The Indian Defense Minister’s visit to Maldives beginning today has kicked up a fuss before it started, especially in the island republic, after news reports emerged indicating India to be bringing Maldives into its security net. The Indian Express reported that ‘the move comes after the moderate Islamic nation approached New Delhi earlier this year over fears that one of its island resorts could be taken over by terrorists given its lack of military assets and surveillance capabilities.’
The media in the Maldives has reported the main opposition Dhivehi Rahyithunge Party (DRP) to be expressing the hope that ‘India will not involve in any internal matters of Maldives’.
While the Indian Ministry of Defense has not formally made a statement to this effect, naval sources have explained the Indian interest in the chain of islands to StratPost.
There are three factors which make the Maldives attractive to Indian security interests, not counting the sun, sea and the sand. The first is that the proximity of the country to the Indian island cluster of Lakshadweep makes it important for coastal security, in light of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai. The second is that the country of more than 1,100 islands can offer India logistics support and perhaps even a base of operations and hence extend the Indian naval footprint. The third is that the Maldives, by offering their facilities, can extend the Indian maritime airspace surveillance capability.
StratPost was informed that the proximity of the Maldives to India, the absence of habitation in some two hundred of its islands, the presence of guest workers from various parts of the world in its tourism country and the presence of Saudi-funded institutions in the country make the island nation significant for Indian security interests.
Naval sources also told StratPost, “Naturally, the country can help us logistically, by providing us facilities for refueling and resupply. This would extend our naval footprint for longer periods.”
But what is seen as highly significant is that the Maldives can provide India the ability to enhance its surveillance and presence in the maritime airspace domain. “The Maldives has three main airfields. The air traffic control in Male looks at airspace west and south of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. If I want to know about a guy over there, I have to ask Male,” said a source. But if the Maldives were to provide India with the requisite facilities and perhaps even bases for radars, Indian security agencies can keep themselves better informed and enhance their presence.
“We have a lot to offer in return. Naturally Maldives has security concerns of its own, especially with the way piracy in the Arabian Sea is going. Seychelles was also recently menaced by pirates and the Indian Navy had extended assistance to that country,” he said, refusing to call the Maldives a ‘pearl’ in an Indian ‘string of pearls’.
Interestingly, some time last year, Gurinder Singh, of the Research and Analysis Service and Special Secretary (Home) was appointed National Security Adviser to the government of Mauritius for a five-year term with a brief to facilitate Indian naval and air presence in the region.