Monday, 14 September 2009

Universal Declaration on Democracy

Greetings to all our readers on the occasion of the International Day of Democracy, being marked in the Maldives for the first time.

On 8 November 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution which designated 15 September as the International Day of Democracy. The date was chosen in recognition of the fact that it marks the anniversary of the adoption by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 1997, of the Universal Declaration on Democracy. The text is quoted below:

Declaration adopted without a vote* by the Inter-Parliamentary Council at its 161st session.

The Inter-Parliamentary Council,
Reaffirming the Inter-Parliamentary Union's commitment to peace and development and convinced that the strengthening of the democratisation process and representative institutions will greatly contribute to attaining this goal,
Reaffirming also the calling and commitment of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to promoting democracy and the establishment of pluralistic systems of representative government in the world, and wishing to strengthen its sustained and multiform action in this field,
Recalling that each State has the sovereign right, freely to choose and develop, in accordance with the will of its people, its own political, social, economic and cultural systems without interference by other States in strict conformity with the United Nations Charter,
Recalling also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted on 10 December 1948, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted on 16 December 1966, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination adopted on 21 December 1965 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women adopted on 18 December 1979,
Recalling further the Declaration on Criteria for Free and Fair Elections which it adopted in March 1994 and in which it confirmed that in any State the authority of the government can derive only from the will of the people as expressed in genuine, free and fair elections,
Referring to the Agenda for Democratisation presented on 20 December 1996 by the UN Secretary-General to the 51st session of the United Nations General Assembly,
Adopts the following Universal Declaration on Democracy and urges Governments and Parliaments throughout the world to be guided by its content:
1. Democracy is a universally recognised ideal as well as a goal, which is based on common values shared by peoples throughout the world community irrespective of cultural, political, social and economic differences. It is thus a basic right of citizenship to be exercised under conditions of freedom, equality, transparency and responsibility, with due respect for the plurality of views, and in the interest of the polity.
2. Democracy is both an ideal to be pursued and a mode of government to be applied according to modalities which reflect the diversity of experiences and cultural particularities without derogating from internationally recognised principles, norms and standards. It is thus a constantly perfected and always perfectible state or condition whose progress will depend upon a variety of political, social, economic, and cultural factors.
3. As an ideal, democracy aims essentially to preserve and promote the dignity and fundamental rights of the individual, to achieve social justice, foster the economic and social development of the community, strengthen the cohesion of society and enhance national tranquillity, as well as to create a climate that is favourable for international peace. As a form of government, democracy is the best way of achieving these objectives; it is also the only political system that has the capacity for self-correction.
4. The achievement of democracy presupposes a genuine partnership between men and women in the conduct of the affairs of society in which they work in equality and complementarity, drawing mutual enrichment from their differences.
5. A state of democracy ensures that the processes by which power is acceded to, wielded and alternates allow for free political competition and are the product of open, free and non-discriminatory participation by the people, exercised in accordance with the rule of law, in both letter and spirit.
6. Democracy is inseparable from the rights set forth in the international instruments recalled in the preamble. These rights must therefore be applied effectively and their proper exercise must be matched with individual and collective responsibilities.
7. Democracy is founded on the primacy of the law and the exercise of human rights. In a democratic State, no one is above the law and all are equal before the law.
8. Peace and economic, social and cultural development are both conditions for and fruits of democracy. There is thus interdependence between peace, development, respect for and observance of the rule of law and human rights.
9. Democracy is based on the existence of well-structured and well-functioning institutions, as well as on a body of standards and rules and on the will of society as a whole, fully conversant with its rights and responsibilities.
10. It is for democratic institutions to mediate tensions and maintain equilibrium between the competing claims of diversity and uniformity, individuality and collectivity, in order to enhance social cohesion and solidarity.
11. Democracy is founded on the right of everyone to take part in the management of public affairs; it therefore requires the existence of representative institutions at all levels and, in particular, a Parliament in which all components of society are represented and which has the requisite powers and means to express the will of the people by legislating and overseeing government action.
