India-Maldives strain deepens as island nation steps up military ties with Pak
The Maldives stepped up counter-terrorism cooperation and military ties with Pakistan and defaulted on the mandatory payment to the South Asia University, an initiative led by New Delhi, increasing the strains in ties between India and the island nation, persons familiar with the development said.
After the first visit ever to the Maldives last week by Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Bajwa , steps are taken to boost counter-terrorism cooperation that could help Pakistan gain a larger role in Indian Ocean region. Maldives is located 700 km from the Lakshadweep islands and some 1,200 km from the Indian mainland. Around 97% of India’s international trade by volume and 75% by value passes through the Indian Ocean, and the Maldives is a key littoral state in this region.
Officials in Male said Pakistan and Maldives are working on a plan to step up the counter-terrorism ties. The National Counter Terrorism Centre of Maldives, under the supervision of the minister of defence and national security, is leading the collaborative efforts with Pakistan.
“The Maldives government consistently sought Indian help in recent past about strengthening the NCTC, both for its counter-terrorism measures and deradicalisation efforts,” said an Indian official on condition of anonymity. But he added that at present “the Maldives government is making lot of posturing and India needs to watch out how these measures would play out”.
Ties between Maldives and India cooled after President Abulla Yameen’s regime in February declared emergency after a Supreme Court ruling quashed the conviction of nine opposition leaders and ordered his government to free those in prison.
Experts believe the strain will persist. “The Maldives is trying for a complete reset in its foreign policy... The Pakistan factor ne- eds to be watched closely because China, a key ally of Islamabad, has a major presence in the country now,” said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.