MDP protesters attacked, doused with petrol and chili water

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protesters were beaten and doused with petrol and water mixed with chili powder last night.

Minivan News journalists observed four young men on motor cycles charge into a crowd of protesters gathered in front of the MDP office on Sosun Magu at 9:45pm. They kicked protesters and slapped a middle-aged man in the face when he told them to leave.

The young men rode off within five minutes.

The opposition party has held daily protests since February 10, first against President Abdulla Yameen’s alleged breaches of the Constitution, and later against the arrest and sentencing of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed was convicted of terrorism over the January 2012 military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, and jailed for 13 years on March 13.

At 11:00pm, another group of eight men attacked protesters as they marched near the Malé City Council office and doused protesters with a mixture of petrol, crude oil and chilli powder.

Ahmed Anwar
Ahmed Anwar

A journalist with Island TV, Ahmed Anwar, said he too was attacked by gangsters and said the group had singled out women in the crowd

“The protesters were heading to the Usfasgandu area when the gangs suddenly charged into the crowd. They threw petrol, crude oil and some kind of pepper mixed with water on us. They singled out the women in the crowd. A woman standing next to me had both crude oil and chili powder on her,” he told Minivan News.

Anwar said the police watched on as gangsters attacked protesters. When the crowd apprehended one of the young men, the police escorted him out of the crowd and released him, Anwar alleged.

However, the police did detain a young man who attacked the protesters around 12:00am, he said.


Maldives Media Council member, Miusam Abbas, was also doused with petrol and crude oil.

“I was with the members of the press. We were trying to get to the back of the crowd when the gangsters threw crude oil and petrol on me,” he told Minivan News.

According to the Maldives Police Services, three men and two women were arrested from the protest last night. They included individuals who had attempted to disrupt the protest, the police said, but declined to give further details.

Last Sunday, a group of eight men wielding knives threatened protesters and vandalised a party lorry and its sound system ahead of the night’s protest. A group of six attacked protesters and journalists on February 27 and cut off Raajje TV’s live feed.

Vice President of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, Ahmed Tholal, in a tweet last night urged the “authorities to ensure safety of people exercising a constitutional right.”

In a statement today, the MDP condemned “the continuing attacks on MDP protesters” and accused government officials of perpetrating the attacks.

“These groups, with the backing of government officials, are attacking and intimidating protesters with machetes and other dangerous weapons. The people who attack us have full confidence they would be released,” the statement read.

The opposition party further alleged the police arrested peaceful protesters instead of taking action against those who disrupted protests.

The MDP called on the Human Rights Commission and the Police Integrity Commission to investigate the police’s inaction.

Meanwhile, a group attempted to break into former MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor’s home last night. They broke the lock and vandalised the door.

Hamid, also the MDP’s international spokesperson, is in Colombo at the moment.

The opposition-dominated Malé City Council has also expressed concern over “police negligence” in protecting protesters and failure to arrest gangsters who attack protesters.

“The police are acting as if they support the gangs’ actions,” the statement said.

Related to this story:

Artists protest exclusion of Nasheed paintings from Minivan50 exhibition

MDP to work with Adhaalath Party as Sheikh Imran calls for “national unity alliance” against government

Eight gangsters threaten MDP protesters with knives, vandalise lorry and speaker systems

10,000 protest in Malé, call for President Yameen’s resignation


JP office vandalised with crude oil

The Jumhooree Party (JP) office at Maafanu Kunooz in Malé was vandalised with crude oil last night.

JP Spokesperson Ali Solih told local media that two men on a motorcycle hurled crude oil at the door of the party’s headquarters during a press conference by JP Deputy Leader Ameen Ibrahim and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Chairperson Ali Waheed.

Solih said the incident was reported to police along with the license plate number of the motorcycle.

The crude oil was also splashed over JP MP Abdulla Riyaz’s car parked outside the office, he noted.

At last night’s press conference, Ameen meanwhile denied allegations that JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim made a deal with Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb during a meeting at business magnate ‘Champa’ Mohamed Moosa’s residence on Monday night (March 2).

Following the meeting, government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) MP Mohamed Saleem withdrew an amendment to the constitution that would have barred Gasim from contesting the presidency in 2018.

Saleem’s amendment proposed adding a 65-year age limit to the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates.

