The upcoming Indian Ocean Rim Association ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi will be keenly watched as India continues to promote its official policy of “coordination, cooperation and partnership” in the regional maritime domain.
The meeting is important as two of India’s important partners, the United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh, will take charge as the new chair and vice-chair of one of the largest regional maritime organisations for the duration of 2019-21. It is expected that the rise of more partner countries in managing the crucial maritime region that connects India with the energy suppliers in the Gulf will help in greater coordination in the Indian Ocean region.
The 19th IORA Council of Ministers (COM) meeting will be held on November 7 in Abu Dhabi with the theme of “Promoting a Shared Destiny and Path to Prosperity in the Indian Ocean”. Along with the outgoing chair South Africa, Bangladesh and UAE are expected to form the new troika of the regional organisation. This is especially significant for Bangladesh as the ministerial will pave the way for Dhaka to play a leading role in IOR for four years from 2019 to 2023 as the country is expected to succeed UAE and become the next chair.
The developments are expected to be studied carefully in New Delhi where officials are aiming to use the maritime domain as a “connector”. Officials said that Indian policy takes into consideration that IOR is not an India-run maritime domain and that is reflected in the Narendra Modi government's SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) programme, which aims to turn the region more inclusive.
Over the last few years, India has been trying to emerge as the net provider of information in the Indian Ocean region and in that direction it created the Information Fusion Centre located in Gurugram to assist member countries of IOR with real time crisis information. Bangladesh, Mauritius, Maldives, Sri Lanka and the Seychelles have been part of the information support structure of India. Continuing that policy, India warmed up to the Indian Ocean Rim soon after Prime Minister Modi returned to power.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s first foreign visit focused on strengthening ties with Mozambique, an IOR member country, and reached agreements for hydrography and sharing of information on white shipping. The ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi will be preceded by a regional meeting on fisheries in Oman which is also expected to provide scope for greater cooperation with India. India seeks to share skills in the commercial fisheries sector with several IOR countries like Yemen and Somalia and ensure secure and sustainable fishing and movement in the region.