India and Maldives have agreed to step up their Defence ties with a slew of measures, including basing Indian Dhruv helicopter in Male for two more years, training to Maldivian air force personnel and deploying Indian warships to secure Maldivian waters and exclusive economic zone.
The two sides also agreed to work closely towards stability and ensure maritime security in the Indian Ocean region.
At a high level meeting between Indian Defence Minister AK Antony and his Maldivian counterpart Colonel (Retd) Mohamed Nazim in Male, the two sides decided to "maintain close cooperation" in unitedly fighting against challenges of terrorists and non-state actors. Antony is on a three-day official visit to Maldives.
"The Maldives will stand side-by-side with India to ensure that maritime security of Indian Ocean is ensured; that the stability in the region is maintained; and above all, that the threats that our two countries face, particularly from terrorist groups and other non-state actors are eliminated," said Mohamed Nazim at the delegation level meeting.
He also said the change of governments will not affect the traditional friendship between the two countries. "Governments will change both in the Maldives and India. Yet, the enduring friendship that exists between the two countries will only improve and expand" he said.
Antony is accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Western Naval Command Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, Director General Military Training Lt Gen SP Tanwar and Director General Armed Forces Medical Service Air Marshal DP Joshi.
Antony conveyed the Indian government’s decision to position the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), handed over by India in 2010, for a further period of two years beyond April 2012.
He also informed that the helicopter had been upgraded with night flying capabilities during the recent overhaul at Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
Antony said that a team of qualified flying instructors will now be deputed to train Maldivian air wing personnel. In addition, India will also provide simulator training to Maldivian helicopter pilots at HAL.
To a request from Nazim for an additional ALH for deployment in the Northern Province for medical evacuation purposes, Antony assured him that he would try to fulfill this request at the earliest.
Marking a new high in the Defence cooperation between the two countries, New Delhi has decided to station a Defence attache at Male.
The gesture was appreciated by Nazim, who said that the move will help in enhancing and streamlining the dialogue process.
Antony also conveyed India’s support for the construction of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) building.
The two sides appreciated the current efforts of the Indian Navy ships and aircraft in providing surveillance of the Maldivian exclusive economic zone (EEZ), on a monthly basis, in view of the incidents of piracy occurring close to Maldives and Lakshadweep and Minicoy islands.
Apart from the mutually agreed schedule, India is also providing EEZ surveillance assistance on specific requests from the MNDF in case of special incidents like piracy attacks and threat to coastal security.
Antony assured his Maldivian counterpart of India’s continued support for these operations.
Moreover, on a request from Male, India has decided to position an Indian Navy Afloat Support Team at Maldives for a period of one year to help in smooth functioning and operations of the latter’s fleet and help in training their personnel for future maintenance operations.
Antony said the joint exercises between the two nation's armed forces contributed to better understanding and cooperation. He said the next joint army exercise, Ekuverin, is planned for November 2012.
Referring to the maintenance of peace and security in the Indian Ocean region, Antony said the maritime forces of both countries should work together not only for the sake of safety for maritime trade but also to prevent disruptive forces from engaging in activities which may threaten peace in our countries.
Earlier, Antony and Nazim inaugurated a military hospital 'Senahiya' in Male. Describing it as a shining model of how two friendly neighbouring countries can collaborate and cooperate to create facilities aimed at benefiting their people, Antony said is another milestone symbolizing the bonds of the close friendship between both our nations and in particular, between the armed forces of both countries.
He said a team of two medical officers and four para medical staff from the Indian Armed Forces Medical Services will be stationed at the hospital to work with the Maldivian authorities in setting up the services. He assured of India’s continuing support and partnership in this project.
Continuing with his dialogue on Defence cooperation with the top leadership of Maldives, Antony called on President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik in Male.
The 30-minute meeting was attended among others by Vice President Mohamed Waheeduddeen and Defence Minister Col. (Retd) Mohamed Nazim.
Waheed said it had "increased the confidence level" in the relations of the two countries. He also appreciated India's support in facilitating a way forward in the political process in Maldives.
He said the security of the Indian Ocean region is of vital importance to both the countries, which should strive to enhance cooperation in myriad ways to thwart any threats.
Waheed noted that there are no inhibitions on either side, as each treated the other side as a close and trusted friend.
The meeting ended with the two Defence ministers exchanging the agreement, in the presence of Waheed, to station the Indian Coast Guard Dhruv helicopter in Maldives for a further period of two years.
Earlier, Antony, accompanied by Nazim, flew down to the picturesque Maafilaafushi Island in a sea plane and laid there the foundation stone of the Composite Maritime Training Academy of Maldives. The academy, to be built in three phases, with assistance from India, will train personnel from Maldives Coast Guard and Marine Police.