Opinion Politics

Strike While the Iron is Hot

Indian Troops

The moment is ripe for Indian intervention in Maldives

At mid-day today (February 6, 2017), former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed called for India to send a military envoy to free the Supreme Court Judges held by the government following the imposition of a state of emergency in the country.

As it unfolds, the current crisis in the Maldives has once again drawn attention to the debate about whether India should interfere in the domestic politics of its neighbours. This debate, however, is misguided.

The question for New Delhi is not whether or not to intervene but when to intervene. Like Mao, President Xi Jinping sees interventions in the domestic affairs of other states as a means to protect Chinese interests beyond its borders. New Delhi too can use this argument to counter those who say intervention in the Maldives would be a breach of its sovereignty.

President Yameen’s moves over the past few days and the extreme step of declaring emergency shows that he is betting on China for support. Inaction, as suggested by many, is not an option for New Delhi. Not doing anything would imply India’s support for Yaseem and damage its credibility as an emerging power. It must intervene and must do so before China does.

Yameen’s arrogance allows New Delhi to pursue tough measures to restore political stability without facing any criticism from the international community. The benefit of acting first is manifold. By striking when the iron is hot, New Delhi will signal to the Indian Ocean rim that India will take action wherever necessary to protect its interest. It will also signal to the international community that India is an ambassador of democracy and supports rule of law.

Decades of strong relations between India and Maldives came under strain in 2010 after Male abruptly terminated an agreement with GMR to modernise the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport. The government of Maldives stated that the project was cancelled because “the contract was illegally awarded” by the then President Nasheed. China’s growing footprint in the island amplified India’s concern. The contract was subsequently awarded to a Chinese firm.

Sino-Maldives relations have grown significantly since President Xi Jinping’s 2014 visit. The relationship has deepened with President Yameen entering into a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China in December 2017. India, which has remained at loggerheads with President Yameen for most of the time he has been in power, has expressed concern over China’s growing footprint in the island. If the Sri Lankan experience is to be followed, the FTA could draw the Maldives into a heavy Chinese debt and result in a strategic leverage for China.

South Block should view this unfolding crisis as a learning opportunity and actively support leaders like Mohamed Nasheed who can be cultivated as strong, predictable allies in the neighbourhood.

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Source URL: Medium

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