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The threat to national security: Emergency clamped in Maldives

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The president of the Maldives Abdulla Yameen’s has declared a state of emergency, citing a threat to citizens’ safety and national security, following widespread international condemnation and concerns about its impact on the country’s crucial tourism industry, the government said. Maldives has declared State of Emergency for 30 days as per Article 253 of the Constitution citing threat to national security. The government said a curfew would not be imposed.

The state of emergency was limited to 30 days only and Abdulla Yameen’s decree, which came into effect at midday local time (0700 GMT), suspends all basic rights and gives the security forces sweeping powers to arrest suspects before a major anti-government rally planned later this week. Seven articles of the constitution have been suspended, including those guaranteeing citizens of the Indian Ocean island nation the rights of assembly, free expression, freedom from arbitrary detention and freedom of movement.

Under the emergency regulations, police are allowed to enter and search homes without a warrant, and the rights to assemble peacefully and travel between the many islands of the archipelago nation were suspended. Soldiers in riot gear surrounded the parliament building in the capital Male on Sunday soon after the opposition petitioned parliament to remove the South Asian island’s attorney-general and its chief prosecutor.

The Maldives has suffered acute political instability for several years, but a new cycle of chaos and unrest appears to be intensifying.  “President Yameen has declared state of emergency to ensure the safety and security of every citizen,” his spokesman Muaz Ali tweeted. In a statement to the nation, Yameen, who took power in a contested election in 2013, said there were groups planning to use weapons and explosives.  “My beloved citizens, I assure you, that in enforcing this decree, the rights and freedoms stated in the constitution will only be restricted within the limits of … the constitution, and only to the extent strictly required by the situation,” Yameen said.

The move comes at a time of heightened tensions following an explosion on Yameen’s speedboat on 28 September that wounded his wife and two others. Yameen was unharmed in the blast, and the FBI has said there is no evidence it was caused by a bomb. But the authorities say it was an attempt on his life. Yameen arrested the vice-president, Ahmed Adeeb, on 24 October after accusing him of “high treason” and linking him to the boat blast.

Legal Affairs Minister Azima Shakoor made the emergency announcement on Monday on state television, and a statement attributed to President Abdulla Yameen was posted on the ministry of foreign affairs website. “The government of Maldives wishes to also assure all Maldivians and the international community that the safety of all Maldivians and foreigners living in and visiting the Maldives will be ensured,” the statement said.

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) said it had found a remote-controlled bomb near the president’s official residence and safely defused it. Officials on Wednesday said several discoveries of arms and explosives had been made, though the whereabouts of other weapons and ammunition missing from state armouries remained unknown.

Further searches were under way on Wednesday evening, with local media reporting that at least one suspected explosive device had been found. “The purpose of today’s announcement is to send a clear message. Those who seek to cause harm and unrest through violence – whether their aims are political, religious or otherwise – have no place in our country. We are a young, vibrant democracy and will do all we can to uphold those values,” said Maumoon.

The Maldives plunged into political turmoil last week after the country’s top court threw out a “terrorism” conviction against its former president Mohamed Nasheed, and ordered the release of other jailed opposition politicians. The ruling dealt a blow to Yameen with critics accusing him of corruption, misrule, and rights abuses. He denies the allegations. The government does not believe that the Supreme Court ruling to release the political prisoners can be enforced

The government declared the state emergency after refusing on Monday to implement a ruling that has led to a wave of protests in the capital, Malé, with angry clashes between police and demonstrators. The president, Abdulla Yameen, has responded by dispatching soldiers to surround the parliament building, preventing MPs from meeting. He also called a noisy rally of his supporters.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said declaring the state of emergency in the first place was political, designed to stop a rally planned for last Friday demanding the release of the party’s leader, former President Mohamed Nasheed. “It appears that Yameen is willing to make up threats about the nation’s security in order to settle political scores,” the party said in a statement, referring to the president. “Yameen’s increasingly erratic, paranoid and dangerous behavior is damaging the country and proves he is unfit to be president. He has failed and should step down.”

The Supreme Court ordered Yameen on Thursday to free nine dissidents, ruling that their trials were politically motivated and flawed. The court also called on the president to reinstate opposition MPs. But the government refused to implement it and declared the emergency.

The Maldives Supreme Court has hit back at President Abdulla Yameen’s refusal to free his jailed opponents amid an escalating crisis that saw security forces seal off the country’s parliament and arrest two opposition lawmakers on Sunday.   Judges of the top court said there should be “no legal barrier” to releasing the nine people, including the island nation’s exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed, whose terrorism and corruption convictions it overturned last week.

Their statement came after Attorney-General Mohamed Anil raised concerns about freeing people convicted of “terrorism, bomb attacks, corruption, embezzlement and fraud”.

