PERISCOPE-POLITICS IN MALDIVES: WARNING SIGNS FOR YAMEÈN?

The developments in Maldives remain worrisome for India. The arrest of a former Prosecutor General, Muhtahaz Muhsin and a judge, Ahmed Nihan and subsequent release of Muhsin indicates an attempt by President Yameen to browbeat the judiciary. Some of the takeaways from the developments in Maldivers are, firstly, the opposition may have come to know that the President may have misused state funds and stashed the proceeds abroad. The document in question was available, and the magistrate, prima facie, observed the evidence to be sufficient enough to issue arrest warrant against the President.

Second, the opposition MPs of the MDP, in the absence of their leader Nasheed, found an opportunity to be assertive, reminding President Yameen that MDP remained a credible opposition. Third, it was reported that Nasheed had spoken to Brig Zakariya Mansoor of the Maldives National Defence Force and advised him to follow the laws and constitution of the country. This was a significant development as the said Brigadier was side-lined by President Yameen in the hierarchy of the MNDF, as he was suspected of being a Nasheed supporter. Though Mansoor as Aviation Secretary was holding an insignificant appointment, the signalling indicated that Nasheed was attempting to garner hard power support within Maldives. It may be recalled that during his ouster from power, the police personnel were observed agitating on the streets, possibly due to their loyalty to the then opposition leader Yameen. Is the MNDF firmly behind Nashed? Or was Nasheed sending a message to the present President that he has adequate support in the MNDF? Nasheed has adequate political support in the country, and just needs the backing of the MNDF or the police which enjoys expansive powers, to facilitate his credible return. When President Yameen came to power, he arrested his Vice President and the Defence Minister and they are still languishing in prison. In Maldives, democracy being nascent, the combination of political support and backing of uniformed services, play a decisive role. Also, since the police forces enjoy domestic legal powers and are pliable, the Presidentuses them to subvert democratic processes.

Subsequent events have been significant, in that some purging in the MNDF and appointments of few pro Yameen judges were resorted to. The Chief Of Defence Staff has lost his neutrality. Democracy is still a far cry. Reports, that the young Maldivians are being radicalised and headed to Syria to fight alongside Daesh/ ISIS are disturbing for India. By published accounts, Maldives has highest radicalised population in the region and could be using Indian airports for their transit to Iraq/Syria.

Former President Gayoom, who used to factor Indian security concerns in his dealings with Pakistan and China, was deposed and the country became a democracy. The first elected President Nasheed too was sensitive to security concerns of the huge democracy of India in Maldivian neighbourhood. However, China had been active in the ouster of Nasheed to achieve encirclement of India in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese used their close friendship with then Sri Lankan President Rajpaksato instigate domestic turbulence which resulted in the house arrest of Nasheed and installation of unelected President in Waheed. India should have taken this opportuntiy to reinstall Nasheed and recommend a re-election. Instead, New Delhi went along with the events and was the first country to give official recognition to the new government. The elections which followed in September 2013 were rigged, with many non-resident Maldiviansbased in Sri Lanka,and manipulated by Chinese money power, played a significant role. Yameen, who came to power had a visible tilt towards China and Pakistan.

The episode of GMR’s removal from Male airport management, induction of Chinese company in lieu, the land acquisition bill amendment favouring China are but a few significant matters which have security implications for India. Later, Maldives has leased number of islands to China for development and operating as tourist destination. Recently agreements have been signed for Chinese state company to develop seven domestic airfields which will give the Chinese surveillance ability over US assets in Diego Garcia. There are indications that some northern group of islands could be leased to the Chinese for similar projects of airfield development. Installation of air surveillance radars on these islands could give the Chinese full ability to monitor aerial activities in Indian southern peninsula. Point to note is that distance between northern group of islands and L&M islands is only 90 kilometers.

The attempt by two former Presidents, Gayoom and Nasheed (in exile in the UK) to come together and defeat Yameen in the next election is being resisted by Yameen, who, to prevent success of a no confidence motion, locked up the parliament and used armed forces and police to physically assault the members of the house. A few important opposition leaders were also arrested on frivolous charge. The courts have been directed to work overtime and finish judicial process to announce imprisonment of these members of parliament to reduce the opposition numbers during noconfidence motion. In the absence of Nasheed, Gayoom remains the only credible leader who can rally national support, and he too is likely to be arrested soon. This could be beginning of gang war and possibly civil war like situation in Maldives, which in turn could legalise imposition of emergency and absolute power to Yameen. India needs to take action to preserve its influence in the Maldives to preserve its security interests. —

Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, PVSM, AVSM, NM and Bar is the former Commander in Chief Western Naval Command & former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff

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