Gasim did not ask for the bill to be withdrawn, Ameen insisted, claiming that he had learned pro-government MPs had decided to withdraw the legislation before the meeting took place.

While Adeeb had offered to withdraw the bill, Ameen said Gasim told the deputy leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) he was not overly concerned about the proposed amendment.

As a three quarters majority of the total membership of parliament is needed to amend the constitution, the amendment would have required MDP and JP MPs’ votes to be passed.

Ameen said Gasim and Champa Moosa were longstanding business partners who offered mutual assistance and had a “strong relationship.”

Adeeb arrived halfway through the meeting at Champa Moosa’s invitation, Ameen said, adding that Gasim did not object to Adeeb’s participation.

Gasim asked Adeeb to facilitate the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, he continued, and wide-ranging discussions took place on the subject.

Ameen suggested that the timing of the constitutional amendment’s withdrawal was intended to sow discord in the MDP-JP alliance.

The opposition alliance’s joint commission meeting and the press briefing was “clear proof” that Gasim did not make a deal, Ameen said, assuring supporters that the alliance remains strong.

MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed said the government’s main target at present would be breaking up the alliance.

Referring to a group of young men on a pickup chanting slogans against Gasim and calling for Nasheed’s release last night, Waheed alleged it was part of efforts by the PPM to “sow discord” in the alliance.


Environmental coalition urges President to stop oil exploration

Twenty NGOs have urged President Abdulla Yameen to stop plans for oil exploration in Maldivian waters, or risk the country’s economic and environmental health.

In a joint statement of concern, marine conversation NGO OceanCare’s President Sigrid Lueber warned that the oil explorations could have “severe socio-economic consequences in the fisheries and tourism sector”.

After pledging during his election campaign to begin new efforts to find oil, President Yameen’s government has claimed investor interest in the project, while a German research vessel carried out a seismic survey last August.

Speaking to Minivan News today, founder of local environmental NGO Ecocare, Maeed Zahir, said that the public does not take seriously the concerns put forward by local NGOs.

“Several people have questioned our technical expertise on oil exploration and used it as an excuse to dismiss our concerns,” said Maeed. “However, with several international NGOs speaking out against the exploration we hope it will be taken more seriously.”

The statement of concern was also sent to several members of the cabinet, including fisheries minister Dr Mohamed Shainee, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, economic development minister Mohamed Saeed, and environment minister Ahmed Thoriq.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz said that only the president could comment on correspondence addressed personally to him, directing Minivan News to the relevant ministers for updates on the exploration project – none of whom were responding to calls at the time of publication.

The Maldives has also been included OceanCare’s silent oceans campaign. The NGO – which was granted Special Consultative Status with the UN’s Economic and Social Council in 2011 – is encouraging people to write to Adeeb urging an end to exploration.

Seismic impact

The NGO coalition’s statement of concern warned that exploration will have adverse effects on the Maldivian economy as a result of negative impacts on fisheries.

Seismic air guns – one of the most commonly used survey methods for offshore oil exploration – produce loud bursts of sound by introducing air into water at high pressure which then penetrates hundreds of kilometers into the earth’s crust.

OceanCare stated that the air guns produce a pulse of noise lasting 20 to 30 milliseconds, which is repeated an average of every 10 to 15 seconds, often for 24 hours a day.

“Three decades of controlled scientific studies leave no doubt that intense sound damages fish and impact fisheries,” said the Swiss NGO. “Ocean noise has a negative effect on at least 55 marine species.”

A recent study commissioned by the Namibian government revealed a sharp decline in catch as a result of increased seismic exploration in the Orange River Basin. The country’s tuna catch shrunk from 4,046 tons in 2011 to a mere 650 tons in 2013 after a shift in migratory routes.


Similarly, the Australian tuna industry has said the process may threaten the survival, abundance, or evolutionary development of native species or ecological communities.

Additionally, a recent study into the impacts of air guns on marine life ranked them as the second highest contributor of underwater noise caused by humans – only underwater nuclear detonations have been found to cause more.

The NGO statement also noted the adverse effects on marine biodiversity as a result of such surveys, pointing out that Maldivian tourism is heavily dependent on a healthy and diverse marine eco-system.

Tourism and fishing account for 90 percent of the Maldives’ GDP, while providing three-quarters of all employment and two thirds of foreign exchange earnings.

