Maldives Crisis and Prez Yameen’s Insecurity – What Can India Do?
President Abdulla Yameen
President Abdulla Yameen(Photo: Liju Joseph/The Quint)

Maldives Crisis and Prez Yameen’s Insecurity – What Can India Do?

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen’s decision to defy the Supreme Court’s order to release all political prisoners and reinstate the disqualified 12 MPs is a typical move by his style of functioning. Yameen won the elections in 2013, with the help of the Election Commission (EC) that manipulated the results, till he was brought to the second position after pushing Qasim Ibrahim to the third.

This enabled him to get a run-off with Mohammed Nasheed, where the EC manipulated numbers to declare him the winner. This was possible because the EC officials were all appointed by Yameen’s half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the longest ruling President of the country.

Also Read : Maldives Crisis Spirals: Indian Tanks, Special Forces on Standby

A Strange List of Political Prisoners

Yameen used the judiciary to fix Nasheed in a trumped charge of terrorism, and had him sentenced to 13 years in prison in March 2015.

In the same month, the tourism ministry issued an order imposing a fine of $90 million on Qasim for not utilising the islands allotted to him and causing a loss of revenue. Though Qasim had to cough up a huge sum to both the President and the Vice President to get out of this patently bogus claim, his troubles were far from over.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Mohammed Nazim, who as Colonel Nazim played a key role in ousting Nasheed in February 2012, was accused of conspiring to overthrow the government and was put behind bars, exactly three years later in February 2015.

Subsequently, President Yameen got rid of his most trusted confidante, Vice President Ahmed Adeeb (widely regarded as his money-bag), and put him behind bars in October 2015 on charges of attempting to assassinate the President, when a low-intensity bomb exploded on the boat he was travelling in. Though President Yameen escaped unhurt, his wife sustained minor injuries.

It was indeed a strange list of political prisoners with Colonel Nazim and Adeeb, the two oppressors of Nasheed and Qasim respectively, joining their ranks as the oppressed.

President Yameen's Paranoia for Holding Onto Power

When 12 MPs of the ruling party defected to the Opposition in July 2017 and the Opposition moved a no-confidence vote against the Speaker, Ibrahim and Faris Maumoon (former President Gayoom’s son) were both charged with bribing the MPs, and were arrested.

Qasim, who is well over 60 years, fainted in the courtroom as the trial was proceeding and had to be rushed to a hospital. He is presently in Germany, undergoing medical treatment.

On 6 February, Gayoom, the grand-old patriarch and head of the united opposition, was arrested on the same charges as his son. The same day, Yameen also ordered the arrest of the Chief Justice and the Deputy Chief Justice of the SC, for daring to order the release of the political prisoners. He also sacked two police commissioners and the director of prisons who declared their intent to carry out the court’s orders.

Also Read : Operation Cactus: The Day India Saved the Maldives

Seen in the context of this repeated harassment of his political rivals or state officials who challenge him, President Yameen has exhibited a maniacal paranoia for holding on to power. 

This is essential for him to protect and secure his illegally acquired billions that have come from irregular and arbitrary allotment of islands, not only to private individuals and international agencies, but also to Saudi royals and to Chinese businessmen as well as their government.

Any attempt to correct the unconstitutional acts of the Speaker or unfair trials and judicial verdicts of the past are seen as conspiracy to overthrow him.

His sense of insecurity is heightened by the continuously simmering protests of the youth, led by the united opposition that have gone on for over six months.

If you picture the fact that Malé is essentially a one-street town on an island of less than six sq km, inhabited by over 1,50,000 people, covered by the Indian Ocean on all sides, the sense of claustrophobia inside the President’s Office becomes oppressively real. But that should be no reason to imprison dozens of political leaders or civil officials, and beating up the youth.

What Can India Do?

What can India do when President Yameen has declared an emergency and has curtailed all liberties? We have witnessed much hand-wringing in the past in our Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) when senior officials say that ‘Maldives is after all a sovereign country and all this is an internal matter, and if we push Yameen too hard he would tighten his embrace with China’.

The simple answer to that is, he has gone over to China even without us pushing him, and that’s hardly an excuse to stand silently and witness the murder of democracy in our neighbourhood.

Our inaction would be utterly inexcusable in the face of repeated cries for assistance from the democratic forces and a large majority of the population that’s now united against President Yameen.

Nasheed has asked India to send a special envoy along with military force.

There are two distinct demands here. First, a special envoy goes to Malé to convey to President Yameen what leaders in Delhi think. This would be an effort at clarifying what is acceptable to Delhi and what is not. The envoy would insist the President to abide by the Constitution that he has sworn to protect and defend, abide by the rule of law and respect the verdict of the SC to release political prisoners and conduct a fair trial. He must also release SC judges.

Also Read : Maldives Crisis Not Like Operation Cactus, India Can’t Oust Yameen

This would seem perfectly reasonable and unexceptional, but being a neighbouring country, which is clearly not a favourite of the President, makes this task utterly unpalatable. Now what if President Yameen refuses to meet the special envoy and keeps him waiting in the Indian High Commission for three days?  Knowing Yameen’s style, this is an extreme possibility.

So the envoy may need some clout to ensure that he is met and is heard. Can that be ensured by a contingent of armed soldiers? Now, what would be the mandate for the soldiers?

When they land in Hulule airport, which is a separate island from the capital, will they be allowed to take the boats to Malé, or will they be met by hundreds of armed Maldives defence forces, either at the airport itself or on the waterfront near the VIP Jetty?

What if there is resistance? What if someone fires a shot by mistake? Could it lead to an open, uncontrolled shoot-out? Who will stop the firing? Will the Indian forces retreat and come back without achieving the ‘mission objectives’, or will India rush reinforcements and order a complete takeover of the State? For such a force, the ‘mission objectives’ have to be clearly outlined. Is the mission objective the release of Gayoom alone, or of all the political prisoners and judges as well? Does it involve ending the dictatorship of President Yameen? And what if our troops are not exactly welcomed as liberators?

What Happened in 1988?

Nasheed recalls the events of 1988, when Indian troops went to save the government of Gayoom from an attempted coup by a Sri Lankan Tamil group called PLOTE.

He says that the Indian troops came, completed their mission and left. That’s why Indians are gratefully remembered and they should do the same again. But there are some serious differences in the two contexts.

First, the call for help had come from a legitimate government that had the full backing of its people. Second, the security threat had come from abroad, that too from a ragtag group of a few individual terrorists. And finally, we had clear ‘mission objectives’ of neutralising the terrorist group. The present situation is far too different from that.

As of now, imposing sanctions on the President and his Cabinet, and blacklisting them from travelling to India, would be a good step to start with.

Also Read : ‘Maldives Being Sold to China’: Ex-Prez Nasheed Urges India to Act

We could then join hands with the Sri Lankan, American, British and Singaporean governments to take collective action to cut off money supply to the government, and severely restrict trade with the island nation. That would cripple the government of Yameen in a matter of weeks.

(The author served as a diplomat in Maldives. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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