The Pakistani Ambassador to the UN remarked that “no Indian puppet can prevent OIC countries from condemning the rising Islamophobia of India’s Hindu extremists”.
A humiliation and a shame indeed, when, for the first time in the Maldives’ 54 years of engaging an independent and a principled foreign policy, a neighbourly fellow Muslim country, a fellow SAARC and OIC member – Pakistan has categorized the Maldives as a puppet of India, recently in late May 2020.
It is worth, fondly looking back in retrospect at the voluminous waters passed under the bridge, if you like, which made up the foreign policy of the last five decades. At independence in 1965, the Maldives made its first true step entering the international community by becoming a member of the United Nations. Ideology-free, pragmatism and adaptability to change were the key concepts that characterized the Maldives foreign policy and diplomacy during the last five decades -Policies where the Maldives will gain most.
The country emerged as an independent nation-state during the Cold-War when world politics was dominated by the rivalry between the two superpowers and the alliances they formed. The young Maldives decided not to be a part of any of the alliances and had a non-aligned approach by joining the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in September 1976 after the British RAF Base in Gan was closed in March the same year as a prerequisite by NAM leaders for the Maldives to attain NAM membership. In the following years, it tried to maintain strong ties with the leading countries and the West, and made shifts in its foreign policy orientation, as and when demanded by the realities of regional and global politics but with neutrality.
A shining example of this neutrality was when then President Ibrahim Nasir and his cabinet in October 1977 turned down a $1 million-a-year offer by the Soviets to lease the abandoned former British air base in Gan 200 miles north of the US base in Diego Garcia. The Maldives did not want to compromise its non-aligned position by this venture. Moscow’s stated purpose for acquiring the island base was to use it for maintenance of Soviet fishing vessels operating in the Indian Ocean. But US intelligence said that Maldivian leaders apparently had doubts about Soviet intentions.
Then Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir during the signing of the Articles of Maldives Independence
after being a british protectorate state for 77 years.
Since 1978, the Maldives followed a policy of international engagement, strengthening relations with donor institutions and countries. The long years were presided by President Gayoom and his long time Foreign Minister Fathulla Jameel. The Maldives have had long years of good neighborly relations with immediate neighbours, India and Sri Lanka with mutual respect. In the transition towards a liberal democracy, in the late 2000s, the Maldives established dialogue and collaboration with international human rights organizations. From 2013-2018, President Yameen’s foreign policy was building resilience and bilateral partnerships advancing economic development of the country. He strongly opposed to foreign countries and organizations meddling in the internal affairs of the Maldives, which led to worsening relations with South Asian neighbor India and eventually leaving the Commonwealth. Additionally, India claiming that the Maldives had a “pro-China tilt”.
Hon. Fathuhulla Jameel served as the Maldives Foreign Minister from 1978-2005.
After assuming office in 2018, current President Solih, resetting ties with India, affirmed his government’s “India-First Policy” and pledged full support towards “deepening the multifaceted, mutually beneficial partnership” between the two countries by trust, transparency, mutual understanding and sensitivity.
One must not miss the fact that allegedly India heavily influenced and interfered in the 2018 Presidential Elections and the subsequent Parliamentary Elections resulting in massive wins for MDP. The India-First Policy comes as a reward for India on a silver plate along with the blind out right support along with a willingly patronizing and all out defending policy over India. This India-First Policy has now turned out to be a national security issue, especially military related issues shrouded in mystery and not transparent. The patronizing policy towards India has now become a strong sensitivity issue for the ordinary Maldivian, in contrast with the traditional characterization of mutual good relationship between both the peoples we saw over the long years.
One of the Foreign Policy Goals of the Maldives is to protect the Islamic identity of the Maldives and help to promote the values of Islam internationally. Sadly, the heart of the incumbent MDP government does not prioritize and pursue this goal domestically and internationally. It is alarming and repercussions are felt at ground level.
At a recent virtual meeting of Ambassadors to the UN in New York organized by the Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) on the theme of “COVID-19 Solidarity: Promoting Co-Existence and Shared Responsibility”, the Ambassador of Pakistan Munir Akram raised concerns about the alarming rise in Islamophobia and stigmatization of Muslims in India in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. He also highlighted the oppressive measures imposed in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir since 2019 August 5 when India repealed the special status accorded to J & K under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Terming these developments a matter of “grave concern”, Ambassador Akram noted that such hate speech, state-sponsored Islamophobia and deliberate targeting of Muslims in India was not only a human rights challenge, but could also endangered peace and security in the region.
Responding to the solitary dissenting voice of the Maldives, which objected to any criticism of India, the Pakistani Ambassador Akram told the Maldives Ambassador Thilmeeza Hussain that New Delhi did not have a veto in the OIC. The Pakistani Representative also pointedly remarked that no Indian puppet can prevent OIC countries from condemning the rising Islamophobia of India’s Hindu extremists.
Hence, the Maldives thwarted Pakistan’s attempt to single out India at the virtual OIC meet on Islamophobia. The remarks made by the UN Secretary-General indicated his support and said that the OIC will pursue Pakistan’s proposal for collective action to counter Islamophobia.
In her argument to defend India at the OIC meeting, Ambassador Thilmeeza said, “ Targetting a specific country will be like side stepping the real issue”. She also said that it would be detrimental to religious harmony in South Asia and singling out India ……. alleging Islamophobia would be factually incorrect”. “Maldives cannot support any action within the OIC, that singles-out or targets India,” Thilmeeza categorically added.
Thilmeeza Hussein currently serves as the Permanent Representative to the UN and the Malidives Ambassador to the US.
As a result of this patronizing and “joined by the hip” support policy of Maldives towards India, this was a welcome sign for India especially at a time when the OIC has stepped up attacks on India on alleged discrimination against Muslims and also on the grave developments in Jammu and Kashmir.
As Pakistan regrettably has now labelled the Maldives as “an Indian puppet”, we must again and again reflect on this alarming particular episode along with the very noticeable pro-India policies and pacifications by the current Solih government towards India. Krystyna Marek, renowned Polish lawyer and expert on International Realations wrote in the 1954 publication – Identity and Continuity of States in Public International Law – that “A puppet state, puppet regime or puppet government, is a state that is de jure independent but de facto dependent upon an outside power and completely submits to their orders”. Surely, Puppet states have varied degrees of sovereignty, but a foreign power effectively exercises control over its conduct of regional and international relations, like in the case of the Maldives, where heavy influence of India is obviously seen with reluctance in our general and urgent outreach with China, since the Solih government took office in 2018.
Days later after the OIC virtual New York meeting, Maldives Foreign Minister Shahid in his forthright defence of India, told the Times of India that the stand taken by the Maldives “is a principled stand and we will continue to maintain it.”.
From the looks of things it seems that we have to live with the label – a puppet of India.