Bangladesh's foreign ministry very recently published its Indo-Pacific Outlook. In today's world, the Indo-Pacific region has become extremely important in economic, geo-economic, geopolitical, geo-security and geo-energy aspects. That is why all big powers and others have turned their attention towards this region. It was this reason and realisation that led to the emergence of the Indo-Pacific Strategy.
lf we go back in time concerning the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), we will note it was in 2006 when the Japanese prime minister at the time, Shinzo Abe, visited India, that he first voiced this concept while addressing the parliament. Shinzo Abe highlighted that the Indian Ocean region and the Pacific Ocean region could be considered collectively as a single whole. He quoted from the Mughal prince Darashiko to put forward this idea.
Next in 2010, the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton made mention of the Indo-Pacific strategy. In continuity, for the first time in 2017 the US mentioned the Indo-Pacific Strategy in their national security strategy. In 2022, the US published in detail its policy pertaining to the full-fledged Indo-Pacific Strategy. Its aim is to promote economic, defence and other cooperation among the countries of the Indo-Pacific region. The US also took initiative to consolidate the quadrilateral (US, Japan, India and Australia) security dialogue, Quad.
Bangladesh is an Indo-Pacific country. As a country of this region, it naturally wants to be a part of the various emerging strategies and policies of the region. The Indo-Pacific Outlook released by the Bangladesh foreign ministry is part of that initiative.
This has been drawn up on the basis of Bangladesh's foreign policy of 'friendship towards all and malice towards none.' The outlook throws light on 15 different topics. It has expressed a commitment to work together on the issues in keeping with Bangladesh's interests and with which we need to be involved in our own interests.
One of the major elements of the Indo-Pacific strategy is defence cooperation. There is no clarity about what Bangladesh's stand will be in this regard
A couple of the major topics included are placing importance on ensuring safety and security of this maritime region and further strengthening the existing framework. Bangladesh also expressed its willingness to be involved in peacekeeping and helping in anti-terrorism activities. Interest has been expressed in physical, institutional, energy and other areas as well as easing people's movement. Overall, the areas where Bangladesh's interests are involved, have been mentioned.
However, we are aware that the policies pertaining to the Indo-Pacific strategy have been released by various countries on the basis of the principles put forth by the US. The outline published by Bangladesh has similarity with those of other countries and the US principles, but a more detailed analysis reveals Bangladesh's Indo-Pacific Outlook lacks adequate depth.
Firstly, the identification of Indo-Pacific as a strategic geopolitical region has not been given here. And so it has not been specified accurately what we mean by Indo-Pacific. Also the objectives of the strategy outlook have not been specified. One of the major aspects of any strategy is its method of implementation or plan. If we analyse the plans of the US and other countries, we will see all strategies naturally have a plan of action. That is not present in Bangladesh's outline. So it is hard to understand how this outline will be implemented.
The outlook also does not mention which issues will be given priority. While it speaks of cooperation in various social and economic contexts, it does not mention cooperation in other areas. But we know that one of the major elements of the Indo-Pacific strategy is defence cooperation. There is no clarity about what Bangladesh's stand will be in this regard.
There is also no mention of Bangladesh's stand on Quad. There is mention, however, of cooperation in outer space. It is incomprehensible why it has been mentioned here that Bangladesh has no capacity regarding outer space other than a communication satellite.
There is little scope for Bangladesh facing any new risk by publishing its Indo-Pacific Outlook. It has not mentioned standing in favour of, or against, any country or bloc. Also, it has not been said that it will not cooperate with any others just because it has published the Indo-Pacific Outlook. It just mentions very mundane policies and frameworks. The policies published by the western world or the US mention serious issues such as defence cooperation and blocs. Bangladesh makes no mention of such issues.
Overall, the recently released Indo-Pacific Outlook can be taken positively. This is particularly so, because other that US' allies, most other countries of the region have not released their Indo-Pacific policies. Bangladesh has now been included in the 22 countries that, till date, have released their Indo-Pacific strategy policy framework. We hope that in future our understanding and perceptions of this will be deeper and more extensive so that Bangladesh's national interests will stand to gain in various areas.
* Maj. Gen. ANM Muniruzzaman ndc, psc (retd), is the founder and president of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies (BIPSS). e-mail: [email protected]