The top court’s ruling last week has plunged the Maldives into political turmoil and dealt a major blow to Yameen, who critics accuse of corruption, misrule and rights abuses.

Yameen denies the allegations.

The sudden about face by the Supreme Court, which sided with Yameen in the past, and the widespread international support for its verdict puts unprecedented pressure on the president to free his opponents ahead of a presidential election later this year.

The government accused the Supreme Court of trying to oust the president, a claim judges did not respond to in their statement late on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, the attorney general, in a televised appearance flanked by the chiefs of the army and the police, said the government has received news of an imminent order by the Supreme Court to impeach Yameen. “I have informed all law enforcement agencies they must not obey such an illegal order,” Mohamed Anil said.  Ahmed Shiyam, the army chief, said the security forces would follow the attorney-general’s advice and “will not wait and watch as the Maldives descends into crisis”.

The opposition called Anil’s order to the security forces “unconstitutional, highly illegal, and dangerous” and petitioned parliament to oust Anil, as well as the country’s chief prosecutor. Shortly afterwards, soldiers surrounded the parliament building and sealed it off.

The island nation emerged a decade ago from a long spell of 30 years of authoritarian rule under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. His successor Mohamed Nasheed, elected in 2008, presided over a brief flourishing of multiparty democracy before being controversially ousted five years later.

Since then Yameen has stifled dissent and imprisoned members of the opposition. Rights groups have accused Yameen of using new laws and criminal cases to silence critics and to neutralise his opponents.  On Monday the government made clear it had no intention of respecting the supreme court’s decision. The legal affairs minister, Azima Shakoor, said the ruling was not enforceable, adding that there were numerous challenges to freeing prisoners.

Yameen’s main rival, Nasheed, described events taking place in the country as “tantamount to a coup”. He tweeted that Yameen should resign and said the security services “must uphold the constitution and serve the Maldivian people”.

Nasheed is in Sri Lanka. He has been living in the UK since 2016 after being given asylum when he travelled there on medical leave from prison.

In addition to ordering the release of the political prisoners, the Supreme Court also reinstated 12 MPs who switched allegiance to the opposition. When they return, Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives will lose its majority in the 85-member parliament, which could result in the legislative body functioning as a rival power to the president. On Friday Nasheed said he would mount a fresh challenge for the presidency this year. Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison after he was convicted under Maldives’ anti-terror laws. The trial that was widely condemned by international rights groups

Dunya Maumoon, the foreign minister, described the measures as “precautionary action by the government in light of several security threats that have emerged in the last week”. “As a government we have a responsibility to our citizens to ensure they can go about their daily lives in peace and security. We are determined to root out a small minority who seem intent on causing damage to people and property,” she said. On Wednesday the streets of Malé, the capital, were quiet, but soldiers had cordoned off water and power plants. Residents said raids were continuing.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), whose leader Mohamed Nasheed is in jail following his conviction earlier this year under anti-terror laws, has organised the protest. Nasheed left power in 2012 amid protests, forced out by what his supporters claim was a coup. Nasheed called on the international community to consider introducing sanctions against the current government. He also appealed to tourists travelling to the Maldives to reconsider their views on the popular holiday destination. “It is good and necessary to have a relaxing holiday but important they understand what is happening here too,” he said.

The incarceration of Nasheed, who was convicted on charges of using the military to arrest a senior judge when in office, has been severely criticised by the UN and international rights groups.

The British high commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, James Dauris, said he was “most concerned by restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms in the Maldives from today”. Thoriq Hamid, from the NGO Transparency Maldives, said his organisation was “extremely … concerned that the situation has escalated to this point”. The Australian government last week told its citizens to exercise a “high degree of caution” while travelling to Malé, “due to the possibility of civil unrest and the threat of terrorist attacks”.

The MDP rally was aimed at pressuring Yameen to release Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the country and an internationally recognised climate change campaigner. Eva Abdulla, an MDP member of parliament, said the rally would proceed as planned. “We saw this coming. Everything has been leading up to this. This is the last straw – the only straw – left for Yameen. He has totally lost grip on governance. He doesn’t have the public with him and any control is based on fear and intimidation,” she said.

There are growing fears of Islamic extremism in the Maldives, fuelled in part by the political instability since the departure from power of autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2008.The government has put him under house arrest. The government has warned media outlets their licences will be suspended “if broadcasts threaten national security”.

The justification for the state of emergency on the basis of a security threat could be dangerous, Abdulla, the MDP parliamentarian, said. “My worry is we are a hotbed for jihadi recruitment at the moment so to use this to get at political opponents is irresponsible in the extreme. They could be turning a blind eye to the real problem and endangering us all as a result.”

