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“Big Brother” to “#India Out”- a failed foreign policy?

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The Maldives and India has enjoyed warm relations time immemorial. The two nations have enjoyed their independence from the British for decades with a sense of brotherly love and trust. The Maldivians regularly traveled to India for critical medical care and commerce while Indian expats made up the bulk of foreigners in the Maldives. A lingual and cultural mashup was even born amidst this whole exchange where Maldivians who fluently spoke and understood Indian languages were common while Indians who understood “Dhivehi” also became the norm. However, this has turned around in the recent years under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s increasingly aggressive foreign policies and President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s “India First” foreign policy.

For the first time, the general public of the Maldives has started to raise concern over their neighbor’s absolute control over the Maldives.

On 25th May 2021 the Indian Union Cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached a consensus and approved to establish an Indian Consulate in Addu city Maldives. A decision which invoked the ire from the ardent residents of the island nation of Maldives and particularly from its southern most atoll and city, Addu city.

Later that night President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih met the press for the fifth time since the pandemic began and was asked on how the Indian federal cabinet decided to establish their consulate in Addu city, Maldives and whether the Government of Maldives had a prior agreement on establishing the consulate. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s answer to this questions proved that the decision was made unilaterally by Indian Prime Minister and his cabinet without consulting the Government of Maldives. This raises questions on the Indian influence of the Maldives and the sovereignty of the Maldives.

That very day, a social media campaign was launched against the establishment of the consulate in Addu under the banner of “#SaveAddu”. People from both ends of the political spectrum joined campaign as they raised voice and question India’s motives behind the establishment of the consulate in Addu city.

Loans and bases-India at every step.

The suspicions on the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unilateral decision to establish the consulate in Addu city stems from the Police Training Academy being constructed under the Indian government full “free aid”. The massive compound spanning roughly 1.3million sqft is constructed by an Indian contractor under the name of Sri Avantika Contractors Ltd for $18 million.

Police Academy under cosntruction in Addu city.

The secrecy behind the contracting process, construction and the fact that the Maldivian Police Service and the military wing has little to no say or control on what goes there has long fueled allegations that the Police Academy will in fact operate as a military base for India. It is now being speculated that the new consulate will be stationed at the military base, further fueling the suspicions against the growing Indian influence in the Maldives.

Stationing military personnel under the guise of training programs is a well-known and used tactic by India as evident by the case of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. In 1961, India established a training mission in Bhutan for the Royal Bhutan Army and the Royal Bodyguard of Bhutan. The mission was supposed to provide training for the Bhutanese army following the volatile period after departure of the British from the region. However, the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) never left Bhutan and currently 2,000 Indian soldiers stationed are permanently stationed in Bhutan as a part of this training program.

In addition to this a subdivision of the Indian Army Corps, Border and Roads Organization has also been operating in Bhutan since 1961 to construct “vehicle worthy roads”. Indian domination of the foreign policy, defence and the trade of the Kingdom of Bhutan was paved under Bhutan-India Treaty of Friendship under which India would “guide” Bhutan in those aforementioned areas. This has since then led the “guiding” to become ‘domination” with the Bhutanese government taking stronger actions in 1972 to “enhance” the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Indian history with Bhutan is reminiscent of the situation in the Maldives as the Bhutan with a small population of 763,092 people got the short end of the stick while India continued to assert its dominion over Bhutan under India’s hegemonic policies.

It is a known fact that India intends to station their soldiers in the Maldives as evident when the Indian government offered $1 billion in exchange for India to station their military in the Maldives. According to Nikkei Asia Review, the offer was made by the Indian Government to Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid on his 4 day official visit to India on December 17th 2018.

Allegations against the Indian government of establishing a military presence in the Maldives does not only stem from their eagerness to “invest” in Addu city or their financial offers. Several Indian investments at key military points around the Maldives has also been fueling the allegations against India for the past years. India has also announced a massive plan to expand the Hanimaadhoo International Airport.

Indian military personnel at Hanimaadhoo airport, Maldives.

