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Central & South Asia
India to help defend Maldives
Plan to offer radar systems and naval patrols amid claims of power struggle with China.
Last Modified: 22 Aug 2009 07:49 GMT
India is expected to offer naval and coast guard patrols off the Maldives [File: EPA]

India's defence minister is in the Maldives to discuss plans to offer security assistance to the Indian Ocean island.

AK Antony will hold talks with Mohammed Nasheed, the Maldives president, as well as other senior government and military officials, on the plan apparently aimed at countering the threat of terrorism in the region. 

Under the proposed agreement, India could help set up a network of ground radars in all its atolls, which would be linked with the Indian Coastal Command, local media reported. 

Indian navy and coastguard vessels would also patrol the waters off the Maldives. 

There are also reports that a naval base could be built at Addu Atoll in the south of the archipelago.

Big investment

But Commodore Uday Bhaskar, a defence analyst and the director of the National Maritime Foundation in New Delhi, said that he did not believe that India planned to commit itslef to a costly undertaking like a permanent base on the Maldives.

"India as the regional naval power would like to extend its presence as far as the Indian Ocean is concerned"

Commodore Uday Bhaskar, defence analyst

"A naval base is a very big investment and my understanding is that India neither has those resources nor the intent," he told Al Jazeera.

"There are some assets that were created during World War Two and after the end of the war both the United Kingdom and, for some time, the United States had used some of these assets.

"But in 2009, my reckoning as a naval analyst is that it is unlikely that India would get into the business of opening a naval base."

The two countries share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious and commercial links and enjoy close relations. 

Chinese competition

However, some analysts have suggested that India's offer of assistance should be seen in terms of the competition between New Delhi and Beijing for economic and military influence in central and south Asia.

"India as the regional naval power would like to extend its presence as far as the Indian Ocean is concerned," Bhaskar said.

"The Chinese have made significant investments in east Africa, in Tanzania and Kenya, they have major ports they have invested in in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, they have commitments in Myanmar.

"China is behaving like any major power, you have a certain economic profile you will try to extend your maritime reach."

China is currently developing a deep water harbour for its expanding fleet of nuclear submarines in Gwadar, Pakistan, and is developing ports in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It is also building two naval bases in Myanmar.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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