MonitorsPublished on Dec 03, 2010
As was only to be expected, the WikiLeaks whistle-blower's accounts of US diplomatic exchanges within has something to say of little Maldives too, and it has also the potential to embarrass, if not harass, the incumbent Government of President Mohammed Nasheed.
Maldives: WikiLeaks can add to Nasheed's woes
< class="heading1">Analysis

As was only to be expected, the WikiLeaks whistle-blower's accounts of US diplomatic exchanges within has something to say of little Maldives too, and it has also the potential to embarrass, if not harass, the incumbent Government of President Mohammed Nasheed. Considering that the President and his ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) are already caught in a corner on a host of domestic issues, starting with the Opposition-controlled Parliament's refusal to clear his 13-member Cabinet, as required under the Constitution, which has become a subject of contradicting interpretations.

The WikiLeaks on Maldives comprises two specific developments, at least one of them becoming controversial nearer home when the idea was first mooted. Both relate to the US, naturally -- not only because WikiLeaks is all about leaked American diplomatic exchanges among its various missions and the Washington HQ but also because they show up a strand in the Nasheed Government's thinking in moving closer to the West, particularly the US.

The already agitating issue relates to the Maldivian acceptance of at least one prisoner from the American facility on Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The Maldivian Opposition had dubbed it 'sell-out' and the fundamentalist Adhalath Party, ironically continuing as an ally of the ruling MDP with no parliamentary support to offer, too had come down heavily on the Government's move. While domestic issues and politics upstaged the controversy, when it first came to light, the Maldivian willingness to accept someone whom the US had detained as a 'terrorist' brought in conflicting criticism.

Accordingly, the peripheral fundamentalist groups within Maldives felt that the Government was joining hands with a few other nations to provide an 'escape/exit route' for the US, when the latter should have been brought to book for video-taped ill-treatment of 'terror suspects' in the Bay facility, and also in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here, one could feel their identification with 'religious fundamentalism', which the Nasheed Government in particular has been keen on eliminating from the Maldivian shores, one way or the other.

The other side, more moderate and secular groups, including responsible politicians and the mainline Opposition parties, felt that the presence of an ex-detainee from Guantanmo Bay could well become a focal-point for the emergence of a non-existent fundamentalist group, leading up to possible presence of a terror outfit, not very long after. Whether such extremist groups would be home-grown or 'imported' for whom the locals could provide safe-houses and contact-points were also being debated in private. The presence of peripheral fundamentalist groups and religious political parties have already become an increasing cause for concern, it was being pointed out.

The WikiLeaks on the subject now indicates that the Maldivian Government may have urged the US for help in procuring the much-needed IMF loan early on, in possible exchange for agreeing to house a Guantanamo Bay detainee. It is a well agreed and argued point that there are no free lunches in international politics and diplomacy, and that there may have been no harm in Maldives linking the two for benefiting the nation and its people in relative terms. Yet, it may not be viewed the same way in the nation's backyard, where existing 'secular education' of the Gayoom era has given enough exposure to the 'IT generation' for them to draw their own conclusions.

Ironically then, second WikiLeaks-related development pertains to the reported request of the Nasheed Administration for US help to modernise the educational system in Maldives. It is doubtful if Maldives Ambassador to the US Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed would have discussed private-public partnerships in education with American assistance with senior Obama Administration officials in Washington, without specific directions/clearances from Male. According to a leaked American cable of February 26, 2010, Ghafoor had discussed the issue with US Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Blake, who in turn was the co-accredited American envoy to Colombo and Male in his previous posting before he himself had presented his credentials in Washington.

The idea, according to the leaks, was for the US to help Maldives discourage the migration of Maldivian students to countries such as Pakistan and Egypt, where they often schooled in madrassa education of a fundamentalist character. Select group of Maldivian students have been going to madrasas in these two countries and others, and it is believed that is where they pick up their fundamentalist traits and at times extremist intentions and terrorist training. Suffice is to point out that a group of Maldivians were among those arrested by the US armed forces along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in mid-2009, and their presence was attributed to such a course that they might have taken.

A section of the Maldivian observers and the ruling MDP in particular have been attributing such madrassa-training in Pakistan for Maldivian students to the theological credentials professed by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Holding a doctorate in theology from an Egyptian University, Gayoom also anointed himself the Head of Islam in Maldives. His critics then lost no chance in linking his theological education, and the overall indifference bordering on collusion in matters religion, to attribute to him all aspects of emerging religious fundamentalism in Maldives.

What the critics refuse(d) to acknowledge was Gayoom's own institutionalised contribution to providing 'secular, westernised, English education' to all Maldivians and expanding its reach to as many sections of the Maldivian society, spread out in a string of inaccessible islands', after he came to power in 1978. The successor Nasheed Government is seeking to improve upon the same, and has provided scholarships and ferry services for more and more Maldivian students in the interior islets to access that education.