In addition to this the  Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar signed an agreement on 21st February 2021 to develop the Uthuru Thilafalhu Project (UTF). A harbor and dockyard which could play a key role in the national security of the Maldives. The government’s decision to handover this project has not only been rejected by the general public, but even SOE MTCC’s MD Ali Azim even commented that MTCC has the capacity to develop the UTF without handing it over to a foreign party.

The two Indian Dornier aircrafts and the Helicopters operated by Indian Military personnel in the Maldives and their failure to “train” Maldivian pilots to operate the vehicles after more than a decade has only aggravated the situation.

Veil of Secrecy.

The current administration’s aversion to “the right to information” has further exacerbated the allegations against India and its influence on the Maldives. Several local journalists and news organizations who wanted to inquire on the Indian loans and projects were denied with some even launching formal complaints through the judiciary on their right to information. The Government has even denied the people the financial details of some of the loans taken from the Government of India.

The tipping point of this enigmatic policy by government of Maldives was when they officially refused to disclose the number of Indian soldiers in the Maldives stating that doing so would be a “danger to national security”. They have also refused to disclose any matter pertaining to India and especially their military.

Result of a weak foreign policy?

The global shift in power in the recent years has caused a number of states to elect ultra-nationalistic leaders and policies. As the “west against east” policies adopted by the world turns outdated, these ultra-nationalistic leaders and their fascists policies turn to make their mark on history by playing the top dog.

Increasingly aggressive foreign policies and territorial conflicts has become the new approaches to gaining popularity and public approval  for these leaders.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also amped up India’s defence spending in the recent years by up to 14%, making it the world’s third highest military spender. The Indian Maritime doctrine and the Indian Maritime Military Strategy paints a clear picture of how this increase in budget is being justified.

India’s growing military presence in the whole of Asia is being justified as their right to protect India’s “interests”.

Sovereignty of Maldives at stake.

The Maldives as a sovereign state needs to question how India could justify their evident influence over the Maldives. But, they cannot be entirely blamed for asserting their influence over the Maldives. In a dog-eat-dog world, each nation must defend their own interests and sovereignty. In this case, the geographical location of the Maldives is an Interest of India. So how does Maldives react to when interests of India and Maldives collide? By adopting an “India First” policy.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih wih Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s weak and lackluster “India First” policy has caused much damage to the age old relations between both countries as Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid buckles to every request and demand by the Indian’s even at the cost of the interests of the Maldives.

Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid has been described as the best friend of India.

It is not far-fetched to state that the once bilateral relations between the Maldives and India is now a unilateral one. The current hegemonic nature of the relation with India now directly threatens the very sovereignty of the Maldives as the Indian Government unilaterally concludes to make decisions regarding the other state.

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Leaked documents show India refused to withdraw military personnel and helicopters from the Maldives even after their Visa’s expired.

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Allegations that Indian influence in the Maldives has been one of the most debated topics in the Maldives. Accusation that India has influenced the last Presidential Election and the current administration is a common topic for political debates. However, a series of documents has been leaked by a local news showing communication between the Maldives Foreign Ministry and the Indian High Commission during the previous administration. The documents show the Government of Maldives requesting the Indian High Commission to withdraw their Helicopter stationed in the Maldives. The documents cement the allegations by the public that India has been increasingly overstepping on the sovereignty of the Maldives.

Below is a timeline of the events, first published in Dhivehi language on “Dhiyares News”.

In a letter dated 22nd April 2018, the Government of Maldives informed the Indian High commission on its decision to return the Helicopter being operated from Addu city by the end of June 2018.  While the letter maintain diplomatic composure, based on the events that took place, it is evident that there was tension between the two parties.

A second letter was sent on 06th May 2018. In the second letter, the Government of Maldives informed the Indian High Commission that the agreement for the helicopter operated out of Laamu atoll had expired on 01st may 2018, and requested its withdrawal by the end of June 2018.

And on 10th June, an additional letter was sent to Indian High Commission. This letter acted as a reminder on the order to withdraw the Indian helicopters and their military personnel by the end of June 2018. It also requested the Indian High Commission to provide a schedule of withdrawal.

