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The Bangladesh army’s increasing role in civilian affairs

Black_cats

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The Bangladesh army’s increasing role in civilian affairs

21 April 2021
Author: Kamal Ahmed, London

On 10 February 2021 the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) did the unthinkable and demanded a UN investigation into alleged corruption in the country’s military. The call followed an Al Jazeera documentaryalleging that the army’s chief secretly provided illegal support to his two fugitive brothers, with the tacit approval of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. It also claimed that the army acquired Israeli-made spying equipment that can be used against the opposition and critics of the government.
Army soldiers stand guard in a street in Dhaka, 5 January 2014 (Photo: Reuters/Andrew Biraj).


The opposition’s demand followed an earlier call from the United Nations. Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, told reporters: ‘The allegation of corruption is a serious matter that should be investigated by the relevant authorities’. He also rebuffed the army’s claim that the surveillance equipment was meant for UN peacekeeping operations.

The government has so far ignored these demands, with no immediate fall out. But given the country’s recent democratic backslide and violent military past, some discomfort is very likely. Bangladesh has long struggled to reconcile the brutal killing of its founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of Sheikh Hasina, by disgruntled members of the army. Subsequent turmoil within the military led to the killing of another president, Ziaur Rahman, and dozens of other officers.

Controversies surrounding defence procurement, the army chief and concessions for his fugitive brothers shed new light on the country’s civil-military relationship. Until now, the political parties founded by two former military rulers — the Bangladesh National Party and the Jatiya Party — were widely seen as enjoying more support from the armed forces than the Awami League led by Prime Minister Hasina. Recent developments indicate otherwise, and opposition parties allege that the inaction of the armed forces in preventing election shenanigans in 2018 allowed the Awami League to hold on to power.

The expansion of the armed forces under the current regime has been remarkable. The most significant addition is the ‘Forces Goal 2030’, a secretive policy document for reshaping the armed forces introduced in 2009 and revised in 2017. The army claims that the policy is based on the government’s stated principle of: ‘Friendship to everyone and malice to none’. It nonetheless aims to build a three-dimensional force capable of multi-platform warfare, requiring a massive expansion and modernisation of the army, navy and air force.

Scant details given in response to parliamentary questions suggest the army is planning to conduct its activities under three independent corps: the Central, Eastern and Western. Its primary mission is to provide necessary forces and capabilities in support of Bangladesh’s security and defence strategies.

Defence spending has risen by more than 123 per cent since the Awami League came to power, so it seems Prime Minister Hasina has bought the military’s loyalty at a high price. Transparency International Bangladesh observes that the decision-making process for major purchases is hard to follow, and that partisanship might have contributed to the reinstatement of senior military officers dismissed by the previous government. Defence purchases have landed three leaders in legal difficulties: the late General Ershad, convicted of corruption but cleared on appeal; Khaleda Zia, still under trial; and Prime Minister Hasina, cleared of all charges.

The armed forces have added new fighter jets, transport aircrafts, unmanned aerial vehicles, submarines and naval boats to their arsenal, and the enlargement of forces has brought a number of new garrisons and bases. Without any obvious external enemy, the army claims these are essential for UN peacekeeping operations, tackling internal threats and aiding civil administration when required, most notably during natural disasters and national polls.

The army has come under scrutiny over its tactics in the Chittagong Hills region, where it is tasked with maintaining security in the face of a two-decade-long insurgency. Human Rights Watch observed that ‘the region remains under military occupation and indigenous rights activists face threats of arrest, enforced disappearance, and violence’. Still, the situation has improved significantly since the signing of a peace deal in 1996 with the rebel group Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity.

The armed forces’ role in aiding civil administration is also controversial. Their role in elections held under caretaker governments between 1990 and 2001 earned them high praise, but the Awami League has now scrapped the caretaker system. At the time of amending the law known as the 15th Amendment, Prime Minister Hasina criticised the army for its role in prolonging the duration of the last caretaker government and jailing politicians including herself and her rival Khaleda Zia.

