Bangladesh has expressed its concern to the UN Security Council over the recent deployment of Myanmar troops on the Bangladesh border. Tensions on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border are mainly centring the Rohingya crisis, a creation of Myanmar. Does Myanmar want to create war-like situation? How is Bangladesh’s preparations, ability and strength? How significant is the Bangladesh-Myanmar relations in international and regional politics? The Daily Star’s Golam Mortoza turned to military and security expert Brigadier General (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain to have an in-depth analysis of Bangladesh-Myanmar relations.
Following is an excerpt of the interview:
TDS: Why is Myanmar raising tension along the border now?
MSH: First of all, I would like to say that I am speaking based on my long research and observations. You can say, this is my own experience-based analysis.
For this we have to look at the international situation. Tensions are running high over India’s border conflict with China. From Myanmar’s point of view, it cannot be kept out of this tension.
The polarisation with the United States, Australia, and Japan behind India against China is also there. In this, it seems Bangladesh is neither here nor there. But one thing very noticeable is that US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper suddenly called Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina. This is a big issue in the geopolitical context. Bangladesh is being dragged into the US-Australia-Japan-India pole. A number of unconfirmed sources, especially in various international media reported that they [US] apparently want to sell some sophisticated war equipment to Bangladesh which include Apache helicopters that have been discussed at different times. They [US] also want to assist in necessary training. India and Japan have invited Bangladesh to join their side.
Myanmar is creating a kind of pressure on the border from the thought that some kind of pressure may come on to them. Western countries are forging alliance on the Rohingya issue. There might pressure Myanmar through safe zone or a no-fly zone or any other way.
TDS: Like Bangladesh, Myanmar also knows the context you have mentioned. Knowing this, Myanmar is apprehending many things. Is that the reason Myanmar is deploying troops or creating tension at the border?
MSH: Myanmar is putting a kind of pressure on Bangladesh. The cantonment we have in Ramu is very close to the Myanmar border. Very close. The BGB is working all over the border of the country, there is the army in Chattogram Hill Tracts, and there is the cantonment which is very close to the Rakhine state. Our army is already there, whether for internal reasons or because of location. For these reasons, Myanmar may have deployed the troops to create pressure.
Another reason may be that the soldiers who were on duty earlier were being replaced. When this change occurs, they take some action for strategic reasons. I think Myanmar is doing this because of such reasons.
TDS: It is said that Myanmar is in a more advantageous position than Bangladesh regarding St Martin’s Island. Is the small island always a source of concern for us strategically?
MSH: Our navy is there since 1992. I don’t think there is any reason that Myanmar will come and occupy this island. Doing so would be a complete declaration of war.
TDS: China is also active there. Myanmar is even involved in the Russian game.
MSH: China will not allow Myanmar to do that. Because, if that happens, the whole thing will go against China. China has not yet finished their work in the South Bay of Bengal which is called CMEC (China-Myanmar Economic Corridor). Work is underway of the $7 billion project.
TDS: What is Bangladesh’s situation in terms of naval, air, and land presence on Myanmar border? How is the balance of military power? Can it be perceived or analysed?
MSH: I will not give a qualified statement about how strong Bangladesh is. And, it is never understood who is the strongest from numbers.
Myanmar is ahead of Bangladesh in terms of the number of ground force. With the addition of two submarines, Bangladesh is ahead on the naval side. I have doubts about the air force, but Myanmar may be ahead. Their number is much bigger. Another thing to keep in mind here is that Myanmar soldiers are experienced in jungle war. Its military has been fighting for nearly 70 years.
Another big thing is the geographical location of Bangladesh. Suppose a war with Myanmar started. If our air force has to go inside Myanmar, it has to go a long way. But our refinery, industry and the biggest port are in Chittagong. It is very close to Myanmar. So, geographical advantages and disadvantages are very important factors.
However, now the war is not three but four-dimensional. Due to that, India has now gone after Rafale [French jetfighter], leaving everything out. Lately, they have been looking to buy F-35s from the US.
If we think from the side of Bangladesh and Myanmar, we have some advantages as well as some disadvantages. We need to address the geopolitical and strategic shortfalls as soon as possible.
TDS: Is the mobilisation of Myanmar troops on the border just about putting pressure on Bangladesh? Or Myanmar can really take it a little bit further?
MSH: Myanmar will not dare do that at the moment. The biggest reason is economic. Not only China, they are now trying to attract Western countries for investments. The city of Yangon in Myanmar is being rebuilt after the capital had been moved. Chinese companies took part in the bid. However, a Swedish company probably got the job. Among the big investors in Myanmar, Japan is far ahead. South Korea is also going to invest in Myanmar. Myanmar is not in a position to do anything that could adversely affect the foreign investments.
At the UN, our prime minister said that a safe zone must be created for the Rohingyas. If that is done, Myanmar will face a huge problem in the Rakhine region. I don’t think Myanmar will get into a war with Bangladesh. And China will not let that happen.
Log on to www.thedailystar.net to read the full interview with the headline:’Due to polarisation, Bangladesh seems neither here nor there’