Dhaka, Riyadh sign defence MoU on Thursday
Bangladeshi troops will not engage militarily in any war on Saudi Arabia’s behalf, assures Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque on the eve of signing of a defence deal by the two Muslim-majority nations.
“They will, however, play an advisory role, take part in landmine-sweeping along the Saudi-Yemen border, and civil construction under a memorandum of understanding (MoU),” he said during a press conference organized at the ministry on Wednesday.
The press conference was organized to brief reporters about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming visits to Germany and the United Arab Emirates. Foreign Minister AKA Momen, flanked by the secretary, shared different aspects of the two visits and replied questions of the press.
The Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh, in a statement on February 4, announced that Dhaka will sign an MoU with Riyadh today, in an effort to enhance military cooperation between the two countries.
Under the proposed agreement, some 1,800 Bangladeshi troops under two battalions will be dispatched to Saudi Arabia to defuse and remove mines along the borders of war-torn Yemen and construction of civilian infrastructure, officials involved with the deal confirmed to the Dhaka Tribune, adding that this MoU will take “military cooperation between the two countries to new heights.”
The officials requested the Dhaka Tribune anonymity since they were not authorized to speak to the media about this non-binding agreement.
When contacted, an official of the Inter-Services Public Relation (ISPR) expressed his lack of familiarity with this matter and referred to the Foreign Ministry, which according to the official, is taking part in signing this deal.
However, high-level sources inside the Bangladesh government confirmed to the Dhaka Tribune that the MoU signing will take place in Saudi Arabia and Principal Staff Officer of the Armed Forces Division Lt Gen Md Mahfuzur Rahman will sign the instrument on Dhaka’s behalf.
The content of this proposed deal was finalized during the Bangladesh Army chief General Aziz Ahmed’s visit to Saudi Arabia earlier this month.
‘Not a military arrangement’
Dismissing notions that Dhaka may have shifted its defence policy regarding the kingdom with this MoU, Shahidul Haque said: “In regard to Saudi Arabia, we are following the policy laid out by the prime minister that Dhaka is only interested in missions under the blue helmet (under the United Nations).”
That sentiment was echoed by security analyst Major General (retd) Abdur Rashid as well.
When contacted, he said: “I do not think Bangladesh will be involved in the Yemen war in any way since it will be very risky for our country.”
Bangladesh is a member of Saudi Arabia-led 41-state Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) to combat terrorism, which was formed in 2015.
Though the Islamic kingdom claims the coalition was formed “to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organizations whatever their sect and name is, which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorize the innocent,” critics say Saudi Arabia formed this league to counter Iran’s growing influence in the Arabian peninsula and the Middle East region in general.
Shia Iran is at odds with Sunni Saudi Arabia for influence in the Arab world for decades and proxy conflicts between the two regional powers raged from Syria to Yemen in recent years.
Last year, for the first time in history of the Bangladesh Armed Forces, an 18-member Bangladesh Army delegation took part in the much-hyped joint 21-nation state military exercise called the Gulf Shield -1, hosted by the kingdom. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attended the concluding ceremony of the exercise on an invitation by Saudi King Salman.
“Saudi Arabia requested Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to involve our troops in mine-sweeping and civilian constructions like making houses for the members of their armed forces and the prime minister agreed to do so. This imitative is an initiative being taken under that assurance,” Shahidul said, adding:
“Only if the two holy mosques (in Mecca and in Medina) ever come under attack, we may have to be involved militarily, upon request from the kingdom.”
Our Staff Reporter Md Arifur Rahman contributed to this report