'Muddying ties with India is impossible', says new Maldives' opposition party leader Abdulla Shahid

"India is tied to us historically, culturally, and in several other ways and the Maldives cannot distance itself from the geographical and historical significance of India as an ally", Abdulla Shahid said.
Veteran Maldivian diplomat Abdulla Shahid
Veteran Maldivian diplomat Abdulla ShahidPhoto | AP

MALE: Veteran Maldivian diplomat Abdulla Shahid, the new leader of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has defended Male's close ties with New Delhi, emphasising that 'muddying ties with India is impossible' regardless of the foreign policy changes made by the new government here.

In an interview with Sun Online, the 61-year-old former president of the UN General Assembly said, "India is tied to us historically, culturally, and in several other ways."

The Maldives cannot distance itself from the geographical and historical significance of India as an ally, he was quoted as saying during the interview held last week.

The relations between the two neighbours have deteriorated ever since President Mohamed Muizzu rode to power on anti-India posturing.

Muizzu, widely seen as a pro-China leader, in his first presidential speech earlier this month said the first group of Indian military personnel will be sent back from the Maldives before March 10 and the remaining manning two aviation platforms will be withdrawn before May 10.

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Shahid, who was elected to the top post without an election last Tuesday, recalled the foreign military incursion to the Maldives on November 3, 1988, led by Tamil mercenaries, and highlighted the role of the Indian military and their assistance in tackling the situation.

He also emphasised that India was the first of the allies to assist in the 2004 tsunami crisis and also recalled the water crisis in Male, adding India had flown special flights carrying water within four hours of the crisis.

Shahid, who served as the minister of foreign affairs from 2018 to 2023 under the presidency of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, also recalled India was the first to aid the Maldives in the 2020 Covid pandemic.

"India has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world for the past 60 years. It is also the fastest-growing economic state with the largest population in the world. So our policies should focus on exploring all avenues from which the Maldives could benefit owing to the economic progress made by India," Shahid was quoted as saying.

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Shahid also quashed rumours that his recent appointment as the main opposition leader was backed by India.

Several of the officials of the Muizzu administration have alleged that his appointment was backed by India, the report said.

Criticising the government over the allegations made against him, the new MDP leader said the current government should realise his calibre for achieving feats on his own.

"The people currently running the government use India as their go-to excuse to invalidate anything I attempt to achieve. At this point, they may go as far as to claim my birth was influenced by India. This is the extent of their narrative right now," Shahid said.

The Maldives' proximity to India, barely 70 nautical miles from the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep and 300 nautical miles from the mainland's western coast, and its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) gives it significant strategic importance.

The Maldives is India's key maritime neighbour in the IOR and occupies a special place in its initiatives like SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the Neighbourhood First Policy' of the Narendra Modi government.


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