India-Maldives Defence Cooperation

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    In News

    • India’s Defence Secretary visited the Maldives for discussions with the Maldives National Defence Force as part of the second Defence Cooperation Dialogue.

    About

    • Since 1988, defence and security have been major areas of cooperation between India and the Maldives.
      • This cooperation extends to assisting the Maldives with defence training and equipment requirements.
      • India provides the largest number of training opportunities for the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF), meeting around 70 per cent of their defence training requirements.
    • In 2016, the two countries also signed a comprehensive action plan to consolidate defence partnerships.
    • The Defence Cooperation Dialogue is one of India’s policy-level frameworks that aim to strengthen long-standing and mutually beneficial bilateral defence ties.
    • The first Defence Cooperation Dialogue was held in 2016 and the second DCD was held in 2019.

    Importance of Maldives- India Relations

    • The location of the Maldives, at the intersection of commercial sea-lanes running through the Indian Ocean, makes it strategically important for India, particularly in the light of China’s growing aggression in the region.
    • India handed over the refitted ship, the CGS Huravee to the Maldives.
      • The Trinkat-class patrol vessel was gifted to the Maldivian Coast Guard in 2006.
      • This vessel is used by the Maldives for coastal surveillance and for combating transnational crimes such as drug trafficking, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
    • India undertakes refitting and repairs of ships like these at docks across the country at India’s expense.
      • The CGS Huravee was last repaired in 2021.
    • India’s Defence Secretary also handed over 2.8 tons of medical equipment to the Maldives for use by the Senahiya Hospital run by the MNDF.
    • India also inaugurated the Phase -I extension of the Composite Training Centre (CTC) of the MNDF located in Maafilaafushi, which was built using $1.07 million in grant assistance provided by India.
      • Once completed, this centre will become Maldives’ main military training facility.
    • Over the past 10 years, India has trained over 1,300 MNDF trainees and has offered 300 training vacancies between 2021-2022, including for SPG, NSG and MIO training.
      • With India, the MNDF has participated in various joint military activities covering a wide range of operations, including EEZ patrols, anti-narcotic operations, sea-rider programmes, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief exercises etc.
    • India has also offered to depute Mobile Training Teams (MTT) based on MNDF requirements and to train MNDF personnel for UN peace- keeping operations at the Centre for United Nations Peacekeeping.
    • The Maldives was the first beneficiary of India’s Vaccine Maitri initiative last year.
    • Under the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP) project, a 6.74 km long bridge and causeway link will be built to connect capital city Male with adjoining islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi.
      • Funded under a grant of USD 100 million and a Line of Credit of USD 400 million from India, it will be reportedly the largest infrastructure project in the Maldives.

    India – Maldives Relations

    • Historical:
      • India and Maldives share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious and commercial links.
      • India was among the first to recognize the Maldives after its independence in 1965 and later established its mission at Male in 1972.
      • They officially and amicably decided their maritime boundary in 1976.
    • Political Relations:
      • Both nations are founding members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the South Asian Economic Union and signatories to the South Asia Free Trade Agreement. 
      • They have consistently supported each other in multilateral areas such as the UN, the Commonwealth, the NAM, and the SAARC.
      • The Memorandums of Understanding (Mou) signed between both the countries covers areas such as hydrography, health, passenger and cargo services by sea, capacity building in customs and civil service training.
    • Strategic Importance:
      • The Maldives holds strategic importance for India under the government’s ‘Neighborhood First’ policy due to its location in the Indian Ocean. 
      • In the Indian Ocean, the Maldives archipelago comprising 1,200 coral islands lies next to key shipping lanes which ensure uninterrupted energy supplies to countries like China, Japan, and India.
      • Both nations are working together to counter China’s presence in the Indian Ocean Region(IOR). 
    • Trade and Economy:
      • India and Maldives signed a trade agreement in 1981, which provides for the export of essential commodities.
        • Under the bilateral agreement, India provides essential food items like rice, wheat flour, sugar, dal, onion, potato and eggs and construction material such as sand and stone aggregates to the Maldives on favourable terms.
      • Indian and Maldives signed the $800 million Line of Credit Agreement in March 2019, for assisting the Maldives to achieve sustainable social and economic development. 
      • India has a positive Balance of Trade with the Maldives.
    • Development Assistance Programme:
      • India has helped the Maldives in many diverse areas to bolster the development of the Maldives e.g. Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, Maldives Institute of Technical Education (now called the Maldives Polytechnic), India-Maldives Faculty of Hospitality & Tourism Studies, Technology Adoption Programme in Education Sector in the Maldives,  a port on Gulhifalhu, airport redevelopment at Hanimaadhoo, and a hospital and a cricket stadium in Hulhumale etc.
    • India’s crucial help to the Maldives:
      • Operation Cactus: It was an attempt by a group of Maldivians led by Abdullah Luthufi and assisted by armed mercenaries of a Tamil secessionist organization from Sri Lanka, the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), to overthrow the government in the island republic of Maldives on 3rd November 1988. 
      • The coup failed due to the intervention of the Indian Army, whose military operations efforts were code-named Operation Cactus.
      • The Maldives urged India for help following the collapse of the island’s only water treatment plant, India helped by sending its heavy-lift transporters like C-17 Globemaster III, II-76 carrying bottled water.
      • Operation Neer was initiated by the Indian government to help the Maldives after a major fire broke out at the Male Water and Sewerage Company.
    • Diaspora:
      • There are 25,000 Indian nationals living in the Maldives (the second largest expatriate community).
      • The proximity of location and improvements in air connectivity in recent years has led to a very substantial increase in the number of Indians visiting the Maldives for tourism and business. India is a preferred destination for Maldivians for education, medical treatment, recreation, and business.
    • Defence:
      • A technical agreement on sharing ‘White Shipping Information between the Indian Navy and the Maldives National Defence Force was also signed, enabling the exchange of prior information on the movement of commercial, non-military vessels.
      •  India has adopted a very flexible and accommodating approach in meeting Maldivian requirements of defence training and equipment.
      • Ekuverin is a joint military exercise between India and Maldives.
    • Pivot role in the SAGAR Initiative of India: 
      • The Maldives is key to India’s ambition to become a regional maritime security provider.
      • Anti-Piracy and Anti-Terror operations can also be carried out with Maldives’ help.

    Major Concerns

    • China’s “String of Pearls”: Aims to ensure the security of its sea lanes, especially the unhindered flow of critically-needed energy supplies from Africa and West Asia through the Indian Ocean.
    • Former President Yameen’s Policies and China Card: Although the incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih is pro-India, the previous president Yameen’s policies hurt the Indian Prospects.
    • Political Instability since 2015: It poses challenges while dealing with the changing governments.
    • Increasing Radicalisation: The Maldives is also within the reach of radical outfits like Daesh (IS) and Pakistan based Madarassas, etc.

    Way Forward 

    • India-Maldives are perfectly placed to complement each other’s strategic interests.
    • Hence, deeper Socio-Economic and Defence engagement can help both to propagate mutual interests at Global Platform.
    • Both countries can cooperate on Hydrography, Health, Passenger and Cargo services by sea, Capacity building in customs and Civil service training.
    • Countries complain that India doesn’t deliver on projects and they tend to make comparisons with China.
      • Delivering this project on time would help in mitigating some concerns that may exist in the Maldives.

    Source: IE