US keen on defence deal with Bangladesh

Raheed Ejaz . Dhaka | Update:

The United States is eager for a long-term defence deal with Bangladesh, considering the success of the two countries’ security partnership alongside combating violence and terrorism, officials have said.

Officials said the US authorities has been raising the issue at different discussions since the beginning of this year.

Although Bangladesh has not taken any decision so far, officials added, the country is looking into the US proposal.

Diplomats and security analysts said Bangladesh should not strike a defence deal with US hurriedly. They said it should first weigh the pros and cons before making a long term commitment to the US.

Diplomats in Dhaka and Washington said the US brought the issue of the defence deal to the fore when it made a proposal to sell arms in January this year.

Sources in Washington said the US recently placed the issue of Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) and General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) during security talks with Bangladesh.

According to various relevant websites, Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) is negotiated on a bilateral basis with US allies or coalition partners that allow US forces to exchange most common types of support, including food, fuel, transportation, ammunition, and equipment. The US signed ACSA with South Asian country Sri Lanka in 2002.

General Security of Military Information Agreements (GSOMIA) is one of the four foundational agreements that the US signs with allies and close partners to facilitate interoperability between militaries and sale of high end technology.

It allows the sharing of classified information from the US government and American companies with the signatory government. The US government had signed the GSOMIA with India in 2002.

United States secretary of state Mike Pompeo discussed ACSA with Bangladesh foreign minister Abdul Momen in Washington on 13 April.

US elaborately discussed ACSA and GSOMIA in Dhaka security dialogue on 2 May. US foreign office officials pointed out the necessity of two agreements in line with enhancing security cooperation with Bangladesh among the South Asian countries.

Diplomatic sources said a meeting on security cooperation was held between high officials of Bangladesh and US in the last week of May. In the one and half hours meeting, ACSA and GSOMIA were discussed, but ACSA mainly got priority. Both sides talked about the draft ACSA. US officials offered explanations when Bangladesh officials made queries on the matter.

Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) president and retired major general ANM Muniruzzaman said to Prothom Alo, “Safe transportation of food, fuel and ammunition for training and movement in this region has become very important for US due to Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS). Supply of food, fuel and ammunition is necessary for the implementation of IPS. The US government is giving importance on the Indian Ocean region in a preparation to tackle disaster in the Indian Ocean and to carry out training there.”

Security analysts and former senior defence officials said the matter has to be handled cautiously so that interest of others is not harmed while making the deal. Bangladesh is located to a sensitive region in the geostrategic perspective. So Bangladesh needs to maintain balanced diplomatic relations.

Under the agreement, the supply of essentials for the military troops of specific country is included. There will be no economic loss under the agreement. Rather there is scope to be benefited in some cases. The countries with which US made the agreement get priority in receiving loans or grants. It must be taken into consideration whether the agreement goes against the interests of any powerful country or an alliance.

The issue of defence deal was discussed at the Bangladesh-US partnership dialogue on 10 June, said officials who attended the meeting. A high official in the government said US placed the issue of ACSA and GSOMIA. The Bangladesh delegation told the partnership dialogue that the political leadership would take the final decision. This is not under the foreign ministry.

Former Bangladesh ambassador to Washington, M Humayun Kabir, said the decision has to be taken cautiously while making long term commitment. It has to be kept in mind that there is a matter of ‘free of choice’ while making such deal with big countries like US. This may become harmful for foreign relation. So it needs to show strong stance while bargaining. It is better if the political leadership takes the final decision. Or it should be done in a balanced and professional manner.

During the tenure of army-backed caretaker government in 2007 and 2008, US almost finalised the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Bangladesh. But the agreement was not signed at the end. Two former officials, who were involved with the agreement at that time, recently said Bangladesh backtracked from the agreement at one stage. There was an objection to the free entrance of troops and arms into an independent and sovereign country. None of the countries including US should be given such scope. The deal was not signed due to this objection.

International affairs analyst and director of Centre for Genocide Studies at Dhaka University, Imtiaz Ahmed, said it has to be taken into consideration whether such agreement is conflicting with the interest of any other country before singing the deal.

There is no problem to sign such deal to increase the capacity and technological skill of Bangladesh military, he said adding the way the country’s economic growth increasing, Bangladesh must be in strong position in bargaining during the agreement. Preparation is necessary for this, Imtiaz said.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.

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