New Delhi, April 8 (newsin.asia): The Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has decided to seal a controversial defense deal with India on April 8, despite widespread opposition to it at home in Bangladesh.
Hasina is currently on a three day visit to India to sign at least 25 agreements, two of which, the defense pact and the Teesta river waters sharing agreement, have been very controversial and ticklish.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Joint Secretary Sripriya Ranganathan said on Friday, that India and Bangladesh will sign two Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) which create a ‘framework’ to bring the on-going defense cooperation activities between the countries under a single umbrella and make way for the sale of Indian arms with a US$ 500 million Indian Line of Credit.
The MoUs will cover a whole of issues, including training of submariners, information sharing, cooperation between coast guards and information sharing between the two army chiefs, said Ranganathan, who heads the Indian MEA’s Bangladesh and Myanmar Desk.
Under the MoUs, Bangladesh will get a $500 million line of credit to buy arms and military technology from India, Ranganathan added.
The defense deal is however opposed in Bangladesh on the ground that it will tie the nation down to buying military hardware from India when the hardware may not be of good quality. It is pointed out that India itself is importing arms and is the single largest importer of arms in the world according to 13% of world arms sales according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). China on the other hand is an exporter arms accounting for more than 6% of the sales which places it above France and Germany.
Bangladeshis fear that they may lose their sovereign right to buy arms from anywhere. They have thus far found it convenient to buy from China which accounts for 80% of the weapons in their arsenal.
Last year, China sold two submarines to Bangladesh amidst much fanfare. This set alarm bells in New Delhi which fears the expansion of Chinese influence in the Bay of Bengal, which India thinks is its lake. The Chinese have got a contract to build a port in Kyaukpyu in Myanmar. India’s then Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar rushed to Dhaka and told Hasina that if Bangladesh needed arms, India could supply.
In the proposed deal, India has said that it will set of joint arms manufacturing facilities in Bangladesh. But the reality is that its own “Make In India” project has not take off. The 2017-18 annual budget has made no significant provision for indigenization, except an Income Tax reduction from 30% to 25% for small scale manufacturers of defense equipment.
River Waters Sharing
To help Hasina soften the opposition in Bangladesh to the defense deal, India is trying to settle the Teesta river waters sharing issue in Bangladesh’s favor. And to overcome opposition to the deal from West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerji, New Delhi is trying to get her to accept a project to build reservoirs to store the excess flow during the monsoons and use the stored water in the dry season between December and April.
If Banerji agrees, and the Teesta waters sharing agreement is signed this time, Bangladesh will get 48% of the waters. As of now, Bangladesh complains that the dams built in West Bengal drastically reduce the water flow during the dry season and demands. And during the monsoon, there is flooding because the dams in India open the floodgates to prevent breaches. As per a 1983 agreement, Bangladesh got 36% of the waters, India 39%, and 25% was left undivided.
On Saturday, Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi will hold a bilateral meeting, where the agreements and MoUs will be signed.
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee had broken practice and invited her to stay at the Presidential Palace. Showing goodwill towards the Bangladeshi leader, India has renamed Park Street in New Delhi Banglabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Road, after Hasina’s father and founder of Bangladesh. A Hindi version of Mujib’s biography is also being released. In turn, Hasina has honored the 2,000 Indian soldiers who were killed in Bangladesh’s Liberation War against Pakistan.
The Bangladesh Prime Minister will return home on Monday after meeting the Indian business community.
(The featured image at the top is that of the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inspecting a Guard of Honor in New Delhi)