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India’s Diplomatic Fire-Fighting In Maldives – Analysis

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By Rajeev Sharma

Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai has just returned from his latest visit to Maldives (February 27-29, 2012) where he took forward the political process and continued India’s engagement with all parties concerned in the Indian Ocean archipelago which recently faced a near-coup situation resulting in change of government. Essentially, Mathai’s visit was continuance of diplomatic fire-fighting where India has actually messed up big time.

The official line taken by the Government of India is expectedly much different. The Ministry of External Affairs issued a press release on February 29 claiming that the representatives of all parties who met Mathai, individually and collectively, expressed the view that India had played “a very useful role” in taking the process forward as a facilitator and friend of the Maldivian people. This has to be taken with a pinch of salt as India continued to be a fence sitter as the then President Mohammed Nasheed committed errors of judgment one after another and sought Indian help when he was neck deep in trouble. Maldives is the second SAARC country which has witnessed fall of President after he took on the judiciary of his country. The previous example was that of Pakistan where President Pervez Musharraf had to bow out of office after he unsuccessfully locked horns with Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Choudhry. But Maldives is not Pakistan. Unlike in Pakistan India could have, and should have, played a more pro-active role in Maldives and nipped the crisis in the bud which India failed to do.

Maldives
Maldives

The MEA has claimed that Mathai’s Male visit threw up a broad measure of agreement with all stakeholders. All parties agreed to continue dialogue on the way forward including possible amendment to the Constitution and enactment of legislation for institutional reforms. All Parties recognized the need to undertake the necessary amendments and legislation within a quick timeframe in the People’s Majlis. Maldives’s new President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, in his concluding meeting with Mathai, reiterated appreciation for India’s assistance and support to the reconciliation process and expressed further potential outcome of the continued consultations while agreeing that India would continue its role of facilitator.

But the ticklish situation remains as Nasheed continues to sulk and has refused to join the national government. Though Waheed has agreed on the need for early elections and continue further consultations among all major parties under the rubrique of All Party Consultative Committee (APCC), no fresh dates of elections have been announced. Waheed does not seem to be in a tearing hurry to holding fresh polls. Nasheed demonstrated his power and his intentions on March 1 when his supporters squatted in front of Majlis – Maldives’ Parliament – and prevented President Waheed from opening Parliament. The incident showed that Maldives’ political instability is going to exacerbate. That all parties have agreed to look at India as a ‘facilitator’ in bringing about national reconciliation has endowed a big responsibility on New Delhi. It is also a key opportunity for India which it cannot afford to whittle away. But the Indian path is laden with more of thorns and less of roses.

A delegation of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) that visited Maldives on February 17 recommended that early elections should be held in the country and preferably within this year itself. CMAG had urged President Waheed to commence an immediate dialogue without preconditions. Having come in the wake of the visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary and the subsequent roadmap that President Waheed’s Office itself had made public, it was expected that discussions would be held among the principal political players in this regard and dates would be firmed up at the earliest. However, this does not appear to be happening.

At a rally organized by the “December 23 Coalition” on February 24, an alliance of religious NGOs and political parties led by former President M A Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), President Waheed adopted a strident position on the issue. He declared that before declaration of a date for the elections, former President Nasheed should first establish the illegitimacy of the present Government. Earlier, Waheed had reacted to the suggestions of the CMAG by appointing his own Commission of Enquiry to go into the circumstances leading to transfer of power (events from January 14 to February 8).

The Commission is headed by Ismail Shafeeu, Minister of Defense and National Security in Gayoom’s regime. He had also said that the CMAG’s recommendations for international participation in such an inquiry were for the Commission to consider. In view of the volte face by President Waheed on the assurances given to the CMAG, the Commonwealth and foreign office as well as the international community is seriously considering sending observers to Male in order to oversee a smooth return to democracy by the convening of early elections. The international initiative has become urgent in view of what happened in Male on March 1 when the Majlis could not begin its scheduled session due to large-scale protests from Nasheed’s supporters.