Under the 'Gayoom plan', religious education, which was at the centre of Maldivian education until he came to power, was relegated to outside of regular school hours, with no compulsion for parents/students to follow the same. It was also during this period that more religiously-minded families decided to send their children to countries like Pakistan and Egypt, and at times to Saudi Arabia, where they were offered scholarships and facilities of all kind. It is another matter that many of their succeeding generations have grown into fundamentalists, extremists, and, at times, terrorists.

In the present-day context, there is of course a long-felt need for the Maldivian education to take the locals to higher levels of employability, not stopping with the commonly available A-Level strand. Incidentally, Maldivian schools, most of them in the Government sector with affordable fee, if there is any, are based on the Cambridge University scheme in the UK, where again syllabus and question papers for examinations are set and answer-scripts evaluated. The teachers, particularly for the higher classes, come from secular countries like India -- like doctors and nurses -- and there is no religious bar on their recruitment, or any curtailment on them practicing their own religion in private, despite a constitutional limitation on the same. Critics thus are bound to challenge the Government, not on the need to upgrade the education scheme in terms of greater and higher employable skills and qualifications, but on its projection/acceptance of it being 'fundamentalist' and 'non-secular'.

Though WikiLeaks' exposes are confined to US-Maldivian relations in a way, near-related developments nearer home has added a new, 'Zionist' angle to the politics of the Indian Ocean archipelago. The Adhalath Party, the ruling combine partner, has since protested the Government's decision to invite a team of Israeli doctors to the India-funded Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, for superior eye care and treatment to Maldivians. Claiming that the Jewish missionary, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, was funding the team's visit, the party, quoting the Australian media, said that doctors from the group were known to have 'harvested' body-parts of Palestinians for years. The issue assumes significance greater than illegal 'harvesting' of human organs without express consent as Islam prohibits mutilation of the human body, and Maldives is a Sunni-Islamic nation, both under the Constitution and in practice -- however moderate it be. It was also one of the reasons for Indian education entrepreneurs not being able to open a medical school in Maldives as law and religion ban cadaver-based learning, and even the rare post-mortem examination of victims of violence are done only in neighbouring Sri Lanka.

Busy as they are with domestic politics, and not wanting to divert their time and energies to diplomatic issues that could embarrass international friends and well-wishers of the nation, the Maldivian Opposition may choose to play down the WikiLeaks, for now. However, among them are those who have consistently felt that playing the 'fundamentalist card', if only to embarrass past President Gayoom and his Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) in the eyes of the international community (read: the US now, and the UK, otherwise), could prove counter-productive. On the one hand, it could project Maldives as a 'fundamentalist country' when it is far from being one. On the other, they argue, such a tag, and particularly the growing identification of the country with the US in international affairs, including the run-up to the Copenhagen environmental summit late last year, could upset many youth, who have even otherwise enough reasons to feel cheated and alienated by the western democracy that they have now got, to throw the baby with the bath water -- and have no regret or remorse over the same, now or later!

N Sathiya Moorthy is a Senior Research Fellow at Observer Research Foundation

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Maldives
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Budget-2011 to create 20,000 jobs

President Mohamed Nasheed on Friday announced that the 2011 budget is aimed at job creation, with a target of 20,000 jobs in 2011. Speaking in his weekly radio from the UK, the President noted that the budget will provide incentives for job-creation in the private sector through loans for small and medium enterprises.

"Therefore, the main objective of the state budget proposed to the parliament is to improve the different industries in the Maldives and create employment opportunities for the people through the loans," he said.

The president also announced that the government is trying to partner with Oxford University to offer scholarships for future Presidential Scholars who achieve best results at A-Level examinations. President Nasheed said future Presidential Scholars will be selected by Oxford University, ensuring greater fairness and transparency. The president is scheduled to discuss details of the arrangements with Oxford University during his ongoing visit to Britain.

In London, the President held talks with senior members of the British government, including Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs William Hague and Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne. He met with the Prince of Wales and reviewed the progress in global climate change negotiations since the Copenhagen Summit.
Source: Haveeru Online & News Service, December 3, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian naval-air patrol with MNDF

An Indian Navy aircraft has arrived in the Maldives for joint operation with the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Coast Guard to patrol the Maldivian waters. "This operation is being conducted because of the increased number of Somalis found in the Maldivian waters, and has nothing to do with any intelligence information that a group is trying to infiltrate India through our area," an MNDF official said.

