Security Issues

UTF Harbour Project (Uthuru Thila Falhu-Island)

The article discusses the recent commissioning of the coastal surveillance radar system in the Maldives by the Indian grant-in-aid UTF (Uthuru Thila Falhu- Island) Harbour Project. The project is a big step forward in the two countries’ burgeoning defence ties.

The UTF Project

  • The UTF project was announced during the February 2021 visit of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
  • It is one of the most significant Indian grant-in-aid projects in the Maldives.
  • Its goal is to establish a naval vessel maintenance and repair hub that will assist the Maldives in becoming self-sufficient.

The Project’s Importance

  • The initiative was a significant step forward in India-Maldives defence cooperation.
  • The station will improve the Maldivian Coast Guard’s capability and promote regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief initiatives.

The Project Is Arguably Controversial

  • There were claims that the project was a ruse to conceal India’s military involvement in the Maldives.
  • The island nation’s opposition leader, Abdulla Yameen, has begun a “India Out” campaign.
  • As a threat to national security, Maldives President Ibrahim Solih has banned anti-India protests.

Defence Cooperation and Other Initiatives

  • In the past, India has sent the Maldives a Dornier aircraft and a patrol vessel.
  • India has donated 24 cars and a naval boat, and would construct police facilities on 61 of the country’s islands.
  • The joint statement issued by India and the Maldives during Defence Minister Singh’s visit emphasised the two countries’ continuous defence cooperation.
  • The countries have agreed to look into new areas of cooperation, such as defence trade, capacity building, and joint exercises.
  • Both countries are collaborating to handle issues like as maritime security, terrorism, radicalization, piracy, trafficking, organised crime, and natural disasters.
  • India has contributed $500 million to the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP), which would construct a 6.74-kilometer bridge and causeway connecting Male, the Maldives’ capital, with other islands.

Background on India-Maldives Relations

  • India and the Maldives are neighbours with a shared marine border.
  • Following the Maldives’ independence from British administration in 1966, both countries established diplomatic relations.
  • India was among the first countries to recognise the Maldives’ independence.
  • India and the Maldives have maintained close strategic, military, economic, and cultural ties since then.
  • Maldivians typically see Indians and India as economic, social, and political friends and neighbours.

Reasons for anti-India sentiment

  • Political unrest: The anti-India feeling dates back nearly a decade, to the election of Abdulla Gayoom as president in 2013. He leveraged anti-India emotions to mobilise his political base and began to favour China.
  • Controversy over helicopter gift: India gave the Maldives two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALF) for ocean search-and-rescue missions. The opposition attempted to spin this as a military presence in the country.
  • Confidential agreements: The majority of agreements negotiated between the Ibrahim Solih government and India are backdoor and have not been reviewed publicly in the Maldives Parliament.
  • Alleged meddling in internal politics: Because India is a large neighbour, there are unfounded impressions and allegations that Indian diplomats stationed in the Maldives are intervening in domestic matters.

Reestablishment of ties

  • Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who took office in 2018, has revived the Maldives’ longstanding connections with India.

Major irritants in ties

  • Political Instability: India’s major concern has been the impact of political instability in the neighborhood on its security and development.
  • Increasing radicalization: Over the last decade or two, the number of Maldivians drawn to terrorist organisations like as the Islamic State (IS) and Pakistan-based jihadist groups has grown.
  • Terrorism: The island nation’s radicalism has enhanced the likelihood of Pakistan-based terror organisations exploiting distant Maldivian islands as a launch pad for terror attacks against India and Indian interests.
  • Chinese affinities: China’s strategic footprint in India’s immediate neighbourhood has grown. The Maldives has emerged as a significant ‘pearl’ in China’s South Asian “String of Pearls” construction.

India’s recent actions

[1] 2014 Male drinking-water crisis

  • Following the collapse of the island’s lone water treatment plant in December 2014, Maldives requested emergency assistance from India.
  • India responded by sending heavy lift transporters such as the C-17 Globemaster III and the Il-76 carrying bottled water.

[2] 2020 Covid-19 crisis

  • During the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, India provided financial, material, and logistical assistance to the Maldives.
  • In addition, as part of ‘Operation Sanjeevani,’ the IAF delivered 6.2 tonnes of vital pharmaceuticals and hospital consumables to the Maldives.

[3] Greater Male Connectivity Project

  • The signing of a $500 million infrastructure project for the development of the Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP) by India was recently announced.
  • This infrastructure project, India’s largest in the Maldives, entails the construction of a 6.74-kilometer-long bridge and causeway link.

The significance of the Maldives for India

  • Expanding maritime cooperation: As marine economic activity in the Indian Ocean has increased considerably in recent decades, so has geopolitical competition in the region.
  • Indian Ocean Toll Gate: It is located at the crossroads of commercial sea-lanes that flow through the Indian Ocean. The region handles more than 97% of India’s international trade by volume and 75% by value.
  • Naval cooperation: The Maldives is an essential partner in India’s role as the Indian Ocean Region’s net security provider.
  • SAARC’s most important member: Maldives also belongs to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC).
  • People-to-People Contact: There is a sizable Maldivian student population in India. They are helped by India’s liberal visa-free environment. Medical tourism is another option.
  • Tourist destination: Tourism is the Maldivian economy’s mainstay. For some Indians, the country is now a major tourism destination, while for others, it is an employment destination.

Way ahead

  • India remains a key partner for the Maldives.
  • India must not become complacent with its position and must keep a close eye on developments in the Maldives.
  • To secure regional security in South Asia and along its maritime borders, India must play a vital role within the Indo-Pacific security space.
  • The ‘India Out’ campaign now has a small number of supporters, but the Indian government cannot take this for granted.
And get notified everytime we publish a new blog post.