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Bangladesh For Peaceful Co-Existence

Manmohan Singh meeting with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina January 11, 2010 in New Delhi. Image Credit:

A friendly government in Bangladesh is keen on expanding its armed forces to create ‘an effective deterrent,’ but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has made it clear that despite these efforts and a dispute over maritime boundaries in the Bay of Bengal with India and Myanmar, ‘we do not want a war in the region,’.

The Bangladesh Navy will have its first submarine with base facility by 2019 and plans were to build ‘an effective deterrent force’.

By the middle of this year, two helicopters will be included into the BNS Bangabandhu, the South-Korean built guided missile frigate that is one of the most modern in South Asian seas.

The inclusion of these maritime helicopters is a big step forward for making the naval aviation unit up-to-date.

For the Bangladesh Air Force, construction work on a full-fledged air force base at Cox’s Bazar to ensure security of maritime boundaries and other military and civil establishments will begin soon.

As part of the plans for the BAF, she said process was underway to include modern war equipment to the air force and develop its infrastructure facilities. ‘Already we have taken steps to procure modern missiles capable of striking from land,’ she said.

Hasina recalled that when the country became free, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman added MiG-21 supersonic fighter squadron, MI-8 helicopter squadron, AN-24 cargo aircraft squadron and four radar aircraft to the Air Force.

Of her own government that took office for five years in 1996, Hasina said: ‘Taking charge after 21 years, we have also added 4th generation MiG-29 fighter, C-130 cargo aircraft and highly capable sky defense radar to the air force.’

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made these announcements on two separate ceremonies last December, but she made it clear that Dhaka wants to amicably resolve its maritime boundary issue with neighbors India and Myanmar as it does not want ‘a war in the region’.

Hasina recalled her father and the country’s founding leader, late President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as saying in the early 1970s: ‘Bangladesh would not interfere in anyone’s internal affairs, but if others try to interfere in Bangladesh’s internal matters, it would also not be tolerated.’

Hasina said the navy will be developed as a modern and well equipped force in the future to boldly resist illegal trespass by foreign ships into Bangladesh territory and to stop smuggling through the sea.

The premier asked the Bangladesh Navy to ensure absolute control over the country’s maritime boundaries. ‘Our large maritime area is part of our national existence,’ she remarked.

She pointed out that nearly 90 percent of Bangladesh’s international trade is taking place through the maritime ways, she mentioned.

‘Our large marine area is full of valuable minerals and fish resources. Maintaining absolute control over the maritime areas and ensuring security during procuring the resources are one of the prime duties of the naval force,’ she added.

Bangladesh is sandwiched between India and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal. Its talks with both neighbors, held till 1983, were resumed only in 2009 after a long gap.

About differences with the neighboring countries over maritime boundaries, Hasina said efforts are under way to solve the problems.

‘We do not want any war or conflict in this region. We believe in peace,’ she told the naval officers and men while commissioning the first hydrographic survey ship at the Isha Khan Naval Base. Although there were some stand-offs on the high seas between Bangladesh and hips from India and Myanmar, the Hasina Government has sought to settle the dispute amicably.

The dispute over the maritime boundary emerged when Myanmar began exploring deep-sea mineral resources in the Bay of Bengal last year. India has also claimed resources in the Bay of Bengal claimed by Bangladesh, leading to a second border dispute.

In October 2009, Bangladesh formally sought UN arbitration of its maritime disputes with Myanmar and India, saying negotiations with the neighbors were unlikely to resolve the issue soon. All three have placed their respective cases before the UN’s International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas (IT LOS).

While awaiting outcome of the arbitration effort, all three have continued talking to settle the disputes.

A resolution would help all the three nations to explore for hydrocarbons in the Bay of Bengal.

A maritime boundary agreement would allow India, Bangladesh and Myanmar to begin exploiting potential resources. While India has made some headway in the lower reaches of the Bay, settlement could help alleviate Bangladesh’s gas crisis and bring more foreign reserves to Myanmar as well. Gas discoveries in Myanmar’s newly delineated maritime territory will likely rouse competition for gas exports between China and India similar to that over gas from the Shwe fields.

Gas discoveries in the overlapping claims area offer the opportunity for Myanmar to create stronger economic, strategic, and political links with India.

Development of energy infrastructure in northwestern Myanmar will disproportionately challenge the livelihood of the Rohingya. Some scope exists for regional multilateral organizations, especially BIMSTEC, to help engender cooperation in the Bay of Bengal region.

If settled through the ITLOS, the dispute could provide legal precedent that affects future maritime boundary cases elsewhere. It is a win-win situation for all three and all of them realize this. Hasina, in particular, is reaching out to India and to other South Asian neighbors’”Nepal and Bhutan as well.

Hasina said her Government has already decided to open the Chittagong and Mongla ports for neighboring countries for enhancing cooperation in the economic, political and diplomatic fields.

*The article is written by Mahendra Ved.

*Source: ADNI

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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