Recent developments in the Maldives, where President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has declared a national emergency, arbitrarily arrested the country’s Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and his half-brother and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, together with dozens of his political opponents, have caused widespread regional and international concerns. They have also led to calls from the Opposition in the Maldives, led by former President Mohammed Nasheed, for Indian military intervention. The Maldives Opposition often refers to the Indian military intervention in 1988, when the capital Male was taken over by Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries of the militant group PLOTE.
The Rajiv Gandhi Government undertook the 1988 military operation in the Maldives at the request of the then elected government of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The two major global powers, the US and the Soviet Union, were informed in advance of the proposed action. Both signalled their concurrence. There is little doubt about the domestic unpopularity of the present Maldives government led by President Yameen. India will, however, have to bear in mind that the requests for intervention are coming from former President Nasheed, now living in self-exile in Sri Lanka. Nasheed was forced out of office in 2012, after his political allies turned hostile and the armed forces and police withdrew support. The extent of committed domestic political support that he enjoys is questionable.
Despite his pious professions, President Abdulla Yameen is pathologically hostile to India. This was evident in his arbitrarily cancelling of a contract for airport construction with Indian company GMR and then perversely awarding the contract to China. This was accompanied by the Maldives joining China’s Maritime Silk Route initiative. Chinese submarines are known to have berthed in the Maldives and there are serious concerns about China building a naval ‘string of pearls’ across the Indian Ocean, through ports ranging from Kyaukphyu in Myanmar to Hambantota, Gwadar, the Maldives and Djibouti.
President Yameen also has a reputation of empathy for radical Islamic groups. Despite his protestations, he has shown remarkable ‘restraint’ in dealing with radical Islamic Groups affiliated to the Islamic State (Daesh). Yameen appears determined to ignore Indian concerns whether on his growing maritime ties with Beijing, or in his benign approach to radical Islamic groups. Quite obviously, such disdain for vital Indian interests by Yameen cannot be addressed by pretending that problems in the bilateral relationship can be resolved by meaningless Maldivian gestures like sending a special envoy to India. Yameen’s silencing of all political opposition makes it clear that he is intent on coercion, rather than dialogue.
Dealing with Yameen’s insensitivities to India’s security and economic concerns should be addressed imaginatively. Yameen should not have the luxury of presuming that an Indian military intervention is totally ruled out. Naval exercises by the western fleet near the shores of the Maldives and their berthing in Seychelles and Mauritius should be undertaken.
The Para-Brigade in Agra, which intervened in 1988, and airlift capabilities in Southern India should be kept ready. Most importantly, the Maldives earns huge amounts from tourists from the US and Europe. Its financial flows need to be targeted. Saudi Arabia and its partners such as the UAE should be asked by the US and India to persuade President Yameen to see reason. It will then be a matter of time, before the armed forces and police in the Maldives recognise that President Yameen is a national email@example.com