The Indian high Commission in Maldives replied with their own letter on 25th June 2018. In their letter, the Indian high Commission stated that Indian government would require “more time” to examine the order to withdraw by the Government of Maldives.

It also noted that the Visa for the Indian military personnel in the Maldives would expire on 30th June 2018, and requested their renewal.

The Government of Maldives replied to this with a  letter dated 27th June 2018, reiterating on the order to withdrawal and to provide a schedule of withdrawal.

Sovereignty at stake?

Based on what happened next, it is clear that the Indian High Commission did not withdraw their helicopters nor their military personnel. It is now a verified fact that the Indian military personnel illegally stationed themselves, against the wishes of then government without even a legal visa. However, with the change of administration, their visa’s and the helicopter agreements were promptly renewed.

The current administration and its President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih which has been marked by its close ties to India, acting as its “yes-man” since his election.

It is clear that India does not seem to view the Maldives as a sovereign nation, and is willing to go against the laws and constitutions of the Maldives and international conventions, to impose their people and influence in the Maldives.

This leak comes following weeks of online protest by locals against the growing Indian influence in the Maldives. Many have accused India of meddling with domestic elections and other issues, to increase their influence in the Maldives.  India’s seemingly unilateral decision to establish a consulate in the southernmost city of Addu has further fueled the allegations. The Hanimaadhoo, military planes, radar systems, helicopters, Police academy and military base near the capital has only exacerbated the situation.

This begs us the question, is our independence and sovereignty at stake?. Does the Maldives need to appeal to the International community that India just won’t remove their military personnel from the Maldives? Are we becoming the next Sikkim ?

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Opinion

“We even rationed food and at some point I ate only two times a day” Silent struggles during COVID-19 in Maldives.

Mariyam Mohamed

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The pandemic has affected all aspects of our lives especially our livelihoods and emotional wellbeing. While the situation in some countries is getting worse, others are slowly recovering from the impacts of Covid-19. The recent surge in cases in South Asia has also swept across the Maldives creating numerous social and economic issues.

Most Maldivians, depend on monthly wages to support their daily needs and expenses. During this pandemic, many have lost their jobs, and some are struggling to manage their expenses due to wage cuts. Some work in more than two jobs to make ends meet.

The capital Male’ is most populous city in Maldives with more than 38% of the population living in the capital making it one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

People migrate from rural areas to the capital city for better education, jobs, and healthcare system. A significant percentage of people living in Male’ have shared accommodations with extended families and friends due to the sky high rents in the capital. Some families share a single room with their children which is not an ideal living condition especially during a pandemic.

We took an interview from an individual to get an insight of daily her struggles throughout this pandemic. To protect the person’s identity her name will not be disclosed in this article.

Are you working?

I work freelance now mostly tuitions. I quit my job to be the full time caretaker of my son with autism. And to cater for his needs. I work during his school time.

Do you get any assistance from anyone?

Any help I get is paid for by me. With pandemic all incomes stopped. So I was fully relying on the government financial assistance. That’s the single parent allowance and special needs child allowance summing to MRF 3000/- (three thousand). We even rationed food and at some point I ate only two times a day. Since my son has sensory issues he cannot eat many varieties food. So I did my best with bread and cheese. And fruit based juices of a particular kind. His therapy stopped and that has led to regressions in some areas. But he also has improved in some areas as well since I am with him constantly and i got to work one on one with him. Alhamdulillah.

What difficulties do you face?

With routine being broken, it gets tough for him to adjust. Sleep patterns and some food stuff he has been taking also has stopped.

What would you request from authorities to improve?

I believe there is little any one can do in this situation. But some form of consideration for these children may be good. In terms of permission on movement and health care. And also some better way for parents like us to work and have a respectable life is essential. We are skill and knowledge rotting away at home because no one can accommodate for our situation. It took a pandemic for organizations to realize physical presence is not required for efficient work to be done. I pray they use this information and experience to help people like us make a living in a manageable way for us.

The situation may reflect that of many who are suffering in silent during this pandemic. The question is what authorities will do to help such individuals. The government support given to these individuals is clearly not acceptable considering the living standard in the capital.

