Diplomacy Politics

Maldives upset at Navy Chief’s remark

Sunil Lanba

The Maldives welcomed External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement that relations with the Maldives were “not broken and could not be broken”, but expressed disappointment at remarks made by Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba last week.

At the Vivekananda International Foundation, Admiral Lanba said that ties with the Maldives were a challenge given the incumbent Yameen government’s inclination towards China. “Coming from a naval chief, it is too political a statement. Such statements could lead to uneasiness and blow up a situation,” remarked a Maldivian government official.

The official also clarified that deliberate political motives must not be read into every act of the Indian Ocean nation while emphasising that despite ups and downs there was visible engagement between the two defence forces.

The already tumultuous relationship nosedived earlier this year with the proclamation of emergency by President Yameen in the archipelagos nation important to India’s maritime security. The Maldives did not send its team for regional naval exercise Milan citing the emergency in the country. The Maldives was also not present at the India Defence Expo this year.

“The Maldives is not an arms buyer, we are interested in technology but not expanding our military.

So participating in def-expo is not necessary,” said the official.

However, Indian and Maldives resumed the disrupted joint Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) surveillance exercise this month. Maldives is also hoping that in lieu of the two ALH (Advanced Light Helicopter) that it will return to India in June following the expiry of its agreement, a fixed-wing EEZ surveillance Dornier aircraft will be provided to Male by this year-end.

In ongoing talks with the Defence Ministry, Maldives explained that it does not wish to renew the ALH agreement anymore as the nation now has emergency evacuation capabilities through sea ambulances and domestic airstrips. But the EEZ surveillance needs capacity building. As the Maldives gears up for its controversial presidential polls, it also hopes that political dialogue will resume soon with Delhi and at a level higher than envoys. PM Modi cancelled his proposed trip to the Maldives in 2015 amid political turmoil. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale since taking office this year has also travelled extensively to the neighbourhood, including to Seychelles, but has given the Maldives a miss so far.

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