The two-year long military-backed caretaker government in Bangladesh (2007-08) aroused an interest amongst army watchers in the BA’s corporate dealings. It was observed that, during this period, the army had a presence in certain lucrative civilian sectors, such as the distribution of rice, and a say in the appointment of officers to commercial institutions like the Tea Board and the state-owned airline company, Biman Bangladesh Airlines Limited.
However, the corporate interests of BA are not new. It has been running many profit-making businesses under its welfare trust, the Sena Kalyan Sangstha (SKS). The army’s involvement in the construction and management of key infrastructures projects, including roads and ports, is fairly extensive. These initiatives have opened up new sources of revenue generation, giving the BA greater leverage for funding ventures it would like to keep closely guarded even from the civilian government.
Experiences from countries like Pakistan and Indonesia, where militaries are known for running big corporate empires, suggest that self-generated resources have prodded the armed forces to take an abiding interest in the politics of the country, often undermining the institutions that support and sustain public participation in the process of nation-building. An attempt of this paper would, therefore, be to study the underlying motives of the BA’s increasing interest in running corporate entities and the impact of such a development on the future course of democracy in Bangladesh. Such an assessment would necessarily pursue the nature of the relationship between the Army and the political parties, as also scrutinize the Army’s motives and activities within the overall context of Bangladesh’s nation-building process.
Little is known and even less understood about the 2,00,000-strong Bangladesh Army’s corporate interests. The importance of the subject owes itself to the fact that the army has been a veritable power of stability in a country that has been dogged by decades of unending political turmoil. The fact that the Army had to step in to keep the country from slipping into a political abyss in 2006 underlines the criticality of its role in providing stability and security to the people of Bangladesh in times of crisis.
The army in Bangladesh is regarded as a powerful and politically influential institution. Hence, its attitudes and approaches need to be closely scrutinized. Although the army’s dalliance with radical groups and political parties with extremist dispositions has been the subject of some studies, there has hardly been any attempt within or outside Bangladesh to document and analyse its corporate interests.
This paper is an attempt to fill this gap. The primary endeavor of the paper is to document the various economic and corporate interests of the Bangladesh Army (or BA for brevity). However, since relevant data
is either not available or can only be found as disjointed pieces of a puzzle, the documentation would at best be indicative. For a better understanding of the issue, the paper has been divided in six sections. Section I gives an overview of the Bangladesh Army; Section II deals with the theoretical underpinnings of the military’s business, followed by the history of BA’s corporate interests and its political connections. The paper then maps the business interests of the army before attempting to lay out the implications of a corporate army.
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Joyeeta Bhattacharjee (1975 2021) was Senior Fellow with ORF. She specialised in Indias neighbourhood policy the eastern arch: Bangladeshs domestic politics and foreign policy: border ...Read More +