The government’s development plans include both a reduced reliance on tourism, as well as minimising the country’s dependence on imported fuel through the enhanced use of renewables. Imported fuel consumes around one third of the Maldives’ GDP.

Preliminary Research

Last year, the German research vessel ‘Sonne‘ – which came to the Maldives to conduct research into global warming – conducted preliminary research exploration free-of-charge on the government’s request.

While pointing out the importance of proper Environmental Impact Assessments in oil explorations, the coalition of environmental groups expressed concern that no such EIA or public consultation was undertaken prior to this research.

Speaking at the time, fisheries minister Dr Shainee said that explorations will be carried out in one of three areas which have properties suggesting the presence of oil and gas. The identified locations were located 100 miles east of the area between Laamu and Thaa atoll.

Shainee also said that the information obtained will be shared with the Maldives in the first quarter of 2015. He said that the data would not be shared with any third party, and that further explorations would follow to confirm any positive findings.

In February 2014, the Maldives National Oil Company Ltd – a subsidiary of the State Trading Organization – said it would soon begin advertising the country as a destination for oil exploration.

Speaking at the 18th Saarc Summit held last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India wishes to assist Maldives in its search for oil reserves, while cabinet members reported that oil exploration was on the agenda of the first China-Maldives joint commission on trade, held in December.

Related to this story

Maldives to begin oil exploration with assistance of research vessel

Oil drilling and Maldives’ tourism “cannot coexist”, says NGO Bluepeace

Maldives National Oil Company seeks assistance with oil exploration


Oil exploration attracts investors at Singapore investment forum

The Maldives has garnered interest in oil exploration during an investment forum in Singapore.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr. Mohamed Shainee, told Minivan News at least one investor will be visiting the Maldives in the coming weeks to present their company profile and discuss the project further.

Over 160 companies and nearly 200 representatives from 16 countries were present at the first overseas investor forum organised by the Maldives.

Speaking at the event on Friday, Shainee assured potential investors that there was no room to refute the presence of oil in the Maldives based on seismic testing by Royal Dutch Shell.

“Those studies were carried out 25 to 27 years ago, with limited technology capable of investigating under sea. However, now we have better technology that is more capable of more exploration,” he said.

Oil has been found in both Sri Lanka and India and therefore there is a high possibility that it will be found in Maldives too, he added.

Lying just a meter above sea level, the Maldives is among the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts such as sea level rise, ocean acidification and extreme weather events.

Crude oil will diversify and stabilise the economy, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has said. At present, the Maldives heavily relies on tourism, which supports an estimated 70 – 80 percent of its GDP.

However, some have argued that economic benefits will not outweigh the possible environmental repercussions.

“When you take up the issues of drilling, we are concerned about the oil container tanks with unrefined fuel passing through,” concluded Executive Director of local NGO Bluepeace Ali Rilwan. “We can’t afford to go into that dirty energy.”

With this in mind, Rilwan asked, “can we avoid a disaster in the Maldives? The Maldives is a tiny island and this can have a very negative impact, the tanks are a worrying thing.”

In addition to oil exploration, the government is seeking investment in establishing a port in northern Ihavandhippolhu Atoll, land reclamation and maritime seaport in Hulhumalé, expansion of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) and the relocation and expansion of the central port to Thilafushi Island.

The projects for which the government was seeking investors were “designed to position Maldives to take advantage of its strategic location as a hub and gateway for commerce, innovation and creativity, linking rest of the globe with South Asia,” President Yameen said in his keynote address.

“To address investment climate and to facilitate mega investments with attractive incentive packages, a Special Economic Zone Bill will be tabled in the parliament soon. Additionally, the Foreign Investment Act and Companies Act are being revised to cater the ever increasing needs of the modern foreign investors,” he added.

Meanwhile, a Singaporean court is currently overseeing the arbitration process between the Maldives government and Indian infrastructure giant GMR in which the company has claimed US$ 1.4 billion for the abrupt termination of a concession agreement to develop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).


Ministry of Environment aims to “transform the Maldives’ energy sector”

The International Renewable Energy Investor’s conference, focusing on the development of solar energy in the Maldives, took place yesterday (March 26) at Bandos resort.

The one-day conference – organised by the Ministry of Environment and Energy with the World Bank – aimed to transform the Maldives’ energy sector by reducing the dependency on costly fossil fuels for power generation.

