To plug loopholes in the fight against terror, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Saturday proposed a “global conference” on countering terrorism, along the lines of summits on climate change.
Addressing the Maldivian Parliament on his first bilateral visit in the second term, Modi said that “the water is now rising above the head”, as he urged world leaders to unite to combat the menace.
Describing the fight against terror and radicalisation as world’s biggest challenge, the Prime Minister said, “The way the global community has actively organised summits on climate change, why can’t there be such summits on terrorism? I expect international organisations and prominent countries to organise a global conference on the issue of terrorism within a time frame, so that we can discuss the loopholes exploited by terrorists. If we delay this, future generations will not forgive us.”
Signalling priority, affirming friendship
Maldives, which had been actively wooed by China during the Abdulla Yameen regime, has become Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first stop in his second teem. Signalling the priority to a neighbour in the Indian Ocean region, Modi on Saturday promised strong financial and other support to President Solih’s government. With the shadow of China on the Indian Ocean, boosting strategic ties with Malé is key to India and the region’s maritime security.
He said that it was unfortunate that many still make the distinction between good and bad terrorists and also underscored the threat of “State-sponsored terrorism”, in a veiled reference to Pakistan.
The joint statement between the Maldives and India was more expansive on terrorism than before, as the two sides agreed to set up a Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism, Countering Violent Extremism and De-radicalisation.
But, while there was no reference to “cross-border terrorism” — which alludes to Pakistan-sponsored terror — in the joint statement, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said that Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih told Modi that the Maldives government condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including cross-border terrorism.
In another proposal, Modi announced that India has offered to restore the Hukuru Miskiy (Friday Mosque) by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) under an Indian grant. Gokhale said that since the Friday Mosque — built in 1658 and among the oldest and most ornate mosques in Male — is made of corals, the message behind renovating it is making it “environmentally sustainable” in the context of climate change. Modi also wished the people of Maldives on the occasion of Eid at least twice during his visit.
On the strategic front -mindful of China’s pro-active moves in the Indian Ocean region – both nations reiterated their assurance of being mindful of each other’s concerns and aspirations for the stability of the region and not allowing their respective territories to be used for any activity inimical to the other.
The two leaders agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean Region, and to strengthen coordination in enhancing maritime security, “through coordinated patrolling and aerial surveillance, exchange of information, and capacity building”.
Read | Terrorism, ferry service, cricket diplomacy: Everything that happened during Modi’s Maldives visit
This is aimed at assuaging concerns that stem from China’s assertion in the Indian Ocean region, as three Chinese navy ships had docked in Male in August last year.
The two leaders also acknowledged the recent joint exercise Ekatha conducted in April 2019. On Saturday, they jointly inaugurated the Composite Training Facility of the Maldives National Defence Force in Maafilafushi, and the Coastal Surveillance Radar System by remote link.
The coming to power of President Solih, Modi said, had seen a qualitative change in the bilateral relationship, and recalled that New Delhi’s $1.4 billion financial assistance — which was announced during Solih’s visit to India in December 2018 — and the lines of credit worth $800 million, would help the development of Maldives.
Agreeing to Solih’s request for financial aid, India had announced USD 1.4 billion financial assistance to the island nation in December last year, in a bid to bail out the debt-trapped economy. This was in the wake of Chinese loans for projects which already account for around 70 per cent of the Maldives’ national debt. Delhi’s economic help is key to India’s strategic interests, as it will work towards weaning off Male from Beijing’s “debt-for-leverage” model of diplomacy.
The two leaders also discussed India’s budgetary support, treasury-bills, currency swap, and Lines of Credit. They also decided to work on other projects including port development, health, agriculture, fisheries, tourism and energy.
The two sides signed six agreements in the fields of hydrography, health, passenger and cargo services by sea, Customs capacity-building, training of Maldivian civil servants, and white shipping information.
Modi’s visit comes after the five years of the Abdulla Yameen government, during which ties with India deteriorated and Male’s proximity to China and Saudi Arabia increased. India had cancelled the Prime Minister’s trip to the Maldives in March 2015, and the Maldives was the only country in the neighbourhood where Modi did not go on a bilateral visit in the first term.
He went only to attend the swearing-in ceremony of President Solih in November 2018, after Yameen was defeated in the Maldivian national elections.
The Prime Minister was also awarded the highest honour of Maldives for foreign dignitaries, the Order of the Distinguished Rule of Izzudeen. While giving the award, Solih said it was in recognition of all that Modi had done to “cement the longstanding, amicable ties between our two countries, and for the magnanimous assistance that the Indian government has continued to provide the Maldives under his stewardship”.
Modi said that the two sides would start work on a ferry service between Kochi (India) and Kulhudhuffushi and Malé (Maldives). He also said that with the introduction of the RuPay card in the Maldives, tourism would get a boost and both sides would work on it.
He also gifted a cricket bat to the Maldives President, and tweeted, “Connected by cricket! My friend, President @ibusolih is an ardent cricket fan, so I presented him a cricket bat that has been signed by #TeamIndia playing at the #CWC19.”
India has offered to help build a cricket stadium, and develop cricket through professional coaching, playing in Indian tournaments and adequate infrastructure.
Modi will next visit Sri Lanka Sunday before returning to India.