12. The key element in the exercise of democracy is the holding of free and fair elections at regular intervals enabling the people's will to be expressed. These elections must be held on the basis of universal, equal and secret suffrage so that all voters can choose their representatives in conditions of equality, openness and transparency that stimulate political competition. To that end, civil and political rights are essential, and more particularly among them, the rights to vote and to be elected, the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, access to information and the right to organise political parties and carry out political activities. Party organisation, activities, finances, funding and ethics must be properly regulated in an impartial manner in order to ensure the integrity of the democratic processes.
13. It is an essential function of the State to ensure the enjoyment of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights to its citizens. Democracy thus goes hand in hand with an effective, honest and transparent government, freely chosen and accountable for its management of public affairs.
14. Public accountability, which is essential to democracy, applies to all those who hold public authority, whether elected or non-elected, and to all bodies of public authority without exception. Accountability entails a public right of access to information about the activities of government, the right to petition government and to seek redress through impartial administrative and judicial mechanisms.
15. Public life as a whole must be stamped by a sense of ethics and by transparency, and appropriate norms and procedures must be established to uphold them.
16. Individual participation in democratic processes and public life at all levels must be regulated fairly and impartially and must avoid any discrimination, as well as the risk of intimidation by State and non-State actors.
17. Judicial institutions and independent, impartial and effective oversight mechanisms are the guarantors for the rule of law on which democracy is founded. In order for these institutions and mechanisms fully to ensure respect for the rules, improve the fairness of the processes and redress injustices, there must be access by all to administrative and judicial remedies on the basis of equality as well as respect for administrative and judicial decisions both by the organs of the State and representatives of public authority and by each member of society.
18. While the existence of an active civil society is an essential element of democracy, the capacity and willingness of individuals to participate in democratic processes and make governance choices cannot be taken for granted. It is therefore necessary to develop conditions conducive to the genuine exercise of participatory rights, while also eliminating obstacles that prevent, hinder or inhibit this exercise. It is therefore indispensable to ensure the permanent enhancement of, inter alia, equality, transparency and education and to remove obstacles such as ignorance, intolerance, apathy, the lack of genuine choices and alternatives and the absence of measures designed to redress imbalances or discrimination of a social, cultural, religious and racial nature, or for reasons of gender.
19. A sustained state of democracy thus requires a democratic climate and culture constantly nurtured and reinforced by education and other vehicles of culture and information. Hence, a democratic society must be committed to education in the broadest sense of the term, and more particularly civic education and the shaping of a responsible citizenry.
20. Democratic processes are fostered by a favourable economic environment; therefore, in its overall effort for development, society must be committed to satisfying the basic economic needs of the most disadvantaged, thus ensuring their full integration in the democratic process.
21. The state of democracy presupposes freedom of opinion and expression; this right implies freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
22. The institutions and processes of democracy must accommodate the participation of all people in homogeneous as well as heterogeneous societies in order to safeguard diversity, pluralism and the right to be different in a climate of tolerance.
23. Democratic institutions and processes must also foster decentralised local and regional government and administration, which is a right and a necessity, and which makes it possible to broaden the base of public participation.
24. Democracy must also be recognised as an international principle, applicable to international organisations and to States in their international relations. The principle of international democracy does not only mean equal or fair representation of States; it also extends to the economic rights and duties of States.
25. The principles of democracy must be applied to the international management of issues of global interest and the common heritage of humankind, in particular the human environment.
26. To preserve international democracy, States must ensure that their conduct conforms to international law, refrain from the use or threat of force and from any conduct that endangers or violates the sovereignty and political or territorial integrity of other States, and take steps to resolve their differences by peaceful means.
27. A democracy should support democratic principles in international relations. In that respect, democracies must refrain from undemocratic conduct, express solidarity with democratic governments and non-State actors like non-governmental organisations which work for democracy and human rights, and extend solidarity to those who are victims of human rights violations at the hands of undemocratic régimes. In order to strengthen international criminal justice, democracies must reject impunity for international crimes and serious violations of fundamental human rights and support the establishment of a permanent international criminal court.
* * *
*After the Declaration was adopted, the delegation of China expressed reservations to the text

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Continental Shelf for the Maldives?

