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Monday, January 21, 2013
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News Analysis

The big buy

It is indeed a big buy, made to look even bigger because of the fact that, one, it is the single largest shopping order, and two, the source of supply is one single country; Russia. The shopping list includes weaponry for all the three services but in terms of volume the bulk perhaps goes to the army. The purchase will be through the supplier's credit of one billion dollars; with an interest rate of 4 percent (so far what we are able to learn). In terms of taka, it is eight thousand crore, nearly as much as the amount allotted to the health sector in the current year's budget.

However, there is an element of mystery surrounding the details. We are not sure as to the period of credit or the terms of repayment. What has also surprised many is the abruptness with which the news was broken; just a few days before the visit took place. And there are suggestions that the weapon deal has come with the nuclear deal as a package.

However, given the instances of weapon purchases in the past, we should commend the government for making the deal public, albeit at the last moment. In the past, such purchases were kept out of public knowledge until after the purchase had been made, if at all. However, there has never been such a huge sum involved either. Therefore we demand of the government more transparency on the issue.

It is not surprising that the deal has raised the interest of many because of the new dimensions that the arms deal with Russia has added to Bangladesh's military and foreign policy projections. And depending on one's leaning, it is bound to be interpreted in different ways.

The billion dollar purchase has both a diplomatic and a defence/military dimension. And given that it has been after almost 35 years that Bangladesh has sought a different source for a bulk of its weaponry, particularly for the army, there are several implications that the authorities concerned will have to contend with.

It must be mentioned that Russian weapons are not new to the Bangladesh military, but the bulk user has been the BAF only, with very little or nothing Russian in the army or navy inventory. But since 1975, China was the main defence supplier, although we saw a shift in 1996 when Mig-29s were purchased from Russia after almost 30 years of dependence on China for ground attack and fighter aircraft. The question is why the sudden change after almost 35 years. We do not have a defence white paper or a complete defence policy. It is therefore difficult to rationalise such a big purchase.

Any purchase should be in line with a country's defence policy. And every military needs to revaluate its defence policy (whatever be the structure of the policy and in whatever way that may be articulated) and its military strategy from time to time. And that is what begs the question. What was the urgent need at this point in time to go for such bulk purchases, the highest single order in our history?

Given that the matter was not discussed by the cabinet, much less in parliament, leads to all kinds of speculations. The question is did the military go through the complete process of weapon acquisition before going for Russian-made weapons. Even if the process is abridged, one cannot do without the in-country test and trials of a military kit to assess its operability in own terrain and weather conditions. We do not know if that had been done. And that gives a degree of validity to the comments that the nuclear deal, given Bangladesh's need for energy, was lumped with the arms deal, that there were extraneous compulsions for Bangladesh to opt for the one billion dollar deal with Russia.

Without going into the "guns vs butter" debate, one would like to think that the purchase will help meet the forces goal of the country, and the weapon systems have been carefully chosen to meet the military's need. It is difficult to accept the argument, in some cases it sounds almost like an excuse, by some TV talk-show panelists that these equipments are mainly for use in UN peacekeeping operations. No country will ever spend such a huge sum at such a high rate of interest just for peacekeeping purposes.

However, this cannot be seen just as another military deal. The diplomatic undertones that the deal conveys cannot be overlooked. Some see this as a tectonic shift from PRC to Russia, not merely for diversification of source of weapons, because there are cheaper sources of weapons available at this point in time elsewhere in the world, but also as a strategic choice, whatever the rationales might be. And that is where the foreign office has to convince those that may have a stake in the move, about the justification of the position Bangladesh has adopted.

The writer is Editor, Op-ed and Strategic Issues, The Daily Star.

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Simply the interest rate 4% is too high for a state to state deal. Even in the West, personal loan for buying houses and cars, the two most costly items are cheaper than this. A deal is better or not must be judged with all available alternatives and priorities. At present, 1 billion dollar arms purchase is not a priority nor is 4% interest rate the best deal. We can no longer afford to let the nation hostage to the whims of the individual whose personal interest supersede the nation interest.

: Jumana Sarwar

The demands of transparency exposed the corruption in the Padma bridge project and the frustration of the beneficiaries of that deal. The defence purchase agreement with Russia and its financing at undisclosed terms ensures shielding from the prying eyes of public scrutiny the expected windfall of huge commissions that will be paid - and all beneficiaries will be protected. Never mind national interest, actual need or requirements long as pockets are filled with hard cash that was denied when the World Bank and other donors stepped back from the bridge project. This arms deal is in all probability the last major opportunity for the AL to make hay before its term of office ends later this year. The MiG 29 purchase from Russia in 1998 is a good indicator of the Sheikh Hasina govt's intentions - for that deal the beneficiary was a first cousin. Who is it this time?

