As a first step towards dealing with the rapidly deteriorating situation in the Maldives, in the fervent hope that the crisis there can be defused in the not too distant future if President Abdulla Yameen takes credible steps to roll back the state of emergency and restores democratic functioning, New Delhi has done well to seek to persuade the UN — along with other concerned nations — to send a fact-finding mission to Male.
Nevertheless, India has to be prepared to see this move stymied at Beijing’s behest, and then be in a position to marshal all resources it can, diplomatically and otherwise, to ensure that normality is restored with a return to status quo ante. Beijing’s position is not buttressed under a thoroughly democratic dispensation in the Maldives. For this reason China is not unduly concerned about the turn of events there, which, in fact, it may see as being favourable to itself. Indeed, its concern may be that efforts toward a peaceful denouement by a return to democratic ways can be prejudicial to its interests. Beijing’s bottom-line, as outlined by its official spokesman on Thursday, is that the recent developments in the strategically located nation of islands is an internal issue of that country. This is far from being the case in reality, whatever the appearances. India cannot but be concerned since the troubled nation is at its doorstep, just a few hours by motorboat from the Kerala coast.
The situation in the islands has by now been thoroughly internationalised by President Yameen. He has despatched special envoys to China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in search of material, diplomatic and political backing. It is possible that Riyadh may play a moderating role. This cannot be said of the other two countries.
Extremist Islamist activities going on in the islands for several years — leading to the Maldives supplying the greatest numbers of fighters to ISIS brigades in Iraq and Syria per capita in recent times — cannot but be a matter of the deepest concern to India. In addition, there is another major potential security concern for India. China is understood to have acquired working control of 17 islands of the Maldives group from the Abdulla Yameen government. If these were to be converted into military stations — with naval, air and sophisticated communications facilities — just as artificially created reefs were in the South China Sea and other parts of the Indo-Pacific area by Beijing, New Delhi will find itself in an unenviable situation.
The phone conversation between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi — initiated by Washington — on Thursday is likely to have been to discuss the extent of the problem and India’s readiness to be a part of the solution since no other country is affected as much as India by the current goings-on....