The ministry reported that a total of 78 participants from government organisations, the World Bank, foreign consultants and investors discussed photovoltaic (PV) systems which could be established in Malé and Hulhumalé, as well as a framework for subsidies.

The conference came after the government last week outlined it’s strategic aims for renewable energy in a proposal named Accelerating Sustainable Private Investments in Renewable Energy programme (ASPIRE).

Published March 21 2014, this report details some of the difficulties faced by the Maldives, as well as future plans to increase the proportion of sustainable energy consumed in the country.

Submitted by the government and the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development, the proposal asks for a US$10,683 million grant in funding from the ‘Scaling Up Renewable Energy Programme’.

“The Government has no current stabilization program with the International Monetary Fund. The prior program lapsed in 2009 and most of the measures were reversed. The World Bank started a Development Policy Credit in 2010 for economic stabilization and recovery that was also cancelled due to lack of progress,” states the ASPIRE proposal.

“A major concern of foreign investors in Maldives has been their inability to reliably and consistently convert local currency to hard currency for reasonable transaction costs at the official exchange rate for repatriation of shareholder returns and foreign currency debt service.”

“The country has no conventional resources of energy. Providing electricity to the dispersed islands is overwhelmingly dependent on imported diesel fuel oil, and therefore vulnerable to fuel price volatility.”

Diesel fuel accounts for the bulk of the energy supply in the country, about 82.5% in 2009, according to ASPIRE. Therefore, the report suggests a move toward renewable energy as a means of improving “economic difficulties”.

“The development of solar PV projects is expected to improve the country’s fiscal situation by reducing both the volume of fossil fuel imports, as well as the fiscal uncertainty arising from fuel price volatility. This would also replace the expensive diesel based generation and result in significant reduction of the government subsidy,” the report confirms.

Similar reforms to the energy sector chimes were set to be rolled out two years ago, before the unstable political situation led to its  premature demise.

On the afternoon of February 7, 2012, the Maldives was set to sign in a revolutionary plan to attract an estimated US$200 million of risk-mitigated renewable energy investment.

The Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Programme (SREP) proposal was produced by the Renewable Energy Investment Office under President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration.

The World Bank team working on the project had given verbal approval for the plan, reportedly describing it as one of the most “exciting and transformative” projects of its kind in any country.

Previous awards for Clean Energy in the Maldives

Abu Dhabi media reported that in January 2014 The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) pledged Dh22million (US$6 million) in concessionary loans for clean energy projects in the Maldives.

The announcement came as Abu Dhabi hosted the Fourth Assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) – attended by a delegation from the Maldives.

“Maldives does not have the luxury of time to sit and wait for the rest of the world to act and that Maldives has started the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” Maldivian Minister for Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim told the assembly.

The project will benefit 120,000 people, with a reduced need for landfills, the generation of 2MW of clean energy, and the production of 62 million litres of desalinated water per year.

Shortly after this award, the Maldives carried out a pioneering desalination project on the island of Gulhi, in Kaafu atoll, which became the first place in the world to produce desalinated drinking water using waste heat from electricity generation.

While these projects indicate advances toward renewable energy, the government has also pledged to seek crude oil as an alternative means of diversifying the economy and supplementing fuel supply.

According to local news outlet CNM, during a speech made by President Abdulla Yameen on March 16 he pledged to begin the search for crude oil. He went on to say that if the government is indeed successful in finding oil in the Maldives, the outlook for the entire country would change for the better.

However, Local NGO Bluepeace raised concerns regarding this pledge. Ali Rilwan Executive Director noted that with the large income from tourism and the spread of guest houses in local isands, the oil drilling “won’t have benefits for the people as a whole.”

“We can’t afford to go into that dirty energy,” he concluded. “When you take up the issues of drilling, we are concerned about the oil container tanks with unrefined fuel passing through.”

Minivan News was unable to contact State Ministers from the Ministry of Environment and Energy for further comment at the time of publishing.


Oil drilling and Maldives’ tourism “cannot coexist”, says NGO Bluepeace

Oil drilling and sea-based tourism “cannot coexist”, says Executive Director of local NGO Bluepeace Ali Rilwan, who has suggested that drilling for oil will create a number of problems.

Rilwan’s comments follow further confirmation this week from President Abdulla Yameen that that the government will commence work on locating crude oil in the Maldives.