Junayd Mohamed, a journalist with the Maldives Independent, told Al Jazeera he also heard reports that riot police and military officials were inside the court. He said they set up barricades to block off the area, but protesters were rallying outside.  “Hundreds of people [are] gathered outside who are calling on the security forces to arrest President Yameen and protect the Supreme Court,” Mohamed said.

Opposition members of parliament urged foreign intervention after the government ignored the Supreme Court ruling. The opposition now has a majority in the 85-member house as the court ruling also reinstated 12 members of parliament who were stripped of their seats last year. But two of the 12 were arrested at the airport on Sunday, shortly after they returned to the Maldives after spending months in exile.

In a resolution signed in the capital Male on Sunday, opposition MPs called on the international community “to impress upon the government of Maldives the need to respect the rule of law, and implement last Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that ordered the release of political leaders and the reinstatement of 12 opposition MPs”.  They also called for “all necessary measures … to hold government officials accountable for violations of national and international law”.  Tensions “could escalate to civil unrest and incite violence across the country”, they warned.

The United Nations, European Union, and several foreign governments – including India, the USA and UK – have urged Yameen to comply with the Supreme Court’s order.   The government has accused the court of trying to oust the president, a claim judges have not responded to. The United States urged government restraint on Monday. “The Maldivian government and military must respect the rule of law, freedom of expression, and democratic institutions. The world is watching,” the White House National Security Council said in a Twitter post.

Rights group Amnesty International denounced the government’s “appalling track-record of suppressing freedom of expression and any form of opposition”. “This emergency cannot become a licence for further repression,” Omar Waraich, the group’s deputy South Asia director, said on Twitter.

The opposition now has a majority in the 85-member house as the Supreme Court ruling also reinstated 12 members of parliament who were stripped of their seats last year. But two of the 12 were arrested at the airport on Sunday, shortly after they returned to the Maldives after spending months in exile. Abdulla Sinan and Ilham Ahmed were detained on charges of bribery, a police spokesman told Al Jazeera.

Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, an opposition parliamentarian, condemned their arrest in a statement.  “We call on the police to release the MPs immediately, and to stop following unlawful orders, to stop obstructing the lawful mandate of parliamentarians,” Solih said.  “In a desperate attempt to cling onto power, President Yameen has illegally overrun the state. His attorney-general has illegally assumed the powers of the apex court, while the military has overrun the legislature,” he added.

On Sunday night, hundreds of flag-waving opposition supporters took to the streets of the capital Male calling on the government to abide by the court ruling.

Meanwhile, the official who heads the parliament’s secretariat resigned after the speaker, a Yameen ally, cancelled the opening of the parliament, scheduled for Tuesday, over unspecified “security concerns”.  “I have stepped down,” Ahmed Mohamed told Al Jazeera on Sunday, without offering further details. The heads of the Maldives’ main high-security prison and the elections commission have also quit in recent days.

Nasheed, speaking to a private television channel from neighbouring Sri Lanka on Sunday, called for protests and urged rank-and-file members of the security forces to arrest the attorney-general as well as the chiefs of the army and police.

Observation

Maldives is a tourist’s paradise. It is not clear how much of an impact the state of emergency has had on the tourism industry in the Maldives, which is best known for its luxury tourist resorts.

The US State Department on Tuesday also welcomed the lifting of the state of emergency. Washington had been critical of its imposition, and has called for an end to politically motivated prosecutions and detentions.

Known for its luxury tourist resorts, Maldives has suffered from weak government institutions and a divided political system dominated. Yameen is the half-brother of Gayoom. The former president is now a vocal critic of Yameen. Over the weekend, Gayoom tweeted: “A band of thugs armed with knives drove by my residence several times after midnight last night shouting abuse at the top of their voice.” He added: “I wonder who would have sent these unruly thugs?”

The Maldives has had a difficult transition to democracy since holding its first multiparty election in 2008. The state of emergency has been declared in Maldives amid a deepening political crisis sparked by a Supreme Court ruling that called for the release of imprisoned opposition politicians.

President Yameen has been in office since 2013. He had been set to run for re-election this year almost unopposed, with all of his opponents either jailed or exiled. Lawmakers voted Vice President Ahmed Adeeb out of office using the regulations. Authorities suspect that Adeeb was behind the alleged attempts on Gayoom’s life, and he has been arrested and detained. Gayoom was not hurt in the September 28 blast aboard his boat, but his wife, an aide and a bodyguard was injured.

The Maldives’ economy has faltered in recent years and the country suffers from overcrowding, high unemployment rates and substance abuse. The declaration of a state of emergency comes amid a bitter power struggle between the president and Adeeb, with factions within the police and army supporting different political players. The dispute has weakened the government at a time of growing popular anger over the continuing detention of Nasheed and economic problems.

