Coming Saudi-Bangladesh defense deal: A new entrant in the Middle Eastern conflict

Bangladesh will conclude a Defense co-operation agreement with Saudi Arabia on February 14th. The Bangladesh Army Chief General Aziz Ahmed said this yesterday during his visit to Saudi Arabia. He held meetings with General Fayyadh bin Hamid bin Ragad al-Ruwaili, Chief of the General Staff of Royal Saudi Armed Forces and Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Ayesh, the Assistant Minister of Defense of Saudi Arabia.

The Bangladesh Army chief said that, after the deal is signed, Bangladesh will deploy 1800 troops along the war ravaged Yemen-Saudi Arabia border for mine sapping. The Chief also said, 4 Bangladesh army officials including a Brigadier General have been selected for taking up roles with the IMCTC (Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition) and vowed to continue every kind of cooperation with the alliance. During Gen Aziz’s meeting with Al-Ruwaili, the two military officials discussed bilateral issues, where Bangladesh discussed sending military engineers to construct military and civilian construction works in Saudi Arabia.

Bangladesh Army chief Gen Aziz (centre) at Bangladesh’s embassy in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Embassy

If the deal is signed, Bangladesh will then enter in to the Middle Eastern turmoil, which is yet to show signs of peace, where Yemen is just a fragment of the whole Middle Eastern conflict. Although the Bangladesh Army chief said that the troops will be deployed for mine sapping, its widely expected that Bangladesh Army will be willing to take up a bigger role in the region. Bangladeshi army is still maintaining a 6000 troop strong contingent in Kuwait, serving with the Kuwaiti military and it proposed to follow the same model with Saudi Arabia.

The relationship with Saudi Arabia is a key aspect of Bangladesh’s outlook towards Middle East, since its the pedestal of the two of the holiest places of Islamic belief and also the host of the largest number of Bangladeshi migrant workers. However, the relations with Saudi Arabia fostered keeping pace with the changing  geopolitical order.

Saudi Arabia showing visible signs of shifting away from its pro-Western outlook, started to play greater role in Middle Eastern affairs, albeit much controversy, with Yemen leading the list. While the Arab spring tilted Middle East against Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh heavily cracked down on Jamat E Islami, a pro-Brotherhood Islamist political entity in Bangladesh, which largely draws support from Turkey and Iran. However, with the arrival of Russia in Syria and the emergence of Mohammad Bin Salman as the supremo next to his father the King Salman, relations with Saudi Arabia enhanced with Russia, China and a host of their strategic partners.

As a result, in an act of putting pressure on the Saudi monarchy, the Western countries resorted consider calls from rights groups to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Amid global hue and cry of Saudi journalist Khashoggi’s disappearance, Dhaka opted to stay silent and worked for increasing ties with the monarchy. Hence, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina saw Riyadh as one of the first to officially congratulate her for her victory in the recently held general elections, even though the declaration of official results were in the process. The ties between the two governments deepened with Sheikh Hasina visiting Saudi Arabia six times since her ascendancy in 2009. The bilateral relations between the two governments is expected to grow in the coming days.

With the coming defense deal with Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh might be handed down with a big paycheck to boast its defense purchases. However, the Saudi monarchy will also expect Bangladesh to deploy the acquired hardwares in safeguarding Saudi interests in the region. With openly declaring readiness to support IMCTC, Bangladeshi troopers in combat gears with Saudi fatigue will soon be a reality in the turmoil ridden Middle East, where Yemen, is just a pearl in the necklace, with regional supremos like Turkey, Iran and Israel  closely monitoring the developments.

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