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Opinion

Assisting Poor & Needy in the Midst of the Pandemic using Modes of Islamic Social Finance.

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Islamic finance has become popular today in the Maldives. The population had become well acquainted with modes of Islamic commercial finance as those modes have been institutionalized in the formal finance sector. However, like in other parts of the world, the pandemic has made us realized in the Maldives that it is not sufficient only to have the modes of Islamic commercial finance institutionalized; but there is need to activate and institutionalize Islamic social finance modes as well. In the midst of the pandemic, due to the containment measures taken by the governments to protect human race from becoming extinct, it has been reported that the world poverty clock has turned back. What has been witnessed in the midst of this unprecedented pandemic is that overnight people have become poor. This domino effect caused by the pandemic in a nutshell is shown in the figure below. As such, the poor and needy segment of the population needs financial assistance that is not compatible to be provided using the modes of Islamic commercial finance. Social finance is an approach to managing investments that generate financial returns while including measurable positive social and environmental impact.

What is Islamic Social Finance?

Islamic social finance is a branch of Islamic finance that offers product and services not for profit. The objectives of Islamic social finance are to achieve social justice via redistribution of wealth. The list of Islamic social finance institutions and tools are not exhaustive as it is an area which is still developing. Islamic social finance is also known as Islamic social safety nets or charitable sector of the economy.  It is imperative to note that Islamic social finance is different from Islamic commercial finance of which the objective is different even though some of the instrument/contract used could be same.

Modes of Islamic Social Finance

The modes of Islamic social finance include: zakat; sadaqat or infaq; waqf; takaful; and microfinance.

  • Zakat: A compulsory payment paid every year by those who are eligible for the benefit of those who are stated in Quran, 9:60.
  • Sadaqat or Infaq: A non-compulsory payment given to assist poor and needy to seek pleasure of Allah (SW).
  • Waqf: A non-compulsory irrevocable which means a permanent contribution of one’s wealth whether cash or in kind to seek pleasure of Allah (SW) for social purpose.
  • Takaful: A concept based on mutual assistance or Ta’aawun and donation or Tabarru where joint guarantee to one another is by provided by a group of people who agree to participate with each other who is known as contributors by contributing an amount of money as donation to help each other from damages caused due to happening of future unfortunate events to any participant of the group by helping them using the donation made by the participants of the group.
  • Microfinance: It is providing finance to those who are poor financing via non-profitable means such as interest free loan (qard hasan) or via profitable means such as mudharabah or musharakah to assist them.

 

Ways in which Islamic Social Finance can be utilized to help the needy and Poor

In the midst of the pandemic it has been realized that in different countries in the world, modes of Islamic finance have been activated to assist poor and needy via shared responsibility. Below listed are some ways in which in the Maldives, modes of Islamic social finance could be activated to assist poor and needy.

  • Revise the criteria of poor and needy to provide opportunity to receive zakat assistance to those whose income has been affected adversely due to the pandemic.
  • Even after giving of the debt moratorium to those who have taken financing facilities from financial institutions, but due to loss of income who are unable to pay their debts ought to be assisted by zakat or sadaqat or infaq.
  • A special waqf fund to assist the poor and needy in the society need to be created and this needs to be initiated by the private sector.
  • Islamic microfinance schemes need to be introduced to assist poor and needy to provide them with opportunities to venture into business with interest-free loans and other shariah compatible modes of financing.

 

Conclusion

The pandemic has provided with the opportunity to re-strategize our economic and financial activities. Therefore, it is imperative to innovate ways to utilize Islamic social finance tools and institutions to help those who are poor and needy. As such, the required legal, regulatory, governance and technology infrastructure need to be developed. Definitely through implementation of Islamic social finance tools and institutions, the socio-economic justice will be achieved. From Maqasid al Shariah (objectives of Islamic law) perspective, it is mandatory for one to help each other in protecting one another from hardship as one can achieve success in this world and hereafter.

 

Dr. Aishath Muneeza is an Associate Professor at the International Center for Education in Islamic Finance. 

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