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Sunday, February 17, 2013
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Arms, nuke deals lack transparency

The Daily Star-Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies discussion on ties with Russia told

Participants at a roundtable styled "Bangladesh-Russia Relations: New Openings & Challenges" jointly organised by The Daily Star and the Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies at The Daily Star Centre in the capital yesterday.Photo: STAR

The $ 1.5 billion arms purchase and Ruppur nuclear power plant deals with Russia lack transparency, as they had been signed hastily without any public debate, former ambassadors and retired military officials said yesterday.

Although the country's armed forces need supplies from varied sources, the move with Russia demands accountability, they said at a discussion on Bangladesh-Russia relations and its prospects and challenges.

The Daily Star and Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies jointly organised the discussion at The Daily Star Centre in the capital.

On January 15, governments of both the countries signed the deals in Kremlin in presence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Russian President Vladimir Putin with the latter granting $ 1 billion weapon purchase loan at 4.5 percent interest rate.

The rest $ 500-million loan at 3.5 percent interest rate is for conducting feasibility study for setting up two nuclear power plant reactors, each with 100MW capacity, in Ruppur.

According to former foreign secretary Syed Muazzem Ali, both the deals lack transparency and accountability.

A public perception was that Russia had pushed the high-interest loan on Bangladesh in exchange for helping to set up a nuclear power plant, he said, adding that a pre feasibility study should be conducted by an independent third party.

He also emphasised training for the required manpower for the projects.

Muazzem Ali pointed out that the natural cooling system for a nuclear reactor would not be possible, though planned, as the rivers in Ruppur were drying up and had changed course.

Former chief of army staff Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman said China had so far been Bangladesh's consistent source for weapon purchase at a nominal interest rate with longstanding and comprehensive defence cooperation deal.

Making a huge arms deal with Russia all on a sudden without any public discourse was a big shift from that stand, said Rahman, also a vice-chairman of the main opposition BNP.

He said even the armed forces were not notably involved in making the decision, nor was there any international tender.

Brig Gen (Rtd) Sakhawat Hossain, a former commissioner of election commission, said it was not clear whether the weapons would be purchased keeping the local requirement in mind.

Russia having significantly lost arms market in India, Middle East and east, west and north African countries, was now looking for new markets, he said, adding that there was no specifically laid down defence policy at the political level for the armed forces that function on certain principles.

Former ambassador Harun-ur-Rashid said an apparent negligence shown by the US to the incumbent government of Bangladesh might have prompted it to incline to Russia.

Any credit against an interest rate higher than 1.5 percent is considered hard commercial loan, he said.

"I am puzzled what national interest has been given priority in these deals," he said, "I wonder why these were not even discussed."

He said Russia wanted to contain the influence of China, Japan and the US in South-East Asia.

Harun, however, said Bangladesh's access to Russia with its readymade garment products would open up markets in the central Asia, including Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The Daily Star Editor and Publisher Mahfuz Anam, in his opening remark said it was natural that Bangladesh was trying to reach out as many countries as possible to serve its national interest.

But it was important to look into what rationale had prompted the deals with Russia, he continued, "Because I do not subscribe to the view that a country, which was a true friend to Bangladesh during its Liberation War, should be compensated in other means.

Former ambassadors Mahmood Hasan and Ashfaqur Rahman, and Shahedul Anam Khan, editor of Oped and Strategic Affairs at The Daily Star, among others, also spoke at the discussion moderated by CFAS Chairman M Serajul Islam.

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Do we need arms when the army cannot protect our people from border areas from BSF?

: Alminka

When BNP and other parties were in the power, was there any open discussion on arms purchase. China has been a consistent supplier of arms, but was there any discussion on buying arms from China in the past? Please tell us when an arms dealing was open and transparent in Bangladesh or else where in the world. Instead of this type of discussion, the DS should organise ideas if we really need such a huge army at all.

: Tarik Zaman

Comments

  • Hafeejul Alam
    Sunday, February 17, 2013 01:33 PM GMT+06:00 (114 weeks ago)

    It is very easy to recline and smell a rat at everything but it's not so easy to do the job effectively. The round table conference could not cite any alternative source where from the comparable arms could be purchased at a lower interest rate or at better terms. It is also known to all concerned that the quality of Russian weapons can only be compared with those of the United States and the Western European countries. May we not forget that for any deal or purchase, a democratic government is answerable only to the parliament and it has the legitimate right to take advise from it's own experts.


 

 


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