‘Kashmir is an internal issue of India’, says Maldives ex-President Mohamed Nasheed

‘Kashmir is an internal issue of India’, says Maldives ex-President Mohamed Nasheed

Maldives cannot be with the OIC on this issue, says Speaker and former president Mohamed Nasheed

Days after the 57-member Organisation for Islamic Cooperation issued a tough statement criticising India for continuing restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir, Maldivian parliamentary speaker and former president Mohamed Nasheed distanced the island nation from the statement.

One year after elections brought your party, the MDP, to power, how do you think India-Maldives ties have changed?

India Maldives relations have been good for hundreds of years, but unfortunately after former President Yameen took power, he relied more heavily on Chinese assistance and cooperation. This was, of course, worrying to our other neighbours like India, and India decided to wait out this period that marked authoritarian rule in the Maldives. Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not visit the Maldives during the last five years, especially after the entire opposition was arrested. I think this is significant…and this is why, as soon as our government came back we went back to our “India First” policy. We have good cooperation today in defence, security, fighting terror and also in climate change issues.

As a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, do you align yourself with the recent critical statements issued over the Indian government’s actions in Kashmir?

India is the biggest functioning democracy, and it has the rule of law. There is nothing for us to comment on, as it has happened through Indian government processes; it is an internal matter for India. Our President has issued a statement saying that. The Maldives cannot be with the OIC on this issue. None or very few OIC countries are democracies and we don’t think they should be commenting on human rights in India, which is a democracy.

The Indian Army chief Gen Rawat is in the Maldives for a 5-day visit, which is quite long. Where do you think military ties could lead, and do you think the Parliament, where you are Speaker, would now agree to more permanent India presence in the Maldives?

We have always seen India as a net security provider for the India ocean, and India has always provided us assistance in our time of need, whether it was a mercenary attack or a natural disaster. The close military cooperation that we have must be strengthened and none of our parliament members would oppose that. I think that’s the kind of confidence our people want.

Six months after the ISIS Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, are we seeing more regional cooperation on fighting terrorism?

We all work very closely with Indian police and counter-terror departments. We have, touch wood, not seen the kind of serious attacks that our neighbours have, but we do have a serious challenge from ISIS returnees. I think this is an area of cooperation we want with India, especially given that not so many Indians joined ISIS. There are so many Muslims in India, and there must be some reason that very few, a negligible number joined and we have much to learn from Indians about this.

In terms of regional cooperation, given India’s refusal to attend the SAARC in Pakistan, and to give other organisations like BIMSTEC, BBIN and IOR preferences, do you think SAARC is dead?

Even if SAARC was dead, we would need it. We need connectivity, we need trade, and we need to be able to plug into development. Of course, SAARC is not happening at present. But we need a regional arrangement, and yes, Pakistan can also be a part of it. If [India doesn’t want to attend SAARC in Pakistan], we could host it in the Maldives, as we have in the past. We would be happy to host several summits in our country in the future.

You have consistently argued against Chinese investment in the Maldives, yet one year after the MDP government was sworn in, it hasn’t moved to curtail or reverse any of the projects that Chinese companies are involved in as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. How do you explain this?

In government, it is harder to effect the changes one advocates for while in opposition, of course. I have always felt that sticking to principles is more important than trying to find arrangements, and I do hope the MDP government is not looking for arrangements with China. China must reduce the debt to an actual and factual level, not the inflated prices they have given. I don’t think our parliament will want to go ahead with the Free Trade Agreement as well. We have a good relationship with China, but their terms of debt financing must be reconsidered.

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