NEW DELHI: A deeply worried security establishment in India has put more eyes in the skies over the Maldives where President Abdulla Yameen has declared a state of emergency. The security establishment in New Delhi is particularly concerned over the role of the chief of the Maldivian National Defence Forces (MNDF), Major General Ahmed Shiyam, who went through India’s National Defence College (in the capital) course just three years back, and who has now come out in support of Yameen.
But South Block is also working diplomatic channels energetically with the US, the UK and through the UN urging for strong statements in favour of early and fair elections. Only China, it is assessed, among major powers would support Yameen’s continuation as President even through it has called for a dialogue among the conflicting forces in the archipelago.
“The sooner the situation is brought under control the better. We should watch if Yameen calls for early elections or only for a restoration of law and order,” observed Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha who retired as western naval commander. The waters around the Maldives are in the operational area of responsibility of the Indian Navy’s western command. (The southern naval command is essentially responsible for training).
Apart from a permanently stationed naval detachment that includes two Dhruv helicopters – flown by the MNDF but supported by the Indian navy’s technicians and crew – Indian Navy Dorniers and other Long Range Maritime Patrol aircraft are flying sorties over the 26 atolls of the country. Three coastal radar stations that India has set up in the Maldives are also networked into an Indian naval grid.
India’s investment in the Maldives is not just because of its military presence. There are an estimated 30,000 Indians working in the islands plus an as yet unknown number, running into thousands, of tourists. The Indian mission at Male has not yet reported that there is danger to Indian lives or assets despite the protests by the Opposition to Yameen.
Even as these assessments are being studied, there is wargaming on the quiet. India can airlift troops in a hostile situation to Male and/or to other airstrips. The flying time from Trivandrum in such a situation would be between 45 minutes to an hour in a C-17 Globemaster III that India has acquired from the US.
The US, that also has called for Yameen to abide by the Maldivian Supreme Court’s orders, has its major base in Diego Garcia, about 1100 miles from Male, a flying time of an hour in military transport aircraft. These calculations are being made in the event that people have to be evacuated. The option of evacuating people by ships is a tough one because of the hydrology of the archipelago. Because they are largely coral reefs, the vessels would have to be flat-bottomed.
The Chinese have their nearest military base at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, a flying time of about four hours. In December 2014 India airlifted and shipped tens of thousands of gallons of water to the Maldives after the country’s only water-processing plant caught fire. Five sorties by one Indian Air Force plane flew 240 tonnes of water. India had also deployed two naval ships that had desalination plants onboard.