Indonesia and Bangladesh strengthen military ties

Indonesia and Bangladesh strengthen military ties

Tom Abke

Indonesia and Bangladesh are moving toward a higher level of defense cooperation. Shared security concerns, strong participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions and compatible commercial interests in the defense area are among the issues drawing them closer together.

The two nations, which belong to the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), an international organization consisting of coastal states bordering the Indian Ocean, are becoming important trade partners.

As of February 2018, Bangladesh, for example, had purchased more than U.S. $200 million worth of railway cars from Indonesian manufacturer PT Industri Kereta Api, with more in the pipeline, according to the Indonesian news agency Antara. Moreover, Indonesia’s state-owned energy company PT Pertamina is building a 1,400-megawatt, gas-fired power plant in Bangladesh.

In defense matters, Bangladesh has regularly participated in the Komodo Exercise, a multilateral set of naval drills and workshops hosted by Indonesia since 2014. Komodo Exercise 2018, slated for early May, will involve 43 countries. In September 2017, Indonesian troops helped ship relief supplies to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. (Pictured: Indonesian Soldiers at a Jakarta airport load sacks of food onto an Air Force C-130 aircraft, bound for Bangladesh to aid Rohingya refugees fleeing Burma, on September 13, 2017.)

FORUM interviewed a pair of Indonesian government officials, Ferdy Piay, director for South and Central Asia at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Hartin Asrin, director general for defense strategy at the Defense Ministry. Piay and Asrin agree that defense cooperation between Jakarta and Dhaka is poised to grow.

“During [Indonesian] President Jokowi’s [Widodo’s] visit to Bangladesh at the end of January [2018] that targeted economic diplomacy, Indonesia encouraged Bangladesh to engage further with Indonesia’s strategic industries,” Piay said. “In addition to trains, Jakarta wants Bangladesh to consider buying Indonesian-made weapon systems, alongside other products such as planes and ships.”

Piay explained that, beyond selling the Bangladeshis defense products, Indonesia also hopes to “provide capacity building for Bangladesh defense forces.”

“This is the beginning of defense cooperation between Indonesia and Bangladesh,” he said. The level is “not yet the strategic defense cooperation as Indonesia has with India, but in the future there is an open possibility for that kind of cooperation.”

Asrin said that because Bangladesh ranks fourth among all countries with the most participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions and Indonesia ranks ninth, Dhaka recently sent its ambassador in Jakarta to his ministry to discuss capacity building for these missions. Jakarta, he added, has its own rationale for ramping up defense ties with Dhaka.

“It relates to the Indo-Pacific regional architecture that Indonesia is focusing on,” Asrin said. “We’re trying to maintain political and security stability in the region, and we’ve been working with many Pacific nations to ensure that. Now Indonesia is working to strengthen ties in South Asia, especially those countries on the Indian Ocean in order to maintain peace and stability in the region. That is why Indonesia emphasizes on the importance of IORA.”

Indonesia’s Defense Ministry said in a news release that the Bangladesh ambassador to Indonesia, Maj. Gen. Azmal Kabar, affirmed the need for enhanced defense ties during a February 20, 2018, meeting with officials.

Kabar expressed hope that a training program involving the air forces of the two countries could be restarted, along with similar initiatives involving the armies and navies. He also said Bangladesh is interested in buying Indonesian products related to Indonesia’s main armaments system known as Alutsista. The components of Alutsista include advanced weapons systems and such vessels as patrol ships and aircraft for assault, combat and transport, Antara reported.

“Both countries can get many benefits,” Kabar said, “if cooperation is further improved.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.