- Sqn Ldr Munim Khan Majlish, psc
(Bimansena, XXXVI,Dec 2005)
1. Security had been and continues to be the prime concern of individuals, groups and states in the present world order. The end of cold war did not lessen the chances of armed conflicts. The chance of land invasion by the adversaries is obviously less likely, but the use of armed forces to impose national objectives is still a reality worldwide. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the danger of these devastated weapons ending up in the hands of the terrorist organizations are obviously frightening matters. Nuclearization of South East Asia and the possible unintended or accidental use of the nuclear weapons by our neighbours like India or Pakistan are posing serious security challenges for the whole of Southeast Asian nations including Bangladesh.
2. The context of threats has been multiplied in the past decades. The nature of threats now includes military as well as many non-military issues. Traditional security concerns like border and territoriality struggles, power rivalries and arms races are very much present in the South East Asia. On the contrary trans-boundary problems like environmental degradation, rising of religion fundamentalism, terrorism, arms and drug trafficking are also on the rise. The persisting political instability, political violence, increased population, entrenched poverty, lack of good governance is posing serious threat to the state and society of Bangladesh. Indeed such problems are multiplied everyday with added dimensions with the changing atmosphere.
3. The aim of this paper is to identify the security issues that are confronting Bangladesh and suggest a comprehensive strategy to encounter the security challenges in the 21 st century.
NATIONAL SECURITY CHALLENGES
4. We can identify three tiers of national security threats for Bangladesh. These are: macro (security in the context of power relation with major powers like USA, EU, Russia or China) : traditional security threats and the non-traditional security threats. The hierarchical security approach is shown in figure 1.
Figure 1: hierarchical security approach
TRADITIONAL SECURITY THREATS TO BANGLADESH
External Security Threats
5. Bangladesh is surrounded by India on three sides, Myanmar in the Southeast and Bay of Bengal in the South. Indeed any invasion to interfere the territorial integrity Bangladesh can thus be either from India or Myanmar.
a. Threats from India. Dhaka’s bilateral relation with India is sometimes close but mostly friendly. With the signing of the “Ganges Water Treaty” in 1996 and “Chittagong Hill Tracks Peace Accord” in 1998 the bilateral relation is on a high note. However the sudden cancellation of Indian Prime Minister to attend the scheduled SAARC summit had widened the gap among the political leadership of the two countries. Encouragingly Bangladesh could solve the issue diplomatically and the summit is scheduled to be held on 12-13 November next. Fresh water is going to be the scarcest resources in the next century. “If oil was the liquid gold of the twentieth century, fresh water will be the same in the coming century” . India will play the prime role in settling all maters related to water. As such Bangladesh needs to be prepared to face the water issue. India could also repeat its role by sheltering, arming and training Chakma rebels should they choose to launch another insurgency against Bangladesh anytime in future. The insurgency in India’s North-eastern states might also interrupt Bangladesh’s security due to close proximity. Some other outstanding issues like illegal migrants, cross-border insurgency, demarcation of remaining 6 km land and demarcation of maritime boundary; exchange of enclaves etc might have security implication in the future. India’s military intervention may not be totally discounted in the event of any developments in Bangladesh considered detrimental to regional giant’s perceived security interests.
b. Threats from Myanmar. Bangladesh’s small border with Myanmar had been eventful in the past two decades. Myanmar’s military regime often tries to divert the attention of its people from domestic miseries to external issues. There had been two waves of ethnic Muslim minority Rohingya refugees forced into Bangladesh in 1978 and 1992. Although the Rohingya problem has been resolved peacefully, the repeat of the tragic refugee flow into our territory cannot be ruled out. If Rohingya rebels start a full-scale guerrilla war, its effect will definitely be felt in Bangladesh. The maritime boundary has not been demarcated yet. As such presence of huge amount of oil and gas and its possible exploration, and fishing rights in the disputed sea could create serious tension between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Internal Security Threats
6. Insurgency in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The implementation of CHT Peace Accord, particularly, the rehabilitation of Chakma refugees, land disputes settlement and functioning of political process in terms of Regional Council stay on. Alarmingly a dissident faction of the Shantibahini has not surrendered arms and still involved in insurgency activities.
