Bangladesh is fortunate to have a major power as a friendly country since its inception. India not only helped in the war of liberation with men and materials but have also assisted in its development efforts in a spirit of mutual co-operation and help. The story in the south-eastern front has been entirely different. Though Myanmer, which was a part of the Indian sub-continent under the British, shared many things including a Bengali speaking population as natural-born citizens, it showed hostility even before Bangladesh took its seat in the comity of nations. It gave refuge to Pakistani generals guilty of committing genocide against Bangladeshis as they fled from former East Pakistan facing ignominious defeat in 1971. It was not among the first group of countries giving official recognition to Bangladesh either. The cause of its hostility became clear when in 1978 its military started an operation code-named 'Nagamin Dragon' in Rakhine state in the north where one of its many ethnic groups, the Rohingya's lived. The Rohingyas are natural born citizens of Burma, now Myanmar, by virtue of their being British under the British empire. But being Bengali-speaking, they were despised by the ruling Burmese ethnic group, both on grounds of religion and race. The military operation, 'Nagamin Dragon' aimed at suppressing the Rohingya's through mass killings and forced expulsion to Bangladesh. According to UN agencies, thousands were killed and 2,00,000 were expelled out of the country at the time. After a decade the same act of ethnic cleansing took place in Rakhine state of Myanmar when another influx of 2,50,000 Rohingyas crossed over to Bangladesh, according to United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). On both occasions, the government of Bangladesh gave temporary refuge to the fleeing Rohingyas under protest to the ruling junta in Myanmar and notifying the world community about the violation of international law by the Myanmar authorities. Far from taking back its nationals (the Rohingyas from the Rakhine state), the military junta in Myanmar forced 7,25,000 Rohingyas to flee across the border to Bangladesh in August, 2017 to escape from mass killing, raping and burning, according to the UNHCR. On September 28, 2018, the Bangladesh Prime Minister informed the 73rd session of UN General Assembly that 1.10 million Rohingyas had been driven across the border to Bangladesh by Myanmar, placing a huge financial burden on the country and destabilising its security. In spite of universal condemnation of the forced expulsions and calling upon the Myanmar authorities to take back its nationals from the soil of Bangladesh nothing concrete has been done by Myanmar authorities to comply with UN decisions so far, except going through the motion. Not only the military junta, even the champion of peace, the Nobel Laureate Aung Sung Su Chi during her brief stewardship of the country, refused to recognise the Rohingya refugees as Myanmar citizens at the hearing before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) pointing to the colour of their skin. It showed that in respect of harbouring racial hatred against the Rohingyas there is no difference between the military rulers and the so called democratic leaders. So the chance of a change of policy towards the displaced Rohingyas, if the present military regime is replaced by a democratic dispensation in Myanmar, is a wishful thinking. Only a militarily strong Bangladesh can force Myanmar to rethink about its policy towards the Rohingyas and other security issues. The civil war between the government of Myanmar and various ethnic groups that has exploded recently near the Bangladesh border in Bundarban has already spilled over into Bangladesh, killing two of our nationals and sending hundreds of deserters from border police of Myanmar across the border. If the Myanmar army re-organises itself, overcoming the present military setbacks, it is most likely to take another campaign of ethnic cleansing of the rebel groups that may cause further influx of refugees into Bangladesh. In the event of the situation turning in favour of the present junta, the risk of having refugees through forced expulsions will remain a reality for Bangladesh.
Diplomacy alone will not give the insurance against inimical actions from Myanmar, irrespective of the colour of the regime. A militarily weak Bangladesh is likely to remain vulnerable to the adventurism of the present and future rulers of Myanmar. Though we are a peaceful nation and would like to live in peace with our neighbours we have to be militarily ready to meet any external challenge. Our foreign and security policy should make this clear to those who have ill designs against us. It is not discreet to discuss the details of these policies in public. It can be safely assumed that the government is well aware of the need to strengthen the defence capability and has taken necessary steps. Submarines have been acquired and battle ships added to naval fleet.The goal should be to develop a blue water navy capable of guarding the maririme boundary in Bay of Bengal.Along the coastal belt in the south east of the country, particularly along Cox's Bazar-Teknaf belt, a series of mini airfields should be built for use of drones. The war in Ukraine and the current conflict in the Middle-East have shown the importance of drones as the weapon of choice. It is also much cheaper than missiles. Research should be given top priority in developing next generation of AI powered drones and to produce these in the country. That sometimes military needs take precedence over development needs is not unknown to our government. The public on its part, should be ready to tighten their belt to make resources available to the government for building a military power that can ward off any one with evil design. In a perfect world swords can be turned into ploughs. But we do not live in a perfect world and swords are necessary. There are tradeoffs between swords and ploughs, the public should be told.
Myanmar started arming itself to the teeth since the Sixties when army rule began under General Ne Win in the country. Since then the Myanmar army fought interminable civil wars with various ethnic groups in the country for over 40 years. As a result the country's military build up has come to a stage where it now has half a million battle hardened men, armed with latest weapons and backed by state of the art military hardware. According to Global Fire Power Review the country is now (2024) ranked 35 among 145 countries. This must be known to our defence analysts. That Myanmar military has been purchasing all kinds of weapons and equipments from Russia, China and Israel and other countries with a hefty military budget is also no secret to them. We might not have spent much in the defence sector because of our priority given to economic development. But in view of chronic threats of expulsions of their targeted ethnic groups into Bangladesh we have to re-think defence policy. Perhaps this has already been done or well underway. As loyal citizens members of public can and should point this out in the spirit of patriotism. As during the War of Liberation, there is need for unity now which is the mightiest weapon of all.
The past and the present record of Myanmar in flexing its military might should alert Bangladesh about what can happen in future. Besides ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas, Myanmar junta has shown St. Martin within its territorial jurisdiction and sent a warship in the Bay of Bengal, within the maritime boundary of Bangladesh, literally testing waters. Given its credentials as a hostile neighbour, Myanmar is not going to change its heart and become friendly and peaceful in future. So matching Myanmar's military might has become imperative for Banladesh. Let our policy remain friendship to all and enmity towards none. Let it also be known to those who hold ill will towards us that we will pay any price to protect our territorial integrity.
When a country forcibly sends its citizens to Bangladesh it is an act of aggression. When a piece of Bangladesh is shown as within the territory of another country, it is a blatant attempt at aggrandisement. When a battleship cruises within the maritime boundary of Bangladesh, it is an act of aggressive trespass. The examples of hostility and hostile intentions of Myanmar are not many and frequent but enough to make all preparations necessary to notify the enemy at the gate that we are ready to match your might. So, do not dare to trespass our territory or infringe the sovereignty of the country.