Diplomacy Politics

India should lead, impose sanctions in Maldives: Ex-vice-president Mohamed Jameel Ahmed

Jameel

London-based Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, who was the vice-president of Maldives from 2013 to 2015, believes that India has the moral responsibility as the closest neighbour and the largest democracy to come to the aid of another democracy, as it had done in the past.

Buffeted by political storms and emergency declared by Maldives President Yameen Abdulla Gayoom, a former vice-president of the island-country wants India to assume leadership and act to resolve the crisis by imposing targeted sanctions against the regime in Male.

London-based Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, who was the vice-president of Maldives from 2013 to 2015, believes that India has the moral responsibility as the closest neighbour and the largest democracy to come to the aid of another democracy, as it had done in the past.

“India has always come to our rescue, but I have not seen much involvement from India this time, apart from some statements. I would say to (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi: Sir, time is against us; take decisive action and resolve it as quickly as possible,” he said in an interview.

India has long wielded considerable influence in Maldives, but major investments by China in the strategically located Indian Ocean country has led to new challenges in recent years, which circumscribe the options before New Delhi in the current situation.

Jameel Ahmed, however, believes Indian can talk to China and both can resolve the crisis.

The imposition of emergency and its recent extension followed a ruling of the country’s Supreme Court that overturned verdicts against nine opposition figures, including former president Mohamed Nasheed, and reinstated 12 opposition members of parliament.

Subsequently, the chief justice was arrested along with the president’s half-brother, former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The United Nations, United States, India, United Kingdom and the European Union have urged Yameen’s government to lift the emergency and restore political process.

Before he set out details of the crisis and the way forward in an address to the International Institute for Strategic Studies here on Monday, Jameel Ahmed, who held ministerial positions before serving as the country’s vice-president, spoke to Hindustan Times.

Excerpts:

How would you describe the current situation in Maldives?

The political crisis is escalating at a dangerous rate; resistance is met with brutal force. Nothing is functioning at the moment; parliament is paralysed, the judiciary is under siege, the chief justice is in detention. The entire opposition is either in exile or in prison. No constitutional or legal institution is able to function independently. The whole country is in some way paralysed; this is a nation that is helpless at the moment. The international community should intervene; time is critical. So far we have seen few statements, but the world has largely been silent.

What is the way forward according to you?

We are not disconnected from the world. We are a country where big international companies invest. Many big Indian companies are there. The question is who would invest in a country whose chief justice is in detention.

If chaos reigns, it will have a spiral effect; it has implications for the security of the Indian Ocean, it will be felt across the world.

History tells that when there is this kind of chaos, when governance fails, extremism thrives, which is not in the interest of India and the larger world. The situation is more serious than some people think.

Democracies, particularly India, must take leadership in resolving the crisis. India has moral responsibility, as the largest democracy, to assume leadership; it is more than capable of resolving the crisis in consultation with China. Although we are out of the Commonwealth, India is the biggest country in the group; it should use the forum to help us. The time has passed to play it safe. Democracies should be ready to help when other democracies are in turmoil.

In what way you would like India to be decisive in resolving the issue?

Both unilaterally and multilaterally there are various options India can take. We are a country that is a signatory to many international covenants, of the UN as well. You should be able to force Maldives to comply with international covenants, obligations, hold it to account.

First, get engaged with the nation. Be more involved. In my opinion, India has not been as involved as it should be. India has always come to our rescue; it is our closest neighbour but I have not seen much involvement from India this time, apart from some statements. I don’t think that you (India) should keep quiet. You should be seen to be involved and engaged; the more you do that, the current regime (in Maldives) will be forced to be accountable, to comply with its obligations.

If that does not work, then India should explore available international avenues. This is the time to explore targeted sanctions on the regime and the businesses that are helping it; freezing assets and imposing travel bans.

This will work; this is a small country you are talking about. This is not North Korea; we are vulnerable. This needs to be done quickly, because time is not on our side.

He (President Yameen) wants to buy time, he has already paralysed parliament, judiciary, and is now trying to create a kangaroo court by replacing the entire supreme court. Where will the country go from there? If targeted sanctions don’t work, then India and world bodies should come together and impose more widespread sanctions to compel it to re-instate parliament and judiciary.

The opposition has been calling on everyone to help. We, all opposition parties, are working as a joint coalition; we interact and consult on a daily basis. I am sure a formal letter seeking help has gone to the Indian government; to come and help and restore democracy. We have also been appealing to the British government, the European Union, US, all big democracies.

How do you see China’s role in Maldives in recent years?

While the world’s democracies have been busy addressing terrorism, crises in Afghanistan, Syria, Myanmar and elsewhere, China has been quietly consolidating, from Africa to Maldives, through finances… Which is why India and other democracies should approach the Maldives crisis differently; there needs to be firm action and explore all avenues to prevent another failed state in the region. The Chinese have invested heavily, but at what cost to us?

This (President Yameen’s) government has not been open. Since it came to power, many laws have been changed to allow shabby deals to take place. It has borrowed heavily from China; we do not know the exact amount, but it is estimated to be more than USD 1.5 billion. The terms of free trade agreement the current regime has entered with China has not been disclosed to parliament or the people.

But it is also in China’s interest to see a stable Maldives, safe Maldives. If the country is not stable, their investments will also not be stable. I think both India and China can talk and come to the conclusion that this is a matter that they should build a consensus on and save the nation.

President Yameen is facing allegations of corruption linked to projects awarded to Chinese companies.

It is not just a matter of charges. There is hard evidence; his own confessions in several public rallies. He said openly that bags of cash came to his house. He would not be in his place if this was a democratic country where its institutions are allowed to function.

If Maldives had an India-like democracy, this government would not exist. Many projects awarded to companies would not stand the test of democratic scrutiny, I can tell you this much.

To what extent has radical Islam grown in Maldives? There are reports that several people joined the Islamic State and fought in Syria.

Where there is chaos, in countries where governance has failed, poverty and extremism thrive. This is seen across Asia and our neighbours. We are a progressive, comparatively modern Islamic country, but successive governments have failed to address the issue of radical Islam.

Since he (President Yameen) came into power he has turned a blind eye to their activities, because it serves his interests. He wants to consolidate his position by eliminating political parties and opponents; so while he does that, these groups extend him support directly or indirectly. Under his watch these groups continue to thrive, but their activities will spill out into the Indian Ocean; it is not in your interests, nobody’s interest.

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