Questions have been raised since a number of years in Parliament and in the local media about a supposed secret Mauritius-India agreement to allow the setting up of an Indian military base on Agalega. The issue had been brought up since the time when Mauritius was undertaking a spirited international campaign and legal battle with respect to our country’s sovereignty over Diego Gargia before the United Nations, culminating in the hearings before the International Court of Justice.
The response of the Mauritius government to date has been to deny the existence of any such agreement with the Indian authorities. As early as in May 2017 – one month before Xavier Duval was to query the Prime Minister through a PNQ on this issue -, an official communique released on May 29, 2017, following Pravind Jugnauth’s state visit in India had stated that the vision of the Government of Mauritius was to further develop the economic potential of Agalega. For this purpose, basic infrastructural facilities including a runway and a jetty along with associated amenities would be constructed in Agalega by the Government of India at its own cost. An agreement with the Indian government for the development of these infrastructural projects at Agalega was signed during the PM’s state visit to India. These were besides the ongoing cooperation in hydrography, support provided to the National Coast Guard of Mauritius, etc.
Another PNQ has been addressed to the PM this week, by Hon Xavier Duval, on the same issue. Pravind Jugnauth has reiterated the position of the Mauritian government with regard to its agreement with the Indian government as regards the development of the infrastructural works at Agalega and their use by both Mauritian and Indian authorities. Besides again denying unequivocally the development of a military base, we learn that there will be no stockpile of weapons at Agalega, meaning that the Indian assistance towards the development of infrastructural projects at Agalega, according to the PM, would not qualify as the development of a military base – unlike what obtains in the case of US/Chinese/French engagement when they set up their military bases in the region and elsewhere.
However, it would certainly help to clear doubts and speculations if the Mauritian and Indian authorities were more proactive in communicating to the public at large more details about the agreement signed between the two governments with regard to Agalega. The more so in the wake of the satellite images published recently the Lowy Institute on the scope of the works in progress on the island
On the other hand, we have to pragmatically acknowledge the new circumstances that have developed in the region. There are new players, an endemic hostile environment north of the Gulf states, and a geomilitary thrust by large powers, along with the constant threat of piracy from the African coast. Definitely we cannot ignore this changed and evolving context, and our focus must perforce be on our security as a small island state, which depends on the geopolitical balance in the region. Our goal should be to ensure that we are strategically aligned with the equation which is in the country’s interest both politically and economically on a long term basis.
* Published in print edition on 21 May 2021
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