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Between a rock and a hard place

  • Published at 07:14 pm March 15th, 2017
  • Last updated at 08:03 pm March 15th, 2017

According to some media reports, India wants a 25-year comprehensive defense pact with Bangladesh, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will visit India in April to have bilateral talks and sign the deal.

That comprehensive defense pact will include training, sale of military hardware, and military-to-military cooperation.

It is also reported that India is also willing commit up to $500 million in line of credit for military cooperation with Dhaka.

Geo-strategically, Bangladesh is very important to India for two critically important reasons:

First, since Bangladesh is a country with a 90% Bengali Muslim majority that nearly disconnects India’s north-east, it has the potential to become a security threat to India.

Second, the Bay of Bengal. It is located close to the geographic centre of the Indo-Pacific region at the intersection of the expanding zones of strategic interest of China and India. The Bay of Bengal is also a key transit zone between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the main route for trade in energy to East Asia. India wants full control over it.

Recently, China has promised $24bn dollars for infrastructure development projects in Bangladesh. China considers Bangladesh her strategic partner in the region.

Bangladesh should not be a pawn of power collisions. Rather, it should focus on trade and development under a secure atmosphere

In China, a proposed regional trade corridor (BCIM) which will be connected with the Belt Road initiative, and Bangladesh will appear as the junction of South Asian trade.

On the other hand, China also want to build a few sea ports in the Bay of Bengal to support her maritime silk-route initiative. Recently, the Bangladesh Navy bought two submarines from China to modernise its defense in Bay of Bengal.

When two major regional powers have conflicting national interests in a neighbouring land, the collision creates flash-points. And that flash-point will attract global players.

Bangladesh should not be a pawn in power collisions. Rather, it should focus on trade and development under a secure atmosphere.

If Bangladesh signs a 25-year defense pact with India, it will not be the wisest of decisions for her sovereignty. Additionally, international geo-political and geo-strategic players can destabilise the already unstable state of Islamic extremism.

It can also demoralise Bangladesh’s defense forces on the ground of intelligence and security sharing. Additionally, China, who considers Bangladesh a strategic partner, will not like such a defense deal.

But Bangladesh must remember that she has to walk on a balance beam in dealing with China and India. She cannot afford to lose any of them.

So, Bangladesh can pursue only a short-term, non-comprehensive, pilot project of a defense deal with India.

And Bangladesh must address and bilaterally solve the trade deficit, border killings, domestic political interference, and the Farakka and Teesta water sharing issue as well.

From Bangladesh’s perspective, those are far more important than a comprehensive defense pact with India.

Rajeev Ahmed is a geo-political analyst.