The past few days have been witness to Japan accusing a Maldivian-registered ship of having transferred to a North Korean vessel goods banned by UN sanctions. It has also seen the Abdulla Yameen government peremptorily turn down Government of India’s invitation for its navy to participate in the Milan Naval Exercise hosted by the Indian Navy. The excuse given was that the Maldives were in a state of emergency, but the reality is that such participation would have been looked askance by China and Pakistan, neither of which is participating in the exercise. Indeed, both Islamabad and Beijing view the Milan Naval Exercise as a dress rehearsal for an alliance directed towards China, when in fact the exercise is nothing of the kind. Indeed, the recently firmed up Quadrilateral Alliance between India, Australia, Japan and the United States has been similarly accused of being directed against China, when in fact the object of the partnership (which hopefully will soon include Manila, Hanoi and Jakarta) is to prevent marine piracy and to ensure that the waterways of the southern parts of the continent of Asia are safe for unrestricted maritime commerce. Freedom of navigation has been the foundation of the growing prosperity of Asia, and it is vital to the future of all the people of the world’s most consequential continent that such a situation continue into the future. Rather than be an offensive alliance, the Quadrilateral Alliance is entirely defensive, and is not at all aimed at any other country, least of all a country that has become the second largest economy in the world and the top trading partner of several of the countries of Asia. The Maldives enjoys a location such that it is vital to any alliance seeking to secure the safety and freedoms intrinsic to the future of the Indo-Pacific, and the refusal by the Yameen government to accept the invitation of the Indian Navy to participate in a benign series of exercises at sea indicates the obvious. Which is that Yameen is opposed to the Quadrilateral Alliance and the freedoms and rights represented by it.
Under Yameen, who has usurped the office of President of the Maldives from the rightful incumbent, Mohammad Nasheed, a once moderate is steadily succumbing to the financial and theological lures of Wahhabism. Small wonder that its de facto protector is no longer India, but Pakistan. China is backing Pakistan fully in such a task in view of the People’s Liberation Army serving as the sword and shield of the Pakistan army for reasons that are difficult to understand. The change in strategic outlook of the Maldives under Yameen has portents for the Indo-Pacific, in view of the fact that the location of the country makes it an indispensable component of any defence chain designed to ensure the destruction of piracy and the preservation of unfettered access to all countries within the waters of the Indo-Pacific. The actual President of the Maldives is Mohammad Nasheed, and he has called upon India to use all the resources at his command to ensure that democracy be re-instated in the Maldives through the removal of Abdulla Yameen and his coterie, which include some members of the military and police forces who have demonstrated that they are not immune to the blandishments proffered by the Wahhabi International and the countless wealth at its command. While Yameen has had support from Saudi Arabia in the past, this is expected to change under Crown Prince Mohammad. It may be remembered that the Crown Prince has taken upon himself the historically essential task of cleansing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from Wahhabi influence. Even in this short period, the Crown Prince has changed Saudi Arabia in a manner that is much more in sync with the times than was the case all this while. Saudi Arabia is, therefore, unlikely to share Yameen’s view that a partnership with Pakistan is preferable to the close relationship with India that the Maldives had until the Yameen putsch against Nasheed. The Indo-Pacific powers, including the two biggest democracies on the face of the earth (India and the US) must not flinch from their duty, which is to ensure that the government illegally in power in Male step down and be replaced by the earlier dispensation, led by the charismatic and moderate Nasheed. Should the Indo-Pacific powers allow pacifism in the face of challenges to their mission to be the character of their policies, it will not be long before every country along the waters of the Indo-Pacific loses confidence in them and in their will and ability. Three decades ago, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi ensured the survival of democracy in the Maldives. It is now time for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to step up to the crease and assist the moderate and democratic forces in the Maldives to reclaim their due from the hands of the Wahhabi group that ousted them in a coup that the Maldivian Supreme Court through its Chief Justice decreed was illegal. A pound of action talks louder than a ton of words.