COLOMBO: Pakistan and China are filling the strategic space in the Maldives willfully vacated by India on account of its quarrel with the Abdulla Yameen regime.

China has been in the Maldives with investments since the Mohamed Nasheed era (2008-2012). And it has been going strong pumping US$ 1.5 billion into major infrastructural projects since Abdulla Yameen came to power in 2013. But Pakistan is a newcomer.

Sensing a gap, Islamabad is now beginning to fill it. The Pakistani army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, was in the Maldives this weekend and had called on President Yameen on Sunday.

Gen.Bajwa told Yameen that Pakistan and Maldives are “brotherly Muslim nations,” and emphasized the need for “cultivating friendship, understanding cooperation in all fields to new heights in the years to come.’

Highlighting Pakistan’s assistance and support for the development of the Maldives, President Yameen expressed hope and confidence that the Maldives and Pakistan will continue working together on bilateral and “international issues of common concern” to further strengthen the close ties of friendship and cooperation that exist between the two countries.

The visit of the Pakistani army chief gives a degree of assurance to the beleaguered Maldivian leader, that any move by India to militarily intervene in the Maldives at the bidding of the opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, will be opposed by Pakistan.

China has already warned any Indian military intervention will be resisted by it.

However, a recent report in The Indian Express quoted an unnamed high Indian official as saying that India has no intention of militarily intervening in the Maldives and that it is not even worried about China’s investments in South Asia – the traditional Indian backyard.

But India continues to boycott the Maldives. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still to honor an invitation to visit the Maldives, the only South Asian country he has not visited since he came to power in May 2014. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had visited the Maldives in 2015, but that was about it.

Swaraj is expected to visit Sri Lanka later this year, but Maldives is not in the itinerary.

When President Yameen wanted to send a Special Envoy to explain his stand on the imposition of a State of Emergency, on February 6, India refused to entertain him. The Maldivian envoy in New Delhi has been unable to take up the matter with officials of the Ministry of External Affairs.

After allowing opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed to give interviews to Indian newspapers seeking Indian military intervention to oust or chastise Yameen, the External Affairs Ministry came out with a statement chastising the Maldivian government after the 45-day Emergency was lifted.

The Indian statement called for the full implementation of the Supreme Court’s judgment ofFebruary 1 releasing nine opposition leaders and re-instating 12 MPs who had crossed the floor in parliament.

Being a sovereign country, Maldives was deeply offended by the content and tone of the Indian statement. It issued a statement saying that India should back off because these matters are best left to the Maldivian people to decide.

The Maldivian statement also said that utterances of this sort, made without knowledge of local realities, will not at all be helpful to resolve conflicts.

Having been a long standing player in Maldives, India could have played a role in ending the conflict between the duly elected President and the opposition, and restored peace and democracy in a diplomatic and constructive way.

But India missed the chance by identifying itself with one side. It is now out of the Maldivian game. The space left by it is going to be filled by China which has already pumped in US$ 1.5 billion in projects of vital importance to the Maldives. Pakistan too might get a share of Maldivian goodwill.

Indian and Western experts and the media say that US$ 1.5 billion in Chinese aid is 40% of the Maldives’ GDP, and therefore, the country is in a “debt trap”. They warn that Maldives will have to lease out or even sell off lands, islands and infrastructural facilities to the Chinese creditors.

But the Maldivian government argues the infrastructural projects will generate employment for its educated youth in areas beyond tourism. Tourism they argue cannot be the mainstay of the economy for long.

Further no international rating agency has rung alarm bells over the financial condition of the Maldives which is doing well for a country of 410,000 people living off just one economic sector , tourism, which accounts for 40% of the Maldivian GDP of US$ 3.6 billion.

Maldivian officials also point out that no country other than China can give the kind of money that China gives and execute projects as fast as the Chinese.

There is also motivated propaganda by former President Nasheed that the Chinese have taken 17 islands on lease. But when newsmen asked him to name one or two islands, he could not name even one.

As a matter of fact there are only six resorts owned by Chinese companies. The rest are almost all Western.