Maldives is a “challenge” for India at the moment as its current government is more inclined towards China, Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba said today, indicating that the ties between New Delhi and Male are yet to reach a level of normalcy.
Lanba, however, added that patrolling of the Maldives Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by the Indian Navy has again commenced and that India would continue to work with the government of the archipelago nation.
He also said there is no necessity to get a military dimension to the Quad involving India, the US, Australia and Japan.
“Maldives is a challenge at the moment. The present government in Maldives is more inclined towards China. The constitution has been tweaked and some islands have been given to the Chinese for development. There is no news at the moment of any listening post in the Maldives. There is some development that is going on. We will have to wait and watch,” Lanba said in response to a question at an event at the Vivekananda Foundation International.
India’s ties with Maldives nose-dived after it criticised the Abdulla Yameen government for imposing a 45-day emergency in the archipelago nation earlier this year.
During the crisis, India had ignored calls for military intervention from the opposition parties in the island nation. The influence of China on Maldives, an island nation in the Indian ocean, considered a backyard of India, has been growing and it is seen as a concern in New Delhi.
Maldives neither participated in the multi-national ‘MILAN’ naval conclave, a congregation of littoral navies conducted biennially by the Indian Navy at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which was held in mid-March this year nor did its defence minister lead his country’s delegation to take part in the DefExpo2018.
“We (India) have an EEZ patrolling (exercise) that we regularly do with Maldives. We just finished one (exercise) last week. The one (exercise) previously held had been called off by the Maldivian government, but that has been recommenced. We continue to train their personnel. We just finished a special forces training camp. We will continue to work with the Maldivian government,” Lanba said.
Responding to another question on the Quad, the Navy chief said it was a discussion forum for international good order and peace and following the norms of the United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“We are not going down that route. I don’t think there is a necessity to get a military dimension to the Quad,” he said.
The Quad is also seen as a move to counter China in the Indo-Pacific region where Beijing has been trying to spread its influence.
The meeting was held in Manila in November last year, which was attended by leaders of the four countries.
Lanba said the rapid growth of the Chinese navy is “apparent” and it is also in collusion with other “adversaries” in the Indian Ocean region.
“Deployment of Chinese naval ships have increased manifold since October 2008 and new bases have been set up,” he said citing the example of the Djibouti naval base in Africa.
On a question on deployment of tactical nuclear weapons at sea by Pakistan, the Navy chief said there is no such information, but Islamabad is in the process of developing a cruise missile which it hopes to fit on a submarine that is being built in China.
The missile, he said, is also being built with the help of Chinese technology. He said the Indian Navy is “well-poised” for handling any exigency and the strategic roadmap the force follows keeps it ready for “assuring peace and winning wars should that become inevitable”.
Lanba said India and Bangladesh will hold its first coordinated patrol next month.
Responding to a question on whether he had any interaction with former Navy official Kulbhushan Jadhav, who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for alleged spying, in his career.
“I don’t have access to Kulbhushan Jadhav. Unfortunately, in my service career, we have not worked together. The officer’s mother and wife had met up with him. That was the first access we gained of Kulbhushan Jadhav. What we came to know that he is hail and hearty and up and about,” Lanba said.
Pakistan permitted a meeting between Jadhav and his mother and wife at Islamabad in December last year.