Amid security concerns, trilateral exercise 'Dosti-16' kicks off in Maldives

The ‘Dosti’ drill started in 1991 as a bilateral exercise by the coast guards of India and the Maldives. Sri Lanka joined it in 2012.
nirban Bhaumik
Last Updated : 22 February 2024, 17:07 IST
Last Updated : 22 February 2024, 17:07 IST

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New Delhi: Even as Malé ignored New Delhi’s concerns and allowed a ‘research vessel’ of China to enter the territorial waters of the Maldives, India has sent two ships of its coast guard to the archipelago for a drill that will also see participation by Sri Lanka, another neighbouring Indian Ocean nation.

China’s research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 3 entered the main port of the Maldives on Thursday. The communist country has a large fleet of ‘research vessels', which its People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) generally uses not only for hydrographic surveys and charting underwater paths for submarines but also for monitoring missiles or satellites test-fired from the locations in the vicinity . It is also used for keeping watch on military installations in the nearby countries.

The two ships of the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) – ICGS Samarth and ICGS Abhinav – also reached Malé on Thursday for the 16th edition of the India-Sri-Lanka-Maldives trilateral exercise ‘Dosti’. Sri Lanka also sent SLNS Samudra to participate in the biennial trilateral drill, which would continue till Sunday.

The ‘Dosti’ drill started in 1991 as a bilateral exercise by the coast guards of India and the Maldives. Sri Lanka joined it in 2012. Apart from the three participating nations, the exercise off the coast of the Maldives this week will also have Bangladesh as an observer.

The drill is being held amid escalating tension between New Delhi and Malé, over the moves by the new government led by President Mohamed Muizzu to steer the Maldives into the orbit of China’s geopolitical influence, ignoring the security interests of India.

The High Commission of India (HCI) in Malé on Thursday posted on X the pictures of the ICGS Samarth, which has an integral helicopter, and the ICGS Abhinav after they arrived at the main port of the Maldives. A Dornier aircraft of the ICG also arrived in Malé to take part in the exercise, which, according to the HCI in the capital of the archipelago nation, would help boost “regional synergy to enhance maritime security and interoperability”.

Muizzu’s government of late made India commit to withdrawing all its military personnel deployed in the Maldives by May 10. Most of India’s 88 military personnel in the Maldives were deployed to operate and fly the Dornier aircraft and the two Advanced Light Helicopters gifted by New Delhi to the neighbouring archipelago for emergency evacuation of people from the remote islands.

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), however, on Thursday took to X to welcome the Indian and Sri Lankan ships for the trilateral drill.

The Indian Navy earlier this month sent a submarine to Colombo coinciding with the Independence Day of Sri Lanka, apparently to underline India’s role as the net security provider in the Indian Ocean region as well as to send out a message to China’s PLA Navy, which of late increased its forays in the maritime neighbourhood of India.

Muizzu’s campaign for the presidential polls in September 2023 saw him opposing and promising to reverse his predecessor Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s ‘India First’ policy of treating India as a preferred partner for the Maldives and lessening its reliance on China. 

He kept his poll promise and formally asked India to withdraw all its military personnel from the Maldives immediately after taking oath on November 17. However, during his meeting with India’s union minister Kiren Rijiju a day after being sworn in, the new president of the Maldives, however, acknowledged the role of India’s military personnel and the aviation platforms in humanitarian services and emergency evacuation of people from the remote islands of the Maldives.

Published 22 February 2024, 17:07 IST

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