Maldives in a State Emergency

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The government of Maldives has extended the state emergency by 30 days. The nation, surrounded by 99 percent water, has been increasingly looked as a strategic island by neighbouring countries.

President Abdulla Yameen believes that there is a threat to national security in the country. He had refused a Supreme Court order of freeing imprisoned opposition leaders, including ex-President Mohammad Nasheed. The families of these imprisoned leaders have also been harassed.

There can be a new start of a cold war in the Indian Ocean between China and India. The Maldives International Airport and the major highway connecting the airport falls under China’s “One Road, One Belt Plan”. Chinese State has plans to make islands out of water in the Maldives.

According to inputs, China has acquired rights over seventeen islands of the Maldives. Many of them are believed to be converted into working stations, with sophisticated naval airbases and communication facilities. This is a stance, which is similar to what the Chinese are planning in the South China Sea in the near future.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has been looked upon as India’s Reagan – the ex-US President had sent troops to Grenada in the Caribbean to oust a communist regime in a similar political scenario. But will the BJP led government actually send its troops to the Maldives? That remains to seen, as of now.

The political crises in the Republic of Maldives deepened when police used excessive force to curb protests by the opposition, who continued to hold anti-government protests.

Dr David Brewster, an Australian senior analyst, believes that both powers such as China and India are willing to expand their roles and presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), as strategic rivalries have heightened in recent times.

Brewster has reaffirmed India’s ambitions about deepening ties in ASEAN and EAS to counter Chinese diplomacy. The plan includes building bases in the Andaman and Nicobar region as well as in Mauritius and Seychelles.

Since Abdullah Yameen had become the incumbent President, there have been stories where it is believed that radicalisation has increased amidst the Muslim youth living in the Maldives. Many have joined the ISIS ranks, lending themselves for the sectarian Islamic war in Syria and Iraq.

Yameen has also been held responsible for as a military threat to India because of his allegiance to China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi kingdom may open a new naval base in the Maldives in the future.

Brewster also believes that powers such as the United States and Australia will expect India to take the lead and might support India’s military actions.

Coming back to the strategic importance of Maldives, the designated sea lines of communication (SLOC), from where Middle Eastern oil transits to countries such Japan and China fall via the Maldives. The busier northern SLOC passes between India’s Minicoy Island and the northernmost Maldivian coral atoll. 

Back in time, Maldives had been the last South Asian Island to be decolonised in 1965. The British maintained bases in its Gan and Hittadu islands until they were shut down in 1978. Its culture has been largely affiliated to the Dravidian origin, with links of Tamil and Malayalam in its language.

Looking at the recent political history of this largely Muslim dominated island, its former President Mohammad Nasheed had been in jail for around thirty years and was Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience in 1991. His predecessor, Mr Gayoom arrested him around twenty times.

Unlike, incumbent President Yameen, Mr Nasheed was not really interested in having close ties with the Chinese State. On December 8, 2017, Yameen signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, which surprised New Delhi. As of now, the Doklam standoff on Bhutan-Tibet border has fractured relations between China and India. In addition to this pact, Yameen had endorsed Chinese investments for promoting tourism, healthcare, and tackling climate change issues in the country.

According to an Op-ed written by Mohan Gurusamy in Deccan Chronicle:  “in 2012, Mr Nasheed’s successor President Mohammed Waheed cancelled the previous government’s decision to award the $500 million contract to manage Male international airport to an Indian company, GMR.”

In the past and in the present, India has also followed a policy to contain any form of Chinese aggression in international waters.

Mohan Gurusamy, an analyst studying political issues, further believes that there have been reports of eleven Chinese ships, at least one Chinese frigate, a 30,000- tonne amphibious transport dock and three support tankers, entering the Indian Ocean region from the Sundra Strait, between Java and Sumatra.

When the Americans, who occupy the Diego Garcia Island with its state of the art, high tech military types of equipment, control rooms, terminals and military arsenal, including B-52 bomber planes, naval vessels, it is probable that any form of Chinese sponsored obstruction in the region will ring alarm bells.

Diego Garcia, which lies just to the south of Maldives, 18,000 km from the southern tip of India, is a pivotal spot for the American defence strategies to exhibit control in the area.

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