cooperation develop. As part of “joint training and exercises”, the defense services of the two countries now participate in joint exercises, medical assistance and training programs. SAMPRITI, the joint counter-terrorism military exercise, completed its 10th edition at Jashore military station on June 16, 2022. The exercise provided an opportunity for the contingents of both armies to understand the tactical exercises and the operational techniques of the other as well as to share their experience in counterinsurgency/counterterrorism, peacekeeping and disaster relief operations under the mandate of the United Nations.
Like the Bay of Bengal, the regions are prone to cross-border organized crimes such as human trafficking and the smuggling of counterfeit currencies, weapons and narcotics, a high level of cooperation between security agencies can help address these challenges as well as securing maritime trade for neighboring countries, particularly Bangladesh.
Although Bangladesh is heavily dependent on China for conventional military weapons, some security experts believe that now is the time to move away from a single source of defense equipment supply and therefore China must be balanced. also strengthening defense cooperation with India and Russia. It should be mentioned that Bangladesh and China have a Framework Agreement on Defense Cooperation signed in December 2002, under former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.
During Prime Minister Hasina’s visit to India in 2017, the two countries signed a series of agreements and memorandums of understanding to enhance cooperation in the area of national security and strategic and operational studies. The two countries signed a pact on the defense cooperation framework in addition to signing an agreement for the extension of a line of credit (LOC) of 500 million dollars for the purchase of military equipment.
To conclude, the India-Bangladesh bonhomie in the security dimension has undeniably reached new heights over the past few years and it can be easily assumed that the India-Bangladesh strategic relationship will continue to add “more depth and momentum” in the defense and security aspect of the bilateral relationship, as both countries are committed to addressing each other’s concerns and seeking common solutions.
Kamal Uddin Mazumder is a security and strategic business analyst.