Bangladesh’s paramilitary capabilities and future prospects


Bangladesh is ranked 40th out of 145 countries in the ‘Global Firepower Index’ published in January. This year’s GFP index ranks national military power based on countries’ power growth trends. Bangladesh scored 0.5871 on the military strength index, whereas a score of 0.0000 is considered ‘exceptional’.

Bangladesh’s military has been ranked 40th in the world in this index published as the ‘2023 Military Strength Ranking’. The other two South Asian countries India and Pakistan are in the 4th and 7th position respectively in this list. Myanmar, another neighbor of Bangladesh, is ranked 38th. The 3 superpowers of the world USA, Russia, and China are ranked first, second, and third respectively. The index is based on more than 60 different criteria including the latest available military equipment, defense budget, and the number of troops and the military capabilities of 145 countries of the world.

Since its independence, Bangladesh has gradually transformed from a ‘bottomless basket’ to a paradigm of economic prosperity. Rapid economic growth over the past few decades has transformed Bangladesh into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Consequently, Bangladesh has been placed on the list of developing countries from the list of underdeveloped countries. Besides, due to the geographical situatedness of Bangladesh in the Indian and Pacific regions, it has become the center of the ‘New Great Game’-the geopolitical rivalry of the world’s great powers. Under the motto ‘friendship to all, malice to none’, Bangladesh has had a number of diplomatic successes. However, military strength is also an important factor in propagating its influence along with increasing economic power. Hence, Bangladesh’s military capabilities will play an important role in taking a strong position in various bilateral negotiations.

Following this, Bangladesh has focused on increasing its military capabilities and has achieved unprecedented success. In the 2021 Military Capability Index, where Bangladesh was ranked 45th, it has moved up 5 places in a span of 2 years. Bangladesh ranks 12th among the emerging military powers.

Along with the improvement of Bangladesh in terms of geographical location, military expenditure, air power, naval power, human resources, etc., Bangladesh is at the top in the capacity of para-military forces, one of the parameters of the index. According to the report, the number of paramilitary personnel in Bangladesh is 6.8 million. India and Pakistan stood respectively 2nd and 6th in the para-military index. Bangladesh possesses more paramilitary power than the collective power of the other 4 countries in the top five.

According to the report, Paramilitary forces/organizations are semi-military entities that can strengthen a given nation’s fighting capability on the ground. Paramilitary forces in Bangladesh include Police, Border Guard Bangladesh-BGB, Coast Guard, Ansar, and Village Defense Force etc. In assessing the military strength of a country, the strength of reserve forces and paramilitary forces are also taken into consideration along with frontline forces. Hence, Bangladesh has around 7 million active troops including infantry, navy, air force, and paramilitary forces. Bangladesh ranks 15th in terms of infantry with 175,000 soldiers, and 22nd and 25th in terms of naval and air force respectively.

The report said that while some countries keep reserve forces to deal with war situations, many countries do so with paramilitary forces. It cut the additional cost of reserve forces. Bangladesh has also followed the strategy of increasing the size of its paramilitary force without retaining any reserve force. It has benefited from two sides simultaneously. First, it has been possible to strengthen the paramilitary force by saving the expenditure of reserve forces. Secondly, this large force is capable of responding to any national emergency, including internal security and disaster management.

Paramilitary forces are making a significant contribution to Bangladesh’s internal security. Police is an essential force to maintain law and order in the country and suppress crime. Bangladesh Police is a trained and well-equipped force in Bangladesh, which is effectively suppressing all sorts of crime within the country. Bangladesh Police is efficiently combating terrorism and militancy. Besides, a significant number of policemen join the United Nations peacekeeping mission every year, making an important contribution to the establishment of world peace.

The BGB is a trained and well-equipped paramilitary force whose role in border security is commendable. The role of Bangladesh’s paramilitary forces in eradicating arms and drugs is undeniable. Along with the Police and BGB, Coast Guard has been working very efficiently in the maintenance of the river and marine resources of deltaic Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense is a well-equipped, efficient, and experienced organization, that works with great courage and risk in dealing with various disastrous situations. In a densely populated and disaster-prone country like Bangladesh, the role of firefighters is always admirable, who are showing bravery abroad even across the borders of the country. Recently, an expert team of 12 members from the Fire Service participated in a post-earthquake rescue operation in Turkey.

The huge paramilitary force has played an important role in reducing the country’s military expenditure. As a result, Bangladesh is ranked 49th in terms of the military expenditure index but has moved to the 40th position in terms of military capability. Although the military expenditure of several countries is higher than that of Bangladesh, they have failed to attain the same level of military capability as Bangladesh.

In a country of about 165 million people, there are about 65 million people who are fit for service. The population is also a huge military asset of Bangladesh. This implies that proper training may make them ready to serve in the military. At the beginning of the liberation war in 1971, despite the fact that Bangladesh did not have any regular armed forces, people from all sorts of professions took short military training and fought fiercely against the Pakistani forces to liberate Bangladesh.

Therefore, this huge population can be converted into military power in any emergent situation. However, Bangladesh’s paramilitary forces have many untapped potentials, which can be harnessed to make them more efficient. Bangladesh has many scopes to improve the capacity of Bangladesh’s paramilitary forces and make them more advanced and timelier. Improved capacity and potential will simultaneously contribute to the improvement of the security and defense strength of the country.

Abdullah Sadi
Abdullah Sadi
Abdullah Sadi is a researcher on South Asia’s political economy and international politics