Between The Lines
Bangladesh's participation in the Saudi-led military alliance, the first of its kind in the Muslim world, is considered to be an astute and right decision judged by its nature and possible activities which are consistent in line with Dhaka's resolute commitment to combating terrorism as strong-willed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has unequivocally declared that no efforts will be spared to root out terrorists who have worn a mantle of Islam as a cover for their heinous acts.
Dhaka's strong position against terrorism was reiterated when Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali met his Saudi counterpart Adel Al-Jubeir during his visit to Riyadh last week. His message was that Bangladesh allied itself with Saudi Arabia for 'meaningful cooperation' to fight against terrorism.
First of all, there is national interest expected to be served since Saudi Arabia hosts over 1.5 million Bangladeshis who fetch the largest portion of remittance Dhaka receives from a single country and there is enormous potential for the deployment of more Bangladeshi workers in the Kingdom. There are also likely to be new avenues for sending more Bangladeshi workers to other Middle Eastern and Gulf countries which are part of the alliance sharing almost common interests and identical views on almost all regional and international issues. Dhaka has already availed of some advantages when Saudi Arabia lifted restrictions on Umrah visas from Bangladeshi pilgrims and started treating Bangladeshi workers on par with other nationalities.
Bangladesh's chief aim is that it wants to benefit from the alliance by sharing military intelligence with other 34 member countries in its fight against terrorism as the alliance will set up a joint operations centre, although its future activities have until now remained ambiguous. But it is clear that the alliance will be a platform of more than half of all Muslim countries whose combined military strength is estimated at over four million regular soldiers, in addition to more than five million reserve forces. According to the preliminary announcement, there may be military operations, if needed, but the alliance will initially concentrate on media and information campaigns to stem the influence of the terrorist groups across the world. Most importantly, it is set to operate under the provisions of United Nations and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on terrorism which affirms 'the rights of states to self-defence.'
Another key reason that might have prompted Bangladesh to join the alliance was that there is, in fact, a need of establishing such alliance for cooperation in the form of exchanging information about destructive acts of different terrorist groups ranging from Daesh popularly known Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda to Nusra Front and Boko Haram. There is alleged existence of some groups associated to these terrorist organizations in Bangladesh and Dhaka has witnessed the wrath of these terrorists groups with the recent killings of two foreign nationals and at least 5 bloggers and attacks on security forces and minority communities.
Dhaka's involvement in this historic alliance is believed to be in line with its foreign policy posture toward the Middle East considering the facts that Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah and it represents Sunni-dominated Muslim countries and Bangladesh has a Muslim population accounting for over 90 per cent of its total belonging mostly to that orthodox branch of Islam. Bangladesh has earlier extended its supports to the Saudi-led air strikes against Yemeni Houthi rebels which is said to be Shia dominated Iran's proxy war to destabilize the Arabian Peninsula.
The Saudi-led military alliance has won supports from the world's superpowers like US, Russia and other countries like UK, China and Germany. It is likely to complement and uphold the aims and objectives of the 65-member US-led Global Coalition to Counter IS in which Saudi Arabia is engaged. Russia has also launched air strikes against IS.
There is a question whether Bangladesh will become a target of terrorist groups including IS after its proposed role in the alliance is ruled out by the Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal when he said there is little possibility of such attacks and if such possibility may arise, Bangladesh is well prepared to counter any terrorist threat.
For Bangladesh, there are possibly more apparent gains than the risks of becoming 'targets' after its participation in the Saudi-led military alliance. Nevertheless, Dhaka has to tread a tight rope amid renewed heightened tensions in the Middle East after Riyadh's recent execution of 47 people for terrorism including renowned Shiite cleric, Nimr Al-Nimr and Fares Al-Shuwail who took the theoretical responsibility of defending Al-Qaeda. The mass executions prompted attacks on Saudi Embassy in Tehran that led the Kingdom and some other countries including Bahrain, Sudan and United Arab Emirates to sever diplomatic ties with Iran. It is better if Dhaka's role in the Saudi-led alliance is restricted to only swapping military intelligence, if not military actions as Bangladesh is only constitutionally mandated to partake in peacekeeping activities under United Nations.
Shamsul Huda is a senior journalist based in Saudi Arabia