That the new Maldivian President Yameen Abdul Gayoom chose to make his first official visit abroad to New Delhi in the very first week of the year 2014 was enough indication that he wants to mend fences with India and restore the decades old traditional relationship with its closest maritime neighbor, on whom the country depends for its security.
Though the moves of the previous Maldivian administration threatened to weaken the political and security links with India , the new President during his interactions with the Prime Minister and the President in New Delhi in January has very surprisingly expressed extremely positive sentiments which bodes well for the return of the bright phase in the bilateral relationships.
Before the visit of the Maldivian President to India the Indian Government had set the solid stage for the successful visit of the Maldivian defence minister, to whom India donated the second Advanced Light Helicopter Dhruv and promised many other cooperation programs.
The Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim was received warmly by Indian Defence Minsiter A K Antony who committed the full medical treatment facilities for the Maldivian forces in Indian military hospitals besides training the Maldivian defence personnel in India, deputation of Indian army medical officers, strengthening of Maldivian medical infrastructure and training of Maldivian medical specialists in India.
This was a big gesture from India for the Maldivian soldiers who can only go to the one Indira Gandhi hospital set up by the Indian government in early eighties. After the latest offer from India the Maldivian soldiers will be able to avail treatment of major and serious illnesses besides major surgeries in Indian armed forces hospitals.
Mr Nazim also visited Kochi, where he was accorded warm reception and taken to the Southern Naval Command Headquarter, under whose jurisdiction the India Maldivian naval cooperation programs are organized.
This year both the countries would be holding the next annual round of the bilateral naval exercises. Since India already patrols the maritime waters around Maldives, it is significant that the new Maldivian government has given no indication to strengthen its new found bonhomie with the Chinese government. In fact this was simply an exercise in Indian diplomacy to send a message to China that India means business and will not let expand its footprint in the Indian Ocean.
During the visit of the Maldivian defence minister to Kochi he was taken around various naval facilities. And during his meetings, the Indian defence minister extended him all the courtesies and attaching significance to talks with him , included the Defence Secretary and the vice chief of naval staff besides senior officers of the armed forces and the ministry of defence and external affairs during the delegation level dialogue.
During the meeting a number of issues pertaining to bilateral cooperation were discussed besides regional security. India is already patrolling the Maldivian waters to provide it foolproof security from the Sea pirates. Maldives has over 200 islands and has no wherewithal to provide security to those islands from the pirates. Maldivian National defence forces which is already operating the Indian supplied ALH, the second ALH will strengthen its ability to deter the pirates from approaching its coasts and unguarded islands, on which hotel and tourist infrastructure has come up.
After the new foundation for a robust defence relationship was laid, the Maldivian President Gayoom cemented this by reminding his interlocutors of a very close political relationship with India. And while talking to media Gayoom talked of India’s military assistance to Maldives which saved the regime of his elder half brother Mammon Abdul Gayoom in 1988 by dispatching Indian paratroopers to Male to fight against the invaders.
He said, “If you look at this array of assistance that India has given us, it is not only humanitarian, resource building, it is also in terms of military and defence assistance. The trust we have on India, the commitment my Government gives to Indian Government, I would like to express strong support of our Government in maintaining Indo-Maldives relationship.”
Gayoom spoke of traditional relations with India in very eulogizing manner, indicating to Indian leadership the keen desire to restore the five decades old close political relationship with India. In fact the two countries would soon celebrate the five decades of a very productive relationship which has indeed transformed the nation of 200 islands as a tourist paradise which has invigorated its economy and significantly raised the living standards of the ordinary Maldivians.
During the visit of the President, the issue of GMR Male international airport was raised and he indicated that the issue can be resolved through out of court settlement process. In fact the sudden cancellation of this ongoing contract became the bone of contention when the last President Mohammad Waheed assumed power in February 2012 by dethroning the sitting President Muhammad Nasheed, considered very pro India , who had invested huge political capital in maintaining good cordial relations with India.
The coup came as a shock to India and the Indian diplomats made frantic efforts to prevent the relations going downhill. However, the political turmoil prevented the normal relations with India as President Waheed made an all out attempt to legalize his stay in power through elections. In the process he became so unpopular that he was thrown out of the Presidential race in the first round of polling with a very poor record. Though the Ex President Nasheed remained India’s favorite during the elections, the fears regarding slowdown of relations during the reign of new president Gayoom seems to be proving false.
The new President Gayoom tried to allay the security concerns of the Indian leadership during his early January visit by vouching to cooperate with India in maintaining the maritime security of the region. He said, “It is not only military exchanges, it is not only maritime security-yes we have agreed on those, we have commonalities, we have common interests in those-it is my belief as is the belief of Indian Prime Minister that the maritime security of this region is of utmost importance to India, Maldives and the countries facing the Indian Ocean. So, it would be best left to countries in this region to resolve these matters. So, I have assured the Indian Prime Minister and the Indian Government that we share the views of Indian Government on this issue.”
Admitting the negative turn in relations during the last two years Gayoom said that “we had rough patches in the past. But it is the commitment of my administration, commitment of the Council of Ministers that we look forward to a strong, healthy, working relationship with the Indian enterprise.”
Diplomatic observers are of the opinion that the new Maldivian government has shown a pragmatic approach by recognizing the significance of maintaining good, cordial and constructive relations with India. The previous Maldivian government perhaps played its China card too much which invited the outside powers like the USA to take a keen interest in managing the Maldivian affairs.
However, the Indian government, very patiently, over the last two years engaged with all sections of the Maldivian political community and invited their leaders to India to convince them that India will never interfere in the internal political processes of the country and conveyed to them that the destiny of the Maldivians must be decided by Maldivians themselves but in a free and transparent manner.
President Gayoom in fact accepted India’s non interference in Maldivian internal affairs, when he said to the Indian media that India has always been mindful of Maldivians managing Maldivian internal politics. And we are particularly grateful for Indian authorities for the stance taken on these matters.
The new President thus has allayed the fears in Indian strategic community that a tiny nation of 3, 25,000 will continue to bully India on the strength of the support of outside powers. As Gayoom reassured India, “We believe we have a bound destiny. We believe the kinship that exists between India and Maldives is there for a long-long time to come, and it is our hope that this kinship is going to be a rewarding experience.”
Indian security establishment will now have a sound sleep over the relations with Maldives which had gone astray over the last two years.