China’s creeping expansionism: Why Modi’s visit to Maldives would have been important?
A visit to Maldives by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is extremely important. The growing menace of terrorism and also the creeping expansionism of China in the island nations are major concerns for India. [Can Narendra Modi's foreign policy win over Maldives?]
The four nation Indian Ocean sojourn by the Prime Minister to Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles is scheduled to commence next week.
There is however no clarity on whether Prime Minister Modi would visit Maldives or not. There is a decision that is expected to be taken on this issue in the next two days.
A release by the Ministry of External Affairs regarding the Indian Ocean sojourn by the Prime Minister only mentions that he would visit, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Seychelles.
The political situation in Maldives faced uncertainty following the arrest of opposition leader Mohammad Nasheed. Nasheed was arrested on charges related to his decision to arrest a judge in 2012.
Why is a visit to Maldives important?
India does not want to interfere in the politics of Maldives. India has bigger things to worry about and that is its own security. The 11000 unmanned islands are a major concern since they have over the years become Jihad launch pads.
The effects of any terrorism related activity in Maldives have a direct impact on India and in the recent past we have seen how cadres have been shifting between there and Kerala to promote Jihadi activity.
With terror groups increasingly preferring the seas to launch terror strikes, Maldives becoming a recruiting hub and launch pad is extremely worrisome for India.
Nasheed prior to his arrest had mentioned that the ISIS too is setting foot in Maldives. There is a clear tussle on between members of the Al-Qaeda and the ISIS in Maldives and this battle for supremacy would spill over into India as well.
India would need to engage more in Maldives in order to neutralize this threat. A visit by Modi would focus on cooperation between the two nations in combating these threats which have threatened to blow out of proportion.
The China problem
Prime Minister Modi would have to ensure that all the island National engage with India in ensuring better security. While the problem of jihadis making the islands a launch pad is one part of the problem, India bigger concern would be China.
Maldives has made it clear that the relationship they share with China is very close. They also say that the while this is one part of it, a relationship with China would precede any other relationship.
India would not want to make up for lost time and engage Maldives more. After all India has been raising concerns about the Marao Island. Maldives had in 1999 leased the island to China in 1999 for maritime traffic management.
India however was skeptical about this deal and had often said that China was using this island to monitor Indian warships on the Indian ocean. India also suspects that this island could in future be developed into a submarine base.
What India can offer?
The relations between India and Maldives is not exactly what one may have hoped it to be. Although after Abdullah Yemeen was elected president his first foreign visit was to India there is still a lot more to be done for better ties.
India's GMR group was to construct the international airport in Maldives, but that deal was cancelled and it soured relations to some extent. However Yemeen has stated that there was a rough patch and he hoped that the ties will be on track once again.
India would want to become the security provider in the Indian ocean and this would require it to bring on the island nations. Providing security on the Indian Ocean is a key aspect and this would be the offer that Prime Minister Modi would make during his visit.
India would look to have more patrol ships and ocean mapping system. This would also go a long way in combating the terror menace emerging out of the unmanned islands.
Staying clear from the politics
The catch-22 situation for India is however the stance it would have to take on the ongoing political crisis in Maldives. Following the arrest of Nasheed there have been demands for India to take a stand on the issue.
A visit to Maldives would send across a signal that India is in support of the government which has carried out an arrest that cannot be justified under law.
If the visit is cancelled then it could send across a wrong signal to the Maldivian government. This could derail some of the steps taken by the two nations to improve ties.