By Ahmed Shaheed for OSA and Dhivehi Observer

When I tell people that the Maldives may have a continental shelf, I do get a very appropriate response. It usually is a friendly, “you must be pulling my leg?”, or the less friendly, “you are really going to put your foot in it,” or the more sarcastic, “my foot!”

Well, all these responses have hit the nail on the head: it is all about the “foot” and finding the “foot” at the right depth and distance.

But, before I get to that, let me set the context for the Maldives quest for the extended continental shelf.

Scramble for the Seabed

Over the last year or so, there has been a frenzy of claims to portions of the seabed from nearly pole to pole. Nation-states are in a mad scramble (especially by those who are fleet of foot) to claim large tracts of the underwater world for rights to exploit the abundant mineral wealth on the seabed – a land-grab not seen since the 19th century scramble for Africa. Why? The time-limit set to advance such claims by the Law of the Sea Convention for countries who had ratified the treaty before 1999 was 13 May 2009.

On 7 August 2009, the Maldives informed the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf that it cannot consent to the claim lodged by Sri Lanka on the extent of the latter’s continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles to the southwest. The reason is that the Maldives itself may have a claim which overlaps the extended EEZ of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka had submitted their claim to an extended continental shelf on 8 May 2009. And it comes very close to our EEZ.

Sri Lanka's Claim

I requested President Nasheed to immediately set up a high-level committee to review the Sri Lankan claim, which he did the same day. The Maldives had upto 3 months to comment on Sri Lanka’s submission, and hence the notification made on 7 August.

Now, the Maldives must prepare its own claim to an extended continental shelf. It would be vital that we make our own claim, subject to compliance with the legal definition of a continental shelf under the Law of the Sea Convention.

The Maldives ratified the Convention in September 2000. So we have until September 2010 to make that claim, or at the least, submit preliminary information and an intended date for the submission of the full claim.

For years, the government of Maldives had got off on the wrong foot by relying on a study done by an expert in the early 1990s. The study dismissed the idea that the Maldives may have a continental margin that extended beyond 200 nautical miles into the sea. After all, the Maldives are on a ridge and the atolls have a very steep slope just a few metres into the sea. So what continental shelf?

But in June 2007, the Attorney-General, Dr Hassan Saeed, began to review this position and fresh inquiries were made through the UN.

It also became apparent that trouble could brew up in the Indian Ocean, with some of the islands in the region preparing their claims, and that some of the claims could affect the Maldives, especially given that there was no demarcation of maritime boundary in the south.

Even after Hassan and I quit the government in August 2007, we alerted the concerned civil servants to follow up on the matter.

In the public domain, too, the issued raised its head every now and then, particularly following remarks made about the matter in political rallies by Hassan. But, in the media coverage, and in the government’s response, there was considerable confusion about what was exactly the issue – because there were several unresolved issues about our maritime boundary.

Some of the confusion persists, as do the unresolved issues.

But, for the most part, the confusion relates to a technicality, a vital technicality. It is the variance between the normal definition of a continental shelf, which is the submerged piece of land before the steep slope, and the legal definition established by the Law of the Sea Convention.

Normal sense of a continental shelf

The definition in the Law of Sea Convention provides for an extended continental shelf beyond the continental slope into the area called the continental rise which is at the foot of the continental slope. Given a certain thickness of the sedimentation and depth, a portion of the continental rise can also be claimed as extended continental shelf, up to a total maximum of 360 nautical miles from the shore. It is all in Article76 of the Law of the Sea Convention. And establishing the foot of the slope is critical.

As defined by the Law of the Sea Convention

The area beyond the 200 nautical mile EEZ will be international waters, but the State which claims the extended continental shelf will have the sole right to the mineral wealth on the seabed.

There is a good chance that the Maldives will be able to substantiate a claim to an extended continental shelf, especially if the depth of the seas does not reach 2.5 km before a distance of 100 nautical miles from the shore or, as the jargon goes, the baseline.

Even if the technical data (bathymetric and geodetic) were to show that the Maldives does not qualify for an extended shelf, it would be incumbent upon the government to determine the situation on facts rather than assumptions.