7. Use of Bangladesh Territories by Insurgents. Insurgents of India’s North-eastern provinces and Rohingya rebels are using the bordering area of Bangladesh. Bangladesh law enforcing agencies often find training camps of these rebel groups in the jungle of Cox’s Bazar, Ramu and Ukhiya. CHT also include the Mongoloid ethnic belt ranging from China through Northeast India, Myanmar upto Southeast Asia. Bangladesh will automatically be drawn into the area of conflicts if a pro-Mongoloid movement takes place in the future .
8. Arms and Drug Trafficking. Bangladesh is positioned between the “Golden Triangle” and the “Golden Crescent”-the two major narcotic growing areas of the world . The ports and airports of Bangladesh are allegedly used as transit routes for drugs. Drugs and arms trafficking are destroying the very basics of our society. Inflow of arms and drugs are increasing at an alarming pace. Criminals in the country now possess modern weapons like AK-47, AK-56, Uzi, Pietro Beretta M-16 assault rifle and even the rocket launcher .
9. Terrorism. There has been a sharp rise of terrorism. About 100 terrorist groups are operating in Dhaka city alone. They maintain liaison with the police and influential people. Sometimes the politicians are the godfathers of these terrorist gangs. Such organised crime syndicates are far too muscular to be tackled by ordinary law enforcing agencies. A triangular nexus among the underworld criminal, corrupt law-enforcing agencies and power hungry political elite exists in the country.
Figure 2: THE TRIANGULAR NEXUS
10. Pilfering and Dumping in the Bay of Bengal. Indian, Korean, Thai and Myanmar’s fishing trawlers regularly intrude into Bangladesh’s EEZ and territorial waters. Naval pirates increasingly threatening innocent Bengali fishermen and fishing trawlers including foreign commercial vessels. It has also become the dumping place of the nuclear waste.
11. Border Skirmishes and Push in. Occasional tension along the Indo-Bangladesh border has been a regular phenomenon. Over the last 25 years about 415 Bangladeshi civilians and 10 BDR personnel have been killed. So-called push in of Bengalis by the Indian authority, killings along the borders by BSF has increased threatening the security situation.
NON-TRADITIONAL SECURITY THREATS
12. Political Instability. The single most important threat to Bangladesh is the political instability. Factionalism and narrow-minded interest tend to be more significant factors in party politics than national interests. The mainstream political parties have their own armed cadres. Godfather ensures the criminals of political covers; in return they make sure that their godfather wins the election.
Figure 3: Political Nexus
13. Lack of Good Governance. Bangladesh faces major problems in governing the state affairs. Accountability and transparency is not present at its best. Corruption has been entrenched in every spheres of the society. The law and order situation of the country is not at its best. The government has significantly paid emphasis on curving corruption and bringing the wrong doers into task. The modernizing process of law enforcing agencies has been mostly paid off. The condition of the running of state owned enterprises is terrible. Most of the luxury govt establishments are running extreme loss. The media has been experiencing severe control by vested factions, groups or political parties. In Bangladesh we do not also take pride on Judiciary. Law Minister Maudud Ahmed commented, “People are losing faith in this vital organ of the state due to delays in getting justice. Prisons are overcrowded. Half of the inmates are on trial prisoners and do not know why they are in jail .
14. The major weakness of Bangladesh’s economy is extreme dependency on external aids. The country is actually handicapped in the grip of dept. 20% of the country’s export earnings are utilized for dept service payment . The huge trade imbalance is a matter of concern for Bangladesh. The economic indicators of Bangladesh are shown in figure 4.
Economic Indicators Condition
Growth Rate 5.3%
GNP per Capita (US$) 444
Figure 4: Economic Indicators of Bangladesh
15. Increased Population. Despite a fall in birth rate, Bangladesh’s population continues to grow at a rate of 1.72%. As such the number of landless has been rising. Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries of the world (850 people per sq km). By 2020 population is expected to be 171.42 million and population density will be 1200 people per sq km . Additional population will give rise to poverty, unemployment, and deterioration of law and order situation.
000 sq km Population
(million) Population Growth Rate %
144 130 1.72
Figure 5: Population in Bangladesh
16. Poverty. Bangladesh lives in a world of massive poverty, chronic underdevelopment and inequity of wealth. 78% of the people are in the status of absolute poverty. Bangladesh is failing far behind to reach the UN goal of halving the people in hunger by 2015 . If per capita income grows at a rate of 1% each year, then the moderate poor will take 51 years to cross the poverty line, while the extreme poor will take 89 years . The poverty conditions are as following:
Number of Moderate Poor
(Earn less than 2$ per day and take 2122 kcal) 5 crore
Number of extreme Poor
(Earn less than 1$ per day and take 1805 kcal) 2.5 crore
Takes one meal per day 6 crore
Bottom 40% of the people own 1.9% of the land
Urban Poverty 56%
Rural Poverty 51%
Figure 6: Poverty Indicators.
