Step up diplo­macy

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Commentary -

The Mal­dives de­clin­ing In­dia’s in­vi­ta­tion to par­tic­i­pate in the naval ex­er­cise ‘Mi­lan’ need not au­to­mat­i­cally lead us to the in­fer­ence that Male has de­cided to spurn the In­dia con­nec­tion as it’s en­gaged in woo­ing China, or that the Mal­dives’ de­ci­sion is dic­tated solely by Bei­jing. The China fac­tor may well have played a part, but go­ing by this ex­pla­na­tion alone will shrink the diplo­matic space for New Delhi. In­dia-Mal­dives ties have looked frag­ile for some years. It’s pre­cisely at such a time that diplo­macy must be given fuller play while be­ing ready to ex­er­cise other as­pects of state power. The Mal­dives have of­fi­cially said the rea­son for its Navy not par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Naval Ex­er­cise ‘Mi­lan’ in the seas around the An­daman and Ni­co­bar Is­lands area, is that the state of emer­gency de­clared in the na­tion of atolls re­quires the de­ploy­ment of all its naval forces and their equip­ment in main­tain­ing se­cu­rity.

This doesn’t ap­pear to be an un­rea­son­able propo­si­tion no mat­ter how rep­re­hen­si­ble the procla­ma­tion of emer­gency which New Delhi has strongly urged Male to roll back so nor­mal life can re­sume, in­clud­ing restor­ing the sta­tus of Par­lia­ment, the Op­po­si­tion par­ties and the ju­di­ciary. At the same time, how­ever, In­dia should as­cer­tain the causes be­hind Male de­cid­ing not to par­tic­i­pate in the ‘Mi­lan’ pro­gramme of the In­dian Navy de­signed as part of its re­gional mar­itime out­reach ar­chi­tec­ture. This year 16 navies were listed as prospec­tive par­tic­i­pants, in­clud­ing the Mal­dives. Hard­nosed diplo­macy will be needed to un­der­stand what’s go­ing on be­hind the scenes.

The ‘Mi­lan’ out­reach ef­fort was be­gun in 1995 with four na­tions par­tic­i­pat­ing. Since then more and more na­tions have been tak­ing part. Among oth­ers, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, Viet­nam, Thai­land, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Oman are likely par­tic­i­pants this time. This is a ma­jor pos­i­tive for In­dia. Apart from sem­i­nars, dis­cus­sions and so­cial­is­ing, the ex­er­cise takes in joint op­er­a­tions out in the sea to un­der­score in­ter-op­er­abil­ity. This is why it is held in the An­daman and Ni­co­bar Is­lands, hous­ing In­dia’s only tri-ser­vices com­mand, the base for a blue wa­ter navy.

With the Chi­nese Navy also seek­ing to spread it­self in the In­dian Ocean re­gion in re­cent years, the smaller coun­tries do har­bour a sense of anx­i­ety and are happy to as­so­ciate with a ma­jor re­gional naval force. If Male has ducked this time around on ac­count of con­sid­er­a­tions that may give com­fort to China, then In­dia will need to pos­si­bly re­fur­bish it­self in the In­dian Ocean re­gion through up­graded diplo­matic ac­tiv­ity with var­i­ous coun­tries, as well as rais­ing its naval and air ca­pa­bil­i­ties. This will call for bud­getary sup­port and po­lit­i­cal will in pur­suit of a well thought out strate­gic de­sign which can­not but in­clude steps to pre-empt Chi­nese naval ac­tiv­ity in coun­tries on our pe­riph­ery.

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