In a diplomatic news update, India and the Maldives on Sunday decided to ramp up cooperation in various fields including defence, security and trade as the two nations restarted theJoint Commission talks after a hiatus of 15 years. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, on a two-day visit, assured the Maldives that India will always be the net security provider to the Indian Ocean archipelago.
However, she stressed that it is also important to insulate both countries from trends towards radicalisation and terrorism. Noting that there has been an “unnaturally long hiatus” in the meeting of the Joint Commission, Swaraj said, “I bring a message of ‘neighbours first’ from the Indian government.” Following the meeting, the two sides signed MoUs on cooperation between Foreign Service Institutes of both countries and on cooperation in sports and youth affairs.
In her opening remarks of the meeting, which she co-chaired with her Maldivian counterpart Dunya Maumoon, Swaraj recalled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message to Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen.
Swaraj said he would like to reiterate that “India attaches the highest importance to further developing and expanding its relationship with Maldives on basis of mutual trust and sensitivity to each other’s interest.” The Joint Commission proposed establishment of a Joint Business Forum and suggested that an investment oriented forum be part of the calendar for 2016.
Both sides also agreed to explore further measures to increase trade in goods and services and to strengthen links in the banking and financial sectors of both countries. The Maldivian side reiterated its interest in engaging with private investors in India for iHavan and Hulhulmale Youth City projects, a Ministry of External Affairs statement said.
Swaraj noted that a framework agreement of cooperation signed in November 2011, has empowered the joint commission further and also mandated them to discuss defence and security issues of mutual concern.
“India has always been there for Maldives. I would like to assure you that India will always be the net security provider for Maldives. This is a very privileged relationship,” she said adding that this requires to be “handled carefully” on both sides. “At this point of time, it is important also to insulate our countries from the trend towards radicalisation and terrorism sweeping across,” she said.
Swaraj’s remarks are significant as reports have suggested increased Islamist terror activity in the country even as over 100 people are said to have joined the war in Iraq and Syria.
Swaraj, during her visit, called on Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen.
In her meeting with Yameen, Swaraj emphasised the government of India’s policy of “Neighbours First” and “the discussions were reflective of the privileged relationship between India and the Maldives, the MEA statement said. Swaraj also met with Ibrahim Solih, the Parliamentary Group leader of Mohamed Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party.
She later also had a bilateral meeting with Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed and discussed bilateral economic cooperation. During the Joint Commission meeting, both Swaraj and Maumoon were of the view that the bilateral partnership was important also for maintaining security in the Indian Ocean Region.
“It was felt that increased cooperation would help in meeting the common threat from radicalism and terrorism and combat the growing menace of drug trafficking and financing of terrorism in the region,” the MEA statement said. Consular matters and community issues were also reviewed.
The Indian side welcomed the ratification by the Maldives of the Agreement on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. Both sides agreed on an early finalisation to the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in criminal matters. The Joint Commission acknowledged the need for early finalisation of the MoU on the employment of workers between the countries. Bilateral collaboration in the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) was also reviewed.
It was agreed to strengthen tele-medicine linkages between IGMH and PGI, Chandigarh, and to expand the number of speciality hospitals in India available to Maldivian nationals under the AASANDHA scheme.
The Maldivian side requested Indian assistance to set up a state-of the-art National Diagnostic Centre in Maldives, the statement said. There was also an agreement on continuing the training of health professionals of Maldives and to agree on the deputation of Indian specialist doctors to IGMH. Both sides agreed to create a framework for cooperation in the area of traditional medicine.
Maldives also apprised India of progress in its internal processes for joining the Agreement on Orbit Frequency Coordination for the Satellite for the SAARC region.
The Joint Commission discussions endorsed enhancement of the trade and investment ties and the development partnership between the countries. The ministers discussed various measures which could be recommended towards this objective. The next meeting of the India-Maldives Joint Commission would be held in 2017 in India.