Former Foreign Minister of Maldives Ahmed Naseem has alleged that China is grabbing land in Maldives that can be turned into military bases and this will destabilise the Indian Ocean region and be detrimental to Indian security. He criticised President Abdulla Yameen’s decision to return the two advanced light helicopters (ALHs) gifted by India and deny work permits to hundreds of Indians employed in the island nation. Speaking to Smita Sharma in New Delhi, he urged India to help restore democracy in Maldives. Excerpts from the interview.
Maldives wants India to take back the two gifted ALHs. What’s your reaction?
China wants India out of Maldives and that is exactly what is happening. Chinese people are present at the atoll where the helicopters are based and they want the Indian government to remove the helicopters. We feel that India should not remove the helicopters at all. It is something that has served the Maldivian people, evacuating sick people from different islands.
Maldives has denied work permits to nearly 2,000 Indians. How do you see it?
President Yameen has never liked India. He feels that there are too many Indians working already in Maldives, though there are more Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans working in Maldives. Indians occupy a position in expatriate work force where their managerial skills are beneficial to the country. The denial of work permits is wrong and an insult to India.
How large is the shadow of China on India-Maldives relations today?
We have an agreement to not do anything that compromises national security of one another. Without any consultations, Maldives is giving land to China which could be converted into military bases. China is grabbing land everywhere and has 16 islands in Maldives today. If one country is able to dominate through predatory territorial policies, it is detrimental to free trade and security of the entire Indian Ocean.
It will be detrimental to Indian security. India needs to put its foot down and say this is not acceptable to us… India has a major role to play in restoration of democracy in Maldives.
Nasheed government too had signed agreements with China. How will you deal with China differently if elected to power?
There is no transparency in any of the contracts awarded to China by the Yameen government. There was no bidding. It is estimated that we owe China 1.4 billion USD for various projects. I don’t know how we are going to pay it back. We will trade with everybody but does not mean China must have an exclusivity. We do not know for what reason we signed an FTA with China. Parliament passed it without any discussion. If we come to power, we will certainly look into all contracts signed by President Yameen. People have been removed from islands to pave way for Chinese investments.
What do you see as fate of pending elections in Maldives? What can India do?
Every leader of all political parties, not just President Nasheed, should be allowed to contest. What we are trying to do is to pull a single Opposition candidate from any party. But problem is all party leaders are in jail except President Yameen. So how do you hold an election with every political leader, judiciary in jail and military in the parliament. Any government that Yameen forms after this kind of rigged, unfair elections should not be accepted by any government, because then it becomes a norm. India has a major role to play in restoration of democracy in Maldives.
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