The downside is the cost of the whole enterprise. Sri Lanka’s study is reported to have cost over 6 million dollars!

But fortunately, there are ways to find donors to foot the bill. Funds are available for this purpose through the UN and a case can be made to obtain such funds.
Such funds become available if the Maldives can demonstrate by a “desktop” study by using generally available scientific data that there is a prima facie case for an extended shelf claim. And, for that process, there are many friendly countries and organisations willing to help.

Indeed, that work has already begun.

At the end of the day, the mineral wealth on the seabed would prove to be too valuable to be ignored, and a few million dollars spent to secure national rights over them will be a worthwhile investment for our future generations.

The challenge really is to identify the foot of the slope before a depth of 2.5 km is reached, and beyond a distance of 100 nautical miles from the base shoreline.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Building a Framework for India-Maldives Security Co-operation: An Oceanic Agenda for the Future

What is the take home message from the hysteria last week in the Maldives over news reports in India that the Maldives will be included in the “security grid of India”? It is not that the conservative press could get it totally wrong and ride a wave of jingoism. But, rather that the blinding absence in the public domain of a proper theoretical framework to view and understand India-Maldives relations could be dangerous.

Quite a lot of people, who “should have known better”, may have wrecked their political reputation by jumping the gun on the news reports. The largest political party in the country, despite being architects of the current India-Maldives friendship, showed that they had no understanding at all of the essence of India-Maldives relations. Having burned their fingers, the party fell back on the standard dual-strategy: the official party leaders did a U-turn and expressed confidence in India’s altruism, while their surrogates and proxies organised xenophobic public protests and mass media campaigns.

But underneath all this is a genuine concern: the India-Maldives relationship is far more serious to be left merely to bureaucrats or politicians or the business community: the intellectual community must also get involved in it. I think my friend Dr Sawad was making the same point last night.

When the dust settles down after the visit of the Indian defence minister, it would be wise for those who would wish to use common sense rather than hysteria to analyse the reasons for that alarmist outburst, and to identify ways to better align the perception and reality of India-Maldives relations. Perhaps, some of the misperception will endure, given certain geostrategic realities and their associated prejudices; but nothing should hinder a more nuanced understanding of even the most rigid geostrategic context.

I believe one of the primary causes of the hysteria is the culture of secrecy that has so far enveloped all things done by the MNDF. Where there is no information, speculation will take over. Without facts, fiction takes over. There must be some arrangement whereby there is no scope for secret agreements and treaties, as prescribed by Woodrow Wilson 90 years ago. Granted, this government has been more transparent than the previous regime; but there is a time-lag before the public realises that there is in fact transparency. Had there been more transparency historically, then none of the moves being discussed today would have caused alarm.

The second is more subliminal: the fear of the new. The conservative press hopes that it can stoke these fears and create the impression that the infant democracy lacks the experience and the skill to conduct a sound foreign policy. The old guard press also wants to fan public apprehension about the new style of diplomacy, which has jettisoned many of the formalities and protocols that they had grown accustomed to.

The third, and, by far, the most important, reason is that there is no clear framework to contextualise India-Maldives relations. The framework at the popular level, as exploited by the conservative press, is the 19th century lens of “gunboat diplomacy” and its successor, “dollar diplomacy”. In fact, the lens appears to have been scratched and scraped by the sandpaper of the Non-Aligned Movement’s outdated allergy to great powers – hence the allergic reaction to the word “base”, irrespective of whether the word is used as a noun or a verb!

A clear framework will not only help dispel public disquiet, but will also provide an abiding tool for policymakers to formulate relevant bilateral interactions. It will also provide a canvass for India and Maldives to conceive and develop a focussed and coherent security relationship, regardless of the government in office in New Delhi or Male.

Such a framework, no doubt, already exists in the mindsets of the Indian and the Maldivian authorities. I have been closely involved in developing and executing aspects of India-Maldives friendship over the past 20 years, and the understanding at the official levels is clear. For the past four years, I have been advocating for, and working on, bringing that understanding into the public domain – evidently without much success to date. The media and the public in both countries need a clear picture of the principles and parameters that characterise the India-Maldives relationship.

