In a move that is likely to be a significant move in India's effort to increase its security presence in the Indian Ocean region, former Indian Army chief Dalbir Singh Suhag was appointed as India's High Commissioner to Seychelles on Thursday. The country, an archipelago off East Africa, is of strategic importance to India.
"He is expected to take up the assignment shortly," the Ministry of External Affairs said while making the announcement. Suhag's appointment to the post in Seychelles comes amid deepening military ties between India and the island nation.
Suhag served as the army chief between July 2014 and December 2016, and was also in-charge when India conducted the surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in September 2016.
The army had taken the step after a terrorist attack on a camp in Uri, which had resulted in the deaths of 19 security personnel. Suhag has also been part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka in 1987.
Reportedly, it was during Suhag's tenure that the Special Forces carried out a raid across the border in Myanmar in 2015, to destroy "militant camps" after the killing of 18 Indian soldiers in an ambush in Manipur's Chandel district.
Suhag's appointment is more significant as a defence move than as a diplomatic one with India's plans to develop the Assumption Island in Seychelles as a naval base to expand its footprint in the region where China has been trying to enhance its military presence.
An agreement to develop the island was signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the country in 2015, soon after he was elected as the prime minister in 2014. The project landed in trouble after the island nation's government changed and the new parliament blocked India's move claiming a "compromise of sovereignty".
However, Seychelles president Danny Faure visited India in June 2018, and during his visit, both countries agreed to work together on the Assumption Island project.
"Appointments of former defence personnel as envoys to countries are not unheard of — the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had named former Indian Navy chief Nirmal Kumar Verma as high commissioner to Canada, Verma’s predecessor Sureesh Mehta as high commissioner to New Zealand and former air chief NAK Browne as ambassador to Norway," Livemint reported.
Analysts said that defence and security form an "important pillar of the bilateral relationship" between India and Seychelles. "Suhag's appointment could help cement the ties further," Hindustan Times reported. However, no progress has been made on the Assumption Island project yet, reports said.
"India and Seychelles have an established relationship in defence and maritime security, through which India helps to patrol the waters of Seychelles and gives equipment to the island nation’s defence forces. In recent years, India has agreed to help Seychelles map its hydrology reserves, launched a coastal surveillance radar project, and boosted security cooperation with the nation," The Indian Express reported.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Apr 26, 2019 14:46:05 IST