Bangladesh Table of Contents
Bangladesh's primary concerns since its establishment have been internal security and economic survival. In mid-1988 no Bangladeshi military personnel were operationally deployed abroad. During the 1950s and 1960s, when united Pakistan was formally aligned with the United States, a number of Bengali officers in the Pakistan military received advanced training in the United States (see The Superpowers , ch. 4). By 1988 those officers who had started their careers during the heyday of United States-sponsored security pacts occupied the most senior positions in the Bangladeshi military.
Since 1975 Bangladesh has cultivated close relations with China. Although Sino-Bangladeshi security relations have remained informal, the two sides have regularly exchanged high-level military delegations to review relations, negotiate weapons transfers, inspect military facilities, and cement personal contacts. For instance, Chinese advisers and technicians have periodically served in Chittagong and Dhaka to assist with making Chinese equipment operational in the Bangladeshi armed forces. In January 1987, Yang Dezhi, chief of the general staff of China's People's Liberation Army, conducted a five-day goodwill visit to Bangladesh. While in Dhaka, the Chinese delegation met with Ershad and the three service chiefs. Three months later, the Bangladesh Navy chief of staff, Rear Admiral Sultan Ahmad, conducted a six-day visit to China. Press reports noted the two sides shared "similar views on all important matters." Most of Bangladesh's inventory of fighter aircraft, coastal patrol boats, and tanks were supplied by China.
Bangladesh has had to court a variety of states for weapons and training support. The country's only defense production facility was a munitions factory built during the Pakistan era with Chinese assistance. Because it depended on foreign sources for most of its military equipment, Bangladesh had a diverse weapons inventory. However, most of the inventory was obsolete, even by Third World standards. The diversity of equipment imposed severe maintenance problems for a military that lacked technical sophistication. Most overhauls of major equipment items had to be performed by foreign technicians or in the country of origin. Whenever these services have not been available--for instance when Soviet military assistance ended after the 1975 coup--foreign-supplied weapon systems have become inoperable. In extreme cases Bangladesh has had to cannibalize weapon systems, such as older MiG-21 aircraft, to keep some of the inventory in operation.
The Bangladeshi military began its development with weapons surrendered by Pakistani forces and small arms supplied by India to the Mukti Bahini. After Indian forces left the country in October 1972, Mujib turned to India and its primary supplier, the Soviet Union, for military equipment and training. The Soviets supplied MiG-21 aircraft, An-26 transports, and some miscellaneous equipment items. In addition, Egypt transferred thirty Soviet-built (Type 54/55) tanks, and Yugoslavia donated a small naval patrol craft. Following Mujib's assassination, the military looked elsewhere for basic equipment items. Britain sold three aging frigates to Bangladesh, and the United States transferred limited quantities of small arms, mostly for police and paramilitary use. A major breakthrough occurred in 1975, when China extended diplomatic recognition to Bangladesh following the normalization of relations between Dhaka and China's longtime ally, Pakistan. By the early 1980s, China had become Bangladesh's primary supplier of military equipment.
Since the mid-1970s, Bangladesh has sought close relations with oil-rich Arab states, most notably with Saudi Arabia. Shortly after staging the 1982 coup, Ershad traveled to Riyadh to meet with the Saudi leadership. Nine months later, a ten-member Saudi military delegation arrived in Dhaka for talks with their Bangladeshi counterparts and for an inspection tour of military facilities. Press accounts reported that the Saudis were considering a plan to station a Bangladesh Army division (some 15,000 personnel) in the kingdom. The proposal was originally suggested by Zia, according to these reports. Although both governments have consistently denied reports of an impending Bangladeshi troop presence in Saudi Arabia, rumors to this effect persisted in 1988.
In addition to relying on foreign weapons supplies, Bangladesh has looked to other countries for advanced officer training and for education in specialized military skills, such as repairing aircraft engines. Under Mujib, many Bangladeshi officers, including then-Brigadier Ershad, attended Indian military schools and academies. India was largely responsible for training and organizing the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini, an elite parallel army raised by Mujib in an effort to insulate his regime from coups (see Postindependence Period , this ch.). After Mujib's death and the absorption of the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini into the regular army, training in India ended, and Indian military advisers were sent home. Bangladeshi military personnel started attending courses in China on a regular basis in the late 1980s. Starting in the late 1970s, the United States annually appropriated International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds to train limited numbers of Bangladeshi officers in the United States. In FY 1988, these IMET funds totaled US$300,000. In return, foreign officers regularly attend one-year courses offered at the Bangladesh Military Academy near Chittagong. The United States, Britain, Indonesia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and several small Asian and African states have sent military personnel to Bangladesh for staff courses.
Data as of September 1988
Bangladesh Table of Contents