Maldives: Sabre-Rattling By Indian Media In Midst of Foreign Policy Paralysis Complicates Situation
Conditions favourable for Indian diplomatic initiative but New Delhi seems to be balking
COLOMBO: Ground conditions in troubled Maldives as well as China’s predisposition appear to be favorable for an Indian diplomatic initiative to end the on-going crisis in the Indian Ocean archipelago.
But ironically, India seems to be balking either out of pique or out of a lack of creative thinking at the highest level of the government.
Meanwhile, in the midst of what appears to be a foreign policy paralysis, the Indian media and the large and growing tribe of “strategic specialists” are merrily queering the pitch for a naked military intervention to establish India’s primacy in the region, setting off alarm bells in the Maldives and irking China.
There seems to be little awareness in India that both Maldives and China are for an Indian role, and both have taken initiatives to engage India on the current problem.
Participants in TV discussions fight and win wars for the viewing pleasure of their credulous audiences, oblivious of the fact that the reality on the ground is very different. India to them is a “regional power” in the threshold of “world power” status. It deserves a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. It is not only a match to China but can scuttle the latter’s plans globally through counter-measures. India is a country its neighbors should look up to as “the only” security provider. And power flows only from the barrel of the gun.
All this, despite a string of manifest failures to live up to this self drawn image. Most of the utterances of New Delhi-based commentators and experts are based on the unrealistic notion that India can intervene militarily or apply economic sanctions, without hurting itself.
In fact, the economic and political cost of a war-like act is never even mentioned ,though recent history abounds in instances of failed or inadequate military adventures and their dreadful consequences to the country.
In the current case, war mongering was trigged by the Maldivian opposition leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed. Nasheed asked for a “military-backed Special Envoy” to fix President Abdulla Yameen ,who suspended constitutional rights and jailed his rivals to quash a suspected “constitutional coup.”
In an interview to Times of India this week Nasheed justified his demand saying: “ Use of the military is an extension of diplomacy. When diplomatic means fail, that does not mean you step back.”
But Nasheed slightly modified his demand later, saying that he did not propose a classic 19th Century gunboat diplomacy.
“ I am not really looking at the gunboat diplomacy of the 19th century here. We want something more imaginative with soft power involved in it...or the necessary muscle power. So it doesn't have to be messy military adventurism. Doesn't have to be blood on the ground. It has to be carefully calibrated and I think India has the capacity to do that.”
Looks like Nasheed is more careful than the Indian security experts on TV.
But is military intervention possible, sustainable and without adverse repercussions? It is no secret that the Indian armed forces are woefully short of men and material to take an area across its land or sea borders and hold it for any meaningful period of time.
Flexing muscles, sabre rattling or even staging a sharp and swift military assaults have their long term harmful political consequences . These have to be considered because the after affects can nullify any good that the action may have brought initially.
Nehru’s order to Lt.Gen.B.M Kaul to “throw the Chinese out” in 1962, resulted in the Indian army’s rout and retreat which still rankle in the minds of Indians and shapes their attitude to China.
The continuation of the border row has been affecting India’s relations with its neighbors. India’s relations with Pakistan is complicated and worsened by China’s hostility on the issue of listing Hafez Saeed as a global terrorist. The India-China animosity has complicated relations with Nepal, whose dalliance with China, New Delhi finds extremely irritating.
After the India-Pakistan war in 1965, the joy of saving Kashmir was short lived as the country went into an unprecedented economic crises in the latter second half of the 1960s. The successful campaign of liberating Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971 brought glory to India and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, but the very next year, the success of East Bengali nationalism enthused the Sikhs to demand “Khalistan” and launch a movement, which with the support of a disgruntled Pakistan, bled India for two decades.
Not learning a lesson from the ill-effects of aggressive actions, Indira Gandhi engaged in a covert terrorist campaign against Sri Lanka using Tamil militants to acquire hegemony over that country. This was followed by the deployment of nearly 100,000 troops to implement the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987 – a grandiose exercise which ended in 1990 in the inglorious return of the Indian Peace Keeping Force after losing 1,500 men.
The primary objectives of the accord, namely, to ensure the primacy of India in the island, and the settlement of the Tamil question, were not achieved. In fact, India had earned the wrath of both the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils.
This eventually paved the way to Sri Lanka’s latching on to the new power on the horizon, China, and loosen its ties with India. This, in turn, further aggravated India’s’ ties with Sri Lanka and China.
The costly war in Sri Lanka was followed not only by a rise in militancy in Kashmir in 1989, but an economic crisis in 1990 which necessitated urgent reforms. Significantly, these far reaching reforms were made possible by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s non-aggressive and non-interventionist foreign policy.
But things changed with Narendra Modi’s coming to power in May 2014. Modi alienated Nepal by indirectly supporting a devastating economic blockade organized by the pro-Indian Madesis of Southern Nepal. The wounds the blockade inflicted on all Nepalese, resulted in the country’s shying away from the centrist and pro-Indian politics to leftist and pro-China politics. The pro-China K.P.Oli came to power followed by the Maoist Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda.
As far as Pakistan is concerned, there has been bluff and bluster but very little action to stem terrorist infiltration across the border wreaking vengeance on mainland India. Hafiz Saeed is still to be designated a global terrorist. That’s due to a Sino-Pak collusion.
A chance to make up with China and delink it from Pakistan was missed by petulantly opposing the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) even though it passes through territory which India lost 70 years ago and is unlikely to get back.
In the Maldives, the cancellation of the contract to rebuild the Male airport given to the Indian private sector company GMR, froze relations with the Waheed and Yameen regimes. It forced Yameen to switch to China for loans and aid. That the Yameen government compensated India as per Arbitration, did not assuage feelings in New Delhi.
Maldives is the only neighbor Prime Minister Modi has not visited so far. The Indian Establishment continued the animosity by refusing to meet President Yameen’s Special Envoy who wanted to discuss the on-going crisis in his country.
In contrast, China and Pakistan entertained the Special Envoys sent to them, thus establishing their relevance for the Maldives while India opted out.
Even as the Maldives refused to see envoys of some of the Western powers it had sought an audience with the Indian leaders. Only when India showed a cold shoulder, Maldives sent envoys to China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
India has been described as by President Yameen as the “closest friend and neighbor” and had forbidden criticism of it.
As per an article in Global Times written by Prof. Zhang Jiadong of Fudan University in Shanghai, China acknowledges India’s dominant influence over the domestic and foreign policies of the Maldives. Zhang said that the Maldives will not go against the wishes of India.
“Although the Yameen government is friendly to China, it's not anti-India. Opposing India is not in Maldives' national interest. Malé is very concerned about New Delhi's attitude. The Maldives Ambassador to India, Ahmed Mohamed, reaffirmed his country's commitment to the India First Policy. It's fair to say that India's influence pervades Maldives' internal and external affairs,” Zhang wrote.
He further said: “Given geopolitical factors, it is impossible to replace India's unique status in South Asia with China. As a small country in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, Maldives has neither big strategic expectations, nor can it become a strategic pivot of China in the region.”
“ Maldives is striving for better livelihood for its people amid wrangling among big powers. The issue is simple, but India thinks it is very complicated,” Zhang said.
Given such a favorable Chinese and Maldivian attitude, it is surprising that New Delhi is holding itself back from being a peace maker and mediator and subtly encouraging the saber rattling that is going on in the Indian media.