Bangladesh-Saudi Arabia military relation has reached a new height as the two friendly countries inked a defense deal (MoU) on February 14, 2019. It seems to be a long-lasting effort to further bolster military cooperation. Some 1800 Bangladeshi troops to be deployed to Saudi Arabia for demining operations along the kingdom’s border with war-torn Yemen. But Bangladeshi troops will not engage in any combat operations, assured Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque.
The MoU was signed on the basis of the friendship and in line with the foreign policy of the two countries for enhancing international peace and stability, said a press release of Bangladesh Embassy in Riyadh. The embassy, however, did not release any copy of the deal.
A Group Of Bangladeshi Army Officers During Their Break In Saudi Arabia In 1990s.
The Then Maj Iqbal Karim Bhuiyan Is Seen Sitting Second From The Left.
(Photo Courtesy: Maj Akhter Ahmed)
Under the MoU, the two countries will engage in cooperation in a wide range of areas, including military training, exercise and higher studies at defense institutions, exchange of intelligence information, exchange of military visits, enhancement of skill, maritime security, and curbing piracy in the sea.
Principal Staff Officer of the Armed Forces Division Lt Gen Md Mahfuzur Rahman and Deputy Chief of Staff of Saudi Armed Forces Lt Gen Mutlaq bin Salim signed the deal on behalf of their respective governments at a ceremony at the Ministry of Defense in Riyadh. Bangladesh Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Golam Moshi, Deputy Chief of Mission Nazrul Islam and Defense Attaché Brig Gen Mohammad Shah Alam Chowdhury were present there.
The deal will remain valid for five years. Subjected to approval of both sides, the agreement can be extended.
“This MoU is an outcome of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's farsightedness and dynamic leadership and effective diplomatic efforts,” according to the press release.
The agreement was scheduled to be signed during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to Saudi Arabia on October 17 last year, but it was deferred as both sides agreed to discuss some adjustments.
It is noted that the signing of the deal was finalized during the visit of Chief of Army Staff Gen Aziz Ahmed early this month when he held high-level meetings with Saudi Assistant Minister for Defense Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Ayash and Saudi Chief of Joint Forces Gen Fayyad bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili.
In this regard, the Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh, in a statement on February 4, 2019 announced that Dhaka will sign an MoU with Riyadh 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 will help in the construction of civilian infrastructure.
The Bangladesh Army also continue its cooperation with the Saudi-led Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC). By this time, Bangladesh named four military officials, including a brigadier general, for joining the coalition.
On February 13, 2019 (Wednesday), Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque told a press conference that under the defense deal, Bangladeshi troops would not be involved in any war on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
|Gen Aziz With Senior Saudi Military Officials|
Rejecting notions that Dhaka may have shifted its defense 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 combat missions under the blue helmet (under the United Nations).”
“Bangladeshi troops, however, play an advisory role, take part in landmine-sweeping along the Saudi-Yemen border, and civil construction under a memorandum of understanding (MoU),” said the Foreign Secretary.
The security experts, however, suggested to be cautious in operating on Saudi-Yemen border. Brig Gen M. Shakhawat Hossain told Bangladesh Defense Journal, “Bangladesh troops will defuse and remove mines on the Saudi-Yemen border area that is absolutely a combat zone. Sending troops is a political decision. Bangladesh Army has clearly nothing to do. But we have to keep in mind that Pakistan, the best friend of Saudi Arabia has refused to send their troops.”
“The Saudi-Yemen conflict cannot be seen as a problem of two countries. This conflict is the part of regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia. Both countries are fighting their shadow wars in various countries including Yemen”, said General Shakhawat.
“It is also a game of world powers. Many regional and international players including USA, Russia, Turkey and Israel are directly or indirectly involved in this game”, he added.
General Shakhawat suggested, “With all this in mind, it is important to note that Bangladesh should carefully deal with the situation. There is no reason to be involved in this conflict or take any side.”
Some politicians, by this time, expressed their reservations in regards to the military deal. Two senior lawmakers -- Rashed Khan Menon and Fakhrul Imam in parliament demanded a statement from the foreign minister whether the signing of a “defense pact” between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia was not contradictory to the constitution.
Referring to a BBC report, Menon said Bangladesh was to sign a “defense deal” with Saudi Arabia under which Bangladesh would deploy 1,800 troops along the Yemen border.
“We must review the deal from two aspects -- whether the deployment of troops (under the deal) is related to the UN and pertinent to its charter and what will be the political image of having the presence of our army aboard?” he said.
“Under such a situation, our army will remove mines from there. For whose interest our army will sacrifice their lives in the name of clearing mines which Bangladesh constitution doesn't allow?” he said.
Menon also feared that this will lead to conflicting relations (with some countries) when Bangladeshi troops will be deployed along the Yemen border. “Our Constitution says Bangladesh won't be part of any conflicting matter.”
Supporting Menon, Jatiya Party MP Imam questioned the justification of “signing the deal bypassing parliament”.
Stating that parliament is the main center for discussing any issue, he said, “What will be problem if it was discussed here?”
BD Army Chief Visited KSA & Received
King Abdul Aziz Medal Of Excellence
With a mission to further intensify the defense cooperation, Chief of Bangladesh Army General Aziz Ahmed made a week long (February 1, to February 8, 2019) visit to Saudi Arabia.
During the visit, Bangladesh Army Chief held several meetings with Saudi military leaderships and finalized the much-expected defense deal that was signed on February 14, 2019. He was awarded the prestigious King Abdul Aziz Medal of Excellence.
Gen Aziz on Sunday (February 3, 2019) held separate meetings with Saudi Assistant Minister for Defense Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Ayash and Saudi Chief of Joint Forces Gen Fayyad bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili and discussed various issues of mutual interest including military cooperation. He also met with Chief of Saudi-led Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) General Raheel Sharif.
Bangladesh Army Chief visited the newly constructed chancery of the Bangladesh Embassy in Riyadh on that day and revealed that Bangladesh will deploy two battalions of troops numbering some 1,800 personnel for defusing/removing mines along the border of war-torn Yemen while talking to media.
He said he discussed with Saudi officials about engaging members of the Bangladesh Army Engineering Corps in building various civil and military infrastructures and development works in the KSA. He also proposed engaging experienced doctors of Bangladesh Army in different areas of Saudi defense forces.
The army chief hoped the doctors would be able to avail higher training at various Saudi hospitals alongside carrying out their routine works.
He said Saudi Army, Navy and Air Force officials were receiving training at Bangladesh Military Academy, National Defense College and Defense Services Command and Staff College.
The Army chief informed Bangladesh named four military officials, including a Brigadier General, for joining the Saudi-led Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC). “The Bangladesh Army would continue its cooperation with the coalition”, he added.
On February 4, 2019, General Aziz Ahmed received King Abdul Aziz Medal of Excellence. Chief of General Staff of the Royal Saudi Armed Forces General Fayiadh Bin Ha’med Al-Rowaily conferred the award at a ceremony.
Senior officials of the Saudi Armed Forces, officials of Bangladesh Embassy in Saudi Arabia and the tour mate of the Army Chief were present during the program.
This prestigious medal was awarded to the army chief in recognition of the friendly and cooperative relations between Bangladesh Army and Saudi Army.
Bangladesh Army Chief performed the Holy Umrah and returned home on February 9, 2019.