By Akram Mufeed
In recent years, the Maldivians have come to realize that the country is under direct or indirect control of India and the interference from it. Maldives is gradually losing its sovereignty and independence ranging from politics, military to economy. Now, the people become warier of India’s growing political involvement and are re-examining whether the current Solih government truly represents the interests of the Maldives.
Nasheed, the real head of the government, is the agent of India
During the political crisis in Maldives in 2018, India tried to send troops to resolve the chaos, and Nasheed was the leading proponent of Indian intervention in Maldives’s political upheavals. He “humbly request” India to send a military envoy, as if India were his master. Soon after the emergency was declared in the Maldives, India’s military moved C-130 Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster transport from near Delhi to its Yelahanka air force base near the southern city of Bengaluru, and ordered paratroops to be on stand-by. Warships were also put on readiness at the southern naval command in Kochi. A few days later the Indian navy launched large-scale operational exercises in the western Indian Ocean involving 40 warships including an aircraft carrier, ready to intervene in the internal affairs of Maldives. However, RAW suggested to adopt a much gentler way, so they chose Nasheed to rule the Maldives as its agent. Solih is the titular president, and everyone knows Nasheed is really in charge.
India gains actual control right of Maldives through agent Nasheed
As soon as Solih came into power, he implemented the “India First” policy at Nasheed’s behest, essentially bringing Maldives under the jurisdiction of India. When PM Modi visited Maldives in June 2019, he inaugurated two projects the Coastal Surveillance Radar System and the Composite Training Centre of the Maldives National Defense Forces, which is clearly a strong demonstration of India’s involvement in defence and military of the Maldives. In 2020, India successively provided Maldives with $550 million loans, most of which were defense credits. Meanwhile, Solih administration allowed India to develop a Maldives National Defense Force Coast Guard Harbour at UTF, which is obviously a threat to the sovereignty and independence of Maldives. More infuriating is the fact that Indian government had issued a press release on the establishment of the consulate in Addu before Solih administration was formally notified and the normal diplomatic procedures was reviewed. India is taking such a casual attitude towards Maldives as if Maldives were a state of India. Maybe all Maldivians have already felt that Nasheed and Solih are trying to sell Maldives.
Although Nasheed has publicly denied all these allegations, he made statements like the spokesperson of India. In February 2020, Nasheed publicly stated that India had always respected Maldives’ sovereignty and firmly denied the claims that India’s actions were threats to Maldives. While everyone was arguing over the announcement of the Greater Male Connectivity Project, Nasheed tweeted again that the project was a genuine help from a friend. In July, when everyone was worried about the radicalism in Maldives, Nasheed again claimed that “India are doing a lot such as capacity building within the police, the military and education system in Maldives”. Also, he frequently claimed that the “nation remains its independence because of India relations.”, but how could a country remains independence because of another country. When Maldives becomes next Sikkim, what would Nasheed say then?
Maldivians oppose India’s military presence in Maldives not only for the sake of territorial and sovereign independence, but also out of concern that India wants to establish a military base in Maldives. India’s ambitions in the Indian Ocean are obvious, but Maldives can never become a pawn in its expansion.
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France ‘Stabbed in the back’ by AUKUS allies.
The French are upset. They are upset with the Americans and they’re upset at the British but most of all, they are upset with the Australians! But they saved the best insult for the British by calling them dishwashers! Two weeks after the announcement of a new military alliance between the Australians, Americans, and British – that cut France out – the bitterness is still very much alive. So what’s next for the French, who are now talking about creating a defense strategy just for the Europeans… And with the Chinese launching a new aircraft carrier, was the sudden AUKUS pact right on time?
Source: TRT World
Is India’s ‘neighbourhood first policy’ unable to win regional allies?
In an online webinar hosted by a Danish think tank, experts highlighted how the rise of China across South Asia has left an unpleasant impact on India’s relations with its smaller neighbours.
India’s ‘neighbourhood first policy’ was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s signature foreign policy initiative that sought to develop better relations with the country’s neighbours.