According to local news outlet CNM, Yameen said that if the government is indeed successful in finding oil in the Maldives, the outlook for the entire country would change for the better.

These statements were made at a land reclamation ceremony held on Sunday (March 16) on the island of Meedhoo in Dhaalu atoll. Speaking at the launch, President Yameen suggested that the Maldives could be developed using available resources.

When asked which would be more beneficial to the Maldives, Rilwan said “it’s a choice of the government.”  He noted that with the large income from tourism and the spread of guest houses in local isands, the oil drilling “won’t have benefits for the people as a whole.”

“We can’t afford to go into that dirty energy,” he concluded. “When you take up the issues of drilling, we are concerned about the oil container tanks with unrefined fuel passing through.”

With this in mind,  Rilwan asked, “can we avoid a distaster in the Maldives? The Maldives is a tiny island and this can have a very negative impact, the tanks are a worrying thing.”

Famed for its luxury resorts, the Maldives has relied on tourism for an estimated 70 – 80% of its GDP. Plans to look for oil in the past had aimed to diversify the nation’s economy.

There are currently no confirmed plans for the location of the drilling, should it take place – an uncertainty which has made it difficult for environmentalists to comment on the matter.

Rilwan noted that the fact that it is not known whether drilling will be coastal or off-shore makes it difficult to predict environmental issues.

The renewed interest in the search for oil was prompted by the results of seismic reports conducted in 1991– the recent findings of which have caused authorities to seek foreign assistance.

The Maldives National Oil Company (MNOC) was founded in 2003 to take direct responsibility for the development of oil and gas industry in the Maldives.

“The fact that two leading oil exploration companies in the world had invested in exploration drilling in the Maldives, keeps up the glimmer of hope for commercial success of oil and gas exploration in the Maldives,” the MNOC has said previously.

“Today, with the remarkable improvement of technology in the area of oil and exploration such as three or four dimensional seismic survey systems etc., the Maldives National Oil Company is hopeful that oil or gas can be discovered in Maldives.”

Managing director of the MNOC Ahmed Muneez told local media last month that the government intended to start work on new exploration within a few months.

“We have contacted a Norwegian company and a German company to help us better understand the findings of the study. Based on this report, we’re hopeful of advertising the Maldives as a new destination of oil exploration,” Haveeru quoted Muneez as saying.

He explained that an outside company would be hired to conduct a global advertising campaign in order to market the country as an oil source.

Under the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives – famously vulnerable to the effects of climate change – had pledged to become carbon neutral by 2020.

Nasheed stated that the Maldives was a key model for other countries seeking to become more sustainable, and that an inability to meet the unilateral commitments would prove detrimental to wider arguments around the globe for adopting law carbon initiatives.

The government of Nasheed’s successor Dr Mohamed Waheed also said that it was committed to “not completely” reversing the Nasheed administration’s zero carbon strategy: “What we are aiming to do is to elaborate more on individual sustainable issues and subject them to national debate,” said Waheed.

Speaking to Minivan in October 2012, the government assured that they were adhering to their commitment to become carbon neutral by 2020 in spite of political uncertainty.

“We are continuing with the carbon neutrality program,” she said. “We are giving it our best shot,” said then Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela.

Minivan News was unable to obtain comments from the Ministry of Environment and Energy at the time of press.


Comment: US needs to strengthen ties with South Asia

Last week, the United States and India concluded the fourth strategic dialogue on Asia-Pacific regional affairs, illustrating the importance that Washington places on its relationship with New Delhi. India’s surging economy has deepened interest among US policymakers eager to advance bilateral ties with a large country in the region that shares a democratic identity. Factors contributing to this shift include China’s ascent as an economic and strategic power and the possibility that the US military may favor an offshore strategy in the future.

However, India should not be the sole hope on which US security strategy rests in South Asia. US relations with this new strategic partner are guaranteed to experience bumps, as evidenced by the recent rejection of US firms in the Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition. Moreover, India has long maintained a strong non-aligned foreign policy tradition, enforced by policymakers who face continual domestic political pressures not to appear too pro-American. This is not to say that the US-India strategic partnership appears ready to fail. Still, one possible scenario could find relations with India not progressing as quickly as desired, while relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan remain in tatters, leaving minimal US relations with other South Asian states. Even if this scenario does not occur, the United States cannot afford to ignore the need to forge deeper strategic relationships with the smaller countries in the region.