Police has started investigations into Supreme Court judges and officials since the ruling, and have said that they now plan to question Gayoom in a separate case. On Monday, the health minister, Hussain Rasheed Ahmed, quit in protest against the government’s attitude towards its highest court.

The continuing political instability in the Maldives is likely to damage its vital tourist trade, a key employer and earner of foreign exchange. Every year more than a million tourists visit the Maldives, an almost exclusively Sunni Muslim nation composed of 1,192 small coral islands, with a population of 340,000.

White sandy beaches, turquoise waters, shallow lagoons and secluded islets draw holidaymakers from all over the developed world as well as celebrities seeking privacy. Officials said there was no threat to resort security and the Maldives remained a safe destination for international visitors.

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South Asia

Why India won’t intervene militarily in Maldives

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An Indian Ocean archipelago of 1,192 islands, the Maldives is a tourist paradise. The Maldives is a low-lying country that is expected to be among the first in the world to go under water as a result of climate change. While it may take a few more decades for rising sea levels to wreak havoc on the archipelago, there are more immediate and pressing problems tearing the country apart.

Tourism is the backbone of the country’s economy, and tour operators have reported hundreds of daily cancellations since the state of emergency was imposed on February 5. Following the state of emergency, Maldives has been in a tensed state of existence in as the archipelago is facing a sort of turmoil, ransacking its tourism based economy.

Crisis

The current crisis was the result of a Supreme Court ruling on February 1, overturning the convictions of Yameen’s rivals. In addition to ordering the government to release the nine convicted opposition leaders, the apex court called for reinstating 12 parliamentarians who were stripped of their seats last year when they left Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives to join the opposition.

Two weeks after the government of the Maldives declared a state of emergency amid rising political tension, on February 20th Parliament approved a 30-day extension that, among other grave consequences, may result in serious damages to the economy, scaring away international visitors. On February 20, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom requested to extend the Maldives state of emergency for a total of 45 days. The Maldives government and the Ministry of Tourism have emphasized their commitment to safety for civilians and tourists alike.

The emergency “shall only apply to those alleged to have carried out illegal activities — it shall not apply to otherwise law-abiding residents of, or visitors to, the Maldives,” Yameen’s office said in a statement.

The opposition Jumhooree Party says the approval of the extension is illegal, and urged Yameen to lift the state of emergency in order to restore normalcy. “Despite the State of Emergency, the country is functioning as normal as possible,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism told TPG Tuesday before the extension was approved. “Schools and government offices are in operation and we do not foresee any threats to the public or tourists. We too are continuing with the promotional activities of the destination.”

Since Yameen became president in a controversial election in 2013, he has systematically crushed dissidence within his party and removed rivals from the political arena.

For instance, MDP leader and former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed, the archipelago’s first democratically elected leader, was convicted on terrorism charges in 2015 and sentenced to 13 years in jail. While Nasheed has been living in self-exile in Britain since 2016, several other opposition leaders, including a former defense minister in the Nasheed government, Mohamed Nazim; Yameen’s once “trusted” vice-president, Ahmed Adheeb; and leader of the opposition Adhaalath Party, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, are in jail on long prison terms.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) calls on neighboring India to militarily intervene to end the crisis, and let Nasheed become the president.

According to reports in the Indian media, the government has ruled out the military option for now, although it has activated its standing operating procedure for the Maldives by keeping troops ready for deployment there at short notice, should the need arise.

But India is said to be working with a group of countries, including the United States and Saudi Arabia, to pressure the government through imposition of sanctions. However, India has traditionally opposed the sanctions option to influence regime behavior, as sanctions affects ordinary people rather than the ruling elite.

Relations between India and the Maldives have been strong for decades; India played a major role in building the Maldives’ economy and military. It was India’s support that kept the authoritarian Gayoom in power for three decades.

However, bilateral ties have been fraying since Nasheed’s exit from power in 2012. That year, the Maldivian government abruptly terminated a $500 million contract awarded to India’s GMR Infrastructure for developing an airport in Male. Bilateral ties have deteriorated since then. Yameen’s “authoritarian governance” has irked India, but it is his tight embrace of China that has raised hackles in Delhi.

No invitation for invasion

A country could decide to send military forces to neighboring or any other country only on the request form that nation concerned. Otherwise the intervention becomes totally illegal and amounts to invasion. USA led NATO have been occupying many countries in Middle East and Afghanistan after invading them on false justifications.

Anyone who closely follows Indian state behavior abroad would quickly endorse the argument that India would not intervene in Maldives citing any reason.

In order to decide to sent troops to nearby Maldives, India must have got a request from the government of Maldives but that government has not sought it. In 1988 when India intervened in Maldives it was on the request received from the then President Gayoom.

When an external government is engaged in dealing with an emergency situation, naturally that power should be given huge service charges. Without any request from Maldivian government of Yameen, India won’t get any service charges. Though the exiled opposition leader Nasheed might be willing to pay the money to India as he has made the request to New Delhi, but India cannot respond to non-government actors.

