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India-Sri Lanka relations and the BIMSTEC: A new perspective based on Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) Framework

Mr Pratap M Heblikar

Our Webinar is unique in many ways. Firstly, it is the first joint venture on the subject between two think-tanks on a subject of national interest for India and Sri Lanka. Secondly, it recognizes Sri Lanka’s strategic position in the region and in India’s immediate vicinity from the maritime security point of view. Thirdly, it has opened vistas to stakeholders on both sides on importance of Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) framework from traditional and non-traditional points of view. Fourthly, it has pointed to existence of opportunities for greater collaboration in UDA, as distinct from Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), in fields of education, management, technology, Research and Development.

“This webinar on BIMSTEC has given Sri Lanka the prime position as a Centre of Excellence (COE) in UDA whereby it could straddle both BIMSTEC and IOR.  “

The Unique Selling Point (USP) of the webinar lay in the galaxy of eminent speakers and subject matter experts from all walks of life who shared their knowledge, expertise and experience.

“This has enhanced the value, image and gave visibility to the subject as also in limited way to the hosts namely Pathfinder Foundation, Colombo, Sri Lanka and its two Indian cohosts, namely Maritime Research Centre (MRC) Pune and Institute of Contemporary Studies Bangalore (ICSB) Bangalore.”

The webinar was designed to be curtain raiser for the 5th Summit of BIMSTEC (Mar 31, 2022) hosted by Sri Lanka especially with maritime and connectivity issues figuring on its agenda. Two events hosted earlier by the Pathfinder Foundation namely Pathfinder Indian Ocean Security Conference Phase-II (March 04, 2022) and Second Bay of Bengal Maritime Dialogue (Feb 14-15, 2022). The visit by Victoria Nuland, the US Undersecretary of State has helped create the right ambience for the webinar.

“India-Sri Lanka relations are built on strong foundation and these have withstood periodic disruptions. India has abiding interest in stability of Sri Lanka and in recent past has taken several measures to put relations on even keel to ensure smooth sailing.

In my view, national security in India is no longer understood in its narrow military terms. There are more stakeholders in this space now than before. The Corona virus pandemic has had unprecedented effect and exposed the fault-lines in political governance and national security framework. The pandemic has upended the status quo-ante that presided over administrative and operational work in both government and corporate sector.  Further, it has called for an end to the “silo” systems of management wherein our existing systems are unable to deliver responses to national or international emergencies. Each country has faced this situation and there are no exceptions.

“The thin line between traditional and non-traditional national security has blurred, which has thereby created a demand for capacity building, skills development, technology, investments, research and development.”

This is equally true in the case of UDA and MDA and placing it on same platform as Cyber-security, security of pharmaceutical industry and others.

In my assessment, UDA is the new kid on the block and has to be given due attention. Most nations suffer from “Sea-blindness” and have consequently suffered in the bargain. The recent appointment of the National Maritime Security Coordinator (NMSC) is one of the many initiatives of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The government can become a net security provider with the help of the private sector, academia, research organizations and like-minded institutions in India and overseas. It is in this quest that we have eminent speakers from across the spectrum on our webinar today.

“The collaboration between India and Sri Lanka on UDA is an excellent vessel to commence our journey and through it we will travel to destinations in BIMSTEC and onto IOR.

The road map is clear and we hope to traverse it smoothly.

“MRC has in the past few years focused on this subject, ICSB has been offering training in coastal security to government and private sector in India and we are ready to welcome Sri Lankan entities to participate in our activities.”

In this direction, PF is an important partner as witnessed by high level participation in today’s event. The next step is to create a road map for collaboration and moving things forward.

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About The Authors

Mr Pratap M Heblikar

He is the former Special Secretary, Government of India. He is also the Emeritus Resource Faculty at School of International Cooperation, Security and Strategic Languages (SICSSL). He was decorated by the Government of India for Distinguished and Meritorious Service respectively during his career. During his government service, he specialized in insurgency and counter-insurgency developments in India’s northeast region. Mr. Heblikar has held several important and sensitive posts in the central government dealing with external security related issues.