India cannot afford to lower its guard in Maldives at a time when China has raised its strategic sweepstakes in this country and Pakistan too has become active. The Wahabi tremors that are already being felt in Maldives have accentuated the situation further. Any diplomatic blunder by India vis a vis Maldives will prove to be costly. If India were to display any diplomatic shortsightedness in Maldives, the results would be catastrophic. This will downsize India in its strategic backyard which is strategically located near busy, pirate-infested shipping lanes.

SAAG

SAAG

SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

4 thoughts on “India’s Diplomatic Fire-Fighting In Maldives – Analysis

  • Avatar
    March 7, 2012 at 7:21 pm
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    indias response to the crisis in maldives is tempered by the corrupt dealings of Indian High Commisioner Dyaneshwar Muley. Mr Muley has deep rooted links with GMR and Ibrahim Hussain Zaki through which the Male Airport deal was awarded by President Nasheed to GMR. In addition GMR has financed the transfer of MP’s in the parliament to the then ruling MDP to ensure that a vote on the legality of the GMR contract could be won. Mr Mathai was firmly told not to interfere in the internal affairs of Maldives by the larger political parties at the All PArty Talks because he was blatantly promoting the views of MDP because his decisions would be based on the information and guidance provided by Muley. India will try and flex its muscles and it will make things worse.

    The transfer of power happened in full compliance of the constitution in front of the Speaker of Majlis and the oath was read out by the Chief Justice. Nasheed has several times over reached to control the judiciary through intimidation and spreading false hoods. He has blatantly influenced the out come of elections. he as flouted the law on several occasions. all of these matters are being submitted to the police for criminal investigations and subsequent legal action through the Prosecutor General, The Supreme COurt was appointed by Nasheed. yet he calls them irrelevant and is in contempt of court (both the supreme and high courts).

    India needs to regain lost ground. China is present in Maldives and ready to assist.

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  • Avatar
    March 8, 2012 at 2:23 am
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    It is widely believed, in Maldives, that Mr. Mullay the Indian High Commissioner was associated with the coup leaders! This could be the reason India took sides immediately after Nasheed resigned. This has resulted in the humiliation of Mr. Mathai the Indian Foreign Secretary, by the coalition members in the current administration. India should never have chosen the Leaders of the coup over the democratically elected government of Nasheed which has the overwhelming support of the Maldivian public! India has certainly lost a lot of ground but I believe they would still be able to regain the confidence of the Maldivians and be the key mediating party!

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  • Avatar
    March 8, 2012 at 5:29 am
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    The “Wahabi tremors” this article talks about were already felt in Maldives long ago, but everyone looked the other way. President Nasheed’s biggest blunder was not dealing sternly with the virulent religious fractions, a fact that became apparent when he sought leniency for the prisoners of the Himandhoo violent religious group that put a bomb in the capital and planned to put more.

    Agreed, it was difficult for Nasheed, because he was hampered by his alliance with Wahhabi sectors. At the time of the 2008 democratic elections some anti-Maumoon hardliners had helped Nasheed to power. These same religious politicians and their parties recently left him in the ditch and joined his opponents.

    It seems an unavoidable part of Maldivian politics that the ruler, no matter how enlightened or progressive, has to have the sinister backing of some hardline group or the other. This trend was set by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom.

    The current government used its own bunch of fanatics during its December campaign against President Nasheed for allegedly “being irreligious and wanting to do away with Islam”. Therefore, once these groups were whipped up into a froth they didn’t cool down and went on to destroy almost all the irreplaceable Maldivian archaeological remains in the National Museum in Male’.

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  • Avatar
    March 8, 2012 at 7:39 am
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    India lost ground? yes it did and i believe so. keep mullay or gmr aside for a second. the fact is nasheed is elected by the people in more than 30 years.yes we did elect maumoon too but only the people know the truth n india didnt know or ignored maldivian people for a 6 5year terms. then the people wudnt dare to object but its different now. with o without india a dictator o military cannot rule this country. mark my word. im no politician o anyones loyalist. the general public may have a hard time i mean a real hard in the near future but a coup leader o a dictator o military cannot survive either. india o other countries can help maldives from destruction beacause with o without them the general public is not ready to accept the humiliation experiencing right now.

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