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Explained: Why India’s Defence Secretary’s Maldives visit is important

India’s Defence Secretary visited the Maldives on February 13-14, for discussions with the Maldives National Defence Force. What was on the agenda, and why was the meeting important for bilateral relations?

Written by Neha Banka , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: February 15, 2022 2:51:31 pm
Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar meets Defence Minister of Maldives Mariya Didi during his visit to Maldives. (PTI)

India’s Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar visited the Maldives on February 13-14, for discussions with the Maldives National Defence Force as part of the second Defence Cooperation Dialogue. The Defence Cooperation Dialogue is one of India’s policy-level frameworks that aims to strengthen long-standing and mutually beneficial bilateral defence ties. The first Defence Cooperation Dialogue was held in July 2016 during the presidency of Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and the second DCD was held in January 2019.

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.

What did this visit entail?

During the visit, Dr. Kumar called on Maldives’ Defence Minister Mariya Didi and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Khaleel, as well as with Chief of Defence Force of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), Major General Abdulla Shamaal, and 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. Periodically, India undertakes refitting and repairs of ships like these at docks across the country at New Delhi’s expense. The CGS Huravee was last repaired in 2021.

A statement issued by the High Commission of India in the Maldives stated that 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 in Male. While the Senahiya Hospital had initially opened as a healthcare facility for MNDF officers and their families, the healthcare facility is now open to civilians as well.

The Defence Secretary 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. This construction is being planned as an administrative centre holding accommodation barracks, a firing shed, a firing range, a health post, an obstacle belt, two recreational buildings, and power, water and sanitation facilities.

The Phase-I extensions were completed through an Indian grant. Once completed, this centre will become Maldives’ main military training facility. In 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had inaugurated the CTC during a state visit to the Maldives.

What else was on the agenda?

This visit by India’s Defence Secretary primarily focused on “enhancing capacity building”, said the High Commission of India in Malé. 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, a note on bilateral relations published by India’s Ministry of External Affairs said. 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.

Capacity building also includes other kinds of training offered to the Maldives. According to the bilateral note, 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.

Why is this important for bilateral relations?

Since 1988, defence and security have been major areas of cooperation between India and Maldives. This cooperation extends to assisting the Maldives with defence training and equipment requirements. India provides the largest number of training opportunities for 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 partnership, a note on bilateral relations published by India’s Ministry of External Affairs said.

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