This step alone can easily do away with any suggestion to India for intervention in Maldives.

The government of Maldives has not asked for Indian military to help bring peace and normalcy back to the island nation. India cannot attack Maldives on the suggestion by the opposition leader who now lives in Srilanka.

Claiming to be a ‘terror victim’, India would not like to be seen as an aggressor as no amount of justification can  make New Delhi “innocent” although it has got that look. .

China factor

But there are some more important reasons that deny India any chance to send troops to Maldives which, in the absence of a request from the government,   would mean to remove the President and government from power.

Today, archipelago Maldives is not alone, though insignificant for non-tourists. China is fast becoming an economic ally of Maldives and might soon have its own military bases in the island nations as well.

Chinese nexus is the prime strength Maldives would operate on.

Unlike China, USA can only bully small nations but cannot spend money on them, does not invest there to help their economies flourish. Already, Beijing, knowing the Indian strategic community’s desire for a military showcase byIndia in Maldives, has expressed its opposition to outside intervention from India.

Unlike USA, India cannot attack Maldives on the suggestion of USA or Israel or Opposition leader Nasheed and if that at all happens India would possibly be in a long term trouble.

In 2014, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Maldives, Yameen handed over the airport project to a state-run Chinese company. The two sides signed a string of deals during that visit that saw Beijing participate in a big way in infrastructure building in Maldives. Maldives also became an enthusiastic participant in the Maritime Belt of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Then in December last year, the Maldives and China signed a Free Trade Agreement, much to India’s concern. Delhi is worried about Beijing’s mounting influence over Maldives and the strategic implications for India.

China’s growing presence in the Maldives is a serious concern to India given the latter’s geographic proximity to the Indian coastline. The Maldives also sit near international sea lanes through which India’s oil imports traverse. India’s security would be threatened should the Chinese set up a naval base in the Maldives. These concerns are not without substance; in August 2017, three Chinese naval vessels docked at the Maldives’ capital, Male, setting off alarm bells in Delhi.

India’s vulnerability

India is watching the unfolding crisis in the Maldives with concern. It is mulling different options. Not doing anything is not an option given India’s stakes in a stable Maldives.

A seemingly busy India, whose PM is on a perpetual foreign tours as India’s foreign policy with very little time for the people and keeps mum on all major anti-people events, promotes rampant corruption and the powerful lords  loot the nation and its resources for private use, steel cash from nationalized banks, illegal mining and land grabbing.

IPL Modi, PNB looter Nirav Modi- both have escaped from India and are now abroad thanks to timely help and aid from agencies of Indian regime, Kothari, et al are just the tip of iceberg in Indian sage of misappropriation of state resources while the intelligence and media lords are terribly busy blasting fake news about Pakistan and Muslims in order rot keep the fanatic sections of India.

The Indian government has said it is “disturbed” by the declaration of emergency in the Maldives and “the suspension of the Maldivian people’s constitutional rights.” It is “carefully monitoring the situation,” it said. Earlier, its Ministry of External Affairs issued a travel advisory to its citizens traveling to Maldives.

Sections in India are in favor of an Indian military intervention in the Maldives. Some argue that it does not behoove a rising power with big ambitions like India to shrink away from acting robustly to defend its interests in the region.

A section of the BJP leadership has described the current crisis in the Maldives as an “opportunity” for India “to stake its claim to being a global player.” It is “imperative” for India to intervene in the Maldives, they argue,  “since any global role is always dependent on a country’s performance in the neighborhood first. Those who want to see India a superpower as soon as possible with a magic touch, say that “time is ripe for a decisive Indian intervention in the Maldives.”  Such intervention by India would have the support of countries like the USA, Israel and UK, which, they reason, would be keen to see the pro-China Yameen removed from power. “This could be used to silence the Kashmiris who fancy for sovereignty”.

If India does decide in favor of military intervention, this will not be the first time it has done so in the Maldives. In 1988, India sent in a small contingent of troops to avert a coup attempt against Gayoom. But the circumstances of that intervention were different from what exists today. In 1988, President Gayoom invited India to intervene. Yameen is unlikely to do so now. Importantly as well, 30 years ago the coup plotters were just a small group of mercenaries. A military intervention today could leave Indian troops stuck in a Maldivian quagmire.

Yameen wins power struggle

Yameen, like most rulers today, is determined to cling to power. Not only has Yameen ignored the court order, but he went on to declare an emergency and had the judges who handed out the ruling arrested. Reinstating the 12 parliamentarians would reduce his government to a minority. That would enable parliament to oust him in a no-confidence vote.

