India-Maldives row: Amid strained relations between India and the Maldives, cash-strapped Pakistan on Thursday assured Male of support to address the “pressing development needs” of the island nation during a telephonic conversation between Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu and Pakistan’s caretaker PM Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar. The leaders discussed various ways to strengthen bilateral ties, said Muizzu’s Office in a statement.
According to the statement, Muizzu has been assured of the support of the Pakistani government to address the pressing development needs of the Maldives”. The two leaders discussed the top priorities for the two countries and spoke about enhancing cooperation in the international arena. Pakistan’s caretaker PM also conveyed his support and assistance to the Maldives’ efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.
This comes amid Pakistan’s own economic challenges ahead of a general election scheduled next week, with the country overly dependent on financial assistance from global money lender the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The new partnership comes as Pakistan is a close ally of China, and pro-China leader Muizzu is also pushing for closer relations with Beijing by distancing from a long-standing friendship with India.
India’s support for Maldives
India’s relations with the Maldives go back much earlier than China’s, which is considered a fairly recent player. India’s assistance and platforms have contributed significantly to public welfare, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and in combating illegal maritime activities in the island nation. The two advanced light helicopters– (ALH) and a Dornier aircraft– provided by New Delhi have been extensively used for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.
In the interim budget announced on Thursday, India has allocated Rs 600 crore for the Maldives for this financial year, indicating that it will continue to provide support despite uneasy ties. India had allocated Rs 400 crore in 2023-24, but ended up spending Rs 770 crore as financial support. The top two countries in India’s interim budget are Bhutan and Nepal with Rs 1,078 crore and Rs 700 crore respectively for development assistance.
The Union Budget 2024, presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, has placed a significant focus on the development of domestic tourism in India, including the islands of Lakshadweep, the centre of a diplomatic row between India and the Maldives. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the islands earlier this year further highlighted its tourism potential.
The Finance Minister acknowledged the significance of Lakshadweep in promoting tourism and emphasised the need for investments in port connectivity, infrastructure, and amenities to harness the tourism potential of the islands. The focus on tourism development, including in Lakshadweep, is expected to generate employment opportunities across various sectors.
After enjoying long-standing friendly ties, relations soured between India and the Maldives when Muizzu won the November elections riding on an ‘India Out’ campaign. Muizzu asked India to withdraw its nearly 80 military personnel stationed there. Earlier this month, Muizzu vowed to stop the emergency helicopter services as facilitated by India and fixed March 2024 as the deadline to stop the helicopter services and for the withdrawal of Indian troops.
A diplomatic row between the two countries when some deputy Maldivian ministers used derogatory language against Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his visit to Lakshwadeep. This triggered a major row on social media platforms, where thousands of Indian tourists, who account for the highest in the Maldives, called for ‘Boycott Maldives’, a trend supported by celebrities. Muizzu suspended the three ministers after their social media postings
The anti-India stance has created a political standoff between the pro-China President’s government and the opposition, which is on track to introduce an impeachment motion against Muizzu. The MDP has criticised the government’s pivot towards China and still controls a majority of the Maldivian Parliament. India also expressed concern towards the Maldives allowing a Chinese research vessel to dock on its shores, which New Delhi says can be used for “spying” and “research” purposes in the Maldives Special Economic Zone. The Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday said India has been keeping a close eye on the movement of the ship.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Maldivian Foreign Ministry said a diplomatic request was made by the Chinese government for the necessary clearances to make a port call, for the rotation of personnel and replenishment. The statement, however, said the Chinese Research Vessel Xiang Yang Hong 3, will “not be conducting any research while in the Maldivian waters”.
(with inputs from agencies)