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Arming the Nemesis?

January 24, 2013

In a landmark visit to Russia, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed some deals and MoUs with Russian President Vladimir Putin: procurement of $ 1 billion worth of arms for the Army and the Air Force and setting up a state-of-the-art nuclear power plant, which will be built and operated by the Russians, in the northern part of Bangladesh.

Even the present government’s outright critics lauded the deals. Yet flurry of negative reports poured in the media. The opposition party BNP already reproached the AL regime for taking commission in making such deal. BNP said the arms deal lacked transparency as there was no discussion on the deal in parliament or in public forums.

There is a need to diversify country’s defense procurement source. In terms of diversifying the source, it is indeed a good deal.

I think Russia should not be viewed as a defense procurement source only. We should view it as a tech transfer source. Russia has a greater role to play in Bngladesh’s agro engineering, manufacturing, light engineering, chemical, space and IT sector.

Recent arms deal includes anti-tank missile Metis-M and Kornet which will replace Pakistani origin baktar shikan anti tank missiles. This type of ATGM will strengthen the ground troops. Yak-130 advanced jet trainer will be used to train up pilots of future Sukhoi jet that the Air Force are eager to procure in distant future. The jet trainer will also work as a reconnaissance and light fighter aircraft. But by the time Sukhoi enters into service, world will have moved to Unmanned Combat Air vehicle. The BTR series APC’s are already in service with Bangladesh Army. And this type of APC best suits in Bangladeshi condition. The shopping list also includes bridge layer, grenade launcher, radars for Air force and MI-171SH helicopter. While the radars will help the air force to detect low-flying-aircraft, the helicopter will help the Army to deploy troops and equipments quickly. Apart from the radars, ATGMs and jet trainers, most of the equipments are already in service with Armed Forces.

But criticism takes place whenever weapons are purchased from Russia. India has also been dragged into the debate. Mig-29 purchased during the previous tenure of AL regime has been cited frequently as an example. Some said there was lack of spare parts for Mig-29 and for getting those Bangladesh had to turn to India, which has been perceived as a foe by few in this country.

Last year, Army bought 44 MBT 2000 main battle tanks from China. But there was no criticism against such purchase. MBT 2000 has a Pakistani version known as Al-khalid. Was these tanks procured for Pakistani spare parts or for further joint up-gradation in future?

In the wake of criticism, govt. held a press conference.

In nullifying opposition accusations, govt. said that this was a state to state deal where there was little room for wrongdoing. In addition, the equipments would be purchased on a Russian credit over the next 4 years and the payment would commence from 2018. But the govt. had not denied the high interest tied with the credit. Some news reports said that Army would recuperate the purchasing cost by lending some of the equipments to UN missions.

But this kind of purchase takes place under a defense policy. Bangladesh does not have such policy. Govt. touched down this point by maintaining that such procurement is as per the ongoing modernization program of Armed Forces. According to some news reports, there are some Forces’ Goals and recent procurements are done to meet those goals. Does this mean there is already some sort of policy that the people of Bangladesh do not know? Govt.’s stance for not discussing the details of the deal in advance is that the constitution never allows such discussion.

I think there should be a defense policy and government should make appropriate laws to hold discussion on defense deal in parliament. People have every right to know how their money will be spent. Elected MPs and parliamentary committee should summon and question key persons responsible for such procurement. Because, lack of transparency generates more smoke than heat.

For Bangladesh Armed Forces, this kind of accountability is an absolute imperative. It has an unimpressive track record .Two of the former presidents, also C-in-Cs, lost their lives at the hand of Army and democracy had been derailed by some of its ambitious quarters. Coups and counter-coups have become a phenomenon in the Army. Just a year ago, there was an attempt to overthrow the govt.

At this moment, this recent deals indicate that Prime Minister has full confidence in her force.

In International Crisis Group’s last year report on Bangladesh, some western diplomats feared that the worst case scenario of a political deterioration would be a Mexican stand off between two recalcitrant army units in the cantonment.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman received some 30 T-54 tanks from the then Egyptian premier Anwar Sadat. Mr. Anwar gifted those tanks as a token of gratitude for the plane-load of tea that Bangladesh sent to Egypt during the Arab-Israeli war in 1973. With this largess, Bangladesh Army started its first armored regiment. The tragedy was these tanks were later used to raid the residence of Bangabandhu at the fateful night of August 15, 1975.

Defender Armored vehicles are used in BDR Mutiny

Defender Armored vehicles are used in BDR Mutiny
Courtesy: http://www.deshiweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/BDR_Mutineers-300×258.jpg

Time and again we have seen weapons procured for defending the country had been used in fratricidal clashes. BDR blood bath is the latest example. Moreover, there is a hibernating wahabi section in the Army.

Are you cent percent sure my dear PM that your forces will live up to your expectations?

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