Though “everything but arms” has defined Bangladesh’s core export policy for the past 30 years, the Bangladesh Ordnance Factories (BOF) now hopes to change that.
The state-owned weapons manufacturer, part of the Ministry of Defence, seeks governmental clearance to sell its line of munitions abroad. If granted, Bangladesh would become the third South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) member (after India and Pakistan) to export arms.
“We’ve been importing arms for quite a long time. Now we’re trying to assess how much could we earn by exporting arms and ammunitions that are of high quality and have demand overseas,” Commerce Ministry Secretary Mahbub Ahmed told Khabar South Asia.
For this to happen, the government must amend the country’s Export Policy, which currently prohibits exports of munitions.
After the Defence Ministry’s parliamentary standing committee approved the proposal–justifying the move as good for bringing in foreign currency– the Armed Forces Division (AFD) signed off in late February.
The Home Ministry approved the proposal in early March. It still must clear the Commerce Ministry as well as an economic affairs committee headed by Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhit.
From arms buyers to arms sellers?
According to the World Bank’s “World Development Indicators 2012: World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers”, Bangladesh last exported armaments and ammunition in 1984.
Because BOF only makes rifles and ammunition, the country had to rely on imports of heavy artillery, tanks, war ships and planes to build up its armed forces. Due to massive military expansion, armament and munitions imports rose from $10m in 2005 to $690m in 2013, government statistics show.
Even though overhauling the nation’s export policy could bring in much-needed revenue, some observers express strong reservations about the prospect.
“It’s certainly not a good thing for Bangladesh to be bracketed with arms exporting countries. The decision on such an important national issue should be taken after weighing all the pros and cons in the parliament,” Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International-Bangladesh (TIB), told Khabar.
Bangladesh instead should be concentrating on poverty alleviation, food security, human resource development and political stability, he said.
However, the proposal has the support of Major General K.M. Shafiullaf, Bangladesh’s first army chief of staff.
“I don’t see any harm in exporting arms,” he said, “but we must ensure that we don’t export to any countries that are associated with violence and terrorism.”
By Shahriar Sharif for Khabar South Asia in Dhaka