By Razaul H.Laskar/Hindustan Times
New Delhi, February 16: The Maldives government on Thursday ruled out any role for India or other countries in resolving the political crisis triggered in the island nation by President Abdulla Yameen’s decision to impose emergency after refusing to implement a Supreme Court order for freeing imprisoned opposition leaders.
Economic development minister Mohamed Saeed, who was one of three special envoys dispatched by Yameen to China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to lobby for support after the imposition of emergency on February 5, said in an interview that Beijing’s growing economic presence in the Indian Ocean archipelago was a “reality”.
Asked whether India and other countries could facilitate a dialogue between Yameen’s regime and the opposition to defuse the political crisis, Saeed said: “Look, this is an internal affair, this is a domestic issue and we are fully capable and equipped to solve our domestic issues by ourselves. Maldives is an independent country, we have our own Constitution, we have our own institutions, we have our own people.”
Saeed sidestepped a question about India’s concerns on China’s growing presence in the Maldives, including the signing of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and support for Beijing’s Maritime Silk Route, and said the Maldives was “open to the world” for trade and business.
“Of course, China today is a major economic power, so it’s no surprise their investments will spread into the neighbours (in) Asia and the globe. These are realities we all see as we speak,” he said.
He sought to play down the signing of the FTA with China last December – a development that caused considerable heartburn in New Delhi – by saying “free trade negotiations are nothing new”.
“We do not invent free trade, it’s a global concept. Look, among Saarc countries, we have what we call SAFTA, the Saarc free trade area. We have extended our invitations to EU, the US, Japan to be FTA partners. We are trying to do business here,” he said.
Saeed rubbished a call by former president Mohamed Nasheed, currently in self-imposed exile in Sri Lanka, for intervention by India, saying: “Nasheed is a fugitive, he should come and serve his (prison) sentence first… He has his freedom to defend himself.
“We have three-tier court processes to defend himself. Why can’t he come (back)? If he is a patriot, if he loves his country, why can’t he come to this country?”
India had snubbed Yameen’s move to send a special envoy to New Delhi, with officials saying that Maldives had not acted on the global community’s concerns about the undermining of the democratic set-up through the imposition of emergency.
However, Saeed said the Maldives had remained in contact with “our Indian friends”.
“We have 52 years of relationship with India. India is our nearest and dearest and oldest partner…We always promote dialogue, we always communicate. We are friends, you know,” he said.
Saeed also dismissed allegations by opposition leaders that Yameen was targeting opposition parties, curtailing basic freedoms and cracking down on opponents. He said the opposition leaders should furnish evidence to back up their accusations.