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Maldives Crisis: A Brief Primer

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The declaration of a state of emergency in the Maldives and arrest of two senior judges prompted an exiled former president to ask India on Tuesday to send an envoy backed by the military to free political prisoners on the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago.

Here’s background information on the crisis engulfing the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of 400,000 people, whose faraway islands are best known as a luxury holiday destination.

The Main Protagonists

President Abdulla Yameen declared the state of emergency February 5. He defied a shock ruling from the Supreme Court that quashed convictions ranging from terrorism to corruption and ordered the release of nine leading opposition figures, on the ground that the cases against them were politically tainted.

Yameen came to power in 2013 after winning an election the opposition said was rigged. Critics accuse his government of imprisoning opponents, curbing free speech and pressuring the judiciary.

His rival Mohamed Nasheed became the Maldives’ first democratically elected president in 2009, but he was forced to resign amid a mutiny by police in 2012. After losing the election to Yameen the following year, Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2015 on charges that he said had been concocted by Yameen’s government.

Allowed to leave jail to seek medical treatment abroad, Nasheed was granted asylum by Britain in 2016. He has said he wants to contest a presidential election due later this year and was in Colombo when the Supreme Court decision precipitated the crisis. After Yameen declared a 15-day emergency on Tuesday, Nasheed called on India, the main regional power, to intervene.

Nasheed, a graduate of Britain’s Liverpool University, is well connected in the West and has been able to bring pressure against Yameen’s administration.

During his imprisonment, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney championed his cause and helped expose alleged human rights violations by Yameen’s administration.

During his presidency, Nasheed had drawn world attention to the Maldives by conducting an underwater cabinet meeting, with the ministers wearing scuba diving suits, to highlight the dangers posed by global warming to low-lying island nations like his own.

The Role of the Supreme Court

While quashing the convictions against Nasheed and eight other opposition leaders, and ordering the release of those in detention, the court said that they should be retried.

Maldivian opposition supporters shout slogans during a protest as they the urge the government to obey a Supreme Court order to release and retry political prisoners, in Male, Maldives, Feb. 4, 2018.
Maldivian opposition supporters shout slogans during a protest as they the urge the government to obey a Supreme Court order to release and retry political prisoners, in Male, Maldives, Feb. 4, 2018.
It also ordered the reinstatement of 12 lawmakers who had been stripped of their parliamentary seats by Yameen’s party for defecting last year. The removal was unconstitutional, the court said.

The reinstatement of the dozen legislators, who now belong to opposition parties, would cause Yameen’s party to lose its majority in the 85-member assembly.

Should the opposition reach a majority, it would be able to unseat the speaker, who is a member of the ruling party, and pass no-confidence motions against government officials.

The President’s Disregard for the Supreme Court Ruling

Declaring the emergency, Yameen’s office issued a statement saying the court order had disrupted functions of the executive and infringed national security and public interest. It also said the constitution could eventually be undermined if the court order was implemented.

The president’s office said some rights have been restricted under the emergency and some laws suspended, though no curfew has been ordered. It gave assurances for the safety of Maldivians and foreigners.

Having imposed the state of emergency, Yameen ordered the arrest of the country’s chief justice and another top judge, and security forces seized control of the Supreme Court.

In a televised address to the nation, Yameen said he had acted to prevent a coup and implied the judges had sided with his enemies as they were under investigation for corruption.

The president had earlier fired two police chiefs who said they would uphold the court order to release Yameen’s opponents.

The army appears to be supporting Yameen. On Sunday, state television showed several police and soldiers saying they were ready to sacrifice their lives “in the defence of the lawful government.”

Yameen’s supporters have shut down an independent television station.

Ex-President Nasheed’s Appeal to India 

In a Twitter post, Nasheed asked India to send an envoy, backed by its military, to release the judges and political detainees. He also urged the United States to block financial transactions of Yameen’s government.

New Delhi sent troops to the Maldives in 1988 to foil a coup, purportedly involving foreign mercenaries.

The International Reaction

The United States and India have urged Yameen to heed the court decision, but he has disregarded international calls to solve the crisis through dialogue.

China, which has boosted its investments in the Maldives, said the crisis should be settled internally.

The Maldives withdrew from the Commonwealth, the association of former British colonies and dominions, in 2016 after being threatened with suspension for failing to show progress on democracy.

Courtesy: Voice of America

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INTERNATIONAL

Swaraj to Embark on China and Mongolia Visits

China had earlier said that the visit of the External Affairs Minister will further enhance political trust between the two countries. 

