Armed Forces Modernisation and Upgradation
The Bangladesh Armed forces is set on the path of major modernization and upgradation of hierarchy. The Army is set to be divided into two commands, Eastern and Western commands as per statement in the parliament by the Planning Minister AK Khandker. Former army chief Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman said this was long overdue. The Minister said intelligence HQs is also in the offing, "Steps will be taken to include manpower with skill in information technology and equipment at the organisational structure of every sector headquarters and unit," he said.
Prime minister, Sheikh Hasina stated in a pre promotion board meeting on 01 July, “The Awami League government believes in development, expansion and modernisation of the army. That’s why we always take effective steps to develop the armed forces.” She asked the forces to consider, “professional efficiency, the spirit of the liberation war, leadership, discipline, honesty, trust worthiness and loyalty as the criteria for promotion,” as per a report in the Daily Star Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Army has seven divisions which will be divided under the two new commands and a lieutenant general rank officer given the charge of each command. Purchase of 44 modern MBT-2000 tanks, three armoured recovery vehicles, two weapons locating radars, 18 self-propelled guns, one electronic mate station, two pieces of sound ranging equipment, 200 surface-to-surface missiles, 130 short-range anti-tank guided weapons, 10 automatic grenade launchers, seven light mortars, one ground surveillance radar, and 25 machine guns is also in the offing. For Bangladesh Navy, the Minister said the government plans to purchase two off the shelf [readymade] frigates, two large patrol crafts, two maritime patrol aircraft, and five patrol crafts. For the air force, the minister said process is under way to purchase 16 fighter planes, three MI-17 SH helicopters, and two air defence radars.
The Government has also increased the defence budget by approximately 7 percent in the current year. Tk 12, 985 crore [USD 1.5873 Billion] has been allotted for defence for the year 2012-13 starting July 2012. This is Tk 851 crore [USD 104 Million] higher than the outgoing year's allocation. Bangladesh as the leading provider of troops for the UN missions abroad has earned a total of Tk 4,430 crore [USD 541.5 Million] in the last three years with Tk 1, 980 crore [USD 242 Million] earned during the current financial year. This is primarily for modernization of the armed forces with induction of additional tanks, guns and radars a lot of which is coming from China. While maritime challenges are restricted to piracy there is greater investment for naval assets given increase in the EEZ with settlement of boundary with Myanmar and a similar advantage likely to accrue to the country with India as well. The country would however have to spend the funds judiciously by ensuring that the defence expenditure does not impinge on funds for development.
The push for upgrading and modernization of the army in particular in Bangladesh has external and internal implications. This is being done after a long time though the army has not faced any external challenge given that relations between India and Bangladesh continue to be stable over the years. Considerable beefing up of tanks, SP arty and anti tank missiles as well as air defence guns indicate a threat envisaged from the plains sector from India. How far this is realistic remains to be seen and what scenarios are envisaged by the Bangladesh army for such an eventuality is not clear. While Bangladesh Myanmar relations have been at times tense as in June spill over of refugees from that country raised tensions on the borders and the waters, there is no apparent external military challenge.
There have however been rumblings in the military during the tenure of the Awami League government. The 25 February 2009 coup in the Bangladesh Rifles now renamed as Border Guards Bangladesh which led to the death of 57 officers had created major resentment in the Army for handling by the government. As per a recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), the Army was unhappy with the delay as well as failure to launch a special force operation, though why it should have waited for such an order from the government remains unclear as it was clearly within the mandate of the Army to take action even though the HQ was in the heart of the capital Dhaka. The ICG has also reported incidents of discord indicated by the failed coup on 19 January 2012, assassination attempt of an Awami League member of parliament in October 2009 by mid-level officers and “large-scale dismissals, forced retirements, deepening politicization and a heavy-handed approach to curb dissent and root out militants”, this as per the ICG Report, “ have created an unstable and undisciplined force”. ICG fears violence by mid-level officers and also bitterness due to politicization of the force.
While the main challenges of Bangladesh are in human security issues of education, health care and management of natural and man made disasters the higher allotments to defence have raised concerns of the government appeasing the Army in particular by offering more money and also higher rank structure with the addition of two posts of Lt Gen to head the commands. Under the circumstances it may be apparent that internal strengthening of the army is being undertaken despite the threat it has posed to the political leadership from time to time possibly to appease the top brass. More over this could also be an effort by the Awami League government to gain support of the Army in its political contest with the BNP.