Relations between India and her southern maritime neighbour – the Maldives – are undoubtedly going through a strained period. So it was quite surprising for the Indian military delegation at the Defence Services Exhibition in Kuala Lumpur to receive a request for a meeting from Ahmed Shiyam, the head of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF).
The platform was the Defence Services Asia (DSA) 2018 event in Malaysia, which was held between April 16 and 19. India was represented by Lt Gen P.S. Rajeshwar, as per the DSA list of attendees.
Sources said that once a request for a separate bilateral meeting was received from the MNDF chief, messages were sent to New Delhi on guidance since relations between the two countries are not at their best right now. South Block gave the green light and a meeting took place between the MNDF chief and the senior Indian army officer.
According to sources, there were no substantial discussions during the meeting. The tête-à-tête was largely confined to the MNDF chief expressing appreciation for India’s help in the capacity building of the Maldivian security forces.
However, it was still a significant interaction as the Maldives had earlier refused to take part in the Milan exercises and the Defence Expo. The Maldivian government had claimed that the MNDF was unable to participate due to its duties during the state of emergency.
The rare visit by the Pakistani army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, to Malé soon after the state of emergency was lifted had also raised eyebrows. The disquiet was compounded by the fact that Bajwa suggested joint EEZ patrolling during his meeting with defence minister Adam Shareef Umar.
India and the Maldives had a significant diplomatic spat over the Supreme Court’s February 1 judgement that precipitated the imposition of the state of emergency in the island nation. The last public exchange had been over India’s statement after the end of the emergency, which the Maldives had said was “not helpful”.
According to sources, the request for a meeting from the MNDF chief may have been done to show that it was business as usual in relations with India. While the conversation was polite and friendly, the Indian side was not ready to go all the way. The Maldivians had asked for a photo-op at the meeting, but this was denied by India.
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