Back in 1989, I tried to import from Karl Deutsch the notion of a “pluralistic security community” as a framework for developing India-Maldives relations. That was an idea ahead of its time (and perhaps, still is). Policymakers in the Maldives thought only in terms of collective security principles, and introduced a resolution in the UN whose only purpose was to find a way to seek help from India, but within an international framework. I drafted the Foreign Minister’s UN speech in 1989, and a lot of my text made it through to the final delivery, but not enough of it.

I was convinced that India-Maldives relations could evolve a “new model” for relations between a great power and a small state. But the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in August 1990, and the US response to it, appeared to vindicate the collective security approach of my bosses, and I packed my bags and headed back to University, to develop a theoretical framework based on the lessons of India-Maldives co-operation. The result was “Microstates and Room for Diplomatic Manoeuvre,” now gathering dust in the Library of the University of Queensland.

Having witnessed the evolution of India-Maldives relations at very close quarters since 1995, and having had the opportunity to make various interventions in that relationship, I have become increasingly convinced that what we have been able to fashion is indeed a new model relationship. The events of the past week have convinced me that it is also equally important to articulate and fully develop that model, because the media in both countries appear to view the relationship through the prism of the traditional security dilemma or a trade-off. (In fact, the BBC World Service called me today and asked me if India was not “using” the Maldives for its own ends!)

The India-Maldives relationship, as I see it, hinges on the intersection of three aspects: the bilateral dependence of Maldives on India for security, the importance to India of stability in the Indian Ocean, and the corpus of norms and principles that mediate that interdependence. Quite how to build a policy framework for this triad was what I explored in “Microstates and Room for Diplomatic Manoeuvre”. Such a policy framework provides a prescription for the types of policies that are beneficial or detrimental, the kinds of systemic conditions that are positive or negative, and the variables that determine the impact on the country concerned. The framework, for example, would explain why India would not mind the Maldives recognising Kosovo.

But the challenge today is not just to be reactive to given situations, but to find ways to actually transform the security landscape. We need an architecture that would expand our horizons and make us safer. Now that the Maldives is striving towards democracy, there is scope to reintroduce the notion of a pluralistic security community (which only works between open societies), and to find ways to broaden the scope for the harmonisation of security interests either in a regional or sub-regional context. In other words, we need to build a pluralistic security community with India while at the same time working towards a regional consensus on security.

So what is the agenda for the future? Bill Tow’s seminal works on sub-regional security co-operation and on “convergent security” provide good intellectual starting points for such an agenda.

Professor Bill Tow

Tow defines “convergent security” as “the managed transition from a regional security system based predominantly on realist-oriented bilateral security arrangements to one based increasingly upon regional multilateral arrangements.” Likewise, Amitav Acharya has made a compelling case for the Deutschian security community approach to regional order, and his analysis of the ASEAN context offers useful insights for a future agenda.

I would propose two things, and I intend to pursue these in the time ahead both as policymaker and as advocate of strong India-Maldives relations. First, we need a strong and stable bilateral relationship with India that realises the mutual security interests of India and the Maldives and builds towards a pluralistic security community. The increasing political and economic openness of the Maldives will facilitate that.

Second, we need a forum to harmonise security perspectives at sub-regional or regional level. A triangular dialogue amongst India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives would be the starting point. Then the forum must decide whether the group must extend into the entire SAARC region or to Indian Ocean, or both.

Either way, the Maldives can play a useful role in promoting “convergent security” in the West Indian Ocean, much like Singapore is doing to our East.

In the time to come, the strategic importance of the Maldives’ location will only increase. Likewise, the threats to the Maldives will also increase. The way to address these challenges would be to build a security edifice whose foundation is a strong bilateral relationship with India and whose capstone will be a forum where an oceanic perspective can be openly discussed and addressed.

A clearly articulated diplomatic initiative on these grounds will contribute to a clear and transparent framework to view, understand and develop India-Maldives relations, and allay fears that security co-operation diminishes national security. And, in actual fact, it would not be possible to enhance the security of either India or the Maldives without a broader oceanic perspective.