But experts, who last week spoke at an online conference organised by the Nordic Institute of Stability Studies (NISS), a Copenhagen-based think-tank, believe that the policy has failed to take a meaningful direction as Modi’s aggressive posture and growing Chinese pressure has prevented the country from winning allies in the region.
The conference’s title was “Failure of India’s Neighborhood First Policy under BJP Government: Implications for Regional Cooperation”.
Speaking at the conference, Scott Lucas, a professor emeritus of political science and international studies at the University of Birmingham, said that “Modi’s confrontational rather than collective approach in the region” has hurt India’s political prospects across South Asia.
The Modi government’s “focus on military measures rather than social elements” has also helped increase tensions across the region, increasing anti-India sentiment, according to Lucas.
Many experts in the conference echoed a common view that China appears to have benefited from increasing anti-India sentiment in the region, helping Beijing solidify its connections with other South Asian nations.
In the first few years of Modi’s rule, regional organisations like SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) were given utmost importance, but the ‘neighbourhood first policy’ failed to produce any positive outcome and instead, the country found itself competing with a far more belligerent China.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s domestic policies, which many criticise for being exclusionary against non-Hindu minorities, and attacks on press freedom have also made matters worse and further alienated India from its neighbouring countries, the experts said.
Muhammad Athar Javed, director-general of the NISS, who moderated the conference, also viewed that due to India’s patronising attitude towards smaller neighbours such as Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, New Delhi is “now grappling with multilayered diplomatic challenges with SAARC member states.” The SAARC, which was established in 1985, includes states of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Lucas also drew attention to the fact that when it comes to Pakistan, India’s regional policy sees a sudden shift “due to the factors such as Kashmir or Afghanistan”, making New Delhi’s foreign policy confrontational in nature.
The erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir has been a disputed region between India and Pakistan since 1947. India has always accused Pakistan of supporting an armed guerrilla movement that either seeks independence from both India and Pakistan or wants the complete merger of the disputed territory with Pakistan.
Another conflict that pits India against its neighbour Pakistan is Afghanistan. Islamabad has long been one of the patrons of the Taliban, a group which has recently come to power in Kabul after a long insurgency against the US-backed Afghan government. Pakistan has also raised concerns over growing hate crimes against India’s Muslim minority.
“India-Pakistan Economic relationship will be damaged if they don’t come to understand Afghanistan and they don’t make some good favorable decisions,” said Samuel Ramani, a tutor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, during the conference.
Both countries need to work together for projects like the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, which is also known as Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, Ramani said. The TAPI project aims to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and finally to India.
Projects like TAPI will test Modi’s mood on whether he is ready for such projects, which will empower India’s neighbourhood first policy, or “it’s just in papers”, Ramani said.
Ramani found similarities between the post-Arab Spring political environment in the Middle East and current South Asia. Relations among neighbouring countries in South Asia have not improved or gotten worse to some extent and it’s parallel could be found in deteriorating ties between the Middle Eastern states following the Arab Spring uprisings, according to Ramani.
While India’s ‘neighbourhood first policy’ is something New Delhi was keen on pursuing in the beginning, it now appears to be going nowhere, Ramani observed.
“India is interfering in the domestic affairs of neighbouring countries especially in Nepal in the violation of their sovereignty. India is also creating hurdles in free transit and free trade within and beyond Nepal and keeps suppressing its people and government,” the academic said.
A lot of things are “going wrong” in India’s foreign policy, Ramani added.
Anil Sigdel, founder of Nepal Matters for America, a Washington DC-based think-tank agreed with Ramani’s conclusions on India’s foreign policy. Sigdel also thinks that India urgently needs to address various demarcations across Nepal-India borders, which has particularly made Nepali citizens suffer.
As the Eminent Persons Group, comprising high level politicians and experts from both sides for a joint comprehensive review of the bilateral ties, sat down and finalised a list of recommendations, “Modi’s leadership was showing some promise,” Sigdel said, during the conference.
