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Bangladesh PM, Officials from 55 Muslim States Heading to Saudi Summit

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Dhaka
2017-05-18
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Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina meets with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 5, 2016.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina meets with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 5, 2016.
AFP PHOTO/SAUDI ROYAL PALACE/BANDAR AL-JALOUD

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will join leaders from Indonesia, Malaysia and other Muslim-majority countries at a summit this weekend in Saudi Arabia, where multi-lateral cooperation against terrorism and radicalism extremism will be high on the agenda.

Hosted by the Saudi government, the two-day Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh will consist of three meetings spread over May 20-21. Leaders and other delegates from 55 Muslim nations, including Hasina, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, are scheduled to meet there with U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday.

The participants will “address ways of building more robust and effective security partnerships” to counter violent extremism worldwide by religious promoting tolerance and moderation, according to program information posted on the summit’s official website.

President Trump will be on his first foreign trip since taking office in January. On May 21, he and Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud are expected to inaugurate the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh.

Among other countries represented at the summit, Bangladesh, along with Malaysia and Indonesia – the world’s most populous predominantly Muslim nation – have been grappling in recent years with threats from growing extremism and terrorism linked with the Islamic State or other militant groups.

During the summit Prime Minister Hasina will “likely make some proposals” on international joint efforts in combating terrorism, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali told reporters in Dhaka on Thursday.

“We expect that the … Prime Minister will present Bangladesh’s latest success in combating terrorism and countering violent extremism,” Ali said but without detailing proposals that Hasina would articulate in Riyadh.

Since IS-linked terrorists killed 20 hostages during an overnight siege at a café in Dhaka in July 2016, Bangladesh has waged a brutal crackdown on suspected militants. At least 70 suspects have been killed during raids carried out by Bangladeshi security forces since then.

“The main objective of the summit is to establish a new partnership to face the challenges of global terrorism and militancy, expand values of tolerance and co-existence and strengthen efforts for ensuring peace and stability,” Ali added.

‘We must dispatch our troops’

Both Bangladesh and Malaysia have joined a Saudi-led coalition against terrorism, which is made up of predominantly Sunni Muslim countries. Predominantly Shiite Muslim Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main rival in the Middle East, will be conspicuously absent from the upcoming meetings in Riyadh. Tehran has been waging a proxy war against Riyadh in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia is also backing efforts to topple the Syrian government, which is aligned with Iran.

While Malaysia and Bangladesh have not officially deployed combat troops in support of the coalition, Malaysia’s government has faced criticism at home over reports that Malaysian troops have been sent to Yemen. Officials have said the troops are serving there in a humanitarian role.

At Thursday’s news conference in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi foreign minister told reporters that the government would send troops to Saudi Arabia if Islam’s two holiest sites, located in Mecca and Medina, were ever threatened by terrorists. This was the first time that a Bangladeshi official had spoken about deploying troops in support of the Saudi-led coalition.

“If our help is sought, if Saudi Arabia seeks our assistance, we must dispatch our troops there,” Ali said.

He also fielded a question touching on a denial made by Saudi Arabia in response to claims by Bangladeshi government officials that the kingdom had agreed to provide Bangladesh with about U.S. $1 billion in aid in order to build 560 mosques.

Last week, Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Salleh Al-Awwad told BenarNews in a statement that the kingdom had “never committed to pay Bangladesh one billion dollars for the construction of mosques.”

Echoing claims made by Bangladeshi Planning Minister A.H.M. Mustafa Kamal, Foreign Minister Ali said Thursday that he was also present at a meeting between Prime Minister Hasina and the Saudi king where the issue of the large-scale mosque construction project in Bangladesh was discussed.

“The Saudi commitment was there – no doubt about it,” Ali told reporters.

Indonesian, Malaysian participation

During his trip to Riyadh, Indonesian President Jokowi will attend back-to-back high-level meetings with government leaders during the summit, Saudi Ambassador to Indonesia Osama bin Mohammed Abdullah Al Shuaibi told The Jakarta Post.

“Our country has the largest Muslim population, and so our voice is important,” said Arrmanatha Nasir, spokesman for Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to the state-run Antara news agency.

“Indonesia will demonstrate how Islam, moderation and democracy can co-exist here.”

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib accepted an invitation to attend the Riyadh summit during a courtesy call in Putrajaya from the Saudi culture and information minister on May 11, according to Bernama, the Malaysian state news agency.

A foreign ministry spokesman said Najib would participate during his stay in Saudi Arabia in discussions about security and terrorism, among other issues.

Earlier this year, both Indonesia and Malaysia hosted a visit by King Salman, during which the Saudis signed counter-terrorist cooperation agreements with both countries. Among these deals, the kingdom agreed to launch The King Salman Center for International Peace in Malaysia, which will focus on combating terrorism globally.

The center is being set up in collaboration with the Intellectual Warfare Center at the Ministry of Defense in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Security and Defense Center at Malaysia’s Defense Ministry, the Islamic Science University of Malaysia and the Muslim World League, according to a joint statement issued in early March.

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