Should this not be the agenda when President Nasheed takes over the chair of SAARC in 2011 and gets to appoint a Secretary-General?


Written by Ahmed Shaheed for Dhivehi Observer and Open Society

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Vision of India-Maldives Relations in the Context of Democratisation in the Maldives

I recently visited New Delhi on an official visit and was invited to speak at the Indian Council of World Affairs. I have received a number of requests from various people for a copy of the speech, especially after it was cited by many speakers at the recently held seminar in Male on Social Political Transformation.Here I was speaking as Foreign Minister and therefore necessarily had to comply with various diplomatic norms

Dear Excellencies, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am delighted to be here today especially in the presence of so many friends of the Maldives, many of whom are distinguished diplomats who have contributed immensely to the development of the strong friendship between India and the Maldives.

Allow me also to thank the Indian Council on Foreign Relations for inviting me to speak here today about India-Maldives relations.

I am always eager to visit India because India is such a great friend of the Maldives, and a sound India-Maldives relationship forms the cornerstone of a successful foreign policy for the Maldives. When we dial 911, it is New Delhi at the other end of the line: from Operation Cactus of 1988 to the post-tsunami rescue attempts in 2004 to emergency economic assistance in 2009. It was on this basis that I articulated the notion of an “India First” foreign policy on my first visit to India as foreign minister in August 2005. It is also based on the fact that we are an integral part of South Asia. It is through a South Asian lens that we must view the world.

Today, as foreign minister of the new government, I would like to re-affirm the same policy commitment, representing a bipartisan or national consensus on that doctrine. In actual fact, my topic today is how the change in the way the Maldives is governed, namely the democratic transition of last November, is going to affect the evolution of India-Maldives relations.

Let me begin with a snapshot of India-Maldives relations. India and the Maldives have always enjoyed very warm and cordial ties, based on the principles enshrined in the UN Charter, such as the sovereign equality of states and non-interference in the internal affairs of states, the spirit of Bandung with its emphasis on Third World Solidarity and South-South co-operation, the values of the Commonwealth which stress democracy and human rights, and the goals of the SAARC Charter which focus on peace, development and prosperity. But ahead of all that, the friendship is based on centuries of cultural and commercial relations, shared norms and values, and geographical proximity. In recent decades, especially since Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Prime Minister Ahmed Zaki exchanged visits in 1974-75, a strong partnership has emerged, covering a whole range of areas and issues, from trade and finance, transport and communication, to education and security. Thirty-five years later, having built a major partnership during the Gayoom presidency, India-Maldives relationship is again poised to enter a new phase of rapid expansion, as a consequence of the momentous changes underway in the Maldives.

I argue that democratisation of the Maldives will increase both the need as well as the opportunity for a deeper and broader engagement between India and the Maldives. When I say democratisation, I do not refer merely to the election result. Democracy is not an event, it is a process, often a painstaking process, and the democracy-building process in the Maldives will require a broad engagement with India. I am not aiming today to give an exhaustive treatment of the topic, but to provide a perspective from the Maldives, covering the most crucial impacts that will follow from democratisation.

Indeed, the Maldives today is at a critical crossroads. The election result last year produced a giant leap for the Maldives, and we now have one foot on the path to a democratic and prosperous Maldives.

But that is only a first step in democracy-building and, behind us, the footprints of authoritarian rule are more deeply ingrained and enduring than those left on the moon by the crew of Apollo-11 this week forty years ago.

At the same time, on our flanks, on the one-hand are the perils of economic stagnation and social malaise, corruption and impunity, drugs and lawlessness on the slippery slope of what Professor Larry Diamond at Stanford University calls a “predatory society”, where politics becomes a zero sum game, often a matter of life and death.

On the other flank are the perils of intolerance, bigotry and extremism, where politics has no place at all. It will be difficult to navigate past all this on our own.

And to make matters worse, in a democratic transition, things tend to get worse before they get better; the path to democracy dips down before it lifts up. This has been amply demonstrated by Samuel Huntington’s study of democratisation of what he calls the Third Wave countries—those that achieved democratic transitions between 1974 and 1993. We might not be an exception.

