New Delhi: A defence cooperation pact and five other agreements to expand bilateral ties were inked between India and Maldives on Monday after Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and President of the archipelago nation Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom held talks including ways to combat terrorism and radicalisation.
During the deliberations, India assured Maldives it was ready to protect its strategic interests in the region and would extend all possible assistance, including in maritime sphere and capacity building of armed forces, as part of an action plan in the defence sector.
India has also decided to speed up infrastructure projects like development of ports in the country where China was trying to expand its foothold.
The other agreements signed were in the fields of taxation, tourism, space research and conservation.
"It is an important day in the history of cooperation between India and Maldives," the prime minister said at a joint press interaction with Yameen, listing outcomes of the talks.
The prime minister said threat of cross border terrorism, challenge of radicalisation and overall security scenario in the Indian Ocean region were discussed and both sides agreed to step up cooperation in these areas.
"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.
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. On his part, Yameen said his country pursues an "India first" foreign policy and described it as most important friend of Maldives.
Talking about the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Maldivian President said both Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will have to play key role in realising true potential of the region.
"The prompt implementation of a concrete action plan in the defence sector will strengthen our defence cooperation. Development of ports, continuous training, capacity building, supply of equipment and maritime surveillance will be its main elements," the prime minister said.
He said India understands its role as a "net security provider" in the Indian Ocean and was ready to protect its strategic interests in this region.
"President Yameen and I are aware of the growing dangers of cross border terrorism and radicalisation in South Asia. Information exchanges between security agencies and training and capacity building of Maldives Police and security forces is important part of our security cooperation," he said.
Modi said India India is ready to partner Maldives in its ambitious iHaven project. The iHaven project is one of the most important projects in President Yameen's economic vision, and is being developed under the new laws of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ).
The project has six main goals, including developing an airport, a harbour, bunkering services, real estate, shopping malls, and resorts in the atoll.
The 'Action Plan' on defence envisages an institutional mechanism at the level of the Defence Secretaries to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation.It reflects the shared strategic and security interests of the two countries in the Indian Ocean region.
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. Both sides also decided to expand cooperation in the fields of tourism and health.
The prime minister also hosted a working lunch for President Yameen at Hyderabad House in the national capital.
The two sides signed a pact on avoidance of double taxation of income derived from international air transport and another agreement on mutual assistance for exchange of information relevant to the administration and enforcement of the domestic laws concerning taxes. It also includes exchange of information relevant to the determination, assessment and collection of such taxes, the recovery and enforcement of tax claims, or the investigation and prosecution of tax matters.
A separate MoU proposes to undertake conservation and restoration of ancient mosques and other historical monuments in Maldives by India. Detailed proposals for such projects will be finalised by Archaeological Survey of India and Department of Heritage, Maldives. The two sides also signed a pact for coordination for operation of 'South Asia Satellite' and fulfilling regulatory requirements as well as obtaining international level recognition for it. South Asia Satellite is being developed by India.