Play­ing Hard­ball

The Choice is be­tween democ­racy and the sta­tus que.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Faizan Us­mani

In an era of re­gional equal­ity and egal­i­tar­i­an­ism, small is­land coun­tries like the Mal­dives need much more to stand in the neigh­bour­hood. Fol­low­ing the ar­rest and con­vic­tion of the for­mer pres­i­dent of the Mal­dives, Mo­hamed Nasheed, over po­lit­i­cally-in­duced ter­ror­ism charges, the in­cum­bent gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Ab­dulla Yameen is now ap­proach­ing In­dia for a seam­less diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship as this will help the Yameen gov­ern­ment to stay afloat in the fu­ture.

Con­sid­er­ing the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis brew­ing in the Mal­dives, it has be­come cru­cially im­por­tant how In­dia re­acts to the sit­u­a­tion. The ar­rest and con­vic­tion of Mo­hamed Nasheed back in March, un­der the Preven­tion of Ter­ror­ism Act of 1990, was not wel­comed by the In­di­ans. The Mal­di­vian for­eign min­istry had warned New Delhi not to in­ter­fere in the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal af­fairs and had made it clear that it would re­gard any po­ten­tial in­ter­fer­ence from a for­eign gov­ern­ment in the Mal­dives’ in­ter­nal af­fairs with doubt and sus­pi­cion.

It has been seen on var­i­ous oc­ca­sions in the past that In­dia has quite a track record of interfering in Mal­di­vian po­lit­i­cal af­fairs. For in­stance, Nasheed took refuge in the In­dian High Com­mis­sion in Male in Fe­bru­ary 2013 to avoid ar­rest but the In­dian Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­istry re­futed any claims of un­due in­ter­fer­ence in Mal­di­vian pol­i­tics, say­ing that Nasheed’s move was not in­sti­gated by In­dia and he had him­self ap­proached the In­dian diplo­matic mis­sion to grant him diplo­matic shel­ter.

It was said to be the the re­sult of an In­dian in­ter­ven­tion which had helped Nasheed be­come the op­po­si­tion leader when he was forcibly ousted from the pres­i­dency in a coup d'état ini­ti­ated in Fe­bru­ary 2012 by the sup­port­ers of for­mer pres­i­dent Mau­moon Ab­dul Gay­oom.

Led by Pres­i­dent Ab­dul­lah Yameen now, the Mal­di­vian gov­ern­ment has started show­ing a more care­ful at­ti­tude

to­wards In­dia and is find­ing ways to be on good terms with New Delhi through back chan­nel diplo­macy. For ex­am­ple, an aide of the Mal­di­vian for­eign min­is­ter vis­ited In­dia a cou­ple of months ear­lier to ne­go­ti­ate mat­ters with In­dian in­ter­locu­tors be­hind closed doors.

This was fol­lowed by Ab­dul­lah Yameen’s in­vi­ta­tion of­fi­cially sent to In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi to visit the Mal­dives, con­sid­er­ing the fact that Modi’s visit to Male had to be can­celled at the last minute in March when Yameen’s gov­ern­ment ar­rested Mo­hamed Nasheed .

As the un­rav­el­ing sit­u­a­tion sug­gests, the cur­rent back chan­nel diplo­macy of Yameen’s gov­ern­ment is bound to hit fail­ure due to many rea­sons and even if the strat­egy works, the Mal­dives will get lit­tle out of it.

First and fore­most, the vul­ner­a­ble po­lit­i­cal sta­tus of the present Mal­di­vian gov­ern­ment is detri­men­tal to its on­go­ing diplo­matic ef­forts to bring about a win-win re­sult in view of the re­sump­tion of the is­land na­tion’s friendly ties with New Delhi.

This is mainly be­cause the for­mer pres­i­dent emerged as a demo­crat­i­cally elected leader in a coun­try with a demo­cratic setup and his force­ful exit from power was per­ceived neg­a­tively by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing the United States.

Se­condly, adopt­ing a back chan­nel diplo­matic route is of­ten dis­re­garded in mod­ern diplo­macy as the prac­tice does not al­low the rest of the in­flu­en­tial re­gional and in­ter­na­tional play­ers to be on board si­mul­ta­ne­ously. From the Mal­di­vian per­spec­tive, this fac­tor mainly refers to the pres­ence of other ma­jor Asian pow­ers such as China, which is keen to ex­tend its re­gional in­flu­ence in Asia and the Mal­dives is no ex­cep­tion.

Last year, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in­vited the Mal­dives to be­come a part of the 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road (MSR), which is a strate­gic ini­tia­tive taken by China to en­hance its trade links and pro­mote eco­nomic col­lab­o­ra­tion in the re­gion.

Un­doubt­edly, the In­dian gov­ern­ment is work­ing hard to play a decisive lead­er­ship role in the neigh­bor­hood, but merely re­ly­ing on In­dian sup­port for the mo­ment may de­prive the Mal­dives of the ben­e­fits of­fered by the on­go­ing Chi­nese ini­tia­tives in the long run.

Be­ing a lead­ing eco­nomic power, In­dia en­joys a piv­otal role in its im­me­di­ate neigh­bor­hood be­cause of its huge econ­omy and high trade vol­umes. Hav­ing con­sumed some 5 per­cent of the In­dian aid of­fered for de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance, a small is­land na­tion like the Mal­dives has no op­tions left but to have smooth and trou­ble-free ties with New Delhi no mat­ter what it takes. This also in­cludes size­able grants and heavy loans be­ing awarded by New Delhi to the Mal­dives fol­low­ing its steady tran­si­tion from an au­toc­racy to a democ­racy.

To keep things go­ing with no in­ter­rup­tions, Yameen’s gov­ern­ment has to ex­hibit much more than mere diplo­matic ploys to win In­dia’s con­fi­dence. If the in­cum­bent Mal­di­vian gov­ern­ment man­ages to re­store its sta­tus as a long jour­ney part­ner, they can ex­pect some­thing out of the on­go­ing back chan­nel diplo­macy. This is be­cause the cur­rent pres­i­dency in the Mal­dives does not have stay­ing power and is well aware of its frag­ile po­lit­i­cal sta­tus tainted by its dic­ta­to­rial back­ground and au­to­cratic at­tributes.

To over­come these in­her­ited flaws, the Mal­di­vian gov­ern­ment needs to beef up its po­lit­i­cal stance with the help of the In­dian gov­ern­ment as their close re­la­tions with New Delhi will help them stay in power for a longer time de­spite the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cri­sis.

Given that the diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship be­tween In­dia and the Mal­dives has seen highs and lows in the past, the Mal­dives’ cur­rent back chan­nel pol­icy has come out as a makeshift scheme de­vised by the present gov­ern­ment to achieve its short-term ob­jec­tives. In con­trast, the po­lit­i­cal think tanks and de­ci­sion­mak­ing author­i­ties in the Mal­dives should re­con­sider their cur­rent pri­or­i­ties and work in a hurry to re­in­state true demo­cratic rule in­stead of find­ing un­con­sti­tu­tional reme­dies to pro­long the sta­tus quo.

The In­dian gov­ern­ment is work­ing hard to play a decisive lead­er­ship role in the neigh­bor­hood.

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