Seychelles, a group of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean, has long been a strategic military location for world powers namely India, France, the U.K. and the U.S., as a safe port of call for their naval forces to refuel and rest, but also as a surveillance post for maritime and intelligence activities in the region.
The island state has long-standing military cooperation with these countries and relies on their assistance in surveillance of its vast Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 1.4 million square kilometres.
India is one of Seychelles’ oldest and closest military partners, having provided patrol ships, aircraft and helicopters to its defence forces over the years since the country gained independence from Britain in 1976.
Seychelles also has a large Indian diaspora as well as numerous Seychellois of Indian origin, descendants from many generations in the French and British colonial eras.
Over the years, the two countries have developed strong trade, education, health sector and cultural ties.
Seychelles and India established diplomatic relations in June 1976 and the new Indian High Commissioner, Kartik Pande, took office in November last year.
SNA met with Pande to learn more about the priorities of his term in Seychelles as well as wider international relations issues pertaining to Africa and the rest of the world.
SNA: You have recently arrived in Seychelles, what are your plans for the year ahead?
KP: As I am sure you are aware the bilateral relations are very warm and very, very strong. Both countries are multicultural democracies. We have had some little disruptions because of COVID-19 because you know the lines of communication and travel were a bit cut. We are bringing it back on track and essentially increasing bilateral relations is the general mandate that I am working on.
SNA: Are you seeking to increase anything specific in bilateral relations?
KP: We actually have comprehensive bilateral energy. Two areas where I guess we need to focus should be tourism and trade. There are a lot of opportunities there which again in discussions with the Seychelles side, we should look at enhancing.
SNA: How do you see the existing cooperation between Seychelles and India?
KP: Seychelles and India have long-standing deep, warm and friendly ties. We look at Seychelles in terms of our neighbourhood first and the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). Our partnership is comprehensive and there are different facets.
Development partnership is one main area of our cooperation. Another important area is capacity building, the ITEC [Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation] both on the civil and the defence side is very popular in Seychelles.
The Leko group is going to the Surajkund International Crafts Mela in India. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY
Another area that is very important is the people-to-people ties. A youth delegation has gone to India and they have just returned yesterday. The Leko group is going to the Surajkund International Crafts Mela in India. This is the biggest craft mela in the world and it is dedicated to artisanal crafts.
We got a good group of Seychellois at our Indian classical dance on our Republic Day. Last year, we had a group of Seychellois journalists also going to India. What I mean to stress is that the partnership is comprehensive, it is expanding and the effort is to keep nudging it along the way to cover more and more areas.
SNA: Do you have any outstanding projects that you wish to develop?
KP: Our development partnership with Seychelles is guided by the priorities of Seychelles and on the terms that Seychelles is comfortable with. We are not forcing anything; it is completely on what Seychelles tells us to do.
Our development partnership has three pillars: the grant projects, the linear credit projects and the third pillar is what we call a high impact community development project.
In the community development projects, we have just completed around 29 of them. When I came, I was lucky enough to sign three memoranda of understanding for another six projects. These are community developments like the renovation of schools and small roads. They are small in budget but very high in impact because they can be done very quickly. These six are something that we are following up on.
On the line of credit, recently, some buses arrived in Seychelles. They are the first batch and another 59 of them will be coming. We hope that will be done in the first quarter of the year.
The first batch of new buses under the Indian Line of Credit support arrived last month. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY
There are other lines of ongoing credit projects for example the Coast Guard jetty is supposed to be built. Then there are some ambulances and there is also a health information system. All these are the projects which we hope will reach implementation and traction this year.
On the grant side, we had actually promised to help the government in drug reduction, so there are methadone vans which India is gifting. It got delayed because of COVID and other things but now we are well on our way to implementing that. There will be four methadone vans.
The line of credit assistance that we are giving to Seychelles actually is very interesting. India extends more than 300 lines of credit totalling around $30 billion to 64 countries. It’s a good mechanism because, like I said, it’s based on what Seychelles wants and the terms are very easy for the country to repay back in the long term.
SNA: Do you believe Seychelles has a strategic role in the western Indian Ocean, other than its obvious tourism appeal?
