Defence pact with India on table | 2017-03-26 |

Defence pact with India on table

Charu Sudan Kasturi, The Telegraph, India     26th March, 2017 04:56:57 printer

Defence pact with India on table

Indian Army chief Bipin Rawat will fly into Dhaka next week for talks aimed at sealing a strategically critical defence pact expected to emerge as the centrepiece outcome from Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit in early April.


Rawat's visit, starting March 30, comes at a time India is concerned about China's growing military influence with Bangladesh, after Beijing supplied two submarines to Dhaka last November.


The umbrella agreement India and Bangladesh are expected to sign during Hasina's visit seeks to ease those concerns by facilitating joint military production between the two countries for the first time, while turning existing war games and ship visits into diplomatic commitments.


The pact may also make counter-terrorism cooperation easier between the nations and is part of a broader strategic partnership India is seeking with Bangladesh, with which its cooperation on security and sensitive technology has been sporadic, senior officials told The Telegraph.


Earlier this week, Bangladesh had signed an agreement with India formally joining Prime Minister Narendra Modi's plan for a South Asia satellite that the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) will launch. The satellite is envisaged as a carrier of multiple transponders that will allow each member state to use its facilities for mapping of ground resources, weather forecasting, telemedicine and emergency communications.


"This is part of the Prime Minister's 'neighbours first' foreign policy - to add substance to ties with neighbours and further our common agenda of regional integration," Indian high commissioner in Dhaka Harsh Vardhan Shringla said at the signing of the agreement for the satellite, adding that it represents a "landmark in cooperation between our two countries in high technology".


For India, both the defence pact and Bangladesh's decision to join the South Asia satellite project are accomplishments that weren't always likely in time for Hasina's visit, scheduled from April 7-10.


Bangladesh has had a defence cooperation agreement with China since 2002, and much of its military hardware is Chinese.

But it is in recent years that India has viewed China's growing shadow in its neighbourhood with concern - a period that has coincided with Beijing's assertiveness in the South China Sea.


While ties with China enjoy bipartisan support in Bangladesh, relations with India have traditionally swung wildly depending on the party in power in Dhaka. Hasina's Awami League has traditionally preferred warm relations with India, while New Delhi has frequently found her principal rival Begum Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party hostile.


Pressure to not appear too friendly with India ahead of general elections in late 2018 was a factor that Indian officials suggest appeared to have held the Hasina government back from an earlier conclusion of negotiations on the defence agreement. China also has a better recent history of manufacturing military equipment than India.


The South Asia satellite project too would have floundered had Bangladesh not joined it - as appeared possible till recently.


Originally dubbed the Saarc satellite - after the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation - the project's name was changed after Pakistan opted out. Afghanistan too is reticent about committing to the Indian project - it was already in talks with European nations for satellite services.


Bangladesh is planning to launch its first indigenous satellite - the Bangabandhu-1 - later this year and had suggested that it wasn't keen on piggybacking at the same time.


NB: The report was first published in the 'The Telegraph', Calcutta, India on March 25, 2017.