Besides, Yameen seems apprehensive that allowing Nasheed to return to the Maldives and freeing the other opposition leaders would galvanize the opposition and boost mass protests against his iron-fisted rule. Presidential elections are due later this year and Yameen fears that he will be defeated by a strong opposition campaign.

With the proclamation of a state of emergency, Yameen has prevented parliament from meeting. The emergency will be in place for 15 days, during which he can be expected to pack the judiciary with loyal judges. He is likely to engineer defections from the opposition. He could extend the state of emergency as well.

Yameen has already appointed new judges, who have since annulled the court order releasing the opposition politicians. Former president and opposition leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who is Yameen’s half-brother, has been detained and Yameen has fired two police chiefs over three days.

With Yameen tightening his grip, Nasheed has called on India “to send an envoy, backed by its military to free the judges and the political detainees.” He has asked for India’s “physical presence” in the Maldives.

China has warned India against any military intervention in Maldives.

Observation

China is closely watching events in the Maldives. The archipelago is a popular destination for Chinese tourists; in light of the current uncertainty, Beijing has advised its citizens to postpone travel to the Maldives. Having invested heavily in the Maldives, China is concerned about the safety of its investments, projects, and personnel. It has asked the Maldivian government to “to take necessary measures to earnestly protect the security of the Chinese enterprises, situations and personnel.”

Unlike India, China has leverage with the Maldivian government. Yameen is likely to listen to China. But Beijing would not want to see him go.

China is opposed to India meddling in Maldives and has made this more than clear. An editorial in China’s state-run Global Times chided India for openly intervening in its neighbors’ domestic affairs. There is “no justification” for India “to intervene in Male’s affairs,” it observed.

Any military showcase by India could also prove counterproductive to India’s long-term interests. It would push Yameen closer to the Chinese, for instance. Besides, it would boost perception of India as a “big brother” and a “bully” in the region. Undemocratic forces in India’s neighboring countries have usually stoked anti-India sentiment among the masses by stressing such perceptions. This can be expected to happen in the Maldives too.

Importantly, an Indian military intervention is unlikely to benefit democratic forces in the Maldives in the long run as a democratic government, should one come to power in the archipelago following an intervention, would be seen as “made in India” with the USA acting as a “midwife.” Such a government would lack legitimacy in the eyes of many Maldivian people.

It does seem that the Sino-Indian contest for influence in the archipelago is as fierce as the ongoing tussle between Yameen and the Maldivian opposition.

Thus any suggestion for Indian military intervention in Maldives is ruled out.

India could perhaps act as a facilitator or even a mediator in a possible dialogue between Yameen’s Maldivian government and the opposition. But will Yameen welcome an Indian role against the Chinese wish? Moreover, he has reportedly defied Indian requests relating to the current crisis. India cannot have privileged the leverage to influence the decisions of Maldivian President.

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Into the Sea: Nepal in International Waters

Sisir Devkota

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A visit to the only dry port of Nepal will immediately captivate busy scenes with hundreds of trucks, some railway carriages and huge Maersk containers at play. Trains from the Port of Kolkata in India carry tons of Nepal’s exports every week. Every year, Nepal is fined millions of rupees for overstaying its containers at the designated dock in Haldiya Port of Kolkata. Nepal pays for spaces inside Indian ships to carry out its exports via the sea. This is the closest Nepal has come in exploiting economic opportunities through sea waters. Prime Minister KP Oli went one step further and presented an idea of steering Nepal’s own fleets in the vast international sea space. While his idea of Nepal affording its own ship was mocked; on the contrary, he was right. The idea is practical but herculean.

To start with, Nepal has a landlocked right to use international waters via a third country for economic purposes only. Law of the Sea conferences held during the 80’s, guarantees Nepal’s right to use the exclusive economic zone all around the globe. Article 69 of the Law of the Sea convention states that Nepal could both use sea as a trading route and exploit the exclusive economic zone of its sea facing neighbors. Nepal’s closest neighbor, India has a wide exclusive economic zone which consists of 7500 km long coastline. The article also allows landlocked nations to use docking facilities of the nearest coastal nation to run its fleets. An exclusive economic zone in sea waters is designated after a coastal nation’s eleven mile parallel water boundary ends; which is also a part of the coastal nations territory. Simply put, Nepali fleets can dock at India’s port, sail eleven miles further into international waters-carry out fishing and other activities, sail back to the Indian coast and transfer its catches back to Nepal.

