Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding to further bolster military cooperation.
Diplomatic sources in Dhaka and Riyadh said the deal would take Bangladesh-Saudi Arabia military cooperation to a new height and form a “permanent basis” for the current bilateral military relations.
Under the MoU, the two countries will engage in cooperation in a wide range of areas, including military training, exercise and higher studies at defence institutions, exchange of intelligence information, exchange of military visits, enhancement of skill, maritime security, and curbing piracy in the sea.
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.
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 inked the deal on behalf of their respective governments at a ceremony at the Ministry of Defence in Riyadh.
Bangladesh Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Golam Moshi, Deputy Chief of Mission Nazrul Islam and Defence Attaché Brig Gen Mohammad Shah Alam Chowdhury were present there.
“It's basically the starting point for each country in case of cooperation and in future the two countries will expand their cooperation,” said a diplomat in Riyadh, adding that the agreement was scheduled to be inked during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to the Kingdom on October 17 last year, but it was deferred as both sides agreed to discuss some adjustments.
Asked whether Bangladesh would deploy 1,800 troops for defusing or removing mines along the border of war-torn Yemen, the diplomat, wishing not be to named, said it was not a mine sweeping deal.
“This MoU is an outcome of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's farsightedness and dynamic leadership and effective diplomatic efforts,” according to the press release.
Officials said the signing of the MoU was finalised 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 Defence Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Ayash and Saudi Chief of Joint Forces Gen Fayyad bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili.
On Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque told a press conference that under the defence deal, Bangladeshi troops would not be involved in any war on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
Dismissing various speculations, he said Bangladesh had been following the policy, laid out by the prime minister, of only deploying troops outside the country's border under the UN peacekeeping missions.
Dhaka earlier conveyed Bangladesh's position to send troops to Saudi Arabia if the country's sovereignty and the security of its two holy mosques were threatened.
Meanwhile, two senior lawmakers -- Rashed Khan Menon and Fakhrul Imam -- yesterday in parliament demanded a statement from the foreign minister whether the signing of a “defence pact” between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia was not contradictory to the constitution, reported UNB.
Menon, former minister and Workers Party president, raised the issue taking floor on the point of order in the House.
He demanded the foreign minister make a statement under the section 300 of the rules of procedure in parliament over the “agreement” and urged the speaker to pass a ruling on the issue from the constitutional aspect.
Referring to a BBC report, Menon said Bangladesh was to sign a “defence deal” with Saudi Arabia under which Bangladesh would deploy 1,800 troops along the Yemen border.
“The foreign ministry neither admitted it nor denied it … but we've come to know that the signing of the deal is now at the final stage, and we must examine whether the article 25 of our constitution is being violated.”
Menon said the state shall base its international relations on the principles of respect for national sovereignty and equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, peaceful settlement of international disputes, and respect for international law and the principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter as per article 25 of the constitution.
“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.
Mentioning that the Saudi-led coalition along with the USA is regularly carrying out attacks on Yemen to suppress Houthi rebels for its own interest, the Workers Party chief said the UN Secretary General has described the Yemen situation as the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.
“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”, UNB wrote.
Stating that parliament is the main centre for discussing any issue, he said, “What will be problem if it was discussed here?”