: Iftikharul Karim

Comments

  • sulata mojumder
    Monday, January 21, 2013 01:04 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    The purchase is 100% on the supplier's credit at 4% interest rate. This is scary news, very bad for an ultra-poor country like Bangladesh.

  • Sheikh Monirul Islam, Opee
    Monday, January 21, 2013 01:10 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    One billion dollars 1,000.000.000 & 10% of it is 100 million dollar 100,000.000 which is at current rate is around 800 crore Taka 8000,000,000. Definitely that is an interesting figure. On top f that a slice or cut out of the 6% loan payment channel through special banking facilities similar to Biman Boeing deal and last tenure Mig-29 multi-role combat aircraft. What I find most faulty is that when it is around less than 10 months from next election, it is politically and morally incorrect for any government to go into any such deal. This sounds like as if the government was waiting for the correct time calculating a quick exit.

  • fedup
    Monday, January 21, 2013 01:44 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    The question of transparency is vital in this article. The type of military hardware and shift to a new supplier perhaps call for an explanation from the friends of the respected article writer in the army, and, who prepared the list? The prime minister is of course responsible for policy decision like agreeing to link the arms deal with the nuclear power plant and not to take usual course of putting the purchase plan for cabinet and parliament vetting, Nothing would be more painful than defending the course of secrecy maintained in completing the deal. Is it a part of frustration on the part of the prime minister that her government is receiving less support from China and western democracy? Will it be a supplementary stock pile of Russian arms India has already? Lot of rumours are floating around that family lobbyist cycle has taken a new polarisation around a new sub-group in family circle of the power. The ramification of the deal as questioned in this article would be clear if the BNP shows guts to join upcoming parliament session and stick hard, not boycott, to get a clear answer on two major issues such as a lack of transparency and failure to follow norms of bulk arm purchase for the defence of the country. Can the nation depend on the opposition to play its part in a positive way rather than investing political and financial capital organising programs to subvert political aspiration of the people and to rise against any misrule, government or the opposition.

  • Sayed A Huq
    Monday, January 21, 2013 03:56 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    WB is not financing this procurement, so there won't be any problem for the government.

  • nasim khan
    Monday, January 21, 2013 04:13 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    What a shame? A food poor nation can easily use that money to subsidise the production of rice and food products. This is a deliberate attempt to steal people's money. We need ARMY in power permanently and get the country rid of these 2 political vermin. We do no need politics anymore. We need ARMY in power please.

  • Sami
    Monday, January 21, 2013 04:21 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    Whatever the benefits or ills of this defence deal from the perspective of Bangladeshi budget priorities- one has to question why is there such hue and cry from some segments just because the deal is with Russia? Russia along with India helped create Bangladesh. China was totally opposed to our Independence. Some people have no problem with us having billions in foreign trade deficit with China but act as if the world is ending if any deals are made with India and Russia. These people are also usually very Pro-Pakistan! Good on Hasina for bringing balance to our foreign and defence policies!

  • Labu Khan
    Monday, January 21, 2013 04:22 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    This news analysis by Brig Gen (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan is self explanatory. Very clear and nicely written.

  • ShamimH
    Monday, January 21, 2013 09:25 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    This is unfortunate that resources are spent to buy finished armament products from overseas, instead of adding to the nations own manufacturing capacity and know-how. Then the only area of expanding Bangladesh's capability would be to fight who and which conflict.

  • Iftekhar Hassan
    Monday, January 21, 2013 09:38 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    Russian Nuclear Power Plant deal with Bangladesh including financing the project is correct in the right direction. However, Bangladesh purchasing $1.0 billion plus worth of Russian weapons for Bangladesh army may end up costing Bangladesh much more. We like it not, China, most certainly is not very happy about the deal. Furthermore, EU and the United States may not say much about the deal in public at this time. However, novice policy makers in Bangladesh can be rest assured; they are going to pay close attention to the weapon part of the deal. If it was an outright grant from Russia to Bangladesh than this weapon deal for UN peacekeeping task was worth it. I do not see any justification for Bangladesh to purchase such a huge amount of Russian weapons and hardware system at this time. $1.0 could have been use to invest in Nepal toward hydro-electric project to ensure long term electricity supply or even investing around southern Bangladesh to reclaim more land for agriculture and housing for growing population.

  • Zia Ahmed
    Monday, January 21, 2013 09:42 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    Bangladesh should be better armed and powerful than Myanmar if not against any other country.

