Bangladesh has taken up a new challenge by deciding to join a Saudi Arabia-led 34-nation Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism and extremism within the bloc. Being badly affected by home-grown Islamist militant and religious extremist groups the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promptly announced the decision to join the alliance when invited by the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir in the third week of the last month.
Saudi Arabia has been leading a military coalition of 10 Arab states for carrying out airstrikes on neighbouring Yemen, after rebels ousted President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. With the joining of 24 mostly non-Arab Muslim countries, including Bangladesh, the Saudi-led Islamic military alliance in fact has spread to become a 34-nation military bloc. However, this 34-nation military alliance is supposed to fight against terrorism and extremism and not against any country in disputes with any member of the alliance. Hence it is believed that the alliance members will not involve in any of the warfare or dispute between Saudi Arabia and its neighbours in the Gulf.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali met his Saudi counterpart in Riyadh on January 6 and discussed the issue to ascertain the challenges and burdens of joining such an alliance, which was yet to announce its areas of actions. In fact, the alliance is still in formative stage and it is yet to formulate mode of operations. It is expected that the alliance will help each of its member countries to subdue local and international terror groups active in the country. The alliance will also develop mechanism to annihilate terror chains within the member countries and extend help to other states outside the bloc in routing terror groups and terrorism.
Most countries have mechanism on tackling terrorism unilaterally or bilaterally, but such mechanism sometimes lacks coordination. The new alliance will hopefully help the member countries fight terrorism in a better coordinated and effective way.
Saudi Arabia mooted the alliance as the country was exposed to terror threats for long. However, in spite of some deadly terror attacks over the decades the oil-rich country successfully subdued the terror groups, but the militant force of Islamic State (IS), that has occupied a large swatch of Iraq and Syria, now poses a big threat to Saudi Arabia.
The relations between Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh are rooted in history, trade and religion for centuries. Nearly 3.0 million Bangladeshis are employed in the Kingdom currently. Though Saudi Arabia was neutral during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, it did not directly oppose the independence of Bangladesh. It built up diplomatic and trade relations within Bangladesh in late 1975.
Since then the Saudi government maintained good relations with Bangladesh and never interfered in its internal affairs. Even it did not oppose the prosecution of the people involved in war crimes in Bangladesh in 1971.
War crimes convicts, Jamaat-e-Islami leaders who were known to have good relations with the Saudi government, miserably failed to get some sort of recommendations from Saudi leaders. The Saudi leadership refrained from making any request to the government of Bangladesh to be lenient to the Jamaat leaders convicted of war crimes. Like US Foreign Secretary John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the Saudi King or any other influential figure of the Kingdom could have phoned Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with a request to commute death sentence for the accused. But Saudi leaders did not do that, probably because they believed in Shariah Law which envisages execution for serious crimes like killing and raping, for which Bangladesh war criminals were convicted. Moreover, in different statements the Saudi government expressed support to the prosecutions for the war crimes, terming the trial procedures as the internal issues of Bangladesh.
Had the Saudi King or any other influential princes made such requests and the government of Sheikh Hasina declined to comply, different repercussion would have been sparked among the people in Bangladesh, who have deep reverence for the Saudi leaders.
The government of Sheikh Hasina also has strong confidence in the Saudi administration, which is based on Islamic law, which makes loyalty of a citizen obligatory to the government so long it follows the Shariah in every aspects of life. Bangladesh believes that the Saudi-led 34-nation alliance will be fighting exclusively against terrorism and extremism and the alliance will not be used in any other national, regional or global conflicts on politics, trade or for resources.
Saudi Arabia has been involved in sort of warfare against Yemen following a sectarian cum political conflict. Saudi Arabia has been running air raids on rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa. The Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen began in 2015 to influence the outcome of the Yemeni civil war. Saudi Arabia, spearheading a coalition of 10 Arab states, began carrying out airstrikes in neighbouring Yemen in and imposing an aerial and naval blockade on 26 March, heralding a military intervention codenamed Operation Decisive Storm.
Fighter jets from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain also took part in the operation. Somalia made its airspace, territorial waters and military bases available to the coalition. The United States provided intelligence and logistical support, including search-and-rescue for downed coalition pilots. It also accelerated the sale of weapons to coalition states. Pakistan was called on by Saudi Arabia to join the coalition, but its parliament voted to maintain neutrality.
Recently, the Sunni dominated Kingdom has also entangled in anti-Iran diplomatic war, which is likely to turn into a military war if not abated on both sides. Iranian protestors attacked Saudi embassy in Tehran hours after Saudi administration executed Shia Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr along with 46 convicted terrorists in Riyadh on January 2.
In retaliation Riyadh cut off diplomatic ties and on January 7 Saudi warplanes bombed Iranian embassy in rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa in a new escalation of diplomatic tensions that have reverberated across the Middle East. Iran also announced a ban on imports of all products from its Sunni-ruled rival, following a dramatic chill in relations that has triggered international alarm.
Attacks on embassies are not unprecedented. The British embassy in Tehran was torched in 2011 and one Saudi diplomat was killed in a similar attack in 1988.
Bangladesh also has a friendly bond with Shia populated Tehran and both are trying to enhance bilateral trade and explore areas of cooperation and investment mainly in the energy sector. Bangladesh follows a traditional foreign policy on the principle of 'friendship to all malice to none.' So Bangladesh with the wisdom and the prudence of its leadership is likely to mediate between the two superpowers of the Gulf and the Middle East. However, according to analysts Bangladesh should have refrained from condemning vandalism on Saudi embassy in Tehran following then execution of Nimr al-Nimr as the as the execution and the subsequent storming of Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital were bilateral issues between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Bangladesh should have handled the issue of condemnation more carefully, because Iran is also a friendly country.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz took the initiative to establish the alliance to coordinate efforts against terrorism and extremism. It is hoped that the alliance will fight against terrorism and extremism jointly in the respective member countries. The alliance will not involve itself in any sort of military disputes among the member countries or between a member country and any nation outside the bloc.
Besides Saudi Arabia, the alliance includes Jordan, the UAE, Pakistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Turkey, Chad, Togo, Tunisia, Djibouti, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gabon, Guinea, the partially-recognised state of Palestine, the Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros, Qatar, Cote d'Ivoire, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, the Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Yemen.
The alliance will try to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organisations which kill and mastermind corruption on earth and terrorise the innocent.
Nizam Ahmed is Business Editor, The Daily Observer