View from Bangladesh: No Military Pact With India

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid during a meeting with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. (Wikimedia Commons photo)
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid during a meeting with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

There are widespread speculations on the prospects of India inviting Sheikh Hasina to sign a ‘defense alliance’ between Bangladesh and India during the upcoming prime minister-level meet in New Delhi. Our prime minister has a track record of being able to withstand pressures from big powers, including the United States — she didn’t yield to the US’s pressures to sell gas when president Bill Clinton visited Bangladesh during her first term; she also didn’t succumb to the World Bank blackmail on Padma bridge issue. One hopes that she would have the same guts to say ‘no’ point blank when there is a proposal on the table for a military alliance — whether it is from India or even when it comes from any bigger power.
Bangladesh ought to be concerned with the agenda — both political and economic — that are best suited to our own national self-interest. First things must come first. We have the overdue Teesta agreement on which India has been dragging its feet for years. The border killings by BSF, which account for the largest such killings compared with anywhere else including in the US-Mexico borders — ought to draw greater attention than they have so far received. For Bangladesh, which is just about to gain some economic success by the western scale, there is no room for overplaying our cards when it comes to ‘connect’ or has the ‘prospects of conflicts’ with today’s complex geopolitical cross currents. In our predecessor era under Pakistan, we saw the consequences of Pakistan joining military pacts like SEATO and CENTO — for one thing, it did not save Pakistan from being mauled by India in the 1965 war (incidentally, India was then a nation leading the global Non-aligned Movement along with other non-aligned countries like Nasser’s Egypt).
I hope Sheikh Hasina is aware that a military alliance with India, in particular, in the context of the current geopolitical alignment would be a disaster and will carry the potential of Bangladesh becoming a victim of ‘crossfire’ in the current big-power rivalries which, in the wake of military build-up in Europe and South East Asia region, today raise the alarm bell of WWIII. India is no longer the neutral and non-aligned country of the Nehru days in today’s fray. Only months ago, during the visit of John Kerry to India and Bangladesh, India signed an agreement with the United States that will enable the latter to use Indian bases to lunch military campaigns in the event of a war. This effectively reduces India’s status from the once independent and non-aligned country to something similar to Qatar, the main strategic and military ally of the United States in the Gulf from where the United States conducted the Iraq invasion.

It is no secret that the entire US geo-cum-military strategy for Asia-Pacific including our region is based on the ulterior plan for ‘encirclement of China’, a policy the United States arduously followed over the past decades and fiercely augmented by the last US president who pseudo-named it ‘Pivot to Asia’. Unfortunately for countries in South Asia, by signing the succession of military deals with the United States in recent years, India has fallen for a US strategy which, with hindsight, is neither good for India or for the region. Hence, Bangladesh must watch its steps on the foreign policy regimen and simply cannot afford to be party to any deal or arrangement to antagonize our big neighbor on the north. In fact, it is going to be China, and not the United States, on which will largely hinge the peace as well as the economic well-being for smaller countries in the Pacific as well as in our region; hence, it would bad for Bangladesh to be on be wrong side of history at this hour.

KBM Mahmoud is a former editor of The Wave, Dhaka. 

This article first appeared in New Age, a leading daily of Bangladesh. Click here to go to the original.

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