In recent years the government has followed countries like Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia in engaging the armed forces in infrastructure projects. The Padma Bridge project has seen army engineers work on building riverbank protection. The Navy was similarly employed to develop an islet in the Bay of Bengal, known as Bhashan Char, to accommodate about 100,000 Rohingya refugees. These apparent nation-building projects expose them to business practices that may impair their judgements and hamper professional development, handing ‘sweeteners’ to the military in return for support.

Under the auspices of two welfare trusts headed by top commanders, the armed forces have expanded their business empire to a level easily surpassing the country’s top tycoons. Until 1998 the army had only one trust, but during her first term in office, Prime Minister Hasina allowed them to launch another conglomerate, the Army Welfare Trust.

This second entity has grown spectacularly, and new ventures owned by these trusts have more than doubled since Prime Minister Hasina returned to office in 2009. The scale and scope of these businesses are similar to those seen in countries like Myanmar and Pakistan. Though no one dares to speak about it openly, growing concerns about the army’s power should not be ignored.

Kamal Ahmed is an independent writer based in London. He was formerly the BBC’s South Asia analyst.

 

Jobless Jack

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- Where are the new fighter jets that this article is talking about ?

- If media is crying about the Military does this mean a coup against the Awami league is imminent ?

Either way, this force has not done its job properly . Disband this over glorified police force. Invest this cash for internal security.
 
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leonblack08

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The writer loses credibility with "without any obvious external enemy".

Although I completely agree that Military should not be involved in construction and development projects. Corrupts the military.
 

Atlas

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Well if really military role is increasing, then I am happy that my analysis is true.

If military is really the ruling class ( like in Pakistan & Egypt )as far I understand, and BAL is just front guard ,then I believe we are actually secured from foreign aggression.

However I wish a concensus govt will replace BAL as front guard of deep state.

Contrary to popular opinion, I always believe that Bangladeshi civilians must be monitored by Bangladesh armed forces, in order to survive as sovereign entity.

If Bangladesh want to survive as sovereign country, civilians ( specially munafiq sushils ) must be well monitored.
 

Jobless Jack

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Well if really military role is increasing, then I am happy that my analysis is true.

If military is really the ruling class ( like in Pakistan & Egypt )as far I understand, and BAL is just front guard ,then I believe we are actually secured from foreign aggression.

However I wish a concensus govt will replace BAL as front guard of deep state.

Contrary to popular opinion, I always believe that Bangladeshi civilians must be monitored by Bangladesh armed forces, in order to survive as sovereign entity.

If Bangladesh want to survive as sovereign country, civilians ( specially munafiq sushils ) must be well monitored.
If military is really the ruling class today in BD , then they have been working hand in hand with RAW. which means sovereignty has already been compromised...
 

Bilal9

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The writer loses credibility with "without any obvious external enemy".

Although I completely agree that Military should not be involved in construction and development projects. Corrupts the military.
Well I beg to differ.

The writer who is a Sudanese-British background person, does not understand how military dynamics in Bangladeshi politics works. This is actually not a bad thing.

Military being involved in construction and development projects is actually a boon, as they finish projects with discipline, within schedule and within the construction standards stipulated. There is a marked lack of graft and/or delay in all projects they get involved in.

Hatirjheel driveway is a great example, as well as the new DOHS North of Dhaka Cantt. They should definitely be involved in top grade critical infra projects such as the Padma Bridge and other Railway Engg. projects.

For those curious - many important Dam and Barrage projects in the USA, (including some in the Los Angeles metro area) were completed - and is being maintained to this day, by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

We should let the Army Corps of Engineers in Bangladesh achieve more project expertise like this, as they can be a big source of foreign exchange in other countries (like the Gulf and Middle East). They should also be involved in dredging our rivers, protecting our barrages and embankments (flood control) and be involved in beaches and bridge maintenance, like the USACE is.