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NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is leaving for China today on a 4-day visit. She will participate in a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

She will hold talks with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi tomorrow. This will be Swaraj’s first meeting with Wang after he was elevated last month to be the state councillor.

China had earlier said that the upcoming visit of the External Affairs Minister will further enhance political trust between the two countries.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had said that the visit would also elevate the China-India strategic cooperation partnership.

Sushma Swaraj will be also on a two-day visit to Mongolia from 25th of this month. This will be the first visit of Swaraj to Mongolia.  The last visit of Indian External Affairs Minister to Mongolia was 42 years ago.

During her visit, Swaraj will co-chair the 6th round of India-Mongolia Joint Consultative Committee meeting, IMJCC, with Foreign Minister Tsogtbaatar, covering a range of issues including, inter alia, political, strategic, economic, educational and cultural ties. The last meeting of IMJCC was held in New Delhi in 2016.

During her visit, the Minister will also deliver the keynote address at the Kushok Bakula Birth Centenary Celebrations in Ulaanbaatar commemorating the birth anniversary of Late Venerable Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, a highly revered Buddhist leader and monk from Ladakh, India and a former Ambassador of India to Mongolia.

Bakula Rinpoche as the longest-serving Indian Ambassador to Mongolia made a seminal contribution to the promotion of India-Mongolia ties.

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Oli’s India visit: Resetting Bilateral Relations for Mutual Benefit

The principal purpose of the visit was to remove the mistrust that had emerged in the bilateral relations.

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After a brief interlude of turbulent bilateral relations starting September 2015, a U-turn appears to have been effected in India-Nepal relations after the December 2017 elections in Nepal. Prime Minister Modi congratulated the top three political leaders of Nepal over the telephone on December 21 for holding the elections successfully.

Exactly a month later, he congratulated the UML chairman and then PM-in-waiting KP Sharma Oli over the UML-led left alliance attaining a majority in Parliament and offered India’s unconditional support for and commitment to work with the new government in Kathmandu.

As part of confidence-building measures, on February 1, Modi sent External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as special envoy to discuss bilateral relations with the left alliance leaders, and especially with Oli. Media reports indicated that the Swaraj visit took place upon a special request from Oli to Modi. During that visit, Swaraj conveyed Modi’s message and also invited Oli to undertake an official visit to New Delhi after assuming office.

Visit Outcomes:

The U-turn culminated in Prime Minister Oli’s three-day official visit to New Delhi starting April 6. The visit is widely rated as most successful and historical. In contrast to Oli’s previous visit in February 2016, as well as to the visits made by Prachanda and Deuba in September 2016 and August 2017, respectively, the current visit of Oli has been characterised as remarkably different.

First, Oli was received at the airport by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who is second in rank in the Modi cabinet.

Second, not only was Oli’s first foreign visit to India but even his first official meeting as PM took place with Indian business leaders on which occasion he invited Indian investors to Nepal.

Third, the two leaders held a one-on-one meeting for over one hour at Modi’s residence before the delegation level meeting. Such one-on-one meetings rarely happen during visits of high level delegations to India.

Fourth, other than the 12-point regular joint statement, three special statements on agriculture, rail linkages up to Kathmandu, and inland waterways were issued during the visit.

Fifth, for the first time in the last three years, the joint statement did not mention internal issues of Nepal such as amendments to the new constitution, the inclusion of minorities, Madhesi, etc.

Last, but not the least, both leaders found synchronization between their favourite development frameworks – ‘Sabka Sath Sabka Bikas’ and ‘Samriddha Nepal Sukhi Nepali’.

Purpose of the Visit:

The principal purpose of the visit was to remove the mistrust that had emerged in bilateral relations in the wake of Nepal’s adoption of the new constitution and India’s reservations about some of its provisions.

The relationship had reached a new low when Nepal unilaterally recalled its ambassador and cancelled its President’s India visit in May 2016.

A thaw emerged only after the completion of the Parliamentary elections in December 2017.

While addressing Nepal’s Parliament before his three-day India visit, Oli said that “the visit is aimed at deepening the relations that have subsisted between Nepal and India since ages.”

From the Nepali point of view, the other purposes of the visit could have been to seek India’s support for economic development, move forward on the implementation of past agreements and ensure a mutually cooperative relationship.

Nepal also wanted to re-frame its bilateral relationship with India in the context of recent domestic and regional developments.

Mutual Feeling to Mend Relations:

For its part, India too undertook unilateral steps towards course-correction. This, despite all those internal issues in Nepal that had created the rift in bilateral relations remaining unaddressed.

There could be many reasons for India’s course correction.

