Interview: Maj. Gen (retd) ANM Muniruzzaman
There are efforts from the US to get Bangladesh to join an alliance like Quad. Then there is the military alliance AUKUS. How sensitive are these issues for Bangladesh?
Quad was formed in 2007 but it was inactive for a few years. Its activities were revived in 2017. And after President Biden came to power, Quad saw a significant revival. At the same time, in the global strategic scenario, a sort of strategic competition between China and the US emerged. At present, QUAD and its activities are at the forefront of the US anti-China stance. Recently a few countries of Quad along with the UK, formed AUKUS. The objective of forming Quad and AUKUS is to resist China. There are talks being held in various quarters in order to expand the membership so as to render the aim of Quad a success. The names of New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam have cropped up at various times as possible members. Bangladesh’s name has never cropped up on the list. It is still not clear which countries may be included in the expanded framework. However, even outside the membership, there are efforts to expand Quad’s sphere of influence. A number of activities and events indicate that Bangladesh is included in this. Overall, the present strategic situation is in an evolving state and we need to observe this closely.
China has big investments in various projects of Bangladesh. This is increasing Bangladesh’s dependence of China. How significant is that in geopolitical terms?
A large number of the various projects underway in Bangladesh at present are funded by China and that is why there is dependence on China. We know that political and strategic dependence stems from economic dependence. This situation becomes totally enmeshed with the geopolitical situation. Because of the strategic rivalry between the US and China, this sort of dependence on China runs the risk of leading to strategic and security problems.
At one point of time the US had sort of withdrawn itself from global politics. It had become almost totally dependent on India to uphold its interests in this region, it was perceived. Is that changing now?
The moment that President Joe Biden entered the White House, the message went out: ‘America is back’. That meant America was once again to be active in global politics. According to America’s national security directives, America had already identified India’s vital role in the security management of the Indo-Pacific region. In its 2018 policy it had named India as its regional security manager. The US has significantly stepped up its activities in the Indo-Pacific region and it wants India to remain its main ally here. India is a part of Quad and so has an important role there too. But it must be noted that while other Quad countries have been included in AUKUS, India has not. This has given rise to the question as to whether India’s role in the security management of the Asia Pacific region has been downsized.
What influence will this have on Bangladesh?
In the area of international and regional security, there has been no radical change in India-US cooperation and programmes. But the policy that US has declared indicates that they will work directly with Bangladesh and other countries of South Asia in various fields, with no scope for mediation by a third country or India. By virtue of its own strategic importance, Bangladesh will get the opportunity to consolidate its position further in the global arena. We see signs of the US and the western world accepting this position of Bangladesh.
Certain steps taken by the US in recent times clearly indicate that it is placing pressure on Bangladesh in a planned manner. Does this have any link to the China-US rivalry or its geopolitical calculations in this region?
The US has recently taken certain steps against some institutions and individuals in Bangladesh. The reason they gave for this was certain internal security concerns. This is a legal process that can be deciphered by a legal understanding of the matter. In the international geostrategic arena, all countries give priority to their own interests, particularly the larger and more powerful countries. There is scope for a deeper analysis to examine whether there has been any influence in this regard by the emerging international scenario.
If polarisation pressures increase on the geopolitics of this region, than what strategy should countries like Bangladesh adopt?
A new polarisation has emerged in present-day geopolitics which many be considered the start of a new Cold War or Cold War 2.0. This entire region is becoming divided and the question is arising as to whether the states are joining up with one camp or the other. Bangladesh should always and at all levels maintain its strategic security. Bangladesh’s foreign policy speaks of friendship towards all. Maintaining this fundamental principle, we must keep an equal strategic distance from these two competing positions. We must keep in mind that our national interests are above all and we must act accordingly.
There is increasing frustration over the Rohingya problem. The condition of the camps is deteriorating. Do you see any regional security risks involved in the Rohingya issue?
There is no immediate resolution to the Rohingya problem in sight. The longer such a situation is dragged out, problems will increase, most of all security problems. These security problems have already been manifest in the use of arms within the camps, killings, clashes with the local people, drug trade and such. There is also smuggling of small arms as well as human trafficking. International terrorist groups see these camps are perfect grounds for recruitment. There is fear that they may set up communication with these camps. The overall security situation may deteriorate and this can take on an international and regional shape. In the coming days, the various security risks emerging from the Rohingya camps can take on extreme proportions at a regional level.
Myanmar has always been dependent on China. And after military rule has been further established firmly there, the military government is all the more dependent on China. Why is Bangladesh not getting the help it needs from China in resolving the Rohingya problem?
China’s strong relationship with Myanmar dates way back. The Myanmar army to a great part is dependent on China. And for geopolitical reasons, Myanmar is an important neighbour of China. The massive strategic mineral resources that Myanmar has are a big attraction to China. Also, it has become extremely important and significant for China to enter the Indian Ocean and it can use the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor or CMEC for the purpose. China is a good friend of Bangladesh, but when it comes to weighing strategic advantages, the scales tip in favour of Myanmar rather than Bangladesh.
Similarly, India has close ties and cooperation with Myanmar. They have extensive military cooperation. No cooperation has been received from India regarding a resolution to the Rohingya problem, other than humanitarian aid. We have approached China various times for cooperation in solving the Rohingya problem, but have not received any tangible support in this regard. So there is need to examine whether we have any weaknesses in our diplomatic efforts towards this end.
Thank you too
The article first appeared in Prothom Alo on Thursday, 06 January 2022