The recent leak of the India-Seychelles Defence Pact into the public domain by some unnamed Seychelles official is unprecedented and one of its kind in the history of the India-Seychelles foreign relations. The data that has been put up in the public domain shows the details of the Indian initiative to setup a military facility, route maps, landing facilities and a military base. The agreement is on the Indian initiative to establish its presence in the Assumption Islands, which is a part of the 115 chain of islands belonging to Seychelles. The government have been negotiating the deal for the past three years and during the visit of Narendra Modi to the Island nation on March 2015, the draft was formed. This was further carried forward by the External Affairs officials, who negotiated further by including certain concerns from the Seychelles side. The final agreement was signed in 2018 January and the recent leak brought this final document into the public domain. The matter has raised concerns on both sides with Seychelles declaring a ‘thorough’ investigation into the matter whereas the Indian side is yet to respond. Though the immediate implication would be the further delay of already delayed project, the long term implication would include the opposition from the Seychelles nationals against the project as well as a possible backlash from China, which has sizable interests in the Indian Ocean region that encompasses the Seychelles as Beijing’s most awaited and aspired project, The Maritime Silk Route passes through the same area. The data breach once again brings in the issues pertaining to the digital infrastructure and the cyber security that the nation can offer to its military and civilian databases, given the possibility of the leak from one of the Indian servers.
The news of the leak came as an embarrassment for the Modi government, which was performing relatively well in the international arena, in terms of building quality, everlasting relationships with fellow nations. It was during the period of past five years that the government was able to garner support for India’s entry into prestigious international organizations like Wassenar Agreement, Australia Group, Missile Technology Control Regime etc. India also put up a good fight to arrange a membership in NSG, though it was blockaded at the last moment by the attempts from the furious Chinese side. Above all such gains, the most important was the support for a permanent membership in United Nations Security Council. The country progressed so much in garnering the support of world nations that today, more than 150 countries across the world supports India’s cause for a permanent membership in the most powerful organ of United Nations. However this breach, even if not from a mistake from India, may bring the global sentiments unfavourable to the interests of our country. The data was released online through a YouTube account under the name ‘Partu Kote’, where the anonymous user uploaded a video explaining how the agreement would impact the people of Seychelles. The nine minute video was accompanied by a set of Google Drive links, which hosts the documents and secret correspondence between the two governments.
The most important implication of this data breach is the fact that this will further alleviate the tensions between the Delhi and Beijing as the relationships between the two Asian giants have been at a historically low point since the Indo-China War. This would also raise a certain degree of suspicion amongst several countries, who to some extent believe that Indian interests in the region are of defence-nature and not that of pure economic interests. Since the video is rhetoric about how the ‘Seychelles government is lying the people of Assumption’, this may also create an uproar amongst the Seychellois or the citizens of Seychelles. The most damaging after effect for the Indian side would be that since the Detailed Project Report (DPR) is now available online, the country cannot pursue the project with the given structure and design. Since the key pages are released online with the content clearly visible, the government may now, will have to work on modifying them while pursuing the agreement in future.
As the Chinese dragon is fluxing its muscles in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), India cannot wait and watch the game played by its Chinese counterparts. However, there should be more care and precautions taken while processing the sensitive documents like the Seychelles Papers, which has the capability to even derail the foreign relations between two nations. Even though the possibility of the leak from Indian side is likely to be very low, a data breach is always costly for both parties, no matter who is responsible.
-Contributed by Jiss Palelil
Picture Credits: Seychelles News Agency