Worst Crisis Engulfs Maldives
In an unpalatable turn of events, the security forces of the island nation Maldives have stormed their Supreme Court and arrested Maldives Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed over alleged corruption charges. In another related development to consolidate his power, the embattled President Abdulla Yameen on February 6 forced the Supreme Court to revoke an order to release nine high profile political prisoners. The remaining three Judges of the Supreme Court said in a statement that they were rescinding the order to release the prisoners “in light of the concerns raised by the President”. This clearly implies that the President Abdulla Yameen is imposing his will on the Judges of the Supreme Court and is not allowing them to function as per their own will and conscience!
As things stand, the situation in Maldives is turning from worse to worst! Meanwhile, as a first precautionary step to deal with the crisis in the neighbourhood, New Delhi may make a diplomatic intervention by sending a special envoy to Male to protect its own strategic interest in the region. India has so far decided to remain a mute spectator by keeping itself totally aloof to the alarming development in Male and merely issued a couple of statements even though the Opposition parties in Maldives are making distress calls to New Delhi for diplomatic intervention and military aid!
Not surprising that Maldives President Abdullah Yameen on 8 February approached three ‘friendly countries’ – China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and announced envoys will be sent to these nations. India does not figure in this list though. This clearly conveys that Abdullah gives no importance to India which alone explains why India is keeping itself aloof! An official announcement from Yameen’s office said that the envoys will visit the friendly nations and provide updates on the current situation.
Simply put, this development came soon after China warned against military intervention in the Maldives saying that it would complicate the situation further. The warning was palpably directed against India after former President Mohamed Nasheed appealed to New Delhi to send envoys and the government had the military on standby in case of emergency or requirement. India already before China’s warning had made it clear that it would not involve itself in the internal quagmire of Maldives and very rightly so!
Amid a spiralling political crisis in the island nation, the Maldives government on February 5 declared a state of emergency for 15 days following a Supreme Court order recently to release Opposition leaders from prison. A statement from President Abdulla Yameen’s office said that, “During this time, though certain rights will be restricted, general movements, services and businesses will not be affected. The Government of Maldives also wishes to assure all Maldivians and the international community that the safety of all Maldivians and foreigners living in and visiting the Maldives will be ensured.” No doubt, he has denigrated his international image by behaving so imperiously!
Needless to say, sources revealed that the state of emergency that has been imposed by Abdulla arms the security officials with extra powers to arrest suspects. The development comes five days after the Supreme Court ordered the release of nine Opposition leaders, including the exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed. It also ordered that12 MPs expelled earlier be reinstated.
It is noteworthy that Eva Abdulla who is an MP and also a member of the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said that, “The declaration of state of emergency is an indication of Mr Yameen’s desperation. It only serves to show an isolated man who no longer has the confidence of the people and independent institutions.” The Opposition lawmakers appealed to international actors to put pressure on his government to comply with the Supreme Court order by releasing nine jailed Opposition leaders and restoring 12 expelled parliamentarians to the body. While adopting a resolution, the Opposition Parliamentarians requested the international community “to do everything in their power” to consider diplomatic, economic, and legal measures “to defend democracy, rule of law and human rights in the Maldives”.
It may be recalled here that when the former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was made to step down in 2012 due to a series of political events in the country, he got refuge at the Indian High Commission. The bilateral relations between India and the Maldives have been very friendly since last many years. But in the last four years, the relations have plummetted to a new low due to Yameen’s policies for which he has to blame his ownself!
Who does not know that Yameen is known to harbor anti-India sentiments since he first became a minister in early 1990s? But for the sake of public consumption and to remain in India’s good books, Yameen has given credit to the Indian government for various aids and interventions in the islands and in doing so has done no big favour to India who deserves it because India has always been generous in its dealings with Maldives! Who can deny that India has a naval presence in the Maldives since 2009 on the island state’s request? India-Maldives-Sri Lanka also hold trilateral NSA level dialogue.
It is only now that the ties with Maldives has further deteriorated when Yameen ordered the removal of the Chief Justice, police chiefs and Vice-President to boost his administration. India along with many other countries like US have pulled back no punches in condemning the act calling it undemocratic. It may also be recalled that President Yameen had paid a two day visit to India in 2016 and counter-terrorism cooperation had been discussed by the two leaders.
It needs no rocket scientist to conclude that the major reason for the strained ties between India and Maldives is attributed to Maldives closeness to China under Yameen and special treatment accorded to Beijing and its infra structure projects, including island development which will have serious security implications for India. How can India ignore all this? This is the reason why India has now maintained a safe distance from Maldives. Even though US President Donald Trump just recently after calling PM Modi expressed his utmost concern over the turmoil in Maldives, India too expressed similar sentiments and preferred to not dabble in it!
As it turned out, the turbulent situation in Maldives has prompted some countries, including India, to issue travel advisories to citizens. India has advised nationals to cancel all “non-essential” travels to the Maldives. The Ministry of External Affairs said in the advisory that, “The prevailing political developments in Maldives are a matter of concern for India. Indian nationals are, therefore, advised to defer all non essential travels to Male and other atolls until further notice. Indian expatriates in Maldives are also alerted to the need for heightened security awareness, and urged to exercise due caution in public and avoid public gatherings.” China too has issued travel advisories asking citizens to avoid travelling to Maldives till theongoing tension there subside.