Floating Challenges

Before ships can carry the triangular flag into sea waters, Nepal will need treaties in place to use coastal nation’s water to take off and build shipment facilities. Law of the Sea convention clearly mentions that the right to use another nation’s coast will depend solely on the will of the hosting coastal nation. Does Nepal have the political will to communicate and forge a comprehensive sea transit agreement with its coastal neighbors? Nepal’s chance of securing fleets in and around the Indian Ocean will depend on whether it can convince nations like India of mutual benefits and cancel any apprehension regarding its security that might be compromised via Nepal’s sea activity. The convention itself is one among the most controversial international agreements where deteriorating marine ecosystems, sovereignty issues and maritime crimes are at its core. Majority of global and environmental problems persist in the high seas; ranging from territorial acquisitions to resource drilling offences. Nepal is welcome into the high seas, but does it comprehend the sensitivity that clouts sea horizons? Nepal needs a diplomatic strategy, but lacking experience, Nepal will need to develop institutional capacities to materialize the oceanic dream. Secondly, the cost of operating such a national project will be dreadfully expensive. Does the Nepali treasury boast finances for a leapfrogging adventure?

How is it possible?

The good news is that many landlocked nations operate in international waters. Switzerland, as an example might not assure the Nepali case, but Ethiopia exercising its sea rights via Djibouti’s port could be inspiring. Before Nepal can start ordering its fleets, it will need to design its own political and diplomatic strategy. Nepal’s best rationale would lie in working together with its neighbors. The South Asian network of nations could finally come into use. Along with Nepal, Bhutan is another landlocked nation where possible alliances await. If India’s coasts are unapproachable, Nepal and Bhutan could vie for Bangladeshi coastlines to experience sea trading. Maldivian and Pakistani waters are geographically and economically inaccessible but Sri Lanka lies deep down the South Asian continent. If Nepal and Bhutan can satisfy Sri Lankan interests, the landlocked union could not only skim through thousands of nautical miles around the Bay of Bengal without entering Indian water space; but also neutralize the hegemonic status of India in the region. If such a multinational agreement can be sought; SAARC- the passive regional body will not only gain political prowess but other areas of regional development will also kickstart.

Most importantly, a transit route (such as the Rohanpur-Singhdabad transit route) from Bangladesh to Nepal and Bhutan will need to be constructed well before ships start running in the Indian Ocean. In doing so, Nepal will not only tranquilize Nepal-Bhutan relations but also exercise leadership role in South Asia. A regional agreement will flourish trade but will also make landlocked Nepal’s agenda of sailing through other regions of international sea strong and plausible. A landlocked union with Bhutan will trim the costs than that of which Nepal will be spending alone. Such regional compliance would also encourage international financial institutions to fund Nepal’s sea project. Apart from political leverages, Nepal’s economy would scale new heights with decreasing price of paramount goods and services. Flourishing exports and increased tourism opportunities would be Nepal’s grandiloquence. Nepal’s main challenge lies in assuring its neighbors on how its idea would be mutually beneficial. Nepal’s work starts here. Nepal needs to put together a cunning diplomatic show.

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South Asia

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hug Diplomacy Fails

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s enthusiasm is only to capture power; the same, however, cannot be said of foreign policy administration, especially in dealing with our immediate neighbors, and China. The best examples of his policy paralysis are the way in which demonetization and GSTs are implemented, or his sudden visit to Pakistan in December 2015. He is always in election mode. During the first two years, he was in the humor of a general election victory. Thereafter, he has spent much of his energy in establishing himself as the sole savior of the BJP in state elections, and this year he will turn his attention to the 2019 general elections.

Two years ago, without doing any homework or planning, Modi travelled to Pakistan from Afghanistan to greet his counterpart, the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to wish him well on his birthday. He hugged Sharif and spent only two hours with him to try to sort out the 70 year outstanding divergence between India and Pakistan.

Modi strategically hugs fellow world leaders. He has no strategic perception. He believes only in the power of his personal charisma in dealing with foreign policy matters. This strategy has failed considerably with China and with our other immediate neighbors, but he neither intends to accept these mistakes, nor is he interested in learning from them. More importantly, an alternative diplomatic strategy is necessary to maintain our international position; through prudent policy articulations. Let us examine the impact of his hug diplomacy.

During the 2013/14 general elections campaign he attacked the Congress-led UPA government on multiple fronts, including towards former Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh’s policy on Pakistan. He proposed that the BJP government would have more guts to better deal with Pakistan. Under his administration, we lost numerous soldiers in fighting with Pakistan terrorists, experienced a 100-day shutdown in Kashmir, blindly allowed a Pakistan team to inspect our Pathankot Air Force Station, and generally continued down a visionless path in foreign policy. These indicate that Modi’s defensive and offensive strokes against Pakistan have failed completely, including the most politicized ‘surgical strike’ that did not contain the terrorists from Pakistan. Today, the Modi government is searching for policy directions in handling Pakistan, but sat in a corner like a lame duck.

