India is desperately trying to score some defence exports in Bangladesh by offering missiles, artillery, mortars, radar systems, ammunition, shipbuilding cooperation and other types of military hardware.
The Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Vikram Doraiswami and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry held a virtual meeting with various Indian defence officials, an a Bangladeshi official from the Shipping Ministry to discuss cooperation in defence sector but the meeting was not attended by any Bangladesh Armed Forces officials or honourable Prime Minister’s Defence Advisor Retd Maj Gen Tareque Siddiqui. Indian defence ministry’s secretary on defence production Raj Kumar, however attended the virtual discussion.
So far Bangladesh has not utilised India’s defence credit package of $500 million to purchase any defence equipment.
In the past India offered to set up coastal surveillance network for Bangladesh Coast Guard, cooperation in Bangladesh Navy’s frigate programme and training Bangladesh Navy personnel on how to use Chinese submarines! Bangladesh has declined all those offers.
India’s only source of exports to the Bangladesh Army include 300 Tata Hexa SUVs for general staff usage (mid-level admin officers), some horses and dogs.
For Bangladesh, the biggest external threat to its sovereignty has always been India. This outlook never changed and never will as long as India and Bangladesh both exist so it is common sense that Bangladesh will never procure any actual military hardware from India to protect itself.
For India there are at least three major objectives, first and foremost is to edge out China, which is Bangladesh’s strategic partner and major military hardware supplier since the mid-1970s.
Secondly India wants to make Bangladesh a dependent country so once it becomes unable to defend itself India will try to impose its grand strategic vision of dominating Bangladesh, which is the second largest economy in South Asia.
Thirdly the government in India wants to shore up its failing defence industry by exporting high priced, poor quality defence hardware. This is of course connected to the first two points and helps boost fledgling Indian defence industries, which have so far failed to gain any major exports overseas. If a sizeable military such as Bangladesh’s purchases Indian military hardware the Indians will try to show other countries in the developing world at least that its product meets quality standards. So far India “exported” it’s hardware to countries like Nepal and Oman, who have very little in the way of military capability so exporting to Bangladesh will try to validate its defence industrial capacity.
Bangladesh government is treading the water very carefully. It has not even clearly stated it wants to join the US’s Indo-Pacific alliance – an Asian NATO.
Even geo-politics aside it would not make any sense for the Bangladesh Armed Forces to purchase and use Indian military hardware.
Both countries use different standards of equipment including different calibres of weapons systems. There would need to be a wholesale change in the Bangladesh military’s entire inventory, strategy and training for the Indian military hardware to “work”.
There are also issues relating to quality, spare parts and maintenance. India’s own defence industry is notorious in maintaining quality. HAL for example is not even capable of precision measurements required to mate aircraft parts. There have been complaints by the Indian Air Force that HAL swapped out new engines on Su-30MKI for used ones. Such shocking and unacceptable acts are enough cause for any foreign buyer to avoid Indian defence hardware.
Moreover Bangladesh is gradually purchasing quality and modern defence hardware from Western Europe and Turkey. It is working to purchase some equipment from the US too, though China is still the major defence hardware supplier to Bangladesh.
Overall it is unlikely that Bangladesh will seek to purchase any defence hardware from India even if it was accompanied by supposedly competitive prices and assurances.
One might be forgiven to believe India is trying to improve relations with Bangladesh. If India was genuinely trying to improve its relations with Bangladesh it could ensure ratification of all water sharing treaties on the common rivers, immediately halt killings of Bangladeshi civilians on the frontier and genuinely work towards resolving any other outstanding bilateral issues.
It must be remembered not long ago India sold Myanmar sophisticated military hardware including submarines, torpedoes and naval sensors which are to be directly used against Bangladesh in the event of any conflict. India’s deceitful actions must be met with caution and require the Bangladesh government to double down on its cooperation with China, Europe and Turkey.
India also continues to support Myanmar throughout the Rohingya crisis fully aware of the harm the saga has had on Bangladesh’s interests.