Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) in late November met his counterparts Ms. Mariya Didi, Minister of Defence of Maldives and Maj. Gen. (retd) Kamal Gunaratne, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence at the 4th NSA level trilateral meeting. Senior officers from Mauritius and Seychelles also participated as observers. The forum had a discussion on cooperation, security and domain awareness on maritime issues involving all countries in the region.
The trilateral arrangement began in 2011 with an objective of maritime security cooperation and two successive meetings have been held since then in 2013 and 2014. This year’s meeting was held after a gap of 6 years, the last one concluded in 2014. Reports suggest that the meeting was held on Doval’s initiative with an intention of having a dialogue on ‘common security threats’ of terrorism and extremism among other areas. Doval’s intent to revive the dialogue is seen in the backdrop of increasing Chinese interests in the island nation of Sri Lanka.
A joint statement released mentioned “mutual cooperation in the areas of maritime domain awareness, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, joint exercises, capacity building, maritime security and threats, marine pollution and maritime underwater heritage” as areas of cooperation between the littorals. A biannual deputy level NSA dialogue was set up to work on cooperation and operations.
The Indian Ocean Region has been the hotbed of external power play and increased militarization. The Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat recently highlighted that “resident powers and extra-regional power have shown a renewed interest in investing in infrastructure development in these countries to maintain and increase geopolitical influence.” The NSA trilateral meeting followed the QUAD meeting of foreign ministers, indicating a shift towards the Indo-Pacific in the Indian diplomatic circles.
The region has also seen a rise of minilaterals such as India-Japan-Australia, India-France-Australia, India-US-Japan and the possibility of India-Australia-Indonesia. India’s recent initiatives in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) include Project Mausam, Sagarmala Project and Mission Sagar to India’s presence in the Eastern Indian Ocean and Western Pacific. India’s Vision SAGAR (Security and Growth For All) that was launched by PM Modi in 2015 is the most significant strategic initiative, promoting India’s role as net security provider for the region and island nations.
With an elevated status of ‘observer’ nation in the Indian Ocean Commission, India’s bilateral and multilateral engagement in maritime security and cooperation will be an important agenda in regional dynamics.
APOORVA JAIN is pursuing her Master's in Politics (with specialization in international studies), from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.
She is currently a research intern at the Eastern Interest.