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Indian Army chief Naravane visit could help bind Sri Lanka with Indo-Pacific democracies

Army Chief Manoj Mukund Naravane (Photo: IANS)

Soon after the visit by foreign secretary Harsh Shringla, Army Chief Manoj Mukund Naravane has arrived in Sri Lanka to further draw Colombo in the fold of Indo-Pacific democracies, especially India and Japan. 

Analysts say the back-to-back visit of Gen. Naravane has a two-fold purpose. First, it is to deepen positive engagement with India along the military track. Second, deeper ties with Sri Lanka, will help balance excessive Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, including liberating Colombo from a debt-trap equation with Beijing. 

In the second back-to-back high-profile visit, Gen. Naravane, who has arrived in Sri Lanka on a five-day visit will discuss regional security challenges, apart from zoning on specific areas to boost New-Delhi-Colombo military ties. 

Naravane will not only engage with the military leadership but also meet top political leaders in the island nation.

The visit by two top officials by India, precedes growing engagement between Sri Lanka and Japan, which is part of a plan to develop with India, a new container terminal at Colombo port. Japan is also set to hold naval exercises with Sri Lanka, adding a security dimension to the Colombo-Tokyo relationship.

India and Japan are part of the Indo-Pacific Quad which has already begun the second phase of Malabar nuclear exercises in the Bay of Bengal.

On the Army Chief's arrival, the Indian Army tweeted: “General MM Naravane #COAS arrived in Sri Lanka and was extended a warm welcome by General Shavendra Silva Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of Sri Lankan Army at the airport”.

Last week, the militaries of the two countries had kick-started 12-day exercises, called Mitra Shakti, at the Combat Training School, Ampara, Sri Lanka. In a statement, the Defence Ministry said that "an all arms contingent of 120 personnel of the Indian Army will participate in the exercise along with a battalion of the Sri Lankan Army".

The focus of the military exercise, which concludes on October 15, is to enhance counter-terror cooperation and understand transnational terrorism.

The Sri Lankan media, quoting government sources, said that the Indian army chief is visiting the country on a goodwill tour. It highlighted that among General Naravane’s various accomplishments, he has also been part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka. Naravane will also pay tribute to the IPKF war heroes memorial.

During his four-day visit last week, Shringla had met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as well as Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Sri Lankan President had assured him that Colombo will not allow any anti-Indian activity on its soil.

In a rebuff to China, President Rajapaksa assures no anti-India activity to take place in Sri Lanka