India, China competition leaves Bangladesh military incapable of meeting national security needs

Former INS Sindhuvir of Indian Navy, the Kilo-class submarine gifted to Myanmar. Photo by Myanmar Military

In recent years, China and India have stepped up efforts to entice Bangladesh into buying more of its military hardware, as it hopes to win over an “emerging” ally in South Asia, while China has been expanding its vast economic and military influence over Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh hosts more than a million Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar’s junta. Rohingya refugees are also creating mayhem in the southern part of Bangladesh through drug dealing and arms trafficking.

New York Times reported on September 8 2020, a Myanmar commanding officer shouted and asked his soldiers to kill as many Rohingya as possible by saying, “Shoot all you see and all you hear.”

Drone shot of Cox’s Bazar with Rohingya refugee camp in Cox Bazar, Bangladesh.

The overthrow of the democratic government by Myanmar’s military, also known as Tatmadaw, didn’t dent Myanmar’s relationship with India, Russia and China. India, China and Russia are three major arms suppliers and training providers to Tatmadaw.

India provided considerable support when Myanmar struggled with regional insurgencies and the violent suppression of its people.

Due Rohingya crisis, an arms race between Myanmar and Bangladesh began tensions for both neighbours. China, India seems to be cashing in for this arms race without any future consequences as brutal Myanmar’s military junta kills innocent civilians in Myanmar.

India is giving away INS Sindhuvir, a Soviet-era Kilo-class submarine in service with the Indian Navy since 1988, to Myanmar, the Ministry of External Affairs has said. A move many consider as Delhi’s attempt to counter China against Bangladesh’s procurement of two ageing ex-PLA Navy’s Type 035G Ming-class submarines.

Hindustan Shipyard Limited in Visakhapatnam has refurbished the submarine. This has increased its service life by 10 to 15 years, which means it will be in service with the Myanmar Navy until the 2030s.

Myanmar procured SY-400 short-range ballistic missiles, JF-17 fighter jets, warships, submarine and surface-to-air missiles from China in an attempt to keep the Bangladesh military under constant pressure.

Stiff competition between India and China has led Bangladesh to be an inefficient and underdeveloped military in the region. India previously offered $500 million line of credit to Bangladesh to buy Soviet-era MiG-29 aircraft while its own MiG-29K aircraft kept crashing in the ocean. The purposeful attempt was to degrade Bangladesh’s military capability while refraining Bangladesh from following Pakistan and buying Chinese J-10C aircraft.

DW news reported that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) running through Gilgit-Baltistan to Balochistan and beyond to Gwadar has strategic ramifications for India. According to Reuters, China will also sign off on nearly $24 billion worth of loans to the country — Bangladesh’s biggest foreign credit line to date. China aimed similarly in Bangladesh’s Chittagong port. India successfully lobbied with Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina not to follow Pakistan.

Bangladesh has been a strategic deterrence against China for Prime Minister Narendra Modi by not allowing Bangladesh to become another militarily capable Pakistan and open new conflict zones like Kashmir or Doklam. Bangladesh is seen to be increasingly gravitated toward India’s sphere of influence in recent years, especially after the Sheikh Hasina government came to power in 2008 and has remained since after.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakesh hands with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina before a meeting at Hyderabad house in New Delhi. Photo by NDTV.

Bangladesh accounted for 20% of all the Chinese arms export, India’s concern for the past five years. However, in recent years, the annual “SAMPRITI” military exercise between Bangladesh and India indicates that India has influenced the Bangladesh military, refraining Bangladesh not to buy Chinese military equipment further.

The fewer arms Bangladesh imports, the less capable military it has become. Inevitably, India influenced Bangladesh not to sign a foundational GSOMIA and ACSA agreement with the U.S.

The United States saw an opportunity to counter China in the Indo-Pacific region. It offered Bangladesh to modernize its military and consider Bangladesh an ally in the Indo-Pacific region.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Beigun met with Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen at the State Guesthouse Padma. Beigun discussed security, Rohingya issues and regional challenges with Foreign Minister Momen. photo by the Daily Star.

In September 2020, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received a call from the former U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, offering to help the South Asian country modernize its military. Bangladesh has made no progress on the U.S. offer to modernize its military by procuring American-made fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles.

Bangladesh is just behind Indonesia and Pakistan regarding the defense budget, allocating more than $4 billion for military spending. Still, lack of leadership, incompetence and rampant corruption in military-lead businesses in Bangladesh are three main reasons Bangladesh military remains underdeveloped despite receiving the highest budget year on year.

The fourth reason cannot be understated, being the defense minister and prime minister of Bangladesh, Shiekh Hasina’s has not been making any concrete decision on whether to modernize Bangladesh military through Western arms, which is undoubtedly detrimental to the national security of Bangladesh. Ultimately, responsibility and accountability lies with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh to deter Myanmar’s aggression.

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