The 6th Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) between India and Maldives took place in New Delhi. The meeting was chaired by the Maldives Foreign Affairs Minister Abdulla Shahid and India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar. The JCM provided an opportunity to review the entire gamut of bilateral cooperation between India and Maldives.
The positive democratic transition in the Maldives in the last one year after the formation of the Solih government paved the way for enhancing bilateral cooperation covering wide range of sectors. Apart from the social sector development in Maldives through development assistance, both countries are trying to expand maritime, security and defence cooperation. India announced after the Presidential elections in Maldives, a US$ 1.4 billion economic package. Apart from this, India also announced US$ 800 million Line of Credit for critical infrastructure projects and US$ 5.6 million grant assistance for high impact community development projects. The assistance projects would help Maldives to bridge the developmental gap between various its’ atolls (islands). According to the UN Human Development Report 2019, inequality in Maldives continues to remain high.
Security cooperation has emerged as a priority area in the bilateral relations, due to increasing non-traditional threats in the region. India gifted the Coast Guard Ship ‘Kaamyaab’ for enhancement of maritime security. India-Maldives defence cooperation includes building of infrastructure and training for Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and setting up of Coastal Surveillance Radar System (CSR). At the JCM, both countries decided to set an early date for the meeting of the Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism, Countering Violent Extremism and De-radicalisation.
The Maldives has taken various initiatives to combat terrorism. The Prevention of Terrorism Act was amended that declared Syria as a war-zone and ‘travelling to Syria is a punishable offence without government authorisation’. The Presidential Commission of Maldives sought charges against Maldivian citizens affiliated with Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaida. Mohamed Ameen was the first Maldivian to be designated as a “terrorist leader” by the US. The Presidential Commission on Disappearances and Death also named Mohamed Mazeed and Somith Mohamed, the alleged leaders of the al-Qaeda affiliate, for their role in murder of prominent bloggers and journalists in the island country such as Ahmed Rilwan Yameen Rasheed. Since January 2014, 188 cases of religious extremism were reported in the country. Enhancing digital connectivity and people-to-people contacts has been a priority at the bilateral level and the JCM acknowledged that adoption of ‘RuPay’ mechanism and the extension of National Knowledge Network (NKN) to Maldives will strengthen all-encompassing connectivity.
The JCM also reviewed the progress in the development of the cricket stadium in Hulhumale, funded by India. The 6th JCM resulted in signing of two MOUs between the Election Commission of India and its Maldives counterpart. The meeting also resulted in ratification of the treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. The Foreign Minister of Maldives called on the Prime Minister of India. Prime Minister Modi expressed confidence that the JCM “would enable both sides to review progress and chart even a more ambitious way forward to further strengthen and deepen the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries”.
The last year has been productive in bilateral terms for both countries. Several high-level meetings have taken place. Maldives has expressed willingness to engage with India in every possible area for confidence-building and speedy implementation of projects. Domestic political stability in the Maldives is also helping in enhancing cooperation.
The 6th JCM took place after a gap of four years. However, it provided an impetus to India-Maldives bilateral cooperation. The challenge for both neighbours is to show visible change by ensuring speedy implementation of projects agreed upon. Maldives expects that regional cooperation under the now defunct South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) should be result-oriented and bring tangible benefits to the people. Therefore, both the countries need to work in tandem to enhance cooperation at both the bilateral and regional levels. The 7th JCM would be held in 2021 in Maldives.
Script: Dr. M Samatha, Strategic Analyst On Indian Ocean Region