Po­lit­i­cal Whirlpool

The Mal­dives is cur­rently un­der­go­ing a pre­car­i­ous po­lit­i­cal tug-of-war. Un­for­tu­nately, ex­ter­nal pow­ers such as In­dia, the U.S, and China are only com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters fur­ther with their ul­te­rior mo­tives in play.

Southasia - - Maldives - By Syed Moaz­zam Hashmi

The Mal­di­vian ar­chi­pel­ago, which barely en­joyed the fruits of an in­fant democ­racy, seems to be caught in a tug-of-war amongst op­pos­ing ex­ter­nal pow­ers seek­ing to hog strate­gic nav­i­ga­tional routes in the In­dian Ocean; routes that In­dia be­lieves lie in its back­yard.

At least four in­ter­na­tional naval pow­ers: In­dia, China, Europe and the United States with heavy stakes in the In­dian Ocean are quite dis­cernible in this re­gard. The Euro­pean Union backed by the 56-na­tion Com­mon­wealth is chas­ing the trail with con­flict­ing in­ter­ests against the United States while Sri Lanka and Pak­istan ob­serve the sit­u­a­tion with grave con­cern.

With the Mal­dives in its south­west, In­dia be­lieves that it has a le­git­i­mate right to hold the reins of strate­gic nav­i­ga­tional routes in the In­dian Ocean that pro­vide it with smooth sail­ing through East Africa and the rest of the world

China has been catch­ing up fast to com­pete with In­dia in or­der to claim the lead­er­ship rights in the re­gion. It had been mak­ing in­roads in the Mal­dives for quite some time whereas the US is as­sert­ing its supreme po­si­tion, be­ing the sin­gle su­per­power in the world. The Chi­nese hege­monic out- reach in the re­gion is in con­flict with In­dia’s own am­bi­tions. The In­dian con­cerns ap­pear to carry weight, par­tic­u­larly in the pres­ence of Chi­nese port-en­hance­ment projects such as the de­vel­op­ment of the nat­u­ral deep sea­port in Gwadar, Pak­istan, and a sim­i­lar project in Sri Lanka.

Both Pak­istan and Sri Lanka, share the In­dia-allergic ten­dency based on their pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ences, par­tic­u­larly the In­dian am­bi­tion of eco­nomic and mil­i­tary ex­pan­sion. This sen­ti­ment is height­ened due to the fear of hav­ing In­dia mo­nop­o­lize the strate­gic sea routes. The pres­ence of other pow­ers such as China and the US would

in­stall the bal­ance-of-power in the re­gion.

On the flip side, Chi­nese eco­nomic out­reach un­der its con­tin­u­ing port-en­hance­ment pro­grams in Myan­mar, Bangladesh and Kenya ring alarm bells not only for In­dia but the US and the Euro­pean Union’s in­ter­ests in the re­gion as well.

The hasty Amer­i­can re­sponse to the de­vel­op­ing sce­nario in the Mal­dives was ap­par­ent with the im­me­di­ate recog­ni­tion of Pres­i­dent Wa­heed’s gov­ern­ment as the le­git­i­mate force fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Nasheed’s re­port­edly forced res­ig­na­tion in Fe­bru­ary. Fol­low­ing the US, the United Na­tions, the United King­dom, China and oth­ers have also rec­og­nized the new gov­ern­ment in the Mal­dives.

The US As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State, Robert Blake, who flew into Male right af­ter Nasheed’s oust­ing in Fe­bru­ary, had re­jected the MDP’s de­mand for an early elec­tion af­ter meet­ing the rul­ing hi­er­ar­chy in the Mal­dives. In­ter­est­ingly, the Com­mon­wealth chose to go the other way, sup­port­ing Nasheed’s de­mand of an early elec­tion and plugged in the re­quired po­lit­i­cal weight by ap­point­ing former sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Com­mon­wealth, Don­ald McKin­non as the spe­cial en­voy to the Mal­dives.