First, since India values democracy, Modi personally felt that the public mandate in favour of the UML-led left alliance needs to be respected and that India should support institution building in Nepal under a popular government.

Second, this realization in New Delhi may have also been occasioned by changes at the bureaucratic level — those officials who dealt with Nepal affairs ever since the constitutional promulgation process had left their desks in the foreign office and agencies from March 2017 onwards. It is possible that new officials posted in key positions and tasked with following Nepal perhaps started looking at the bilateral relationship from a different perspective.

Third, domestically, Modi came under tremendous pressure to improve relations with neighbouring countries and especially with Nepal with which India shares a multi-layered relationship. The Indian media was particularly critical of Modi’s Nepal policy in the post-constitution period.

Fourth, the more than 70% voter turnout and the active participation of Madhesis and Janajatis in Nepal’s three-level elections – local, provincial and federal – under the new constitution forced India to revisit its earlier position, shed reservations on the constitution and modify policy towards Nepal.

Even as India reached out to the new government in Kathmandu, the Oli government had its own reasons to respond positively to the Indian overtures.

First, it needed massive developmental assistance to fulfil its poll promises like roads, rural electrification, drinking water, irrigation, jobs, hospitals, industrial zones, railways and airports.

Despite China’s increasing economic cooperation with Nepal, India continues to remain Nepal’s largest trading and business partner.

Further, India is the only transit country for Nepal’s third country trade despite having signed a transit agreement with China in March 2016.

Second, the Oli government also realized the requirement for massive funds to implement federalism through the creation of the necessary administrative infrastructure in the provincial capitals.

Since China opposed federalism in Nepal, the Oli government was not sure about receiving Chinese financial support for that purpose.

Therefore, it decided to explore the prospects for India’s support in this regard. And third, politically, Oli might have felt that rapprochement with India could prevent the formation of a non-UML government in Kathmandu given the slow progress in the unification of the two left parties and intra-party factionalism in the UML. If such a situation were to unfold, Oli could seek the support of the Terai-based parties to remain in power.

Trilateral Cooperation:

Therefore, despite winning the elections on a nationalist plank by projecting India as an interfering neighbour, Oli chose New Delhi as his first port of call. He was well aware of India’s obsession about every new Nepali PM undertaking the first official visit to India. He could undertake the visit with confidence without being apprehensive of its fall-out on Nepal’s relationship with China because the latter, in a statement issued in March 2018, appreciated Nepal’s effort towards adopting an independent foreign policy and “developing friendly and positive relations with its neighbours.”

Earlier, China had also advised Nepal to maintain good relations with India. Chinese analysts argue that such a rapprochement between New Delhi and Kathmandu could create the ground for trilateral cooperation and successful implementation of BRI projects in the Himalayas.

Challenges:

No doubt, the purposes of the visit have been achieved and a new phase of relationship has begun with India acknowledging Nepal as an ‘equal partner’. While the visit has set a new tone in the relationship, it has also brought fresh challenges to the fore in terms of each country addressing the other’s concerns.

Certainly, the challenges are more for India than they are for Nepal. There is a trust deficit in Nepal because of the Indian reputation for delaying implementation of various projects. This has sent a wrong message to Nepal that the delays are deliberate.

After Oli’s latest visit, which has created new expectations in Nepal, India needs to seriously address this problem of delivery-lag.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.inhere.

Keywords:
Nihar Nayak

A Research Fellow with IDSA, New Delhi, Dr Nayak has a PhD in International Politics from JNU. He was Visiting Fellow to the Peace Research Institute Oslo in June 2006 and in July 2007. Dr Nayak has both national and international publications including the book Strategic Himalayas: Republican Nepal and External Powers.

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Commonwealth to Take Action on Cybersecurity by 2020

The declaration is the world’s largest and most geographically diverse inter-governmental commitment on cybersecurity cooperation.

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LONDON (England): The Commonwealth countries have unanimously agreed to take action on cybersecurity by 2020.

In a landmark declaration at the end of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, the leaders of 53 countries agreed to work closely to evaluate and strengthen their cybersecurity frameworks and response mechanisms.

A release issued, termed the declaration as the world’s largest and most geographically diverse inter-governmental commitment on cybersecurity cooperation.

It followed an announcement by the UK government pledging up to 15 million pounds to help the Commonwealth nations strengthen their cybersecurity capabilities. It also aims to tackle criminal groups and hostile state actors who pose a global threat to security.

The leaders also expressed their strong support for the multilateral trading system and adopted a six-point connectivity agenda to boost trade and investment links across the Commonwealth.

They also agreed on a bold, coordinated push to protect oceans from the effects of climate change, pollution and over-fishing.

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