Power needed to deter attacks on our sovereignty

Maswood Alam Khan
Two guests invited to a recent episode of Channel I’s Tritio Matra, Professor of International Relations Department of Dhaka University Md. Shahiduzzaman and ‘Amader Shomoy’ Editor Nayeemul Islam Khan, must have agitated many viewers’ minds to ponder over our international relations and the state of our military defence—two sensitive and reclusive domains many of us are not quite aware of.

As one of the viewers of the episode I was awestruck learning from these two erudite personalities about the poor state of our diplomatic capacity and the helplessness of our defence forces. In the event of an attack on Bangladesh’s sovereignty by any of our neighbouring countries, I am afraid, we would have to raise our hands in surrender many days, or maybe many years, before our enemy plans to hold a gun over our head, if what the guests disclosed in Tritio Matra are true.

Two scenarios, as I could learn from the episode, are terribly horrible. It is assumed that about two to three hundred thousand Burmese citizens, who mostly belong to Rohingya community, have already infiltrated into Bangladesh during the last few months, facing no hold-up from our side. On the diplomatic side, as was told by ‘Amader Somoy’ Editor, we are so poorly equipped that some of our diplomats could not exactly follow what the negotiators on the other side of the table were talking about in English while settling some vital issues on our bilateral relations with a country. What a shame!

The Tritio Matra episode gathered momentum and I got extremely keyed up when some disquieting issues were raised in the discussion as to “What did our Chief of Armed Forces do when the Burmese caravans were crossing the border?” “Is it true that nowadays knees of our Generals judder violently when faced with a critical issue?” “Are we deploying right diplomats (with their sufficient command of diplomatic proficiency and negotiating skill in English) in right places to safeguard our interests?” etc.

I was hearing in awed silence when one of the guests told that the top brass of all the armed forces of our country feel jittery when a dossier on a big purchase is placed on their desks; on sight of such a dossier they start losing their sleep and go on procrastinating on the pretext of ‘further enquiries’ with a view to shelving a final decision till their tenures are over. It is an open secret that during the last couple of years Bangladesh Navy did not execute one single big purchase essential to maintain their existing arsenals and logistics, let alone a mega purchase to expand their naval prowess. What a good piece of news for Myanmar’s military regime to relish!

There is a ‘fatigue theory’ for making friendship with enemies when one finds quarrelling too fatiguing to endure—at a point of time when rivals find shaking hands quite relieving. This fatigue theory I had learned when I found my life in kindergarten miserable due to extreme bullying by my classmates, especially by one named Jahangir who was a tall boy with stout muscles. One day during our Math exam I was very slowly answering the questions only to allow Jahangir, who sat next to me on a bench, to copy what I was answering. Jahangir, who was my enemy number one, all on a sudden became my best friend and thenceforth no classmate ever dared bully me all through my days in school.

We badly need a Jahangir in our diplomatic relationship. That is to say, we need a big power like America or China or even India to back us when our neighbour Myanmar is trying to bully us and when our Naval Force is too poor or too weak to thwart an aggressor trying to venture into our territory on the Bay of Bengal. But, making friends with an enemy is much more challenging in diplomacy than in childhood playground.

Like many common observers I agree with Md. Shahiduzzaman, the guest speaker in Tritio Matra, that we must change our mindset about India. As we cannot change our borders, so we will always be surrounded by India. It would be suicidal if some of us still harbour the hackneyed outlook that India was and still is our enemy, an outlook we were made to develop during Pakistan time when religious dogmas used to dope us up.

We must befriend India. At the same time we have to make India believe that she is not the only friend in the world we always have to repose on.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while making remarks during a meeting with our Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni in Washington on Wednesday, said the U.S. will continue to support democratic institution building, counter-terrorism efforts and improvement of skills of law enforcing agencies in Bangladesh. Such an assurance is nice to hear though it is a universal statement a developing country is quite used to hearing.

But, an announcement like “U.S. will always stand by Bangladeshi people whenever Bangladesh will face a threat on her sovereignty” from the U.S. President or the U.S. Secretary of State is a prize statement from a superpower a country with its weak military defence like Bangladesh or Somalia, which is surrounded by powerful neighbours, naturally expects. Eliciting such a sympathetic response from a power like America however is a colossal task one like you or I, who knows a little bit of functional English necessary to exchange with an English-speaking salesman, cannot really deliver. What is needed is a robust diplomacy with a bunch of diplomatic negotiators, which can read the lips and the body language of the veteran diplomats sitting across the negotiating table.

Learned diplomatic onlookers like Md. Shahiduzzaman are afraid that in the next winter Myanmar, bolstered by their successes in their earlier attempts to encroach into Bangladesh and backed by China’s unwritten support, may start rigging in the submarine terrains of Bay of Bengal that are very much inside Bangladesh maritime zone.

What in such an event of Burmese adventure should Bangladesh do? Should we silently watch the Burmese rigging activities the way our armed border guards had watched the caravans of Burmese rohingya people entering Bangladesh? Should our Air and Naval forces, being encouraged by their sitting duck roles when Burma by encroaching into our territory very recently made a litmus test of our military strength, wait out time depending on our diplomats’ negotiating skill?

As a low-lying basin the floor of Bay of Bengal is deemed a repository of valuable minerals. The submarine topography in the Bay of Bengal is also fast changing! According to estimates of geologists, a huge chunk of land as big as the size of a number of Bangladesh may surface in the Bay of Bengal in a matter of time. Countries like Burma and India cannot restrain themselves from grabbing such a rising land or from hitting the potential pockets in the bay where they might strike the mother lode connected with a huge reservoir of oil or gas.

Aware of the strategic importance of the Bay of Bengal, United States of America may too be looking for any ally here. It may not be a surprise if USA, totally forgetting what is happening to the vanguard of Myanmar democracy Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, may all on a sudden shake hands with Myanmar military regime and set up American companies—civil or military—on the Burmese shores of the Bay of Bengal!

For a nation that ostensibly honours democracy and freedom, the United States after all has a nasty habit of embracing foreign dictators when they seem to serve American interests.

It is high time we found our powerful ally who would help defend our sovereignty by both words of mouth and deeds of promise. Our diplomatic motto “Friendship with all and malice to none” has to be rephrased into “Malice to none, but alliance with one who will stand by our side in times of our peril”.

When it is a question of safeguarding our territorial integrity we must forget who was our enemy and we must shake hands with our archenemy or the enemy of our enemy. In case we don’t find an ally powerful enough to deter attacks on our sovereignty we have to shop around for assistance so that we can become an Israel or even a North Korea. If necessary, we have to recognise Israel with a view to befriending America.

Our researchers on international relations should let us know why Bangladesh should not be like Israel, a country as big in size as Chittagong and as tiny a country of just 6 million people having no oil or minerals beneath its soil? And why should Americans continue to support Israel and alienate themselves from the 500 million Arabs who control one-third of the world’s oil supply?

Only the United States, as opined by Md. Shahiduzzaman during the discussion in ‘Tritio Matra’, can perhaps help dispel the tension that is now brewing up between countries centring around claims on the Bay of Bengal. However deep is our friendship with China we must not depend on that country when we would have to chase Myanmar out from our territory because China cannot afford to lose Myanmar, her vital strategic partner.
Source: The New Nation Bangladesh

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