Building democracy requires fostering of civic communities with high degrees of social capital based on trust and networks of co-operation. It requires institutions that support rule of law, accountability and equal opportunity. It requires the conversion of what has been called “predatory societies” with rampant corruption and abuse of power, into societies that foster pluralism, constitutionalism, social harmony and prosperity.

But let me place the Maldives situation in context: I am not being alarmist about the prospects for the future. I just want to be realistic about expectations and focus on addressing the challenges rather than ignoring them. The notion of the “J-curve” is an instructive one just as the concept of transition from a predatory society to a civic community provides a guide to action.

What is the J-curve? The notion of a J-curve for democratic transition relates to the thesis advanced by Ian Bremmer in his book called The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall. It depicts the relationship between a country’s “stability” and its “openness”. The curve demonstrates the path the countries go through as they proceed towards greater openness.

Some states, such as North Korea and Iran, argues Bremmer, are stable only because they are relatively closed. In these countries, governments strive hard to insulate citizens from the outside world -- and, where possible, from one another. By contrast, some other countries such as Canada, India, Germany, the United States, Japan, Switzerland and many others are stable precisely because they are open societies.

The idea of a curve is that when a country whose stability depends on being closed finally, for whatever reason, begins to open up, it slides down the left side of the curve toward the dip in the J, a point of maximum vulnerability before it rises up the right side of the curve. A country cannot progress from left (closed) to right (open) along the J without passing through that dip. Bremmer demonstrates that in the real world, if relatively closed countries like Uzbekistan, or Burma decided to open up a bit by holding genuinely free and fair national elections with full coverage in local media, they would almost certainly “reap the whirlwind”. That is often the reason why the governments of closed states resist or quickly withdraw from efforts to attain moderate reforms towards greater openness.

Recently I made some comments on the applicability of the J-curve to the Maldives predicament, and Mr Bremmer responded by agreeing with my worries about the challenges that the Maldives faces in consolidating democracy: In an article in Foreign Policy entitled, “As Go the Maldives, So Goes the World,” he wrote in May this year:
“Worsening economic conditions have exacerbated pre-existing political problems in Russia, Ukraine, Pakistan, Turkey, Mexico, Argentina and many other countries. All these states have begun to slide toward the dip in the J curve and the turmoil it represents. And all those who hold political power in these countries must decide how their governments should respond. They can hunker down, build new walls, and favor near-term stability at the expense of investment in longer-term prosperity. Or they can double down on the power of free markets and international trade to expand their economic horizons and continue to engage with other governments in finding solutions to seemingly intractable common problems.

There is nothing inevitable about globalization's progress. There are plenty of political officials around the world, insecure in their positions, with obvious motives to advance populist/nationalist/protectionist arguments at the expense of trade, foreign investment, and immigration. But if a state's leaders and lawmakers turn their backs on the increasingly free exchange of ideas, information, people, money, goods and services, its citizens -- and the global economy -- will only be the poorer for it.”

We in the Maldives take these warnings very seriously. We cannot be complacent or take for granted that a democratic transition will mean that everything will be hunky dory in the Maldives the next day. Even at the best of times -- and global economic recession makes these terribly bad times for infant democracies -- democracy-building is a painstaking process which takes effort and time.

I am not about to make excuses for the democratic deficits that exist in the Maldives, but rather to acknowledge their existence and to set the context within which these can be addressed. The J-curve instructs us to persist with the reforms and seek greater openness, to go past the dip in the curve despite enormous difficulties, and to stay the course for democracy.

Our history especially, dictates that we should take great care to stay the course. Thrice in the past 80 years, in 1933, in 1953 and in 1989-90, the Maldives had taken important steps towards political modernisation, and thrice retreated back towards autocracy in the face of economic and political difficulties. And the spirit of reform did not rebound for at least two decades on each occasion.

In 1933, within about 7 months of proclaiming the country’s first constitution, the people tore up the constitution and banished the reformers. The old guard found that a constitution provided for a very strange and inconvenient way to govern.
In 1953, the First Republic ended just after 7 months with the arrest and subsequent fatal mobbing of the President. People associated democracy with economic hardship and disorienting socio-cultural changes.

