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Dhaka Tribune

Army Chief: Bangladesh military's global contribution transcends peacekeeping

'UN peacekeeping missions can show Bangladesh's commitment towards global peace'


Update : 18 Apr 2024, 06:14 PM

Chief of Army Staff General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed has said that the Bangladesh military is contributing not only through peacekeeping missions but also in various other capacities worldwide following the country’s foreign policy.

He also highlighted that military personnel are trained not just for combat but also for conflict prevention and resolution to safeguard national interests.

General Shafiuddin Ahmed made these remarks during his address at a seminar titled "Defence Diplomacy: Strategy for Bangladesh” on Thursday.

The seminar, organized by the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), featured General Shafiuddin Ahmed as the chief guest.

Ambassador AFM Gousal Azam Sarkar, chairman of BIISS, presided over the seminar. Major General Md Abu Bakar Siddique Khan, director general of BIISS, delivered the opening remarks. Lieutenant General Waker-Uz-Zaman, chief of general staff, Bangladesh Army was also present at the seminar.

Senior officials from different ministries, high officials from embassies and high commissions, former diplomats, senior civil and military officials, media, academia, researchers, faculties and students from various universities, and representatives from international organizations participated in the seminar.

Professor of International Relations at Dhaka University ASM Ali Ashraf elaborated on the evolving concept of defense diplomacy and its role in advancing foreign policy objectives.

BIISS Research Fellow ASM Tarek Hassan Semul addressed the growing geopolitical competition, focusing on the challenges and opportunities of defense diplomacy for Bangladesh.

Retired Major General Main Ullah Chowdhury shared insights on defense diplomacy within the United Nations and other international missions, emphasizing avenues for exploration.

Retired Air Vice Marshal Mahmud Hussain discussed current practices of defense diplomacy and future trajectories, with a specific focus on Bangladesh.

The speakers said from Bangladesh’s perspective, defense diplomacy is regarded as an important mechanism for using armed forces in a non-coercive manner that helps to attain the country’s national interests and foreign policy goals.

They also said that participation in the United Nations Peacekeeping missions—a form of defense diplomacy—is an avenue for Bangladesh to demonstrate its commitment towards global peace and stability as well as enhance its importance and influence worldwide.

Five tasks

The army chief said: “Diplomacy is nothing but an effort by any member of a country with a foreign country to achieve national interest by any form you can define in so many ways.”

For Bangladesh, he said, the sustained economic development by maintaining national security will be prime national interest. “So, whatever we do to achieve them, I think it is all falling in the same line.”

He highlighted the five tasks the Bangladesh military performs.

“First, it is our duty to defend our motherland, maintain sovereignty of the country, and we remain prepared for that. Second, innate to civil power, we do a lot of nation building activities. Third, we do disaster management. And this disaster management sometimes goes beyond our national boundary. He said Bangladesh military contributed to disaster management areas in China, India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Philippines, Kuwait and Turkey, among others.

“Fourth, in aid to civil power, the army also does some internal security duties. He cited Chittagong Hill tracts as an example. The fifth thing that we do is our overseas employment,” he said.

“And it's not limited to only through the UN peacekeeping operation. It goes beyond that,” he said, citing the example of Kuwait where more than 5,500 people are employed. All of them are not military.

“We have employed a good number of civilians over there, though it is known to be an army unit,” the army chief said, terming it a contribution of Bangladesh army to national interest.

“So while we have military engagement, keeping in mind to achieve our national interest, any action to me is military diplomacy.”

He said when he interviews contingent commanders for UN peacekeeping missions or while talking to them, “we advise at any level that, remember while you are doing this mission, you are also an ambassador of Bangladesh. So do not do anything which defames Bangladesh. Do everything that brings name and fame for Bangladesh that's meaningful, the soft power and that helps for subsequent engagement of Bangladesh to that country for the benefit of Bangladesh. So these are inbuilt. This has not started now, it is always there.”

He said the defense policy has given “a clear guideline of our engagement in achieving this national interest that you might call defense diplomacy or military diplomacy.”

He also emphasized better coordination among different departments of the government.

“There is no denying the fact that all the organs of the government are working in achieving national interest. It is only better to find opportunities or the most conducive environment to work together. It is impossible to succeed alone and how to collaborate, that is the challenge.”

Contribution beyond peacekeeping

The Army chief said the chief of general staff will very soon go to Central Africa to hand over a few thousand pairs of military uniforms to them.

“And also, we are giving some other gears to some of the countries,” he said.

“We have indigenously produced some remotely operated vehicles, which is a good innovation for the Bangladesh Army. And thus, we are saving a lot of foreign currency which earlier we needed to import. And we are going to hand over some of the equipment to the Peruvian army also very soon,” he said.

“So, this will also help us in growing our relation, especially in the context of UN peacekeeping, because this initiative came in while we had been discussing one of the platforms where the member states can help each other in capacity building. And Bangladesh said that we will be doing this for the Peruvian army.

“So, it's giving one insight to many that Bangladesh is capable of contributing not only in the form of peacekeeper troops, but also in the other form. We also did the same with Gambia,” he said.

“We have agreed to give some of the equipment and things to the Gambian army and thereby we will have in future joint forces operating the Gambian and Bangladesh army together in UN peacekeeping operations.”

“We have also handed over military vehicles to Maldives armies. We are doing this very regularly, so we are on the right track.”

He, however, said as military personnel, they do not only learn how to fight a war, but also how to prevent or avoid a war to achieve our national interest.

The National Defense College is never aimed at teaching you the art of warfare, rather how to avoid war or how to enhance their diplomatic capabilities, he said.

“But at the same time, we never forget that the main role of the military forces is to protect the sovereignty of the country. That is our primary goal. And we should be ready to do that.

“Intention can change overnight, but capabilities do not change overnight. You are my friend today. What happens if you are not my friend tomorrow? So we should be capable of defending our national interest, our motherland, and be capable of,” he said.

“But the main foreign policy dictum, set by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman - friendship to all, malice towards none - has set every tone for us.

“And I would like to give you a word that as chief of Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh army is doing everything in contributing, in achieving that foreign policy,” he asserted.

“And wherever there is an opportunity, whether it is told or untold, we grab and do everything so that it only fetches benefits for Bangladesh and Bangladesh becomes Sonar Bangladesh as dreamt by our father of the nation.”

Engagement with Myanmar military

There was a suggestion about Myanmar that whether Bangladesh has a scope to engage more with Myanmar military leaders to narrow down the gap.

The army chief, however, said some of the Myanmar military leaders face international sanctions.

“So there is a risk of, you know, putting ourselves into trouble while you do that because all (of the countries) are our friends. So to make one friend happy, we cannot antagonize another one,” he said.

“So it's a dynamic that we have to look into and at the same time the practical connotation has to be taken into consideration. And I would like to ascertain that we are doing our best and we are on the right track.”

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