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.
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.