India signs 6 pacts with the Maldives; cybersecurity, defence take centrepoint
The Indian side unveiled additional financial assistance of more than $250 million for the Maldives, one of the main beneficiaries of New Delhi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy
Coordination between India and the Maldives in defence and security is vital for peace and stability in the region, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday as New Delhi announced it will provide two naval vessels and vehicles for the Maldivian defence forces.
The two sides signed six agreements, including one on cybersecurity and another on creating a network of police facilities in the archipelago, as visiting Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih held talks with PM Modi. The Indian side unveiled additional financial assistance of more than $250 million for the Maldives, one of the main beneficiaries of New Delhi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.
The two leaders reviewed infrastructure projects being implemented in the Maldives to develop roads, ports, airports and housing under India’s development cooperation portfolio of more than $2 billion. They also virtually launched the first pouring of concrete for the Greater Male Connectivity Project, being built with an Indian grant of $100 million and a soft loan of $400 million.
Speaking at a media interaction after his talks with Solih, Modi said, “The threat of trans-national crime, terrorism and drug trafficking in the Indian Ocean is serious. And therefore, close contact and coordination between India and Maldives in defence and security is vital for the peace and stability of the entire region.”
“We have increased our cooperation against all these common challenges. It includes capacity building and training support for Maldivian security officials,” PM Modi added.
Solih said, “We both reiterated our firm commitment to the work against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and strengthened cooperation to enhance maritime safety and security in the Indian Ocean region.”
The Indian side announced it will provide a landing craft assault (LCA) to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), and another warship to replace CGS Huravee, which itself is a naval patrol vessel gifted by India in 2006. India will also provide 24 utility vehicles to MNDF.
Officials said this equipment will boost the maritime surveillance and security capacity of MNDF. India has provided other defence hardware in the past and helped build a coastal radar network in the Maldives that became operational in March.
The six agreements signed by the two sides included memorandums of understanding on cooperation in cyber-security, training of Maldivian local government officials, collaboration in data sharing and marine research for forecasting of potential fishing zones, and cooperation in disaster management.
India’s Exim Bank and the Maldives finance ministry signed an agreement for buyer’s credit financing worth $41 million to create police infrastructure on 61 islands, while a letter of intent was finalised for buyer’s credit funding worth $119 million for building 2,000 social housing units in Hulhumale.
The Indian side extended a new line of credit of $100 million to fund revised costs of existing projects under a previous $800-million line of credit provided in 2018. Indian companies are currently engaged in two projects to build 4,000 social housing units in Greater Male.
Solih is visiting India at a time when the Maldives is witnessing an ‘India Out’ campaign backed by hardliners and the opposition party of former president Abdulla Yameen. The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party has been hit by a rift between Solih and his erstwhile ally, speaker Mohamed Nasheed, who has charged the administration with arresting his brother after “accusing him of homosexuality”. The Adhaalath Party, part of the ruling coalition, has opposed yoga events organised by the Indian mission on the ground they are “un-Islamic”.
India’s high commissioner Munu Mahawar evaded a direct response when he was asked at a media briefing whether these issues figured in the talks, but said Solih reemphasised his country’s ‘India First’ policy.
The ‘India Out’ campaign is based on “misinformation” and doesn’t reflect the views of Maldivian people, Mahawar said. Yoga day is celebrated across the world and has been observed in the Maldives since 2015, he said, adding the government in Male has committed that those responsible for storming a yoga day event in June will be brought before the law.
Solih lauded India for its support when his country’s borders were close due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “The result left both our economy and people in distress. Was it not for the generous assistance received in the form of budgetary support, medical assistance and supplies, and the Covishield vaccines donated by the government of India, our economic recovery would have been hard and long,” he said.
“Our relationship with India will always be of the highest priority... The Maldives will always remain a true friend of India, firmly committed to our shared vision of peace and development in our countries and our region,” he added.
Modi said the bilateral partnership is becoming a source of peace, stability and prosperity in the region. “India has been and will continue to be the first responder in any need or crisis of the Maldives,” he said.