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Foreign Relations and Defense of Bangladesh

Bangladesh pursues a moderate foreign policy that places heavy reliance on multinational diplomacy, especially at the United Nations. In 1974 Bangladesh joined both the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations, and has since been elected to serve two terms on the Security Council – in 1978-1979 and 2000-2001. In the 1980s, Bangladesh played a lead role in founding the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, (SAARC), in order to expand relations with other South Asian states. Since the founding of SAARC 1985, a Bangladeshi has held the post of Secretary General on two occasions.

Bangladesh’s most important and complex foreign relationship is with India. This relationship is formed by historical and cultural ties and is strengthened because of India’s involvement in liberating the people of Bangladesh from Pakistan. This forms an important part of the domestic political discourse. Bangladesh’s relationship with India began on a positive note because of India’s assistance in the independence war and subsequent reconstruction. Throughout the years, the relationship between the two countries has fluctuated for a number of reasons.

A major source of tension between Bangladesh and India is the Farakka Dam. In 1975, India constructed a dam on the Ganges River 10.3 mi (16.6 km) from the Bangladeshi border. Bangladesh alleges that the dam diverts much needed water from Bangladesh and adds a man-made disaster to a country already plagued by natural disasters. The dam has had terrible ecological consequences. There are other sources of tension between the nations. India has voiced concerns about anti-Indian separatists and Islamic militants allegedly being harbored across their 2,597 mi (4,179 km) border, as well as the flow of illegal migrants, and is building a fence along most of it. However, at the 2007 SAARC meeting both nations pledged to work cooperatively on security, economic and border issues.

The current strength of the army is around 200,000 including reservists, the air force 22,000, and navy 19,000. In addition to traditional defense roles, the military has been called on to provide support to civil authorities for disaster relief and internal security during periods of political unrest. Bangladesh is not currently active in any ongoing war, but it did contribute 2,300 troops to the coalition that fought in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and Bangladesh is consistently a top (10,736) contributor to UN peacekeeping forces around the world. As of May 2007, Bangladesh had major deployments in Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sudan, Timor-Leste and Cote d’Ivoire.

Bangladesh enjoys relatively warm ties with the People’s Republic of China, and particularly in the past decade, there has been increased economic cooperation between them. Between 2006 and 2007, trade between the two nations rose by 28.5% and there have been agreements to grant various Bangladeshi commodities tariff-free access to the Chinese market. Cooperation between the Military of Bangladesh and the People’s Liberation Army is also increasing, with joint military agreements signed and Bangladesh procuring Chinese arms which range from small arms to large naval surface combat ships such as the Chinese Type 053H1 Missile Frigate.