Reports from India, however, said that the Navy has strengthened security after intelligence reports that a hostile group from a neighbouring country was attempting to infiltrate India through the Maldives. Quoting Vice-Admiral Sanjeev Bhasin, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Western Naval Command, The Hindu said, "There is fear that the Maldives-Andaman route will be used by some hostile countries to infiltrate in mainland
Source: Haverru Online & News Service, December 3, 2010

Nepal

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maoists yield on PLA integration

After adopting a rigid stand for almost half a year on the issue of Maoist cadres' full-fledged integration into the State security sector, Maoist leaders have shown some leniency in their attitude. Leaders of the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists have announced after their sixth annual plenum in Palungtar in Gurkha district that they have proposed to the Special Committee for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants to integrate half of the total number of combatants living in the cantonments into different security forces.

Politburo member and deputy commander of the People's Liberation Army Janardan Sharma said his party had proposed to integrate only half of the UNMIN-verified combatants and rehabilitate the remaining. However, Maoists continues to be at loggerheads with the other parties of Nepal during a High-Level Committee meeting to sort out contentious issues affecting the constitution making process.

The parties have not been able to sort out the issue of compulsory military training for every Nepali citizen of 18 years and above. The leaders have also failed to agree on the State's objectives. While NC and UML insisted on establishing Nepal as a 'federal, democratic Republic based on pluralism and multi-party competition', Maoists suggested establishing Nepal as a 'people's federal Republic'.
Source: Himalayan Times, December 3, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian investments crucial

Despite India accounting for 45 per cent of total investments in the country, Indian companies and joint ventures are facing a tough time in Nepal due to political instability and unfair treatment. In a bid to address these concerns and increase investments, a team of Indian business leaders went to Nepal this week. The delegation met ministers for commerce, industry and information technology, and urged them to address issues that are acting as impediments to more investment from India.

"Nepal's Government needs to intervene and stop the smear campaign against Indian products and services," said Sushanta Sen of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). Non-signing of bilateral investment protection agreements and revised provisions of double-taxation, both approved by India, was one of the main issues that featured during deliberations. India's business leaders are of the view that "Nepal's trade deficit with India is growing and one way to bridge the gap is through increased investments."
Source: The Hindustan Times, November 30, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indo-Nepal cooperation making strides

The Government of India has pledged Rs 12.53 crores for different projects in the eastern development region in Nepal It is providing Rs 10.97 crores to the Dharan-based BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences (BPKIHS) for the construction of a new block on the college premises. Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood laid the foundation of the block.

The Government of India is also providing medical faculty support to BPKIHS by deputing expert faculty from reputed institutes of India who are teaching the students and also helping the hospital in the treatment of patients and capacity-development in the field of medicine and surgery.

Ambassador Sood also handed over a new school building to Shri Gokundeswor Higher Secondary School in Dhankuta, built with an Indian assistance of Rs 53 m, for the benefit of the 1,000 students.
Source: Himalayan Times, December 2, 2010

Pakistan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">DCC meeting deliberates WikiLeaks

The Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) meeting was convened by Prime Minister Gillani to draw strategies to manage the repercussions of the US diplomatic communication, brought out by WikiLeaks.

The leaks brought forth issues of concern such as the rapidly deteriorating civil-military relations, the growing clout of American Embassy in domestic politics and world's concerns over the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Considerable concern was raised over apparent US intentions to remove enriched uranium from Pakistan's nuclear reactors.

WikiLeaks reports that Pakistan Army chief, Gen Parvez Kayani's comment to then American Ambassador Anne W. Patterson that he had contemplated seeking President Asif Zardari's resignation and replacing him with the Awami National Party leader Wali in his place have also been widely discussed.
Source: Dawn, December 3, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt postpones debate over sales-tax reforms

Due to opposition from Senators belonging to various political parties, businesses and traders' community on the implementation of the RGST (reformed General Sales Tax), the Government has sought to defer the issue till early next year. The Bill was introduced amidst considerable uproar in the Senate. The government has been unable to come to a consensus on the GST system "aimed at abolishing all tax exemptions extended on political grounds," economist Dr. Ashfaq Hasan said.

Data released by the Finance Ministry shows that total tax revenue, declined to 1.9 per cent of GDP during first quarter this year against two per cent last year. The non-tax revenue collection experienced a major setback this year, declining by a massive 36 per cent (Rs 46 billion) to Rs 82 billion, when compared to Rs128.5 billion during the same period last year. The non-tax revenue also fell to 0.5 per cent of GDP this year from 0.9 per cent of the first three months of last year.

The IMF had asked Pakistan to meet its requirements for levying tax in the agricultural sector, enhance energy price and ensure implementation of GST revenue. This was a pre-condition for the $11.3 billion IMF loan. The Government faces a challenge to push up its tax revenue, which is currently at 10 per cent of the GDP.
Source: Daily Times, December 2, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Drop in development expenditure

The country's overall revenue declined by over 6.3 per cent (Rs 27 billion) to Rs 400 billion in the first three months of the current fiscal year when compared to Rs 427.3 billion in the corresponding period last year.

