Bangladesh has witnessed protests against the defense pact Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed with India during her 4-day April 7-11 visit to New Delhi.
Little details are available about the much-touted defense Memorandum of Understanding. Prime Minister Hasina is defending the MoUs, calling them “open documents”. She told reporters after her India Yatra that the MoU was signed for “arranging military training, seminars, exchange of visits, joint exercise, celebration of events on Liberation War, excursion, exchange of trainers and observers, procurement of military equipment, monitoring the peacekeeping activities, training on disaster management and cooperation in the areas of medicare facilities.”
But critics are calling the MoUs contrary to the country’s national interests. India will expand it to a permanent binding defense treaty, they fear. “If India is our trusted friend why should we need a defense MoU with it,” asked one New York-based Bangladeshi analyst, pointing out that the South Asian country is surrounded by India on three sides. So it’s not at all difficult to calculate from which side, the attack may be launched on Bangladesh. “Defense treaty with India will expose every aspect of Bangladesh to India and our armed forces will have nothing secret. It means our forces will lose their own characteristics and motivations if they are trained by Indian trainers or Indian weapons are given to them,” observed another.
Analysts were unanimous in their opinion that India desperately wanted to sign the treaty only for its own interests, to use Bangladesh not only against China, rather against Bangladesh itself.
“Indians praised Sheikh Hasina, because it won strategic concessions from her country without a war. India is happy it would expand its influence over Bangladesh to unprecedented levels by keeping Hasina and her party in power,” said one critic of Prime Minister Hasina. These fears are contributing to discontentment amongst common folks.
Despite undeclared press censorship, a number of Bangladeshi media outlets, particularly ‘Inqilab’ ‘Manabjami’ and ‘Amader Shomoy’ highlighted condemnation of the deal by people from cross section of life. They said the MoUs compromised the country’s sovereignty. Same was the sentiment in talk-shows on major TV channels such as NTV, SA TV, ATN Bangla, News 24, Jamuna, Machranga, Desh TV, MyTV, Channel 24, Independent TV, Gazi TV, Asia TV, Boishakhi TV, Channel I, Bangla Vision, Dipti TV etc.
Leaders of different political parties and groups, including BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party), CPB (Communist Party of Bangladesh), Labor Party, Bangladesh Biplobi Workers’ Party, National Emancipation Council, IAB (Islami Andolon Bangladesh), Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), etc., rejected the treaty branding it as anti-state.
Former prime minister and BNP chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia opined that Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League party entered a defense agreement with India under the cover of MoUs to remain in power for the next five years.
Abul Hasan Chowdhury, a former state minister for foreign affairs during Sheikh Hasina’s first term, denouncing the treaty said India itself buys arms worth billions of dollars. Its name is not in the world’s top 10 arms producing countries. Rather it is number one arms importing country in the world. He posed the question why it was necessary to buy arms from a country that imports arms itself. He said friendship with India should be based on equality, not like that of a master. He said lack of details about the treaty had created doubts among Bangladeshis and wondered if the new military alignment would impact the country’s foreign policy, especially if India’s relation deteriorated with any other country. “In 1971 India assisted us without any treaty. Why the need arose to sign such a treaty now?”
Mujahidul Islam Selim, the president of CPB said, India is our friend, but that friendship is under threat. India should understand the psyche of the Bangladeshis. “It is no friendship that India snatch away everything and awarding us nothing. The treaties that were signed earlier were entirely in favor of India. Friendship is not possible through one-sided concessions.”
BNP Standing Committee Member Goyeshor Roy opined that the treaty would save India, not Bangladesh. It was signed so that India can use Bangladesh as its own territory.
Ruhul Kabir Rijvi, senior joint secretary of BNP said the sovereignty and independence of Bangladesh have been mortgaged to India under the cover of MoUs.
Mufti Syed Muhammad Rezaul Karim, the Amir of IAB termed MoUs as a “slavery treaty” for which Bangladesh will have to pay for decades.
Former Member of Parliament F. E. Sharifuzzaman said: “we cannot understand why we should have defense treaty with India… Why should we be a party if India has any disagreement or enmity with China?”
Military analyst Brigadier General Shakhawat Hossen said: “Military deal is signed if there is a common enemy. India, not Bangladesh, needs a defense treaty. India desired to train us after we had purchased Chinese submarines, India cannot accept that we should buy submarines. India wants to supervise the proposed nuclear plant being constructed under Russian supervision. No country buys Indian nucleus. Proposing to supervise our nuclear plants India wants to create Bangladesh as its market to sell its nucleus. India doesn’t have those weapons what we need. Then why should we purchase India arms?” he asked.
Dhaka University teacher Professor Delawar Hossain reminded of the adverse impact of the treaties with India, saying China is a development partner of Bangladesh.
In an interview with the Daily Manabjamin, Prof. Dr. Amayna Mohsin questioned the need of signing framework of MoUs?
Former Secretary Mofazzal Karim said: “we don’t know what are there in the agreements. However, people think that we are being deceived and cheated. Our government hides something. …. Defense treaty with India terrifies us.”
Senior journalist Amir Khasru said, India itself buys arms from Russia, Israel, America, France. So how it can sell its weapons to us? Myanmar and Nepal purchased arms from India which became useless within a few days. “Whether it is a defense pact or MoU, it is anti-state.”
Journalist Saleh Uddin said the MoUs will throw the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bangladesh under threat. “Should our Army handover their war strategy to India? Will India determine whether we should retain our sovereignty?”
Mohammad Zainal Abedin is a NY-based journalist & researcher. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Views expressed in this article do not reflect those of the ViewsWeek.