Defence Minister forbids soldiers to publicly participate in politics

The Maldives’ Defence Minister has ordered soldiers to surrender their rights to political participation, despite allegations he has forming a political party.

Minister of Defence and National Security Colonel (Rtd) Mohamed Nazim said soldiers must forgo rights granted to civilians, refrain from politics, and limit their political participation to voting only, as stipulated in the Constitution and military law.

Speaking at an early-morning flag hoisting ceremony on Sunday (April 21) as part of the military’s 121 anniversary celebration, Nazim stated that there is “no room for politics in the military as long as I remain in this office”.

“Every soldier has to accept that some of the rights granted to a civilian in an open society are restricted to a soldier. One of these rights is the right to participate in political activities. I would like to tell you that the Constitution and the military law have curbed these rights from the soldier for a greater and larger purpose,” Nazim stated, according to local media.

“I would like to tell you today, that the role of a soldier is done once you exercise your right to cast your vote, entitled to every person above the age of 18. I would like to bid from all military personnel to refrain from partaking in political activities,” he added.

Nazim “assured” soldiers he will not issue political orders as long as he remains Minister of Defence.

He also stated that welfare benefits would be given to the defence forces once the government’s budgetary constraints are relieved, according to local media.

“Keep quiet and obey”

Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem reiterated that military personnel cannot take part in any political activities or gatherings at any time. This includes registering for, or being a member of, any political parties.

Asked why the rule applies to military personnel, Raheem emphasised that orders must be followed.

“The MDNF does not want any soldiers participating in political activities. They have to keep quiet and obey,” Raheem said.

He explained that political activities even in a personal capacity are not allowed.

“Soldiers are not seen as ever being off duty, even when they are on leave or in the barracks,” Raheem said.

“The only time military personnel can politically participate is when they go to vote. They can decide for themselves who to vote for. Around 7-10 years ago soldiers could not vote,” he added.

Nazim was not responding to calls at time of press.

Nazim already involved in politics: MDP

“Nazim seems to be swallowing his own words and reflexively wriggling back,” claimed Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

“Nazim had political ambitions and wanted to profit, but he is trying to cover that up now because the [Maldivian] people won’t accept it,” said Ghafoor.

“They pulled of a coup, but couldn’t sustain it. Now Nazim’s trying to look more mainstream,” he added.

Ghafoor alleged that Nazim had himself created an as-yet unregistered political party called the Maldivian Industrial Development Alliance.

He also accused Nazim of seeking to emulate Turkish and Pakistani history, whereby a military-affiliated political party gains political power in order to maintain the status quo and influence civil affairs.

“The forms were filled [to create the party] and he could then attract all the armed forces to his political entity,” said Ghafoor. “It would also be used to protect and sustain Waheed.”

“The MDP’s position is that uniformed civil servants and military personnel should be able to vote. Any citizen should have the right to vote, but it doesn’t mean your institution should be engaged in politics,” Ghafoor stated.

Anniversary celebration

Following a week of practice preparations, the MNDF celebrated the 121 anniversary of the security services Sunday (April 21) with the Commander in Chief’s Force and Fleet Review as well as a “show” for spectators.

Thousands of Maldivians gathered near Raalhugandu and the Tsunami Monument areas of Male’ – in addition to President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain, Defence Minister Nazim, and other senior government officials – to witness the spectacle.

“I wanted to bring my son to watch the baghee (traitor) show,” the father of a toddler told Minivan News.

The celebratory events began with an MNDF parade of soldiers carrying assorted firearms, a military band, as well as three armored vehicles, a tank, and firefighting vehicles.

Five Coast Guard ships of assorted size “steamed” by the east coast of Male’, with smoke billowing fromtheir decks in the national colors of red, green and white.

The MNDF also staged a “show” whereby terrorists hijack a local fishing boat.

“The MNDF made it a show so the public could enjoy [themselves] and get a feeling for how the MNDF conducts operations, it was not actually how a tactical operation would be run,” Colonel Raheem said.

Following a helicopter reconnaissance fly-by of the hijacked boat, six small coast guard vessels descended on the fishing dhoani.

The special forces, coast guard, and marine corps then “destroyed the terrorists” to gain control of the dhoni, followed by a casualty being airlifted out, Raheem recounted.

A portion of the special forces show also included “an attack of the terrorist hideout on land”.

“Dead” bodies accompanied by fake blood could be seen sprawled on the pavement.

“The parade was of no cost, since soldiers had the equipment and uniforms already. Additionally, coast guard vessels are in daily use anyway,” said Raheem.

“All of the MNDF’s units combined forces to take part in the anniversary,” he added.

Although the MNDF was not established in name until 2006 – two years after the National Security Service (NSS) was split to create the Police Service – the presence of Maldivian security forces has remained constant, according to Raheem.


Maldivian detainees repatriated from Pakistan

Four Maldivian nationals imprisoned by the Pakistani government for alleged militant activities have been repatriated to the Maldives and released to their families.

They join another five who were returned to the Maldives last week and also released. The government confirmed that one of the men had stood trial in the Maldives after being accused of involvement in the Sultan Park bombing, but noted that the case had been dropped.

The president’s press secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the Pakistani government had returned the men, who were picked up during a military raid on several armed groups, with no information on charges against them or conditions on their imprisonment, making them innocent under Maldivian law.

“Our information suggests there were originally 12 [Maldivians] but three died while they were being transported between facilities,” Zuhair said, adding that reports the men had been carrying firearms at the time of their arrest were conflicting.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Shaheed said the nine men had not been formally charged, and stressed that “the types of activities they are alleged to have been involved in, while illegal, do not necessarily fall under terrorism.”

Shaheed said the Maldives Police Service had determined that “the best thing to do was to release them to their families and put them under surveillance”, while their activities abroad were investigated. “There are a lot of stories about the nature of what they were doing. If we release anybody, it is because our laws require them to be released,” he said.

The home minister had travelled to Pakistan to investigate the matter, he said, emphasising that the role of foreign ministry was to “repatriate Maldivians when it is in the national interest to do so” and not “to mix that up with judgements of character”.

Shaheed noted that the Maldives does have an arrangement with Pakistan regarding prisoner exchange, particularly regarding the repatriation of Pakistani nationals currently serving time in the Maldives, but stressed that this arrangement “is unrelated to this case [of the nine Maldivians].”

He took exception to stories published today that the government was “releasing jihadists”, acknowledging that such allegations “will hurt the national brand upon which our economy depends.”

“People should not use the term jiahdist lightly,” he said. “To some it means people who mean harm, to others it means someone pious on the path to Heaven. People need to be careful what they are saying.”

Shaheed also expressed concern that the Maldives was last week described as a “safe haven” by Taliban-linked resistance fighters, who recently visited the Maldives to meet with members of the Afghan government.

“We are a soverign country and if we hear of a government [coming to the Maldives] to be involved in talks we expect them to tell us,” he said, suggesting that the country’s safety and reputation could be undermined by such “political gaming.”