India declines to host Maldives special envoy as crisis continues

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New Delhi: India played hardball with Maldives’ embattled president Abdulla Yameen on Thursday as international pressure mounted on him to end the emergency imposed after the island-state’s Supreme Court last week sought the release of opposition members of Parliament (MPs).

New Delhi cited scheduling problems to express its inability to host a visit by Yameen’s special envoy, foreign minister Mohamed Asim, to India this week—part of an exercise by the president to fend off international pressure.

A statement on Yameen’s official website posted late Wednesday said the president had despatched economic development minister, Mohamed Saeed, to China, Asim to Pakistan and farming and fisheries minister Mohamed Shainee to Saudi Arabia.

India was the first country Yameen proposed to send an envoy to in order to brief the leadership on the political crisis in his country, Maldives’ ambassador to India, Ahmed Mohamed, said in New Delhi.

India is seen as the key power in the Indian Ocean region but New Delhi, along with the US, UK and the United Nations (UN), has condemned the imposition of emergency and the arrest of top judges whose ruling against Yameen sparked the crisis.

“We were told the dates of the visit were not suitable to schedule meetings in New Delhi,” Mohamed said.

To be sure, Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj is on a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where she discussed the Maldives crisis with Saudi foreign minister Abdel al-Jubeir before returning to New Delhi late on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia is a key backer of Yameen along with China.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on an election campaign in Tripura on Thursday. On Friday, Modi was expected to start a three-day visit to Palestine, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, a person familiar with the itinerary said.

But a second person familiar with the matter indicated that it was India’s displeasure at Yameen’s handling of the situation, coupled with scheduling problems, that had made New Delhi decline a visit by Asim.

“First, there is a set protocol to send an envoy,” the second person cited above explained. “Our ambassador in Male was not consulted on the matter. Neither were we informed of the purpose of sending the envoy.”

“Second, his (Asim’s) counterpart Sushma Swaraj is away as is the PM from tomorrow (Friday). Also we have not seen any real action on the concerns stated by the international community and India. Democratic institutions and the judiciary continue to be undermined and the concerns expressed ignored. These issues need to be properly addressed,” this person added.

Yameen despatched envoys to Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan as the UN’s top human rights official Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described his emergency actions as “tantamount to an all-out assault on democracy”, according to a Reuters report.

Late Wednesday, the US urged Yameen, “the army, and police to comply with the rule of law, implement the Supreme Court’s lawful ruling, ensure the full and proper functioning of the Parliament, and restore constitutionally guaranteed rights of the people and institutions of the Maldives”, a state department spokesperson told PTI.

Similar statements were issued by the French government and the German embassy in Sri Lanka. News reports said the UN Security Council would be discussing the crisis in the Maldives on Thursday.

But China on Thursday backed Yameen with its foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang telling reporters in Beijing that the “international community should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Maldives.”

“India had made it clear that the Supreme Court verdict should be abided by. And Yameen did not do anything about it. So there is predictable anger in New Delhi,” said Harsh V. Pant, a professor of international relations at the London-based King’s College.

“What India can do is to build a coalition of like-minded countries to build pressure on Yameen and ensure that China is sidelined,” he said.

With India issuing a travel advisory urging its nationals to defer all non-essential travel to the Maldives, Air India has waived cancellation and other travel charges for Maldives flights.

“In view of prevailing situation in Maldives, applicable penalties of re-issuance, date change, no-show, cancellation and refund charges for travel from/to Male for both domestic and international flights stand waived for travel during the period 5 February 2018 to 20 February 2018,” the airline said in a social media post on Thursday.livemint