- India and the Maldives are engaged in a series of high level meetings to end the logjam in the relations over strategic issues.
- Maldivian Ambassador had met the Foreign Secretary last week, and diplomats and officials held another meeting.
- Further, a high-level meeting of defence officials is scheduled later this month.
- India had gifted two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) to Maldives in 2013, of which one was operated by the Indian Coast Guard, and the other by the Indian Navy.
- They were manned by six pilots and a number of maintenance ground staff.
- Relations between New Delhi and the Maldives have been frayed since last year, when Maldives rushed through a free trade agreement with China, and plummeted further after President Abdulla Yameen declared an emergency in the country in February.
- The relations deteriorated due to the arbitrary manner in which an airport project was handed over to the Chinese even though the contract had been won by an Indian company, the opening of a Chinese embassy, signing of a Free Trade Agreement and rumours that Beijing might be given the right to set up a naval base in one of the islands were all unsettling for India.
- China, which looks at Maldives as a major participant in its 21st century Maritime Silk Road plan in the Indian Ocean, has made heavy investments in the nation of islands which have 26 tropical atolls and 1,000 small islands is a major concern for India.
- The main reasons for the unhappiness over the helicopters that India has been keen to have stationed in the strategically located atolls, were statements made by India during the period of the emergency.
- In the normal course, Letters of Exchange for the two gifted helicopters are renewed for two years at a time, but on this occasion the Yameen government refused to do so and has since made it clear that it would like India to remove them and their crew entirely.
- The Maldives government is not willing to reconsider the leases of the two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) stationed in Addu and Laamu atolls.
- The Maldives had set India a deadline to remove its helicopters by the month-end and refused to extend the visa of the Navy personnel there.
- The LoE of the Coast Guard ALH had expired a few months ago; while the Navy ALH is due to expire in June.
- India has yet to recall either helicopter, in the hope that the matter will be resolved through negotiations.
- Maldives has also not approved an LoE sent by India for a Dornier maritime patrol aircraft that the Maldives had itself requested, but in less tense times.
- A decision on withdrawing the helicopters that are still stationed in the Maldives is awaited from the Ministry of Defence.
- Hence, the ongoing high level meetings are aimed resolving the strategic issues between the two countries.
- One possible solution to this problem would be if the Maldives accepts a long pending Indian offer of a Dornier patrol aircraft instead.
- Male is likely to revive an old Letter of Exchange [LoE] that India had sent offering a Dornier aircraft for maritime surveillance.
- The LoE would be slightly modified and will include terms for about 30 Indian personnel, including pilots and engineers, as well as a construction team required to build a hangar for the plane at the Kadhdhoo National Defence facility.
- Expenses for the effort would be shared by both governments, according to the terms being discussed presently.
- As in the case of the helicopters, the LoE is expected to be valid for two years with the standard provision that it can be terminated at any point.
- Maldives hopes to replace the Indian pilots over time with their pilots.
- One Maldivian pilot has already been trained in India for the Dornier and one more is to be trained soon.
- The Maldives is a tropical nation in the Indian Ocean composed of 26 ring-shaped atolls, which are made up of more than 1,000 coral islands.
- It’s known for its beaches, blue lagoons and extensive reefs.
- The capital of Maldives is Male.