17. Human Resources Development. Bangladesh has ranked 145th among 173 countries of the world. Large number of people is low income bracket and the education level is not satisfactory. Nine out of ten children are malnourished. The life expectancy is 52 years; literacy rate is just 54%. The development of our next generation’s physical and mental faculties is handicapped to such adversaries.
18. Human security Issues. Many human security issues are also prevailing in the country. They are: Rise of social violence; rent seeking activities at all levels -social, political and administrative; gender violence, women and child trafficking; land related violence; troubles of the minorities; human migration etc.
19. Deforestation, soil erosion, global warming, water and air pollution etc present real life security issues of Bangladesh. If the sea level rises by one metre, nearly one fifth of Bangladesh will go under water. The situation is aggravated by the regular environmental disasters like cyclones, storms, floods and droughts. In 1991 alone the devastating cyclone costs about 2.4 billion US $ and 1, 40,000 lives . The arsenic contamination of ground water is threatening the life of millions in Bangladesh. The security consequence of climatic change forms a chain of multiple interconnections as portrayed in figure 7.
Figure 7: Environmental and Security Chain.
20. Bangladesh’s economy is generally associated with flood, cyclone, and draught and El Nino/La Nina phenomenon. The effects of natural disaster in national economy are illustrated in figure 8.
Year Growth Rate Disaster
1974-1975 3.5 Flood
1979-1980 1.2 Drought
1981-1982 1.4 El Nino
1984-1985 3.9 Flood
1987-1988 2.9 El Nino/Flood
1988-1989 2.5 La Nina/Flood/Drought
1990-1991 3.4 Cyclone
Figure 8: Effects of Natural Disaster in Economy.
21. Internal Migration. About 11% of the population will be displaced by only 1 metre rise of sea level. The huge population might be forced to become environmental refuges. During the rainy season many people have to migrate to other places due to river erosions. Political and social violence, communal violence, terrorism etc also force many people to become refuges within their own territory.
OPTIONS FOR STRENGTHENING NATIONAL SECURITY
Strategy against External Threats
22. Strategy of Deterrence. Bangladesh’s should adapt the policy of deterrence. She should have such defensive capabilities that would make an attack on Bangladesh by an aggressor militarily indecisive, economically unprofitable and politically unacceptable.
23. Professional Armed Forces. Bangladesh should maintain a well trained and equipped professional defence forces. The armed forces are expected to contribute in establishing a stable, vibrant and resilient social, political and economic order in the country. Armed forces must continue to take part in the management of natural disasters. The following points need to be emphasised:
a. Peoples’ participation in defence policymaking.
b. Modernization of armed forces.
c. Encouragement of professionalism.
d. Increased participation in joint, coalition or combined operations.
24. Foreign Policy for Defence. Bangladesh’s foreign policy should be its first line of defence. Bangladesh should maintain friendly and cordial relation with its immediate neighbours and with those countries that are economically, ideologically and strategically important to her. Bangladesh should continue its active role in the United Nations peacekeeping and peace enforcing missions. Bangladesh’s foreign policy must be governed by the following principles:
a. Policy of Neutrality.
b. Alliance with great powers.
c. Bilateral approach for India-Bangladesh issues.
d. Regional cooperation as a strategy of defence.
25. Regional Cooperation in Defence. SAARC member states are already engaged in defence cooperation in various sectors like combined exercises, seminars, exchange of training, supporting relief and disaster management operation. SAARC defence forum may be utilized as a common defence structure for defence cooperation and act as a shield against extra-regional interference.
Running of the State Affairs
26. Good Governance. Promotion of democracy, strengthening of transparent, accountable and efficient national government must be the objective of good governance. The following measures need to be considered:
a. Present trend of conducting election under the neutral caretaker government is to be continued.
b. Politicians’ attitude towards each other needs to be reformed.
c. System at all levels should be transparent, accountable and decentralized.
d. Bureau of Anti Corruption and the Office of the Controller and Auditor General may be allowed to function independently.
e. The office of the Ombudsman may be set up.
27. Independence of Judiciary. An independent judiciary must be set up to safeguard the constitution and bring justice in the society. Free, fair and timely trial is mandatory to ensure the rule of law and justice in the society.