According to quarterly data on provisional consolidated budgetary operations, the country's development expenditure narrowed down by a massive 50 per cent, Defence expenditure crossed its quarterly limits by almost the same proportion and tax revenue remained short of target.

There have been reports of mismanagement of foreign aid funds channelled towards relief efforts for flood victims which has led to nearly $ 60 million resting in one of Prime Minister's funds remaining untouched. This is being blamed on lack of coordination, and agreement between federal and provincial governments.
Source: The Dawn, December 1, 2010

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President's UK visit becomes controversial

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's maiden foreign visit after assuming office in his second term became controversial after the Oxford Union in the UK cancelled a rare second address by a same leader that he would have made. The cancellation followed protests from the Tamil Diaspora, based on BBC Channel IV 'leaking' additional footage on an earlier telecast, blaming Sri Lankan armed forces with inhuman treatment and killing of Tamils in the country at the height of the 'ethnic war' that concluded last year.

While in a rare occasion the Opposition UNP joined hands with the Government back home in condemning what is seen as an insult to the Sri Lankan nation, the President during his visit, discussed a political solution with Liam Fox, the British Defence Secretary, indicating that he may still be inclined towards combining existing provincial administration with the predecessor village-level responsibilities as part of the 13-A devolution package.
Source: Daily Mirror & The Island, Colombo

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">High-profile visits from India, Pakistan

Accompanied by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna became the first high-profile overseas leader to confabulate with President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the commencement of the latter's second term in office. Krishna was followed, close on his footsteps, by Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari, who thus became the first Head of State to visit Colombo in President Rajapaksa's second term.

Krishna became the first Indian high-profile personality to visit war-ravaged Tamil areas in the North and the East, where he laid the foundation for Indian-funded housing scheme for war victims and also a rail-track blown up by the LTTE, apart from handing over 500 tractors for farm-use by them. He also inaugurated two Indian two more Indian consulates in the country, in Jaffna in the North and Hambantota in the South, adding up to a high four for any country, and called upon Indian investors to explore the opportunities provided by the Chinese-funded port in Hambantota.

In Colombo, the Indian Minister co-chaired the India-Sri Lanka Joint Commission with his counterpart, Prof G L Peiris, after a five-year gap, where the two sides discussed pending bilateral issues, to be able to take future discussions forward. With President Rajapaksa, Minister Krishna discussed political solution to the ethnic issue, and also other issues of mutual interest and concern.

During his four-day visit, President Zardari discussed mutual cooperation in the fields of defence and defence training, agriculture and industry, with his counterpart. The two countries also signed four agreements in related fields.
Source: Daily Mirror & The Island, Colombo

Bangladesh
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Multi-model transit agreement with India

India and Bangladesh have for the first time signed a multi-model transit agreement to facilitate the transportation of equipment for the construction of a power plant in Tripura. The agreement will be effective till June 2012.

Although India will not have to pay any transit or service charges for transferring equipment from other parts of the country to Tripura through Bangladeshi territory, it will however develop the necessary infrastructure for the purpose, which will benefit Bangladesh, too.

According to the MoU, Indian cargo will start from West Bengal's Raimongal and enter Bangaldesh at Angtihara under Shaymnagar of Sathkira, and will go up to Ashuganj Port by inland waterways. The cargoes will then be transported to Akhaura by road, the last point in Bangladesh before it enters Tripura. India will pay Bangladeshi Taka 25.05-crore to develop the Ashuganj Port.

With signing of this MoU one of the clause of 50 ?point Joint Communique issued during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India in January has been implemented.
Source: The Daily Star, December 1, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Export to North-East beneficial

A prominent English daily has reported that Manik Sarkar, Chief Minister of Tripura, as saying that that Bangladesh could economically benefit by exporting products to north-eastern States in India. The Chief Minister opined that he found no logic behind the 'import' of essential commodities for Tripura from other Indian States like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, which are situated 2000 miles away, when these products were available across the border in Bangladesh. The same applied to other north-eastern States as well, Sarkar said.

The Chief Minister further claimed that India expects to continue using Ashuganj as a port of call for transit and transshipment after the construction of Palatana power-plant project in Tripura. Bangladesh enjoyed a trade surplus with Tripura last year. It exported goods worth Rs 150 crore to Tripura, while its import totaled only Rs 10 crore. The Chief Minister believed that Bangladesh's trade with Tripura would exceed Rs 200 crore this year.
Source: The Daily Star, November 28, 2010

Contributors:
Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Nepal: Anjali Sharma;
Pakistan: Anjana Verma;
Sri Lanka and Maldives: N. Sathiya Moorthy

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.

Contributor

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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