Though the Bangladesh Army has become a bigger and modern force, the Ministry of Defence largely remains ineffective as most executive power lies with the Armed Forces Division (AFD) of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), said security expert Brigadier General (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain on Sunday.
He thinks the Ministry of Defence has to be a functional ministry and there could be a separate minister to run it like other ministries.
Speaking at a lecture programme, Sakhawat, also a former Election Commissioner, said a collective civilian control should be established over military to guide it in achieving national goal and defend the territorial integrity.
The Shaheed Colonel Jamil Ahmed Memorial Lecture 2019 styled ‘Civil Military Relations (CMR): Current Status in Bangladesh and the Future’ was held at the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh in the city.
“The Armed Forced Division (AFD), headed by the Prime Minister, functions like a ministry…the Prime Minister is also the Defence Minister, but the ministry remains ineffective with mostly administrative tasks like signing different deals and MoUs. Even, no-one knows the name of the defence secretary as the ministry is not functioning,” Sakhawat said.
“There has to be a structural control mechanism with reorganising Defence Ministry to make it more responsive and controlling and supervising one,” he pointed out.
Established in 1978 as a small headquarters under the Defence Ministry, the ex-military official said the role of the AFD has changed after it was integrated into the PMO and got the ministerial status to deal with the rest of the ministries on equal footing.
Sakhawat said the AFD is now a principal government organ for the coordination of all operational matters as well as important administrative matters relating to the Armed Forces.
He also touched upon the areas of procurement by the Navy, Army and Air Force in their own way saying that there is no coordination as such.
“Though called the army of liberation, Bangladesh Army maintains the same structures and retains its elite organisation till today like any other commonwealth country,” Sakhawat said.
When professional military officers control national politics it is called military dictatorship, he said adding that lack of control over the military may create “a state within the state”.
“Now we have to look at establishing that vital control to guide the military in achieving national goal and defend the territorial integrity. This is high time to establish horizontal and vertical civilian control and a collective control mechanism, as enshrined in the constitution, be a developed for national defence and security policy formulation and implementation through which the professionalism should be enhanced and organisational freedom is kept intact,” he said.
The former Election Commissioner, however, said control should not be a one-man one or bureaucratic one as it has to be collective one by people’s representatives without curtailing the organisational and operational freedom.
As part of collective control, the former military officer also said Bangladesh needs to reorganise the present AFD into Joint Services Headquarters with designated Joint Chiefs of Staff who would be the key professional advising the head of the government.
In the beginning of his lecture, the ex-military officer recalled his memories with Brigadier General Jamil and said he had conversations with him barely a week before his martyrdom.
Sakhawat said Brigadier General Jamil was the lone military officer who rushed towards Road No 32, Dhanmondi to save Bangabandhu after receiving his phone call on August 15, 1975 and laid down his life.
In 2010, Colonel Jamil was posthumously promoted to Brigadier General and awarded the Bir Uttam, Bangladesh's second highest military decoration.
Chaired by Vice-Chancellor of the National University Prof Harun-or-Rashid, the lecture event was attended, among others, by Shaheed Colonel Jamil Ahmed Memorial Trust Management Committee Convener M Abdur Rahim, UNB Chairman Amanullah Khan, Brigadier General Jamil’s daughter Afrozaa Jamil, and Prof Dr Md Anwarul Islam of Zoology department, Prof Sabbir Ahmed of Political Science department, Dr Shameem Reza and Dr Robayet Ferdous of Mass Communication and Journalism department of Dhaka University.