A Saudi military engagement that Dhaka must weigh more


THE Bangladesh army’s decision to send troops to Saudi Arabia in July to sweep mines in Najran and Jizan, in the south of the Arab country, amidst reservations of security experts of Bangladesh about the issue whips up concern, which, therefore, warrants further deliberations. The army would send two contingents of 1,600 personnel, under a memorandum of understanding to be signed with Saudi Arabia this month, in the form of military engagement in the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The mines that the army personnel are supposed to sweep are reported to have been laid by the Houthis in Yemen in 2014–2016, which have so far left 1,500 people dead and double the number of people wounded until June 2018. Saudi Arabia is reported to have taken the move to sweep mines in liberated areas in Yemen. The government of Bangladesh has not yet told the people who laid the mines that the army personnel would sweep in Saudi Arabia’s border.
If the mines, which are used defensively, may have been laid by the Houthis in Yemen, such an engagement of the Bangladesh army personnel would require them to cross Saudi Arabia’s border into Yemen, which would grossly violate the officially professed foreign policy of Bangladesh and it would be tantamount to having Bangladesh involved in a ‘proxy war’ between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which is unacceptable. Besides, the Saudi-led coalition is reported to have for long been killing civilians in Yemen in the coalition’s fight against the Houthis. There should be no reason for Bangladesh to shoulder even part of the responsibility for killing anyone in Yemen, or anyone inside any country for that matter, by way of engaging its troops in the military cooperation for the Arab coalition.
Despite Bangladesh army personnel having the level of training for mine sweeping and having been famed, internationally, for sweeping mines under UN peace-keeping missions in war-torn countries in Asia and Africa, they are not reported to have been directly exposed to war-front in their peace-keeping missions earlier. Besides, after 1991, when Bangladesh army personnel swept mines in Kuwait, 270 Bangladeshi soldiers died and 56 became wounded. While all this needs to be considered, what further raises concern is that this is for the first time Bangladesh army personnel would be engaged in any mine-sweeping operation under a bilateral framework. Concomitant issues and cases under the bilateral framework could not be as transparent as it was in peace-keeping missions under the United Nations. While some see the proposition to be ‘a big breakthrough’ in the Bangladesh-Saudi Arabia relations, this may not remain a ‘breakthrough’ in bilateral relations if everything is effected in an intransparent manner, which is very likely under a bilateral framework.
Dhaka, under the circumstances, must not jump into signing the memorandum of understanding on sending soldiers to sweep mines in the southern Saudi borders. And Dhaka must ensure that everything takes place in a transparent manner and citizens are kept abreast of any development.