NEW DELHI: Moving forward after a spell of unease in ties, India and Maldives today inked six pacts including a key one on expanding defence cooperation as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of the island nation Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom held wide-ranging talks on a range of key issues.
Combating terrorism and radicalisation, enhancing India's involvement in major infrastructure projects like development of ports and Special Economic Zones in Maldives figured prominently in the talks but the central focus was on defence and security ties.
Listing details of the outcome of the deliberations, Modi, at a joint press interaction with Yameen, said India "understands its responsibility as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region and India is fully ready to protect its military interest in this part of the globe."
Relations between India and Maldives hit a rough patch after Modi had cancelled a trip to that country last year following the arrest former president Mohamed Nasheed. There has been apprehension in the establishment here about China's growing involvement in the Indian Ocean region and in Maldives.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had visited Maldives in October last year, in a bid to improve ties with the strategically located country, where China has been trying to expand influence.
The Prime Minister, without elaborating, said a concrete action plan for stepping up defence cooperation has been arrived at whose early implementation will significantly strengthen the ties.
"It is an important day in the history of cooperation between India and Maldives," Modi said, asserting that contours of the ties between the two countries "is defined by engament in military, defence and economic speheres."
Modi also said it is in India's strategic interest to have a stable and secure Maldives and that its challenges are India's concerns. "We are conscious of security needs of Maldives. President Yameen agreed that Maldives will be sensitive to our strategic and security interests. It is clear that the contours of India-Maldives relations are defined by our shared strategic, security, economic and developmental goals," Modi said.
On his part, Yameen said his country pursues an "India first" foreign policy and described it as most important friend of Maldives. The 'Action Plan' on defence envisages an institutional mechanism at the level of the Defence Secretaries to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation.
In the talks it was agreed that India will set up a police academy, build the Defence Ministry building of Maldives besides speeding up infrastructure projects relating to security. India will also extend all possible assistance to the island nation, including in maritime sphere and capacity building of armed forces.