KP: KP: Seychelles is a very important country in the western Indian Ocean. Seychelles has an EEZ of 1.4 million square kilometres. It is rich in fisheries and other resources. It is located in the midst of very important sea links of communication and trade routes. Tourism, including maritime tourism, is a very important part of the Seychelles’ economy.
All this not only makes Seychelles a very important country, but Seychelles also has to face traditional as well as non-traditional challenges like piracy, IUU fishing, human trafficking, drug trafficking and rise of sea levels, climate change, threats to disruption of sea lanes communications. The list just goes on. It is very difficult for one single country to actually handle all these things on its own.
SNA: How do you assess the cooperation between Seychelles and India?
KP: We think international cooperation is very important and the strategic aspect of it and I am very happy to note that this is also a very important area of cooperation between India and Seychelles.
The Indian Navy or the Indian Defence Forces and the Seychelles Defence Forces (SDF) have had a long history of cooperation and we are happy and we are proud that we have been able to help the SDF with assets in the past and also with training. Essentially it is a win-win scenario because India and Seychelles are both part of the Indian Ocean complex and these aspects are important to both countries.
Seychelles is also an observer member in the Colombo Security Complex, with other members being Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh is an observer and of course India. This organisation is dedicated to the Indian Ocean region and mitigating challenges like the ones I mentioned. Not only this, there is another set-up in India called the Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region [IOR] which looks at shipping data and provides information to participating countries in the Indian Ocean region. Seychelles has a liaison officer in that particular centre along with many other countries, including Australia, France, Japan, Maldives, the U.S. and Singapore.
The inauguration of the Magistrates Court for the Judiciary in Seychelles in 2021. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY
The cooperation is very good and Seychelles has supported India in becoming an observer member in the IOC [Indian Ocean Commission] which is again important. So again, it is a bilateral and very cordial relationship so you have to be important!
SNA: Do you think the economic impact of the COVID pandemic and the war between Ukraine and Russia have changed India’s priorities for aid and cooperation with Africa and small island states?
KP: India has always been ready to assist Seychelles. An example is our cooperation during the COVID times. I think India and Seychelles’ cooperation continues to be robust and I’ll tell you why. If you look at the IMF’s latest outlook, it says that the global economic situation will slow down. However, it mentions India remains a bright spot because our economy is growing well, I think it is one percent in the forecast.
At the same time, Seychelles is also doing well because tourism has picked up. Of course, there are challenges from the source countries and all that. but I think we should use this opportunity to further deepen links because our economies are doing well. There will be tourism and there will be trade and these are two areas where we should focus on more work.
In December last year, we came into our G20 presidency and one of the aims India has in our G20 presidency is to make it the Voice of the Global South of the developing countries club. The chief force of the population lives there and that is where the challenges are. The theme of our presidency is One Earth, One Family, One Future.
In this regard, India recently held The Voice of the Global South Virtual Summit where 125 countries participated across different sectors. The Minister of Environment, Agriculture and Climate Change, Flavien Joubert, also participated in the environment ministers’ segment. He pointed out the problems and challenges faced by Seychelles as well as the small island developing states.
At the end of the summit, our Prime Minister said that the ideas shared will provide inspiration to India as it tries to shape the agenda of the G20 as well as in our own development partnership. Despite the geo-political challenges through the G20 and otherwise, our efforts are to mitigate these challenges for all our partners and friends.
SNA: Seychelles has greatly benefitted from its close diplomatic ties with India. What do you think are the best results of this relationship?
KP: I would say India and Seychelles have both benefitted from these cordial ties. Seychelles is a special friend. In Seychelles, there has always been an Indian diaspora, if you read the history from the very beginning. There are so many areas, in fact, the relationship is comprehensive.
We can say that it was a partnership that has extended to all areas be it people to people, be it development cooperation, it’s totally important. You take the International Solar Alliance, you take India’s election to the [UN] Security Council as a non-permanent member, and this will continue.
This is the result of the political capital that the leadership for both sides has put into the relationship. The main task for us is to make it even deeper in other areas like trade, tourism and many others.
Source: Seychelles News Agency