Maldives: The Island and its Conquest

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In the year 1988, a coupe d’etat led by Abdullah Luthufi, assisted by the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Elam (PLOTE), tried to overthrow the Government of Republic of Maldives. Despite its tremendous efforts, the coupe failed due to the timely intervention of the Indian armed forces, whose military operation was code-named as ‘Operation Cactus’. In the coupe d’etat, the armed PLOTE members had landed at the capital of Malte from freighters in speedboats to overthrow the government. However, they failed to capture the then President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom as he sought help from India, United Kingdom, and the U.S. The then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi sent 1600 paratroopers by air to restore order. This action was taken due to the express invitation of the Government and authorization of the UN. After thirty years, a new crisis has engulfed the archipelago with the current President Abdulla Yameen deciding to disobey a Supreme Court order and imposing a state of emergency. So far, India has released two official statements on the ongoing crisis in the Maldives. On February 2, they asked the Maldives government to abide by its Supreme Court’s ruling and order the release of political prisoners and reinstatement of 12 disqualified parliamentarians. Later, India stated that it was “disturbed” by the imposition of the state of emergency followed by the arrest of Gayoom and Saeed. India also issued a travel advisory advising its citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to the Maldives.


As of this day, the world community at large does not view the current Maldives crisis as a humanitarian crisis. India itself is on a diplomatic path and is not bowing down to popular sentiments. As of now, India is not providing military aid because of the standpoints in international law, particularly Article 2 of the United Nations Charter which enshrines the responsibility to protect doctrine. It states member nations to refrain from using threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, except for its own defense.

The International Court of Justice in Nicaragua v. the United States of America, expressly prohibited state intervention through direct military forces or indirect action. The doctrine of responsibility to protect has evolved to include mass atrocities. It fixes upon the state itself, the responsibility of its people and sovereignty. Instances in Rwanda and Balkan, and the Rohingya crisis have time and again demonstrated the implementation of the doctrine.


Though there has been a plea for help from India through tweets, India hasn’t yet intervened. These tweets were from an influential political opponent of the current President, Yameen Abdul Gayoom, and the former President of Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed.

It is interesting to note that the current President had taken several persuasive external affairs reforms that perhaps explain his long tenure through friendly convoys to Pakistan, China, and Saudi Arabia. Earlier Maldives had reached out to India as well with a possibility for visit of the Maldivian envoy to India, but New Delhi negated the offer, stating that the political premier of the state was out of the country and the visit was not possible on the said dates. In such circumstances, it is unlikely that India will look at unilateral military support due to the illegality of the President’s actions. Instead, it is plausible that the country will be subject to and its actions governed by economic and south Asian community pressure infliction. The Maldives government had “noted with concern” that calls for Indian military intervention in the Maldives had been made by some Maldivians. It further said that at no time was a request for military intervention made from their side, marking a major difference between the current situation and the one in 1988 when the Gayoom government itself sought Indian intervention.


So what changed in the sovereign relationships between India and Maldives? Though they were strengthened in 1988, they seem somewhat cold at present. The island republic in the Indian Ocean was considered to be in India’s sphere of influence. However, the arrest of two Supreme Court judges, the suspension of rule of law and human rights, coupled with certain articles on the Maldivian Constitution have escalated the situation into hostility. With China vying for a strategic dominance, the archipelago sinks in political tension.


India is strongly grounded on international law policies, for its relations with other nations.
Especially so since India is already expecting China to abide by signed treaties for Arunachal Pradesh’s Doka La and Aksai Chin. Thus, instead of an outward flex of military muscle, India has sanctioned to protect it’s political and moral grounds.
In such a case, the United Nations Security Council can be lobbied by India for this crisis, should a military solution be required. Though China will have a veto on the decision. Resultantly, a total failure of the democratic machinery and recognition of a legal Government with Nasheen as the Head may be on the cards. This is a wishful situation for New Delhi after the free trade treaty between China and Maldives.


The Maritime Silk Road Treaty for the Sea route and Belts was recently rejected by India. This openly undermines Indian relations with the Maldives. The treaty came close to the heals of a debt swap deal with Sri Lanka. China acquired the Hambantota port for its Belts and Roads initiative. With India’s rejection of the Treaty, it is for the nations to wait and watch over the treasure island and how the politics in Asia plays out. In a political signal continuing the Maldives tilt towards China, President Abdullah Yameen had sent letters of felicitation, on Chinese New-year to President Xi Jinping and Chinese Premier Li keqiang, indicating further collaboration, working towards the benefit of people and thanking China for it’s commitment to Maldives’s development needs.


As of February 16, 2018, the Indian ambassador at Malte, M.r Akhilesh Mishra met the Foreign Secretary of Maldives, Mr. Ahmed Sareer in an official meeting after expressing inability to provide special envoy to the Maldives. The Foreign Secretary reassured the Indian ambassador that detained former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another judge, Ali Hameed, were in “good health”, with access to doctors and medicines. Mishra was also informed that Gayoom has been moved from the Dhoonidhoo detention center to Maafushi prison. As of now, the top officials of the two nations have heard each other’s position and entered into commitments to strengthen their relationship with a possibility of a future visit. There was a further assurance from the Maldives that the political detainees were being treated as per the spirit of the law.


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