“But that goodwill quickly evaporated as there was no response from the Modi government or not even willingness to receive the joint group’s report,” the Nepali activist said.
According to Sigdel, Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Adviser, “opined that Nepal has benefited from the existing arrangements; therefore Modi does not want to move forward with the report recommendations. And that was it”.
There are also various remaining problems between the two countries such as the water management along the border, especially regarding high structures being built on the Indian side to manage flooding that exposes Nepali villages to danger in monsoon season, according to Sigdel.
During the monsoon season in South Asia, heavy rainfall is recorded between June and September every year.
On top of all these issues, Indian authorities wanted to show their disregard toward Nepal by organising a road inauguration ceremony in Kalapani, a disputed region between Nepal and India, according to Sigdel. But that triggered “an unprecedented defiance” by Nepal as the country’s parliament unanimously passed an upgraded map that included Kalapani as a Nepali territory, “giving a massive setback to the Modi government”.
Is Bangladesh a bright spot for India?
Among others, India- Bangladesh relationship is “a sign of promise”, Ramani said, during the conference. But even in that relationship, things are not bright on the ground as many ordinary Bangladeshis find the political leadership of India under Modi as Islamophobic or anti-Islam, Ramani said. They think that the BJP is “pushing Hindus against the Muslims that create violence,” he viewed.
Nazmul Islam, an assistant professor of political science at Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University, also thinks that “India’s domestic policies are creating problems” in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country, showing India’s neighbourhood first policy faces serious challenges even in friendly territories like Bangladesh.
Modi’s recent visit to Dhaka sparked deadly protests. The protesters in the capital city Dhaka chanted anti-Modi slogans to draw attention to his controversial policies that many find to be discriminating against Indian minorities, especially the Muslims.
Across India-Bangladesh borders, things are not looking good either with occasional skirmishes continuing to take place as “smuggling is at its peak”, according to Ramani.
In December 2020, India and Bangladesh held a virtual summit, where the countries discussed topics like boosting trade, investment and transportation links, but avoided the thorny issue of sharing the water of the Teesta River, which flows into Bangladesh from the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal, Islam said.
“Bangladesh, like most nations, will sign up for something for its economic benefit”, the academic said.
While India has disagreements with Bangladesh on several issues, “it’s wrong to assume that economic deals with China will make Bangladesh move away from India but India doesn’t like Chinese interest and its investment in Bangladesh”, Islam added.
“Bangladesh’s foreign policy sides with China and Pakistan over India in a few cases, and that Dhaka should be careful regarding its foreign policy and strategic choices as Indian interference in the region and in Afghanistan to gain its power will affect its relationship with Bangladesh in the future”.
Sri Lanka-India ties
One of India’s clashing points with China across South Asia happens in Sri Lanka for different reasons.
“India draws closer to the West, particularly through the Quad and other multilateral and mini-lateral initiatives”, said Shakthi De Silva, an assistant lecturer of international relations at University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, during the conference. Quad refers to a strategic dialogue between the US, India, Japan and Australia as a response to China’s assertive presence in the Pacific region.
But Sri Lanka’s connections with the West are not moving in a good direction as the country’s Rajapakse government faces increasing criticism from Western capitals on human rights issues and freedoms, according to Silva. As a result, Sri Lanka has begun moving toward China, increasing the possibility that Indo-Sri Lankan ties might deteriorate at some point, he said.
“Sri Lanka’s tilt towards China was not an inevitable outcome. Rectifying the situation requires India and the West to adopt a more nuanced posture on the issue of human rights and accountability,” Silva viewed.
But Silva still thinks that “Sri Lanka has, and will, continue to maintain warm ties with India, giving deference to Indian security interests and welcoming high level Indian visits,” Silva added. But the country has also increasingly inclined towards China owing to the latter’s FDI inflows, investment volume and Beijing’s ability to grant Sri Lanka much needed loans as the island tries to extricate itself from its economic crisis.
“Although Sri Lanka curtails its own behaviour to appease India’s security interest, it is increasingly relying on China and will continue to interact with China in the future.”
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