The Indian government’s biggest concern is the internal stability of the Maldives, Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Abdulla said today.
In a press briefing to brief media about his official visit to neighboring India, and his recent meeting with Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs, Dr Samad, said the Indian government was eager to know how the Maldives had been progressing after the transfer of power that took place on February 7.
“The officials of the Indian government were concerned with the country’s internal stability after the events that unfolded on February 7,” he said.
Samad also said that India was concerned about whether the events that unfolded on February 7 involved Islamic fundamentalists, but he said he assured them that Islamic fundamentalism had no part to play in the events.
He expressed disappointment over statements made by officials of Nasheed’s government that the Maldives had a growing issue with Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism.
Samad further went onto dismiss such claims and said that religious fundamentalism did not exist in the country, and said he had assured Indian authorities that neither the transfer of power nor the vandalism of Buddhist relics in the National Museum on February 7 had involved any religious sentiment.
Speaking to Minivan News at the time, a museum official said that a group of five to six men stormed into the building twice, and “deliberately targeted the Buddhist relics and ruins of monasteries exhibited in the pre-Islamic collection”, destroying most items “beyond repair”.
A journalist asked Samad about the 2007 bombing of Sultan Park and the government’s subsequent clash with radical Islamists on the island of Himandhoo – footage of which later appeared in an Al Qaeda training video – to which the foreign minister replied “That was in the past.”
Dr Samad stated that he had met all key officials of Indian foreign affairs including the Minister of External Affairs, S M Krishna, and Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai. Samad said he briefed them about the events of February 7, the works of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI), and the all party talks.
Samad also acknowledged support from Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, Dnyaneshwar Mulay.
“I especially thank Indian High Commissioner Mulay for briefing them about what happened in Maldives. Mulay, who was there during my meetings with Indian officials, observed the events very closely and even former President Nasheed was talking to him,” Samad said.
Samad also stressed that the Indian government was a “reliable and loyal” neighbor which had always been there for the Maldives, regardless of which government was in power.
He said that the main purpose of the trip was to get assurance of Indian support for the current government, which he claimed had been “very positive”.
India was initially concerned of the safety of Indian investments in the country, Samad said – Indian infrastructure giant GMR is currently redeveloping Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), the single largest foreign investment in the Maldives. Samad said he had assured Indian officials that the current government of the Maldives will give the “utmost priority” in protecting Indian investments.
“Several Indian companies have huge investments in the Maldives. They have been involved in housing projects and as well as the privatisation agreement of INIA with GMR. The Indian government was concerned about these investments and we assured them that it remains safe,” Samad added.
Last week, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad declared that the Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL) would be unable to pay the disputed airport development tax (ADC) without risking bankruptcy – a US$25 fee that was to be charged to outgoing passengers, as stipulated in the contract signed with in GMR in 2010. The government was to pay the fee from airport revenues after its collection was blocked by the Civil Court.
Samad also said that the safety of the Indian ocean was a priority for India.
“We are at the center of a very internationally strategic area and the Indian Ocean is a huge shipping lane as well. The recent hijacking of a foreign vessel by Somalia pirates is a concern as well. India is highly concerned about the security of the Indian Ocean.”
Samad said he had discussed strengthening bilateral relations with India and had discussed in finding solutions the difficulty in obtaining visas for Maldivians travelling to India.
He also claimed that India would soon provide the Maldives government with land in Delhi to build a Maldivian Embassy, in the heart of diplomatic area.
Regarding the meeting held with the Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka, Professor GL Peiris, Samad said that he had briefed the Sri Lankan minister regarding the events of February 7.
He also said that the ministers had discussed resolving visa issues and complications faced by Maldivians travelling to Sri Lanka, particularly students, to which he said the Sri Lankan minister had been very positive.
Regarding the transfer of power in February 7, Samad claimed that the government had not changed on February 7 and that “technically” it was the same government and that only the president had changed.
“If you look at our constitution, we have a presidential system. This is not a parliamentary system to say that the government belonged to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). People voted both Nasheed and Waheed in the elections. Nasheed did not win the election on his own. Nasheed and Waheed got less than 25 percent of the votes in the first round [of the presidential elections 2008]. He won the presidency with the support of Gasim Ibrahim and Dr Hassan Saeed,” Samad contended.
“So if you say its Nasheed’s government that means its Gasim’s government as well, it’s even Umar Naseer’s government,” he claimed.
The MDP has contended that nearly all political appointments have been replaced with supporters of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was voted out in 2008.
He also revealed that former government had not built any ‘special’ diplomatic relations with Israel.
“I don’t think what some people speak on political podiums is the real foreign policy. From the documents that I have, Naseem [referring to former Minister of Foreign affairs, Ahmed Naseem] did not build any special diplomatic relations with Israel like he has been saying,” Samad claimed.