28. Regional Economic Cooperation. SAARC is involved in diverse areas such as trade and commerce, industries and investment, transportation and communication, rural development, culture and education etc. the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) could not be implemented by 2005 as proposed due to the cancellation of SAARC summit. We must keep our endeavour to implement the treaty at the coming summit.
29. Poverty Alleviation. A hunger-free, self-reliant Bangladesh should be our national commitment. The following measures should be considered if we want to implement the poverty reduction goal set by UN by 2015:
a. Macroeconomic Stability. Fiscal discipline has to be restored. Reducing the loss of state–owned enterprises, stopping the bank loan defaulters, and increasing domestic resources mobilization may achieve economic stability.
b. Broad Based Economic Growth. Bangladesh’s growth rate must be raised at least 7% annually if it is to eliminate poverty within two decades.
c. Strong Local government. Local government should play the key role in poverty eradication by facilitating popular participation. The role of the elected representatives will be to mobilize people and local resources to generate local level planning.
30. Human Resource Development. Government should increase allocation for human resource development. Education, health and social support must be given highest priority in national agenda.
Political Stability and National Consensus
31. People must sit together and have a serious thinking about existing political culture of the country. Following aspects must be addressed:
a. National Consensus. Consensus on the major national issues is a must. Political leaders, intellectuals and professionals need to overcome their extreme party–oriented mentalities. Tolerance, respect for each other and democratic practices need to be inculcated in the political culture.
b. Strong Civil Society. Strong civil society should create public awareness and put pressure to government to act in favour of ordinary citizens.
Suppression of Violence and Terrorism
32. We have discussed that in the modern concept security means development. To ensure security we will have to ensure safety of its inhabitants first. Following measures need to be implemented:
a. Controlling Inflow of Small Arms. Strict measures have to be taken at borders and other entry points of the country for controlling inflow of small arms through land, air and sea routes.
b. Reorganizing Police Force. Police department needs a major change in terms of manpower, logistics, equipment and weapons. They must be motivated to retain its morale and chastity.
c. Suspension on Student Politics. The culture of student politics needs to be uprooted from the society. Consensus of all the political parties is needed in this regard.
33. National climatic action plan needs to be formulated. Strategies to face the global warming and climate change must be addressed. Such strategy should be able to attract financial support from the Global Environment Facility Fund (GEF). Immediate forestation programme on the priority basis should be launched. People must be motivated to take part in greening of Bangladesh. Strict legal action is to be taken against sea pollution and dumping of toxic wastes in the territorial water.
Comprehensive Security Strategy
34. The comprehensive security strategy of Bangladesh is shown below:
Security Level Threats Strategies
Nuclearization of SE Asia
Threats from India
Treats from Myanmar
• Strategy of Deterrence
• Professional Armed Forces
• Foreign Policy for Defence
• Regional Co-op in Defence
Insurgency in CHT
Arms and Drug Trafficking
Violence and Political Killings
Pilfering in the Bay of Bengal
Border Skirmishes and Push in
• Resolving Unsettled Issues
• Suppression of Violence and Terrorism
• Reorganizing of Police Force
• Controlling Students Politics
Non-traditional Political Instability
Lack of Good Governance
Human Resources Development
Environmental Degradation • Political Consensus
• Good Governance
• Population Control
• Poverty Alleviation Goal
• Human Resources Development
• Internal Uniform Development
• Environmental Control
Figure 9: Comprehensive Security Strategy
35. The concept of security has been changed with the advancement of technology. National security now also includes along with military protection of state, environmental protection, economic security, political and social stability. Linkage between security and development is integral. In case of Bangladesh chronic political instability and socio-economic under development coupled with its external vulnerabilities are very much critical to the country’s security scenario.
36. Armed forces of Bangladesh must be capable of defending the sovereignty as well as internal threats of the country. Meanwhile government should encourage democratic and secular values in the socio-political arena for improving the quality of life. SAARC may also act as means in eliminating poverty, social and economic barriers of the region.
37. The stronger is the society, polity and economy the lesser is the vulnerability of the country to any security threats. Our understanding of a secure Bangladesh is that apart from ensuring sufficient preparedness to defend the independence and territorial integrity of the country, Bangladesh must be able to build a stable, prosperous and resilient political and economic order. Above all the civil society must play a vital role in creating public awareness as well as generate pressure on the government to ensure the basic rights of the people.