  • Sharif Alam
    Monday, January 21, 2013 09:57 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    Govt has not been focusing on the burning issues which have become more vivid seeing the last deal with Russia to purchase weapon. Govt did not waste time to go to that deal whereas it has been wasting years after years to finalise the Padma bridge deal only to protect few corrupted party leaders where fund was ready to disburse. Govt grossly neglected the interest of general people by doing this. Traffic jam reaches the suffering to the maximum level in Dhaka city which has been causing blood shedding every moment for every city dwellers. To overcome this problem there is no effective and visible initiative from govt side. Two years back, it would take only one hour to reach Mirpur from Motijheel at evening time but nowadays this timing moves to more than two and half hours for the same journey. There was no initiative against the real culprits for Share Market scam. There are many more public suffering issues which are brutally overlooked by govt. Please look into those real issues instead of making brisk unproductive weapon deals where there is mere public interest. Do not be alien govt, please try to be the govt of the mass people and try to hear the echo of general interest of greater people.

  • Md. Mustafa Hasan
    Monday, January 21, 2013 10:21 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    Instead of buying arms, could our wise leaders cut a deal with Putin to fund the Padma bridge? That would have been a true achievement. Even at an interest rate of 4 percent. I'm not even going into the details of the guns vs butter debate.

  • Manjoor
    Monday, January 21, 2013 10:33 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    Ref. last paragraph of the write-up, our foreign office does not deal with the matter. It never did. Justification of the shift should be sought some-where else!

  • Shibesh Kirttania
    Monday, January 21, 2013 11:21 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    This huge amount of arms purchase deal appears to be unnecessary at the moment. It is because there are other important sectors wherein more should be invested e.g. health, agriculture, education, etc. It sounds ridiculous to prioritise the defence sector ignoring the people's aspects. A state's first and foremost priority is its people, not its defence. After meeting the people's requirements, defence sector may be taken to concentrate on.

  • Sirajul Islam
    Monday, January 21, 2013 11:23 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    Good questions...The quote given maybe helpful to understand. “It is estimated that the trade in weapons accounts for around 40 percent of all corruption in all world trade. The thing that I think is so important about it is it runs to the core of the way we’re governed, because the trade in weapons is extremely closely tied into the mechanics of government. The defence manufacturers, those who make the weapons, are closely tied in to governments, to militaries, to intelligence agencies and crucially to political parties. So they have enormous influence.” - Andrew Feinstein, a former parliamentarian and co-founder of Corruption Watch, UK told while talking with Redi Tlhabi on an episode of South2North at Aljazeera English. Feinstein is also a whistleblower on illegal arms deals and the author of the book, The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, that investigates the dark side of this trillion-dollar industry.

  • Md Shahjahan
    Monday, January 21, 2013 11:39 AM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    The matter must be discussed at the parliament (Sangsad).

  • Md. Abul Kalam Azad
    Monday, January 21, 2013 12:13 PM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    Russian weapon purchase deal should not be considered merely weapon purchase. It is an extended balanced diplomatic relationship in a unipolar world. No nation can develop without proper application of science & technology. Nuclear power plant deal with Russia is a historic event. Thank you Hasina. Allah will save you.

  • Mahbub
    Monday, January 21, 2013 01:05 PM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    This purchase are not only to raise our weapon but also Its a AL political policy to keep Russia aside of them as BNP leader already visit China although we do not know what are promises have given. 2nd thing to purchase to get funds/ commission for next poll.

  • Cooper
    Monday, January 21, 2013 02:46 PM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    The interest @ 4% on 1.5 Billion US$ = Tk.12.000 Russian credit comes to US$6 million = Tk.480 crore a year. Recently the thousands of poor primary school teachers were beaten up & sprayed with pepper spray, that is used on animals in the West, for demanding pay for their self-less services over the years in creating the future of this country; and, their demand if met would have cost the govt. just about UD$1.5 million = Tk.200 crore only a year! So, you see, the whim of a single person is more important than the lives of millions in Bangladesh. What a strange country is this!

  • Rashid Ahmed
    Monday, January 21, 2013 04:02 PM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    Children of poor people are always uncertain about tomorrow. This is genetically embedded in them. So, they want to eat as much as possible today, store as much as possible today and get as much as possible today, lest they again fall in to poverty trap tomorrow! These people have seen their dads seeking charity to buy their bus travel tickets or to buy a meal, this is not a story of long long ago.

  • Hafeejul Alam
    Monday, January 21, 2013 04:13 PM GMT+06:00 (100 weeks ago)

    This news analysis appears highly prejudiced and narrow in outlook. Being a former army officer, the author should understand that Russian weaponry is the cheapest in the world in terms of money and that the quality is also competitive. Further, state to state deal has the minimum possibility of kickbacks or corruption. Being a major contributor of UN peace-keeping as also to safeguard our territorial integrity from any aggression, Bangladesh should have access to latest technology of modern weaponry. After all, a country which fought its independence cannot be expected to be a banana republic.


 

 


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