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India exploring diplomatic options over Maldives crisis

/ 01:48 PM February 07, 2018
Abdulla Yameen

In this file photo taken on April 15, 2014 Maldives President Abdulla Yameen speaks during a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the latter’s official residence in Tokyo. AFP

NEW DELHI — Indian military intervention is one of the options available to New Delhi in response to the latest developments in the Maldives.

India is said to be exploring diplomatic ways to help resolve the deepening political crisis in the Maldives, where President Abdulla Yameen has ignored a Supreme Court order to release nine opposition members from jail.

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Mr Yameen, who opposed the court order, has declared a 15-day state of emergency and detained Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed as well as another judge.

The president has accused the judges of being involved in a plot to oust him.

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Opposition leader, Mohamed Nasheed, Mr Yameen’s predecessor who is in political exile in Sri Lanka, yesterday (Feb 6) appealed for Indian military intervention which analysts agreed was among the options available to New Delhi.

“India is exercising diplomatic pressure… That is one thing that is going on. If this is a coup-like situation, India can have a naval blockade but I think this is a very extreme step and I don’t think it will be taken,” said Professor S.D. Muni, a South Asia foreign policy expert. “Yameen is isolated (politically) and banking on his military. If there is a crack in the armed forces, then I think this is where diplomacy would come into play.”

The foreign ministry yesterday issued a statement saying India was “disturbed” by the latest developments in the Maldives.

India has intervened before in the archipelago, dispatching troops in 1988 at the request of then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to foil a coup that involved foreign mercenaries.

India casts a long shadow over the Maldives but strains in ties have emerged in recent years against the backdrop of a growing Chinese presence in the region.

India has given extensive economic aid to the Maldives and helped it develop infrastructure, including a telecommunications network. In 1981, the two countries signed a trade agreement under which India has to provide essential food items like rice, wheat flour, onions and eggs, as well as construction material like sand on favourable terms.

Trade ties have ballooned in recent years, almost doubling from US$127.5 million to US$206.6 million (S$273 million) in five years from 2010.

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There are 22,000 Indian nationals in the Maldives, mostly workers and professionals, according to the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi.

Yet in recent years, Mr Yameen has been cultivating ties with China, signing a free trade agreement with Beijing late last year despite promising that the island’s first one would be with India. Last month, Mr Yameen reaffirmed the India-first policy and sent his foreign minister to Delhi to repair ties.

Some believe India’s ability to maneuver in the current crisis may be hampered by China.

“We have no good option. We can apply some pressure points here and there. But they could do something in defiance with China in the maritime domain,” said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

Another former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said India was in a “diplomatic dilemma” and risked losing face as a regional power in the event of a prolonged crisis in the tourist haven.

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TAGS: India, Maldives, Politics, South Asia
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