Be it noted, former President Mohammed Nasheed on February 6 sought India’s direct and swift intervention. Nasheed tweeted that, “On behalf of Maldivian people we humbly request: 1) India to send envoy, backed by its military, to release judges and political detainees, including President Gayoom. We request a physical presence.
2) The US to stop all financial transactions with the Maldives regime leaders in US banks.” It is with great expectations that he requested India. But India has its own compulsions.
Truth be told, hours later, India’s Ministry of External Affairs responded by saying that, “We are disturbed by the declaration of a State of Emergency in the Maldives following the refusal of the Government to abide by the unanimous ruling of the full bench of the Supreme Court on 1 February and also by the suspension of Constitutional rights of the people of the Maldives. The arrest of the Supreme Court Chief Justice and political figures are also reasons for concern. The Government continues to carefully monitor the situation.” India has thus made its stand clear. While India wants that the unanimous ruling of the Supreme Court be implemented but it will itself refrain from directly dabbling in their internal affairs!
To recapitulate, India has been traditionally the first port of call for any distress situation in the country, be it political, military or humanitarian. India had in 1988 intervened through “Operation Cactus” to save the then President of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, from a coup attempt carried out by Sri Lankan Tamil militants on behalf of the Maldivian businessman Abdulla Luthufi. In 2013 Nasheed took refuge in the Indian High Commission in Male after he was ousted in a coup and Yameen’s police tried to execute an arrest warrant against him in a false case. Nasheed later stepped out of the embassy after an agreement was reached between him and the Yameen Government following intense negotiations involving India. In December 2014, India sent water to the Maldives after its water treatment plant caught fire.
To put things in perspective, while expectations are certainly building up for India’s military action in the archipelago, the Government is hesitant to go for this extreme measure till diplomatic options remain open. India has deep strategic interests both in Indian Ocean and in the Maldives and pressure is building up on the Government to act swiftly before China or any other country seizes the opportunity. It is for Centre to take the final call on this!
To be sure, while the Maldives media on February 6 played up unconfirmed reports about Indian Special Forces being kept in readiness for a possible military intervention, officials said certain units of the Army, including Special Forces and Parachute Regiment, the Navy and the Indian Air Force, routinely train for out of area contingencies. The officials added that certain transport planes, including C-130Js meant for special commando operations, are always deployed along with these units. The Indian Navy routinely patrols the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Maldives besides its P-8I long range reconnaissance aircraft and medium range Dornier aircraft also carry out sorties due to Indian Ocean having strategic importance for India.
Moreover, it also cannot be overlooked that two to three coastal radars were installed by India some years back to help Maldives security forces to monitor maritime activities in its region of interest. These radars are linked with the Indian coastal radar chain. This clearly demonstrates that India has always closely assisted Maldives security forces so that they could be able to better check maritime activities in their region of interest.
To tell the truth, the UN, the US, the UK, Australia and almost all major countries have urged President Abdulla Yameen Gayoom to obey Supreme Court orders and respect democratic institutions. The US openly said that, “The world is watching”. Heather Nauert who is US State Department spokesperson said that, “The US is troubled and disappointed by reports that Maldivian President Yameen has declared a State of Emergency, which gives sweeping powers to security forces to arrest and detain suspects, bans public gatherings, imposes travel restrictions and suspends parts of the Maldivian Constitution…The US calls on President Yameen, the army, and police to comply with the rule of law, implement the Supreme Court’s ruling and the rulings of the Criminal Court, ensure the full and proper functioning of Parliament and restore constitutionally guaranteed rights of the people and institutions of the Maldives.”
Going forward, France also added its voice to the international criticism of Yameen’s actions. In a statement, the French Foreign Ministry said, “France is concerned by the suspension of public freedoms and by the arrests that took place following the declaration of the state of emergency in the Maldives. We call for a swift return to the normal functioning of the institutions and for respect for the rule of law.” The UK where Nasheed has taken political asylum to has urged Yameen to end emergency. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said categorically that, “…The damage being done to democratic institutions in Maldives and the sustained misuse f process in Parliament is deeply worrying. I call on President Yameen and the Government of Maldives to peacefully end the state of emergency, restore all articles of the Constitution, take immediate steps to implement in full the order of the Supreme Court and to permit and support the full, free and proper functioning of Parliament.”
Stephane Dujarric who is spokesperson for the UN SG said that, “The SG urges the Government of the Maldives to uphold the constitution and rule of law, lift the state of emergency as soon as possible and take all measures to ensure the safety and security of the people in the country, including members of the judiciary.” China played safe and asked both sides to sort out their differences through a dialogue. Yameen has imposed emergency and placed former President Gayoom under house arrest. Yameen said he declared an emergency to investigate “a coup” against him.
All said and done, all countries including India are most troubled and disappointed to see that Maldives President Yameen has declared a state of emergency! What is worse is that he has completely disregarded to what the Supreme Court has held and wants to impose his own will! What is worst is Yameen has systematically alienated his coalition, jailed or exiled every major opposition political parties figure who disagreed with him since his election in 2013 and has blatantly disregarded even the unanimous ruling of the Supreme Court and even got the Chief Justice arrested along with former President Gayoom and other political leaders!
It is high time and Yameen must bow to international pressure and amend his authoritarian and undemocratic ways as soon as possible! This will only serve to enhance his image which has taken the worst beating following the sudden imposition of unwanted emergency and arrest of Maldives Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed along with others which cannot be justified under any circumstances! Now the choice to act or not to act wisely is entirely his! His actions will decide his ultimate fate!
By Sanjeev Sirohi