In the beginning, when he took office, Modi perhaps believed that ‘everything is possible’ in international affairs simply by virtue of occupying the prime minister seat. Further, he thought that all his visits abroad would bring a breakthrough. His hugs with counterparts, various costume changes, and the serving of tea, indicate that our prime minister is using soft power approaches. These approaches were used by our first Prime Minister Nehru whilst India did not have a strong military or economy. However, India is not today what it was in the 1950/60s. Presently, hugging and changing costumes will not necessarily keep India influential in international relations, especially at a time when the world is undergoing multi-polar disorder. However, he is in continuous denial that his paths are wrong, especially in dealing with our neighbors.

What is the BJP led-NDA government policy on Pakistan? Does this government have any policy for Pakistan? Since 2014,Modi has not permitted the Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, to contribute to any foreign policy articulations. As long as Sushma fulfills the duty of Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs she will receive praise from the prime minister’s office.

During 2015 he met Sharif at his residence in Islamabad to give him a hug. This happened exactly two years ago. Further, this is a very serious question that the Media and Modi-supporting TV channels forgot to raise. Instead, without hesitation, they praised him for touching the sky, and described the moment as a diplomatic initiative for a breakthrough with our neighbor Pakistan. The Media will realize this mistake when their traditional viewers switch over to other channels to get centrist news.

What are the outcomes of Modi hugging Sharif at his residence? The results are terrible. India’s relation with Pakistan touches the lowest ever level in a history of 70 years. The Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed was released from house arrest and has started a political party to contest the general elections in Pakistan next year. This government does not have the guts to put pressure on Pakistan to provide the evidence – as requested by the Pakistan’s Court – essential to keeping the trial alive against Saeed. Modi has often preached that his government succeeded in isolating Pakistan in the international domain. The reality would be as much India diplomatically isolating Pakistan from the international community as the vacuum has been comfortably filled by China without any difficulty. These are the achievements that Modi’s hugs have brought to India.

The stability of Afghanistan is in India’s long-term strategic interest. India’s ‘aid diplomacy’ to Afghanistan in various fields has been increasing day after day, including infrastructure development and the training of Afghan security forces. Yet, India’s influence in Afghanistan is in disarray. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said, “India should have its own policy on Afghanistan”. However, Modi’s policy makers in New Delhi are expecting the US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to maintain India’s active and significant role in Afghanistan.

India showed its displeasure during the constitutional crisis in Nepal, in halting energy supply to Kathmandu. This forced the land-locked country to obtain easy support from Beijing. Nepal was once the buffer state between India and China; it is now sitting on China’s lap and steering India. Modi’s mute approach to the Rohingya crisis speculates India’s major power ambition. This is a serious setback to India’s diplomacy: it is now pushing Myanmar to get support from China, along with our neighbor Bangladesh, in resolving the crisis with Rohingya refugees.

The first democratically elected government under Mohamed Nasheed was toppled unconstitutionally in Maldives. Since India has failed to raise any substantial voice against this atrocity, China has jumped onto the scene. New Delhi ought to have designed a policy to resolve the political crisis, but India, the world’s largest democracy, has watched this incident as a movie in the Indian Ocean Theatre. The highlight was the decision of our Prime Minister to skip a visit to the Maldives whilst on his tour of the Indian Ocean islands.

In Sri Lanka, China is designing its future battlefield against India. As the war against LTTE was over, Colombo started travelling in a two-way track, with India and China. Beijing’s love affair, apparently with Colombo, but with an eye on New Delhi, is no secret. Since Modi has allowed these developments without exercising any diplomatic resistance, he has given China a comfortable seat inside Sri Lanka. China has now realised that her weaved network against India can be strengthened easily in the Indian Ocean, because New Delhi only displays silent concern. After Modi took office, India – China relations have remained static. The border talks are on stand still. Beijing holds on to extend a technical hold on Masood Azhar, a UN designated terrorist. The dragon pulls our immediate neighbors to her side. These developments indicate that our foreign policy articulations are not supported by any clear strategic trajectory.

Modi’s diplomacy is like an air balloon which, once torn, cannot be refilled; a new balloon is needed. Hugging a leader does not lead to any commitment in foreign affairs. Personal charisma does not work as a foreign policy tool in dealing with a world power. For this reason, Modi cannot understand the setback he is facing with China, Pakistan, and our other neighbors. In comparison, Vajpayee’s or Dr. Manmohan Singh’s combined simple charisma as leaders or economists with appropriate home-work in the past; has caused tremendous results in foreign policy, including expected results in Indo-US nuclear negotiations. This is completely missing in Modi’s administration.

Hence, the newly elected Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi has said, “Modi’s hug diplomacy fails”. It was a valuable comment that the ruling elite should consider as a meaningful insight. Alternative approaches are vital to regain our neighbors’ trust, as opposed to China’s. However, Prime Minister Modi’s this year of work will be focused on the 2019 general elections, compromising the proper attention due to India’s international diplomacy.

First published in Congress Sandesh

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