New Delhi : Seeking a greater foothold in the Indian Ocean Region, Defence Minister A.K. Antony Thursday left for a three-day visit to the Maldives during which a pact for greater defence cooperation is expected to be signed.
According to defence ministry sources, the island nation has sought greater defence cooperation from India in terms of coastal security and patrolling of the waters around it.
“Shortly after his arrival at the Maldivian capital in Male, Antony will call on President Mohammed Nasheed. He will hold talks with the top leadership of the government and the Maldives National Defence Force,” an official said.
The minister will also hold bilateral discussions with his counterpart Ameen Faisal on ways of expanding defence cooperation between the two countries,” he added.
Antony is accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, Director General Armed Forces Lt Gen N.K. Parmar, Director General Coast Guard Vice Admiral Anil Chopra and Deputy Chief of Indian Navy Vice Admiral D.K. Joshi.
There is a proposal to link Maldives coastal security network with the Indian coastal radar network. The step would help India in securing its more than 7,500 km long shoreline.
During his visit, Antony is likely to hand over one Indian Coast Guard helicopter to the Maldives; a second one from the Indian Navy will be supplied later.
Antony will also attend the closing session of the India-Maldives Friendship function besides visiting the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital. The 200-bed general and specialty hospital has over the years provided the Maldives greater self-reliance in the field of medical care.
The Maldives consists of over 1,100 islets of which around 200 are inhabited and has shared “ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious and commercial links” with India.
India was among the first to recognise the Maldives after independence in 1965 and to establish diplomatic relations with it. India’s prompt assistance during the 1988 coup attempt, which defused the crisis, represents a watershed in India-Maldives relations.
For India, the Indian Ocean region, which straddles from Australia to Africa, has become strategically important with China also striving to increase its footprint. The Indian Navy has been working towards expanding its influence to over about 30 countries in the region, including Maldives.