Ibrahim Mohamed Solih defeated pro-China Abdullah Yameen in the presidential elections in the Maldives last September, he chose India for his maiden state visit last month. In his first interview as President, Solih told
Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury in an email interaction that the island nation would not allow any anti-India activities from its soil and exhorted that Male would play the role of a stabiliser in the Indian Ocean Region. Excerpts:
Indo-Maldives ties have been lukewarm over the last few years. What are your plans to revive warmth in the partnership?
We enjoy centuries of historical and cultural ties with India, and it is unfortunate that over the last few years this traditional relationship was subjected to needless tension. I am very pleased that I was able to visit India for my first state visit and having Prime Minister Modi attend our inauguration was a tremendous honour and a very important symbol of the renewed strengthening of Indo-Maldives ties. We will continue to engage and strengthen our relations with India in the areas of health, culture, tourism and Indian Ocean security and stability.
How do you plan to address India’s concern over the role of third countries in the Maldives, particularly in the infrastructure sector that could be used for military purposes?
The Maldives is a sovereign state and we are very mindful of our geostrategic position in the India Ocean. We are also extremely aware of the need to maintain peace and security in the Indian Ocean, especially at a time of increased trade, shipping and geopolitical tensions. We recognise that we have shared security interests with India, and will not allow our territory — as India will not allow hers — to be used for any activity that is detrimental to the other.
What are your government’s expectations from India?
We are very thankful to India for understanding the precarious financial situation we’re currently facing, and responding so promptly with a considerable package of budgetary support, financial investment and capacity building. My government’s expectations from India is that we will always enjoy a close and neighbourly relationship bound through historical and cultural ties and a respect for each other’s sovereignty while maintaining a safe and secure Indian Ocean region.
How can India and the Maldives strengthen their defence and strategic partnership?
India and the Maldives have always maintained a strong defence and strategic partnership. We conduct regular naval exercises, coordinated patrolling and maritime surveillance and have an understanding of common priorities, such as counter terrorism. I believe greater engagement in these areas, including an increase in training opportunities, will result in a stronger partnership.
What are your thoughts on China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the backdrop of debt that the Maldives incurred under the previous government?
Our government is still reviewing the extent of the debt incurred under the previous government. No doubt, the debt situation has put us in an extremely challenging situation. A vast number of infrastructural projects have been undertaken and we are in the process of reviewing the terms of these agreements.
What role do you envisage for the Maldives in the Indian Ocean Region?
The Maldives will not be resigned to a plaything between the great power interests of the Indian Ocean Region. As a sovereign state in the middle of the India Ocean, it is our interest to ensure a safe and secure Indian Ocean and we will work with all like-minded partners to do so. How do you want to restore democracy in the Maldives? I am honoured and humbled by the confidence the Maldivian people have placed in me and our coalition government. We are fortunate to have won a very challenging election with 58% of the vote. The Maldives’ journey with democracy has taken quite a few twists and turns. The previous administration’s policies risked a complete reversal of the human rights and democratic values that we fought so hard to establish with the 2008 Constitution. However, the election has proved that the Maldivian people were not willing to give up on those values and voted in favour of re-establishing the rule of law. I hope to live up to the hopes of the Maldivian people by fulfilling the pledges we advocated for in our manifesto — zero tolerance on corruption, judicial reform, investigations into abuses of power, disappearances and suspicious deaths. We also have an ambitious development programme which incorporates the island nature of the Maldives and pledge decentralised governance based on greater public consultation.
Source: Economic Times