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With the Maldives poised precariously between authoritarianism and return to at least some semblance of democracy, former President Mohamed Nasheed told TOI in an exclusive interaction that it was imperative for India to act against the Abdulla Yameen government for 2 reasons – Chinese land grab and increasing radicalisation. He said that, if he returned to power, he’d seek an international convention against land grab and force China also to sign it.
According to Nasheed, the Chinese have taken control of as many as 17 islands in the Maldives. The Chinese have apparently promised to invest nearly $ 40 million in each of these islands and this has raised doubts about the purpose behind the acquisition of these islands. On radicalisation, Nasheed said India should be worried because the Maldivian fighters returning from Syria and Iraq had embedded themselves in the local police and defence forces.
As the main face of the joint opposition, the MDP leader is one of the lead players in what is the worst political crisis to have hit the country since the coup which dislodged Nasheed, the first democratically elected president. While the Maldives Supreme Court has now revoked its earlier ruling ordering release of political prisoners including Nasheed, he said it was important to complete the process of judicial reforms to ensure the judiciary wasn’t biased.
There’s emergency in Maldives for 15 days. What happens after that?
If the situation remains as it is, within 15 days Yameen is bound to get majority by hook or by crook. He’d arrest some of the MPs or get the Supreme Court, his Supreme Court, to decide on the 12 (those reinstated by the SC ruling) MPs again and then go to Parliament and deliberate on the emergency. The emergency was to suppress people and he will lift it after he has achieved his goals.
The chief justice is still in jail? Is the SC now under Yameen’s control?
I am a man of a modest means but I am trying to give his family moral support. We are trying to highlight his plight. We are trying to get India to come and release him. I can’t understand how our president is able to arrest our chief justice, occupy our Parliament and still pretend it’s business as usual.
You want military intervention by India but there are few takers for that call as of now.
Military is an extension of diplomacy. When diplomatic means fail, that does not mean you step back. Your problem remains. You only engaged diplomatically because there was a problem. You still have to solve the problem. It’s another issue whether India listens or not. I have my views. It’s not just our problem. It’s your problem as well. In my views, 2 issues make it India’s problem. Radical Islam and land grab.
Is it true that Maldives has contributed largest number of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq in terms of per capita?
It is true. We have imported a very radical version of Islam and it has created a breeding ground of jehadi terrorism. We are in this very unfortunate situation where there’s a network that can recruit people to go and fight in foreign land. And while they have been coming back since ISIS got flushed out in Iraq and Syria, they have embedded themselves in strategic places within our military, police, customs and immigration. Therefore, there is a state within a state. If you look at the past 4 years and the 23 murders which have taken place…in each of these foes were identified and executed. This state within state has created gangs in Male which act as their religious police. They are eating into the military from inside and I’d say they’re poised to take over.
By land grab you obviously mean China…
I don’t think this is a bilateral problem. We should deal with it multilaterally. I think it’s an international issue and and international human rights issue. It has to do with separation, colonialism and the act of grabbing land. In land grab concepts, you have internal and external drivers. He has facilitated through legislation avenues to grab land, whether it is the SEZs or the land reforms to the Constitution. Also the manner in which he has suppressed the media. No other country (other than China) is engaged in it. I am only talking about what’s happening in the Maldives but China is very much in the Maldives. No other country is driving that kind of process. We know that they have 17 islands now where they talking about investing $ 40 million but we don’t really know what is the purpose for that.
Assuming you come back to power, what do you propose to do about it?
I’d seek help from other countries to propagate and international convention on land grab…and force China to sign it. You can’t propagate dictatorship in the name of development assistance.
But isn’t your call for military action dangerous? Do you want to see a conflict between India and China?
I am not really looking at the gunboat diplomacy of the 19th century here. We want something more imaginative with soft power involved in it…or the necessary muscle power. So it doesn’t have to be messy military adventurism. Doesn’t have to be blood on the ground. It has to be carefully calibrated and I think India has the capacity to do that.
That would still risk a military intervention by the Chinese considering the stakes it has in Maldives now…
Beyond my concerns for the Maldives, I’m also an islander and am worried about the Indian Ocean region. Indians should be worried too. We don’t want to see any military conflict between India and China anywhere. But again, we’d like Chinese FDI to be just FDI. Nothing more than that. For that to happen, we have to have rules. A rules based international system. We don’t know if China has even registered the FTA with WTO. Anyway, WTO is probably not the appropriate platform to deal with this because it’s not just about trade. There are other elements involved. We are finding that some Investments are not based on market mechanisms like returns or your normal economics.
Yameen in fact has said that he is willing to hold early elections…
That’s a silly thing to say because we have a fixed presidential system and there can’t be early elections. But India must ensure free, fair and inclusive elections. Only India can play that role as it’s the only game-changing power in the Maldives. India is also not seen as an occupying power. One reason why Maldives is now a middle income country is SBI which lent to us and helped develop our tourism industry.