MALDIVES has shown shortsightedness by distancing itself from India after its new President Dr Mohamed Muizzu took office at the helm of the island nation on November 17 this year. Withdrawing from India strategically or suddenly pulling out from the warmth of the cocoon of India’s protected shield is one thing, but getting close to India’s adversary China just to shift Maldivian stance markedly against India is indeed a self-goal being scored by Maldives.
Self-goal because the new President, howsoever suave or Western-educated, lacks the political astuteness and instincts of a seasoned statesman because he ignored to learn lessons from the annals of recent history how neighbouring Sri Lanka walked into the debt trap of Chinese loans, allurements and deceptive overtures leading to a complete economic collapse and eventually a political uncertainty forcing the President to flee the country.
Even if we disregard, for argument’s sake, Maldivian growing nexus with China, fresh reports suggesting Maldives walking extra miles to reach out to Turkey belie all the sound reasoning, bereft of any political farsightedness. Turkey is close to Pakistan and their bilateral association, as many experts describe it as an axis of evil. Both have joined hands in the last few years targeting India to the extent that Turkish President Erdogan has often offered Pakistan to take the active help of Turkish armed forces to fight in Kashmir expressing “solidarity” with Pakistan. Turkey then conveniently forgets its own military excesses and adventurism in Armenia as well as in Cyprus and Greece. Again, Maldives’ Muizzu is at a loss to learn from the pages of history.
Outreach to Turkey
Expanding further on Maldives’ latest outreach to Turkey, it may be pointed out that Maldives has decided to open an embassy in Turkish capital Ankara soon. Further, on way to the recently-held COP28 summit in the UAE, Muizzu made a stopover in Turkey apparently giving a signal that Maldives is wooing Turkey to reinforce relationship. The circle of an unholy political conglomerate between Turkey, China and Pakistan with Maldives is fast emerging in an obvious hint to India of their togetherness. The message is loud and clear!
Meanwhile, reliable sources in the capital Male give out that the High Commissioner of Pakistan to Maldives, Vice-Admiral (Retired), Mohammad Faiyaz Gilani is ‘guiding’ the new Maldivian dispensation to increase its closeness to Pakistan, China and Turkey. A few analysts are describing the new moves as Gilani’s brainchild. This demonstrates Pakistan’s rising grip over Maldives to wean away India from the island nation.
China’s incessant steps to keep Maldives in the former’s fold is exhibited by the fact that Chinese Special Envoy to Maldives, Shen Yiqin, attended the swearing-in ceremony of President Muizzu as head of a large delegation.
It clearly shows China’s continued geopolitical interest in Maldives. On the sidelines of swearing-in, Shen Yiqin also highlighted the ‘significance’ of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and other bilateral issues. In sum, from the word go in the new dispensation, China is trying to rope in Maldives to keep India out of the proximity loop.
In the meantime, two other developments emanating from the Maldivian Government at the express behest of President Muizzu, have come to light which do not seem politically palatable to Indian strategic interests. One is the latest announcement that Maldives will not undertake hydrographic surveys with India in an obvious signal to sever any Indian cooperation. Earlier, on a routine basis, the Maldivian Coast Guard and Indian Naval Hydrographic Office had conducted the hydrographic surveys to facilitate the creation of small-scale and large-scale charts that are needed for the growing maritime activities and businesses in Maldives.
The second setback is the declaration by Maldivian Minister for Islamic Affairs Dr Mohammad Shaheem Ali Saeed that nine Maldivian Imams have been chosen for PhDs in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Notably, India doesn’t find a mention here. The minister also claimed that Imams from Maldives are very thorough with Islamic jurisprudence. Leaving India out of this exercise seems a marked shift from a policy when India was involved in many joint collaborations.
In a related development, the Maldivian Under-Secretary for Public Policy, Mohammad Firazul disclosed that new President Muizzu’s 14-week roadmap includes a policy to terminate the ‘secret’ bilateral agreements made by the previous Maldives’ Government. Such a blatant statement testifies to the growing suspicion that all anti-India statements are being prompted and scripted by China and Pakistan.
Another significant feature worth mentioning is Maldives’ conspicuous absence from the November 6-7 security conclave of the National Security Advisors held at Mauritius. India, Sri Lanka and Mauritius participated but due to obvious reasons, Maldives chose to stay away. On the contrary, however, the Vice-President of Maldives attended the China India Ocean Region Forum conference in China.
Crucially, Maldives continues to pursue the ‘India Out’ policy and it is still on with 70 technical personnel from the uniform services were asked to leave the island despite a high level of political and diplomatic activity and persuasion. These personnel were overseeing functioning of India-gifted radars and surveillance system in addition to Indian warships patrolling in the territorial waters focusing on the economic zone which is infested with narcotics trade and illegal movements.
It’s equally pertinent to mention here that unlike Muizzu’s predecessor Solih, who had invited the India’s Prime Minister for the swearing-in ceremony, Muizzu conspicuously lacked the courtesy in extending invitation to the Indian PM.
All these developments notwithstanding, many of them unsavoury, India has displayed ample sense of maturity and political restraint by continuing to engage Maldives.
Muizzu’s love for China is surely temporary. Pakistan too will exhaust its overtures after sometime and when the honeymooning is over, Maldives has to turn towards India to protect its maritime interests, contain its growing religious extremism and other security challenges as it has been doing in the past, including salvaging President Gayyoom from the mercenaries-led takeover in the ‘80s.
Muizzu’s political calculations are likely to be proved wrong in not-so-distant future when Maldives would realise what went wrong. Till then, the current dispensation will breath heavy as Turkey, China and Pakistan cannot measure up to the extent of sincerity and trust displayed by India towards Maldives throughout the different regimes.