New Delhi: In their meeting after six years, the top security leadership of Maldives, India and Sri Lanka have expanded the scope of their platform from a maritime focussed trilateral initiative to looking at common security threats.
Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval travelled to Colombo and joined the Sri Lankan defence secretary Kamal Gunaratne and Maldivian defence minister Mariya Didi for the fourth edition of the NSA-level trilateral forum on Saturday.
Sources told The Wire that the key advance made in this meeting was to broaden the scope from “maritime security to maritime and security”. The reference in the joint statement to the recognition of threats from radicalization, terrorism and drug trafficking was a reflection of the enlargement of the agenda, it was pointed out.
“The three countries also exchanged views on common security threats and agreed to broad base cooperation by expanding the scope to improve intelligence sharing and include issues like terrorism, radicalization, extremism, drugs, arms & human trafﬁcking, money laundering, cyber security and effect of climate change on maritime environment,” said the joint press statement.
Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena addressed the Inaugural Session of the 4th #India, #Maldives and #SriLanka NSA-Level Trilateral Maritime Cooperation Meeting today (28) at Taj Samudra Hotel, Colombo. Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage also attended the event. pic.twitter.com/XKsBalrueF
— MFA SL (@MFA_SriLanka) November 28, 2020
The three countries were meeting after a gap of six years, with the long delay attributed to the strained relations between India and Maldives during the presidency of Abdulla Yameen.
The first meeting of NSA-level officials of the three countries took place in 2011, with the last one in March 2014 in New Delhi.
“The past deliberations and outcomes have helped the three countries in improving close coordination in maritime security of the region. These were supplemented by Deputy NSA level meetings for sustained engagements and implementation of the discussions at the NSA level meetings,” stated the joint statement.
In the area of maritime cooperation, the discussions surrounded “maritime domain awareness, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, joint exercises, capacity building, maritime security and threats, marine pollution, and maritime underwater heritage”.
The joint statement also specifically mentioned that the dialogue was “conducted adhering to strict health guidelines using ‘Air Bubble’ concept for the visiting delegations”. It meant that the officials were given special exemptions from the quarantine regulations for foreign visitors, who had to travel armed with a negative RT-PCR test and did not go beyond their hotels and official buildings.
In the last meeting in 2014, there were observers from Seychelles and Mauritius. This time, the two Indian ocean nations again took part in the meeting, but virtually. Sri Lanka had also invited Bangladesh as an observer, but the senior official was indisposed, stated sources.
While the trilateral dialogue is supposed to be an annual feature, they also agreed to hold deputy NSA-level working group meetings twice a year for cooperation at the operational level.
During his visit, Indian NSA Doval also called upon Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.