NEW DELHI: Last week’s meeting of national security advisers (NSA) of the Colombo Security Conclave in Port Louis, Mauritius, reflected some of the political churn generated by Mohammad Muizzu’s election as president of the Maldives three months ago. That country’s NSA was the notable absentee in Port Louis though Maldives along with India and Sri Lanka are founding members of the conclave. Rather Maldives Vice President Hussain Mohamed Latheef attended the China-Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation in Kunming, Yunnan province, held on the same day, and called for “novel avenues of collaboration and cooperation with China.”
“We are dedicated to fortifying the long-standing relations between China and the Maldives, built upon the foundation of mutual respect and shared goals,” he declared, claiming that both nations shared a “people-centric strategy” for “social development, peace, and prosperity.”
If India needed any further confirmation of the pro-China colours of the new Maldivian government, Latheef’s comments could be termed as defining, although to be fair, his government has reportedly set up “working groups” to address various issues vis a vis India including the presence of 70-odd military personnel. For now, Delhi is holding its peace, so for that matter is Muizzu.
Another significant inference that can be made from the VP’s remarks in Kunming that ” cooperation in the Indian Ocean must include all countries in the region ,” is that he was referring to Turkey at the behest of its close ally Pakistan. Turkey has been trying to ramp up its diplomatic clout in South Asia for some time now, while Pakistan resents India blocking its membership of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). Latheef’s remarks were probably meant to underline this.
“Maldives did drift away from this security cooperation earlier too, consequent to the change of government,” Vijay D Chafekar, Additional Director General (Retd) Indian Coast Guard, told StratNewsGlobal, noting that “There were attempts by the Maldivian side (when President Mohammad Nasheed was removed) to undo certain progress made towards regional maritime security cooperation, which included an active role for Indian Navy and Coast Guard towards capability building and training.”
However, “Maldives cannot undo the geographic reality and neglect the value of mutual assistance agreement (to which India, Sri Lanka and Maldives are party) for maritime security, particularly in the case of maritime disaster, even if it feels compelled (under Chinese and Islamist influence) to take visible steps to show a drift away from India,” he said.
Back to the NSA’s meeting: Ajit Doval underlined its importance in ensuring regional safety and security with the participants agreeing on a Roadmap of Activities for 2024. He called for collective efforts to address traditional, non-traditional and emerging hybrid challenges in the Indian Ocean Region.
Mauritius Dy PM Steven Obegadoo echoed those sentiments, urging focus on countering piracy, terrorism and radicalisation; combatting trafficking and transnational organised crime, illegal fishing, cyber security, protection of critical infrastructure and technology, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Sri Lanka’s NSA Sagala Ratnayaka also spoke of the increasing threats faced by region, and felt that the Conclave was the most appropriate platform to address them.
Incidentally, Mauritius NSA is Vivek Johri, a former Indian Police Service officer with a long career in intelligence. There are at least 20 officers from India deputed to head the Mauritius coast guard, helicopter squadron and hydrography services.
“Mauritius has emblazoned on its Coat of Arms the motto that it is the Star and Key of the Indian Ocean, and the symbolism behind hosting the CSC cannot be understated. Compared to other multilateral fora such as IORA and IOC, the CSC focuses on Defense issues. As such, it is a vital platform for high-level dialogue to ensure Maritime Security and Regional Stability by enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness, preventing IUU Fishing, fighting Drug Trafficking, Piracy and other illicit activities in the highly geostrategic space of the Indian Ocean,” Aaron Kwang Poon, a Geopolitical Strategist based in Mauritius, told StratNewsGlobal.
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