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date: 25 September 2022

The Bangladesh Army: What It Costs to Remain Apoliticallocked

The Bangladesh Army: What It Costs to Remain Apoliticallocked

  • Smruti S. PattanaikSmruti S. PattanaikResearch Fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

Summary

In any nascent democracy, the military as an organized force is a dominant factor in politics. The nature of the relationship between different institutions, especially in fledgling democracies, decides the position of the military in the state. Compared to the political parties, the military is a cohesive force with a command structure that ensures orders are dutifully implemented. Often the military becomes part of contested politics and remains a dominant factor in countries that were previously under military rule. This could be for two reasons. First, their regime remains a reference point and is often compared to democratic regimes thereby creating a legitimacy factor. Second, the military is seen as savior and often portrayed as a fall-back option if a civilian system of governance is not able to deliver. Though many argue that military regimes are a thing of the past and their role is in fact in decline, this may not be true. Military institutions have adapted to change and the nature of their interactions with civilian groups has undergone a shift. However, use of coercion by military authority does not explain military dominance. Much is determined by the structural factors within which both the civil and military agents operate. In some cases, the military’s preserve is not only ensuring state “sovereignty” and its territorial integrity but also preventing a political catastrophe from happening during political transition. They are often referred to as guardians of the state. Study of civil–military relations in South Asia tends to follow a narrative that synthesizes and combines the structural and agency-related issues. Agency, however, is a dominant factor that waits for structurally enabling factors to contemplate a military takeover. In South Asia, and particularly in Bangladesh, any study of civil–military relations within the theoretical framework of a structure-agency divide is inadequate. Challenges in studying the structure-agency divide can be attributed to the larger-than-life image of the military agency. Military agents as actors, their political motives appear to be more important than the societal structure that influences decision. Social class, macroeconomic situations, the society-governing class interface, and lopsided institutional developments also shape the role of agencies (civil and military) and determine the balance of power. Absence of coup does not imply “civilian control,” but rather the civilian government’s ability to decide on posting, promoting, and shaping the vision of the military regarding threat perception determines the extent of civilian control over the military. Political culture, agreement within the society on political structure, institutional checks and balances, and political socialization are important aspects of state structure that acts a constraint on Agency’s action.

Subjects

  • History and Politics
  • Political Institutions
  • World Politics

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