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Indian-Maldives: Fresh beginning

  • Category
    World Affairs
  • Published
    20th Dec, 2018
  • Ibrahim “Ibu” Mohamed Solih, the new president of the Maldives, on his first overseas trip since assuming the presidency visited India.
  • Solih’s trip to India marks the beginning of a recalibration in the Maldives’ foreign policy back toward New Delhi, its closest historical partner, after a swing away from India during the tenure of former President Abdulla Yameen.

Issue

Context:

  • Ibrahim “Ibu” Mohamed Solih, the new president of the Maldives, on his first overseas trip since assuming the presidency visited India.
  • Solih’s trip to India marks the beginning of a recalibration in the Maldives’ foreign policy back toward New Delhi, its closest historical partner, after a swing away from India during the tenure of former President Abdulla Yameen.

Background:

  • Maldives got independence in 1965, since then it has overall good relations with India.
  • Maldives is important for India because of its geostrategic location on Sea Lanes of Communications, security of Indian Ocean, vast Exclusive Economic Zone, piracy issues, and cultural, historical linkage with India.
  • Maldives is an Islamic country. Tourism and Fishing are its major sources of income.
  • In 2008, India helped it to obtain democracy. Before that, it was autocracy under Gayoom, then democracy under Nasheed, again recent autocracy under Yameen with final democratic election in September in which President Solih took the leadership.
  • Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih defeated Abdulla Yameen in a surprise victory in the presidential elections in September and, since then, has recalibrated his country’s ties with India.
  • While Mr. Yameen had drawn the Maldives closer to China and brutally crushed the Opposition, Mr. Solih’s victory has favoured strengthening democratic forces in the island nation.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attended the swearing-in ceremony of Mr. Solih as the President of Maldives in November, his first visit to the nation as Prime Minister and the first by an Indian head of state since 2011.
  • Modi enthusiastically reached out to all of India’s neighbours after his election in 2014, but he remained reluctant to engage Mr. Yameen. His planned visit to the Maldives, in March 2015, was cancelled as the political environment deteriorated under Mr. Yameen.

Analysis

Highlights of the joint statement released

  • India’s Neighbourhood First Policy: India announced a financial assistance package of $1.4 billion for the Maldives in the form of budgetary support, currency swap agreements and concessional lines of credit to fulfill socio-economic development programmes.
  • Maldives’ India-First Policy: President Solih reaffirmed his government policy, and commitment to working together closely with India. He identified various areas for developmental cooperation, including private sector involvement in development of housing and infrastructure, water and sewerage systems in the outlying islands, healthcare, education and tourism.
  • Connectivity: The two leaders emphasized the need to improve connectivity between the two countries through the establishment of enabling infrastructure that would promote the exchange of goods and services, information, ideas, culture and people.
  • Visa Facilitation Agreement: Recognizing the importance of facilitating people-to-people exchanges and travel, the two leaders welcomed the new agreement on Visa Facilitation.
  • Indo-Pacific Region: The two leaders agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean Region. They reiterated their assurance of being mindful of each other’s concerns and aspirations for the stability of the region and not allowing their respective territories to be used for any activity inimical to the other.
  • Terrorism: The two leaders reaffirmed their unwavering commitment and support for increased cooperation in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations both within the region and elsewhere.
  • Global Issues: The two leaders reiterated the importance of an effective multilateral system as a key factor in tackling global challenges. They recognized the need to pursue reform of the main UN bodies, including the revitalization of the UN General Assembly and expansion of the UN Security Council.
  • Economy: The two leaders underscored the need for strengthening and reforming of multilateral financial institutions and enhancing the voice and participation of developing countries in international economic decision-making.

Areas of Cooperation between Maldives and India:

  • Maldivian President called India the island nation’s “closest friend” and “reaffirmed his government’s ‘India-First’ Policy”, committing to working together closely with India.
  • Both have agreed to ensure that they would keep other’s security interests in mind as they consolidate cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). They have agreed to strengthen maritime security cooperation in the IOR through coordinated patrol and aerial surveillance, exchange of information and capacity building.
  • Maldivian government's vision of a transparent and rules-based approach to growth and development has given a boost to investor confidence in the country.
  • Both sides agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation on issues of common concern, including piracy, terrorism, organized crime, drugs and human trafficking. It was also agreed to intensify cooperation in the areas of training and capacity building of Maldives Police Service and Maldives National Defence Force.
  • PM Modi also announced that India would provide 1,000 additional slots over next five years for training and capacity building in diverse fields.
  • Areas such fisheries development, tourism, transportation, connectivity, health, education, new and renewable energy and communications were earmarked for enhancing bilateral cooperation.
  • Maldivian government's decision to rejoin the Commonwealth has improved bilateral relations between both countries.
  • Maldives has joined the Indian Ocean Rim Association as its newest member.
  • The two sides also signed four agreements – for visa liberalization for segments such as Indian investors, cultural cooperation, IT and electronics cooperation, and improving the ecosystem for agriculture business.

Areas of Conflict:

  • The Maldives had veered too close to China for India’s comfort, welcoming Chinese money for major infrastructure projects and signing a controversial free trade agreement (FTA).
  • GMR infrastructure contact was cancelled and it was given to Chinese companies.
  • China’s loans to the Maldives total at least $1.3 billion, or a quarter of the island nation’s gross domestic product.
  • Faced with this crisis, the new Maldivian government is looking to India for more budgetary support to help meet its development goals and is also planning to revise the FTA with China.
  • Terrorism and radicalization has increased as Maldives sent maximum number of terrorists per capita sent to ISIS. Maldives has good relations with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
  • Maldives had asked India to withdraw 2 helicopters, that is, advanced light helicopters (ALH) operating in Maldives.
  • Maldivian authority refused to extend visas of 26 Indian navy personnels. An estimated 2000 Indian applicants for job opportunities were denied visa by Maldives.

Way Forward:

  • The Maldives is strategically important, given its geographical location in the Indian Ocean. India must deploy a lighter diplomatic touch that focuses on enhancing natural affinities, to deal with this important nation in its neighbourhood.
  • The logic of geography dictates that India’s role will be critical in determining the trajectory of political developments in the Maldives.

Conclusion:                            

India accords the highest importance to its relations with Maldives and wishes to see a democratic, stable, prosperous and peaceful Maldives. Recent changes have provided an opening for both sides to recalibrate ties.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:
For stronger India-Maldives ties, common priorities need to be re-worked. What are the common priorities for India and Maldives in Indian Ocean Region? Discuss measures taken by India to curb perils of China's debt trap diplomacy in Maldives.

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