Maldivian conundrum: Will India risk China's ire by militarily intervening in Male?

The question has gained currency after two eminently avoidable stabs that the Yameen government has made to Maldives' democratic fabric, first the arrest of former president Mohamed Nasheed on 22 February on terror charges and then his 13-year-sentence announced on 13 March.

Rajeev Sharma March 16, 2015 07:32:00 IST
Maldivian conundrum: Will India risk China's ire by militarily intervening in Male?

Colombo: This is the question which is uppermost in the minds of many Maldives-watchers globally: will India intervene militarily in Maldives?

The question has gained currency after two eminently avoidable stabs that the Yameen government has made to Maldives' democratic fabric, first the arrest of former president Mohamed Nasheed on 22 February on terror charges and then his 13-year-sentence announced on 13 March.

Maldivian conundrum Will India risk Chinas ire by militarily intervening in Male

Former Maldives president Mohammed Nasheed. PTI

I put this question to former foreign minister of Maldives, Ahmed Naseem, knowing full well that no minister, serving or retired, would ever give a black and white answer. But surprisingly his answer was not an enigma wrapped in a puzzle in the true diplomatic tradition and rather straight.

This two-part commentary based on Naseem’s interview is focused on two aspects: (i) the security, strategic and China-related issues and (iI) the political issues raised in a big way by the ongoing incarceration of Nasheed. This article revolves around the first subject.

Incidentally the interview was conducted at his house in an upmarket locality of Colombo which he constructed in 2007. The former Maldivian foreign minister has been living in Colombo in a self-imposed exile since Nasheed was arrested, conveying the seriousness of the situation in Maldives.

This is how Naseem responded to the question whether India would be intervening militarily in Maldives. "It is entirely India's call. Maldives and India have an agreement that India can intervene in Maldives if it is sure that its vital national interests are being neglected and compromised. My personal feeling is that India's national security subjects are being threatened in Maldives," Naseem said.

Well, this is as direct as an arrow. But in this answer he has given it a bikini treatment: revealing more and concealing little, though the things concealed are the most important.

How are India's interests being threatened in Maldives and by whom: China?

Naseem couldn't agree more and sought to put things in perspective by pointing out how China has been stealing everyone’s thunder by its pro-activism in South China Sea. Sample his following remark: "China’s Maritime Silk Route is a façade. It means something else. Why should Maldives be part of it. Maldives has never been part of Silk Route."

To rub it further, Naseem remarked thus: "China’s breakneck speed in constructing new reefs and islands in South China Sea is something that must worry India."

One may dismiss Naseem's take on this as a familiar script of China-phobic persons going on an overdrive.

But it isn't and China after all is not invincible given the recent developments in Sri Lanka where the so-called Chinese supremacy has taken a pounding with a distinct advantage to India.

This triggers another question: whether India should replicate its recent political success in Sri Lanka in Maldives as well.

Former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa has gone on record as attributing his electoral defeat to India’s external intelligence agency RAW. Does It mean that India should take a cue from Sri Lanka and build up India’s profile in Sri Lanka as well.

After all, India has had a precedence of launching a successful military intervention in Maldives when the then Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi had launched Operation Cactus in November 1988. Then the Indian PM had sent 1600 Indian troops to Maldives to restore status quo within a matter of hours after armed PLOTE (People’s Liberation of Tamil Eelam) had descended on the Maldivian soil to take over the country.

The then Maldivian president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had sent a SOS to India for help and the Rajiv Gandhi government had acted with alacrity and had the full backing of the US.

The international strategic matrix has undergone a sea change since then with the rise of China. In 1988, China has not risen as a world power the way it has now.

This writer understands that India is not thinking on the lines of a military intervention in Maldives; not now, not ever. India would not like to rile China.

Therefore, the inevitable message is that Nasheed will have to wait for indefinitely longer time to be released from prison. A give-and-take is possible.

Nasheed may be released in exchange for quitting politics, a scenario that is doable.

For now, Nasheed will have to depend on India’s soft power. For his part, Naseem is embarking on a trip to Europe to five countries – France, Germany, UK, Belgium and Denmark—on Monday to lobby with the European powers to free Nasheed.

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