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US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has 37,000 civilian and military personnel,[3] making it one of the world's largest public engineering, design, and construction management agencies. Some of its dams, reservoirs, and flood control projects also serve as public outdoor recreation facilities. Its hydroelectric projects provide 24% of U.S. hydropower capacity. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The Corps's mission is to "deliver vital public and military engineering services; partnering in peace and war to strengthen our nation's security, energize the economy and reduce risks from disasters."[4]

Its most visible civil works missions include:


The "SeaBees" are the Navy equivalent to the USACE force. They are even more involved in wartime and peacetime construction projects around the globe.

 
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Atlas

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If military is really the ruling class today in BD , then they have been working hand in hand with RAW. which means sovereignty has already been compromised...
I don't think so. I believe that they (military)are just keeping enemy closer. If a military sold out entirely ,then a nation can not remain sovereign.

We are not only sovereign, but slowly we are getting out of Indian influence. Maybe not at right pace ,still we are getting out.

So indeed Bangladesh armed forces are patriot and will remain patriot inshallah I believe .

So there is no reason to believe that sovereignty is already compromised.
 

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The scale and scope of these businesses are similar to those seen in countries like Myanmar and Pakistan
WRONG. Burmese generals operate in their areas like Feudal warlords , extracting mineral resources and giving part of this wealth to the central government
Sometimes they deal directly with chinese in selling jade, timber , gold etc.

Some of the ethnic groups opposed to the Junta directly deal with Chinese. for example : Wa state has 60K troops and uses chinese currency , is armed and better equipped. Central gov of Burma needs permission from Wa state to send officials in that area.
 
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Bilal Khan (Quwa)

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Bangladeshi bro's, I strongly urge you guys put this in check by whatever means necessary.

We had fallen into the same trap in Pakistan. One's army has good actors, but the institution is not designed to manage public affairs. They'll either do a bad job or do a decent job, but at the cost of their actual job.

Trust me, everything you're all saying today, we all said back in 2004.

If anything, get your military to learn the fine art of 'delegating.'

It's fine if they want to keep everyone else accountable (that's the show in Turkey), but they should NOT manage your day-to-day affairs. They should delegate to the experts.
 

Atlas

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but they should NOT manage your day-to-day affairs. They should delegate to the experts.
They are not managing day to day affairs of common folks. They do it to politicians , to celebrity online activists, and yellow jourlanists.

They do it because such people are not patriot like most of common Bangladeshi people and can be easily sold to enemy intelligence Agencies.

So in order to keep our sovereihgnty elevated, military intelligences should be more active IMHO.

They do not poke nose to common civilians matter.
 
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Atlas

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So when BNP comes to power will they kill the army ? 😆
No one can stay in power if they want to abolish or weaken Bangladesh armed forces.

We are observing it from the very beginning.

Weakening military mean weakening our sovereihgnty.

Who want to do this , they must be perished.
 
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No one can stay in power if they want to abolish or weaken Bangladesh armed forces.

We are observing it from the very beginning.

Weakening military mean weakening our sovereihgnty.

Who want to do this , they must be perished.
So you are saying that Bangladesh army is in the same league as Myanmar and Pakistan army?

Are you saying that Bangladesh army is ruling the nation and not BAL?
 

Atlas

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So you are saying that Bangladesh army is in the same league as Myanmar and Pakistan army?

Are you saying that Bangladesh army is ruling the nation and not BAL?
I am saying that Bangladesh armed forces have huge acceptance among common folks. And Common folks believe that Military is their savior. So if any enemies inside Bangladesh try to harm the sign of sovereignty of Bangladesh (স্বাধীনতা ও সার্বভৌমত্বের প্রতীক) Bangladesh armed forces , then patriot civilians will not forgive them (Uncle toms).

If common people revolt , BAL will not survive a single night! So since common people knows that Bangladesh's sovereignty is not compromised because they have patriot armed forces . That's why they won't revolt.

So yes BAL is ruling officially , but Bangladesh Armed forces is ruling the heart of people , with their patriotism and dignity , and with love and respect towards civilians ( in return civilians love armed forces too ; it's mutual love and respect between patriot civilians and armed forces ) unlike political govt that is out of people's heart.

So tyrants (BAL) are not real ruler , but who can rule on people's heart , they are the real ruling class.
 
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