In­dia was also rea­son­ably prompt in mo­bi­liz­ing its diplo­matic icons to keep pace with the de­vel­op­ing sit­u­a­tion. The coun­try was al­legedly seen as gal­va­niz­ing in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal move­ments across the po­lit­i­cal di­vide in the Mal­dives, which had chal­lenged Gay­oom’s 30-year monar­chy.

Be­sides the EU’s in­sis­tence to con­duct polls and an “ur­gent agree­ment” for po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion leading to an end to the pre­vail­ing un­rest in the Mal­dives, the Com­mon­wealth Min­is­te­rial Ac­tion Group ( CMAG) also sup­ports an early elec­tion. How­ever, a clus­ter of some former law­mak­ers and the Min­is­ter of State for For­eign Af­fairs, Dunya Mau­moon, who also hap­pens to be the daugh­ter of former dic­ta­tor Gay­oom, had dis­missed the call for an early elec­tion.

The tus­sle to keep a hold on the

Nasheed has been crit­i­cized for his dearth of cer­tain “must” lead­er­ship traits, com­pared to his pedi­gree com­pa­triot Gay­oom. In the com­pli­cat­ing strate­gic-po­lit­i­cal jig­saw, Pres­i­dent Wa­heed serves as a tem­po­rary ar­range­ment in the pre­vail­ing big pow­ers game.

is­land king­dom in or­der to guard the strate­gic, mil­i­tary and eco­nomic nav­i­ga­tional in­ter­ests had ig­nited a chain re­ac­tion, which ul­ti­mately re­sulted in top­pling the first demo­cratic gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Nasheed in Fe­bru­ary this year. His deputy, Wa­heed Has­san, promptly re­placed Nasheed as the new pres­i­dent of an ap­par­ently United States sup­ported gov­ern­ment.

Pres­i­dent Wa­heed, also known as Baghee Wa­heed, has since been strug­gling to seek le­git­i­macy through var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal ma­neu­vers be­sides the al­ready avail­able Amer­i­can en­dorse­ment to his gov­ern­ment. The sit­u­a­tion grew more pre­car­i­ous when Wa­heed ap­pointed key cabi­net mem­bers from amongst Gay­oom’s loy­al­ists, in­clud­ing his son and daugh­ter.

Nasheed and his power-pivot, the Mal­di­vian Demo­cratic Party ( MDP), re­port­edly en­joy the sup­port of In­dia coun­ter­ing both the US and Chi­nese in­flu­ence. De­spite the avail­able ex­ter­nal back­ing and the lim­ited in­ter­nal sup­port Nasheed en­joys, he is viewed more as a hu­man rights ac­tivist: a cause that he has been cham­pi­oning all his life.

Nasheed has been crit­i­cized for his dearth of cer­tain “must” lead­er­ship traits, com­pared to his pedi­gree com­pa­triot Gay­oom. In the com­pli­cat­ing strate­gic-po­lit­i­cal jig­saw, Presi- dent Wa­heed serves as a tem­po­rary ar­range­ment in the pre­vail­ing big pow­ers game. His re­al­ism rather than op­por­tunism con­vinces him to lean to­ward the power pivot that ap­par­ently rests with Gay­oom rather than his former boss, Nasheed.

Whether Nasheed wins the promised elec­tions that are sup­posed to be held within a year un­der the new demo­cratic con­sti­tu­tion or Gay­oom’s daugh­ter Dunya takes over the citadel of power in the Mal­dives, the in­ter­na­tional power strug­gle will not end in an ar­chi­pel­ago where In­dia is ex­pected to per­form bet­ter in the home grounds. More fire­works might be seen in Mal­di­vian pol­i­tics as the in­ter­na­tional strate­gic eco­nomic in­ter­ests are as deep as the mighty In­dian Ocean with ev­ery­thing churn­ing un­der­neath.

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