Relations with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal hold many unexplored possibilities and reasons for expansion.

First, as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake pointed out in Congressional testimony earlier this year, all these countries are governed by democratically elected leaders. As with the “shared values” discourse supporting greater relations with democratic India, the United States has a similar foundation for fostering ties with these nations.

Second, three of these countries are maritime states. Given the importance of securing Indian Ocean sea lanes, through which 50 percent of the world’s container traffic and 70 percent of the world’s crude and oil products transit, it is in US interests to promote maritime security cooperation among South Asian countries and deepen defense ties with these navies as a form of burden-sharing in the Indian Ocean.

Further, smaller countries provide better test cases for realizing new strategic visions and more permissive environments in which to experiment than do the larger states of India and Pakistan, where constraints are omnipresent and the stakes are much higher. In the Harvard International Review, Doug Lieb has discussed the importance of analyzing international relations in “marginal states” that are often overlooked in a structural realist worldview that privileges the study of large countries. The smaller countries of South Asia could be easy wins for the United States, especially in the face of increasing Chinese dealings there.

US ties are probably the strongest with Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority and democratic nation. Given the country’s vulnerability to nontraditional security threats such as cyclones and earthquakes, the Bangladeshi military would appreciate increased help with weather forecasting technologies and cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief issues. Before the next environmentally related cataclysm occurs, the United States should further develop security relations with Bangladesh.

The Maldives, like Bangladesh, is a relatively pro-American Muslim democracy. It faces the challenge of countering Somali pirates and Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists from Pakistan seeking harbor on any one of its 26 atolls. The Maldives National Defense Forces would likely not be equipped to handle a potential Mumbai-style attack on its tourism industry and could benefit from US counter-terrorism assistance.

US relations with Sri Lanka have been strained due to charges of human rights violations during its defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009. Yet as Sri Lanka’s economic and diplomatic ties with China grow, the United States must try not to alienate Sri Lanka given its strategic location in the Indian Ocean. In fact, the US Navy could benefit from exchanges with the Sri Lankan military. For example, learning the swarm attack tactics that were employed during the country’s civil war could help the United States prepare for the threat it may face from Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. In addition, the Sri Lankan navy could benefit from US assistance in transitioning its patrols from the north to the south, where roughly 300 ships pass the tip of the island daily.

Regarding Nepal as it draws down its forces and integrates Maoist rebels into the military as part of its peace process, US security cooperation and expertise could be critical in this operation.

Finally, judicial capacity-building would be another low-cost way to advance US ties with all these countries.

By comparison, China has been strengthening its ties to South Asian countries, especially in the form of infrastructure development. Chinese port construction in Chittagong, Bangladesh; Hambantota, Sri Lanka; Gwadar, Pakistan; and Kyaukpyu, Burma have all been cited as prominent examples of a supposed “string of pearls” that China may be seeking to build in an area outside its traditional sphere of influence. Regardless of actual Chinese intentions in South Asia, Indian analysts have voiced concern about being “encircled” by China’s economic, military, and diplomatic inroads with these countries, including Nepal.

In recognition of the growing challenges South Asia presents to the United States, experts are beginning to discuss ways of reorganizing the US government’s bureaucracy to address the region’s new realities. Bruce Riedel and Stephen Cohen have proposed the creation of a “South Asia Command” (SACOM) to overcome the seam issues posed by Pacific Command (PACOM) and Central Command (CENTCOM) separating India and Pakistan in US defense policy. Others have suggested an Indian Ocean Region Command (IORCOM). With such talk and broader discussions about a realignment of US force posture in Asia, now is the time to also examine relations with the smaller countries in South Asia and the prospects for building partner capacities in the region.

As the United States winds down its commitment in Afghanistan, while confronting unbounded uncertainty in its relationship with Pakistan, it can look to the promise of partnership with India only to a certain extent. If disappointments such as the MMRCA rejection happen too often, or if India tests nuclear weapons again and Washington re-imposes sanctions, the United States would be left without strong security partners in the region. For too long, the United States has ignored the potential benefits of fostering relations with the smaller countries in South Asia. Prospects for advancing US security ties with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal deserve serious examination.

Nilanthi Samaranayake is an analyst in the Strategic Studies division at the Center for Naval Analyses in Alexandria, Virginia.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]