“I would like to reassure all our friends in India, what it is and what it isn’t. We have status of forces agreements with more than 100 nations around the world. And these are basically agreements we have with partners where we have significant military activities, typically exercises.
“So for example, with Maldives we have coconut grove, which is an annual marine exercise. So the status of forces agreement helps to provides framework for those kinds of cooperative activities.
“And they are desirable things to have. But it does not in any way signify an expansion of our military presence or some major new development in the US-Maldivian military co-operation. It’s simply more of a framework to provide for (ongoing) co-operation…”
That was the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, speaking to the Press Trust of India (PTI) on the question of a SOFA to be signed between the US and the Maldives.
In an interview on May 7, 2013 widely reported around the world, Blake is reported to have said; “I haven’t seen the draft agreement. So I can’t comment,” before confirming that the US is “in the process of negotiating one now”.
“These are standard texts round the world, nothing very secret about them,” Blake is reported to have said, adding; “I do not foresee that this (SOFA) is going to be difficult negotiations (with Maldives). These are the things we do with partners around the world,” he said adding that it might be very well should be able to signed very soon.”
Emphasis, here is my own, to highlight a confounding sentence which appears not only in the Zee News report shared by US @StateDept with Maldivian tweeps, but is reproduced in almost all media reports. Petty as this may be, but really, what does it mean?
(a) Maldives-US SOFA might be signed very soon.
(b) Maldives-US SOFA should be signed very soon.
(c) Maldives-US SOFA might very well be signed very soon.
(d) Maldives-US SOFA might be very well.
(e) Maldives-US SOFA it might be very well should be able to signed very soon.”
It might very well be simply an editor’s miss, reproduced by all.
Of more significance to me, is the fact that Blake could not verify the authenticity of the alleged draft of the SOFA agreement published on www.dhivehisitee.com.
“I haven’t seen the draft agreement. So I can’t comment,” Blake is reported to have said. Yet, instead of stopping at that, Blake went into a detailed explanation quite outside the real questions the leaked draft raises.
The US Embassy in Colombo had earlier confirmed to Minivan News that they are in discussion with the government of Maldives to sign a SOFA, but had not confirmed or denied the leaked draft is the draft under discussion.
The Maldives government has been far more elusive, the Minister for Defence Mohamed Nazim denying it all in an interview to local daily Haveeru published after the US Embassy had confirmed discussions were ongoing. But then Defence Minister Nazim is not known for his forthrightness or honesty in the Maldives or Sandhurst, from where he is reported to have been expelled for dishonesty.
All in all, what we have learnt so far is:
(a) What a SOFA is.
(b) What a SOFA is not.
(c) That there are US plans to sign a SOFA with the Maldives “very soon”.
(d) Maldives government is not comfortable acknowledging plans to sign a SOFA with the US.
Very little has been said on the real subject of concern – the terms and conditions in the leaked draft SOFA – that gives US absolute access and free run in the Maldives, without check or restraint. The US can place boots on the ground if, when, where and how the US deem necessary at any given time during agreement period.
Does “no boots on the ground” guarantee no boots on the ground in the future? What if America fears the rise of China and the advent of the “nightmare scenario”? How would the Maldives feature in such a scenario? What opportunity does SOFA provide if the US deems it necessary for the US to “be operational” in the Maldives to “watch terrorists,” “protect waters,” ensure regional security or any other such purpose necessary for “reasons of security”?
The United States, together with India, were the first to accept the February 7, 2012 transfer of power in the Maldives. They reacted even before the people of Maldives did, shocked as the public were by the scenes of February 6 and 7, 2012 and the weeks leading up to it, they had witnessed live on local TV. By the time public reacted on February 8, 2013, and the overwhelming public support for President Nasheed became too obvious to be dismissed, the coup had been stamped legitimate by both India and the US.
To their credit, both US and India did step back a bit, but the US has not only continued its support to the government but has worked closely with the coup leaders, strengthening the coup-backing military, bringing in PISCES, the border surveillance system, and now the SOFA.
The US has no diplomatic presence or shoes on the ground in the Maldives, but has been on the ground far more than usual, with diplomats from Colombo flying in regularly and US missions on the ground almost monthly.
So, what could be Dr Waheed’s game plan? Given that it is undeniable that Mohamed Nasheed would win the public vote and there are less than a 100 days to voting, why is Dr Waheed sitting so comfortable? What could be Waheed’s surprise manifesto?
The only thing left now for Dr Waheed to come up with is Green Cards for all!
Dr Waheed, who is himself said to be a US permanent resident or Green Card holder, might very well be planning a bigger surprise with his ‘Forward with the Nation” campaign; taking the Maldives all the way from a small-island-state to a superpower, in less than five years.
A novel strategic pivot for the US as it stands to gain not only the SOFA and retain Coconut Grove, but gets to have its very own 100 percent Islamic State within the United States which would no doubt please the Islamists in the Maldives, the US itself, and outside.
The greening of Male’ initiated just this week by the Maldives Police Services too, all suggest Dr Waheed may go green, and issue Green Cards for all.
Would the people of Maldives vote to be the 51st State?
Aishath Velezinee (@Velezinee on twitter) is an independent democracy activist and writer. She was the Editor of Adduvas Weekly 2005-07 and served on the Maldives’ Judicial Service Commission (2009-11). She claims the Commission she sat on breached constitution in transition; and advocates for redress of Article 285, and a full overhaul of the judiciary as a necessary step for democracy consolidation.
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