The Ministry of Defence has said widely-reported remarks by Special Envoy of former President Mohamed Nasheed, Ibrahim Hussain Zaki that the previous government would have sought Indian military assistance to protect its economic interests in the Maldives, constitute a “threat to national security”.
In a statement on Friday, the Defence Ministry condemned the remarks “in the harshest terms” and contended that “such actions are very dangerous [threats] to national security and encourage activities that would harm the country’s independence and sovereignty.”
“If we were in the government, definitely we would have done it by now… definitely [asked for] their [Indian forces] to be on the ground,” Zaki was quoted as saying during a recent visit to the country.
The former Secretary General of SAARC reportedly warned India that rising fundamentalism in the Maldives threatened the country’s economic interests.
“Zaki, 67, a former minister in successive Maldivian governments headed by former presidents Maumoon Gayoom and [Mohamed] Nasheed, said he would have called for Indian forces to protect the multi-million-dollar investment by Indian infrastructure firm GMR Group,” Indian media reported on Thursday.
“The attack on GMR contract is an Islamic fundamentalist issue,” Zaki told reporters.
Zaki explained that “many top figures in the Adhaalath Party are educated in Pakistan and draw their philosophy from the hardline Salafist form of Islam.”
“When Islamic fundamentalism takes over the country, if the Lashkar-e-Taiba can take over the country, then I have no choice [but to call in forces from India],” Zaki was quoted as saying, “referring to the Pakistan-based militant group that India blames for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack.”
India’s Daily News & Analysis reported Zaki as saying that fundamentalists in the Maldives “have links with terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba” and warned that if Islamic fundamentalism goes unchecked the country could turn into a terror state that threatens Indian security.
Meanwhile, according to the Indian Express, Zaki’s meetings with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon and Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai were “a clear signal from New Delhi of its unhappiness with Male’ over its handling of the opposition in that country to the GMR agreement for airport development.”
The Indian Express reported that Zaki received treatment at the Indian Army’s Research and Referral Hospital for injuries sustained during his arrest from an uninhabited island last week on charges of alcohol consumption.
Following his arrest and hospitalisation, former Human Resource Minister and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) lawyer Hassan Latheef tweeted that Zaki was “severely beaten by baton and handcuffed for hours”.
Zaki told the Express that he was thrashed with “boots and electric batons” for hours. “There was no space on my body where I was not hit,” he said.
External Affairs Minister Kurshid and his wife were meanwhile “old friends,” Zaki said.
Earlier this month, India’s Business Standard reported that Indian companies operating in the Maldives were expressing concerns over political interference derailing their substantial investments in the country.
“A recent meeting held with the Maldivian Housing Minister [and a joint venture between developers SG18 and Indian super-conglomerate TATA] is said to have ended abruptly with officials from the firm and the Indian High Commission being asked to leave,” the Standard reported.
“Maldivians’ airport to Maldivians”
The Adhaalath Party has been at the forefront of a campaign to renationalise the airport dubbed “Maldivians’ airport to Maldivians” led by parties of the ruling coalition.
Remarks by government spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza at a protest rally by the coalition earlier this month, alleging that Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay has been bribed by GMR, triggered a diplomatic incident and saw the government dissociate itself from the comments.
Meanwhile, Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla said at a press conference last week that there should not be any further discussions or negotiations with the Indian infrastructure giant and reiterated calls for the government to immediately terminate the agreement.
While the head of the religious conservative party had given the government a deadline of six days to “reclaim the airport” at the rally on November 9, the ultimatum was later extended to November 30.
On Thursday, the anti-GMR campaign presented a petition with 35,000 signatures to President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik. The petition was handed to Dr Waheed by Sheikh Imran before a meeting at the President’s Office.
Speaking to press following the meeting, State Minister for Home Affairs Abdulla Mohamed said that the President assured the group that the dispute would be resolved in line with “the wishes of the Maldivian people” and that a decision would be made after a cabinet meeting.
With its second ultimatum, the group warned the government that it would have to resort to “direct action” unless the concession agreement was not terminated by November 30.
“Independence and sovereignty”
The press release from the Defence Ministry meanwhile referred to article 67(d) of the constitution, which states that every citizen has a responsibility “to promote the sovereignty, unity, security, integrity and dignity of the Maldives.”
The Defence Ministry appealed to politicians against making remarks that could undermine “national independence and sovereignty” and “issuing threats of confrontation and the use of force.”
The statement also warned that the Defence Ministry would take “necessary legal action against anyone who commits an act that harms the independence and sovereignty of the nation.”