11th Edition of Exercise EKUVERIN between India & Maldives is being conducted at Kadhdhoo Island, Maldives from 06 to 19 December 2021.
The exercise will enhance synergy & inter-operability between Armed Forces of both the Nations in terms of understanding transnational terrorism both on land & at sea, conducting Counter Terrorism & Counter Insurgency Operations and sharing best military practices and experiences.
Besides rigorous training, the joint military excercise will also include cultural and sports activities to enhance defence cooperation and bilateral relations.
The exercise will go a long way in strengthening India’s relations with Maldives amidst emerging security dynamics in the Indian Ocean Region.
Why Maldives is important to India?
The importance of Maldives for India can never be over-emphasised. Maldives is an important member of SAARC. It is strategically located along major sea lanes in the Indian Ocean. Here we discussed 10 reasons why Maldives is important to India.
1. Strategically located in the Indian Ocean, Maldives archipelago comprising 1,200 coral islands lies next to key shipping lanes which ensure uninterrupted energy supplies to countries like China, Japan and India.
2. Since China started to send naval ships to Indian Ocean roughly 10 years ago — and right up to Gulf of Aden in the name of antipiracy operations — Maldives’ significance has steadily grown and now it’s at the heart of international geopolitics.
3. As the pre-eminent South Asian power and a ‘net security provider’ in the Indian Ocean region, India needs to cooperate with Maldives in security and defence sectors.
4. China’s massive economic presence in Maldives is a major concern for India. With the country now said to owe 70% of its external aid to China, many believe that Yameen has done to Maldives what Rajapaksa did to Sri Lanka. India had to push back at some stage and the current political crisis might just have offered India the right opportunity.
5. A large section of population which supports the opposition parties like Nasheed’s MDP wants India to act against Yameen.
6. Maldives is also a member of Saarc. It is important for India to have Maldives on board to maintain its leadership in the region. Maldives was the only Saarc country which seemed reluctant to follow India’s call for boycott of Saarc summit in Pakistan after the Uri attack.
7. Under Yameen, radicalisation grew rapidly and it was often said that archipelago accounted for one of the highest numbers of foreign fighters in Syria in terms of per capita. India can ill-afford a neighbour which fails to check Islamic radicalisation.
8. India and Maldives share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious and commercial links. India was among the first to recognise Maldives after its independence in 1965 and later established its mission at Malé in 1972.
9. There are 25,000 Indian nationals living in Maldives (second largest expatriate community). Indian tourists also account for close to 6% of tourists Maldives receives every year.
10. India is also a preferred destination for Maldivians for education, medical treatment, recreation and business. According to MEA, more and more Maldivians are seeking long term visa for pursuing higher studies/medical treatment in India.
Geo-Strategic Importance of Maldives to India
Maldives is one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries straddling a 960-km-long submarine ridge running north to south and which forms a wall in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Its strategic location defines the geo-strategic importance of Maldives far beyond its physical size, which can be reflected as the following:
1. Located at the southern and northern parts of this island chain lies the two important sea lanes of communication (SLOCs). These SLOCs are critical for maritime trade flow between the Gulf of Aden and Gulf of Hormuz in West Asia and the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia.
2. As maritime economic activity in the Indian Ocean has risen dramatically in recent decades, the geopolitical competition too in the Indian Ocean has intensified. Due to this, China’s strategic interests and logistical limitations in the Indian Ocean have prompted it to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean.
3. A favourable and positive maritime environment in the Indian Ocean is essential for the fulfilment of India’s Strategic priority. Thus, India continuously aims at promoting an ever-expanding area of peace and stability around it.
Cooperation Between India & Maldives
Security Cooperation: Through the decades, India has rushed emergency assistance to the Maldives, whenever sought. In 1988, when armed mercenaries attempted a coup against President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, India sent paratroopers and Navy vessels and restored the legitimate leadership under Operation Cactus.
Disaster Management: The 2004 tsunami and the drinking water crisis in Male a decade later were other occasions when India rushed assistance. At the peak of the continuing COVID-19 disruption, the Maldives has been the biggest beneficiary of the Covid-19 assistance given by India among its all of India’s neighbouring countries.
People To People Contact: Technology has made connectivity easier for everyday contact and exchanges. Maldivian students attend educational institutions in India and patients fly here for superspeciality healthcare, aided by a liberal visa-free regime extended by India.
Economic Cooperation: Tourism is the mainstay of Maldivian economy. The country is now a major tourist destination for some Indians and a job destination for others. Given the geographical limitations imposed on the Maldives, India has exempted the nation from export curbs on essential commodities.
Problems between India and Maldives
1. Political Instability: India’s major concern has been the impact of political instability in the neighbourhood on its security and development. The February 2015 arrest of opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges and the consequent political crisis have posed a real diplomatic test for India’s neighbourhood policy.
2. Radicalisation: In the past decade or so, the number of Maldivians drawn towards terrorist groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Pakistan-based madrassas and jihadist groups has been increasing. Political instability and socio-economic uncertainty are the main drivers fuelling the rise of Islamist radicalism in the island nation.
3. China Angle: China’s strategic footprint in India’s neighbourhood has increased. The Maldives has emerged as an important ‘pearl’ in China’s “String of Pearls” construct in South Asia. Given the Maldives’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean, there are speculations about China trying to develop strategic bases in the archipelago.
Role of the Maldives in the Indo-Pacific Security
The Indo-Pacific alliance between India and the US, Australia and Japan is an attempt by the four countries to limit China’s potential strategic rise in the Asia-Pacific region. The strategists in Washington believe that if China dominates the Asia-Pacific region then its influence will also spill into Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.
The Maldives has been crucial to India’s engagements with the Indo-Pacific. Linking the Indian Ocean, China’s focus on infrastructure development and its growing engagement with the Indian Ocean islands have made Maldives a key ally to counterbalance China’s renewed engagement in the region. Through Maldives, India hopes to form an alliance between other island nations like Cook and Fiji Islands who have remained silent at United Nations meetings against China’s territorial claims in Asia-Pacific.