In 1989-90, in the aftermath of Operation Cactus, there was a period of few months when the media were free, dissident politicians could be heard, and corrupt politicians had to flee. However, the genie of liberty was put back in the bottle, again in about 7 months. The take-home message for the general public was that freedoms were dangerous and destabilising.

The times that we face today are perhaps more challenging than before, given the global economic situation. Yet at the same time, the determination to stay the course is stronger -- I could say that a critical mass of people today are weighing in on the side of political openness. Moreover, the international commitment to support the Maldives in its march towards democracy is unprecedented.

The requirements of these trying times, to keep pushing forward along the J-curve towards the right side of the curve, will obviously dominate the bilateral agenda with all our development partners. And so is the case therefore with India. The challenge is to sustain the momentum along the curve without retreating, and also to avoid falling off the curve, into a situation where the country descends into the worst form of what has been called a “predatory society” -- a failed state where life becomes, in the Hobbesian sense, “nasty, brutish and short” for the people of the Maldives.

The notion of a predatory society described by Professor Larry Diamond in his book The Spirit of Democracy indeed provides a useful tool to shape the dialogue between the Maldives and its development partners. The related concept of a civic community, as described by Robert Putnam, identifies where our energies may best be focused on democracy-building.

A predatory society is one in which there is rampant corruption, lack of accountability, where political struggles become an all-or-nothing struggle:
In Diamond’s words:

“[In a predatory society] there is no real community, no shared commitment to any common vision of the public good, and no respect for law. Behavior is cynical and opportunistic. Those who capture political power seek to monopolize it and the rents that flow from it … officials feed on the state and the powerful prey on the weak. The rich extract wealth from the poor and deprive them of public goods. Corruption is widely regarded as the norm, political participation is mobilized from above, civic engagement is meagre, compromise is scarce, and nearly everyone feels powerless, exploited, and unhappy.”

Diamond adds:
“The predatory society cannot sustain democracy, for sustainable democracy requires constitutionalism, compromise, and respect for the law. Neither can it generate sustainable economic growth, for that requires actors with financial capital to invest in productive activity. In the predatory society, people do not get rich through productive activity and honest risk taking; they get rich by manipulating power and privilege, by stealing from the state, by extracting from the weak, and by shirking the law.

And politics is a zero-sum life and death struggle:

“Political actors in the predatory society will use any means and break any rules in the quest for power and wealth. Politicians in the predatory society bribe electoral officials, beat up opposition campaigners, and assassinate opposing candidates. Presidents silence criticism and eliminate their opponents by legal manipulation, arrest, or murder. Ministers worry first about the rents they can collect and only second about whether the equipment they are purchasing or the contract they are signing has any value for the public.”

Institutions are a facade:

“Legislators collect bribes to vote for bills. The police do not enforce the law. Judges do not decide the law. Customs officials do not inspect the goods. Manufacturers do not produce, bankers do not invest, borrowers do not repay, and contracts do not get enforced. Any actor with discretionary power is a rent-seeker.”

I am neither claiming nor denying that the above depiction is a true image of the Maldives at any time. Clearly, many elements of it have been observable in the Maldives. What I would say is that there are many who have argued that things were either as bad or worse in the Maldives, and that they constitute a sizeable number. Perception clearly matters, and what you believe is what you see. So an objective abstract reality, which may or may not differ from the perception, is less important than the conviction that corruption and impunity were rampant. That clearly points to the absence of a civic community in which accountability and trust play a major part.

The challenge for democratisation therefore is to foster a civic community, by developing independent institutions, promoting rule of law, enhancing oversight and accountability mechanisms, increasing transparency, strengthening media freedom, ensuring independence of the judiciary, and promoting the spirit of bargaining, compromise and accommodation. These are clearly laudable goals in themselves, but they can also become the means to promote inward investment and economic and political opportunity for all. Once again, the bilateral agenda with development partners must focus on fostering these goals. As a vibrant democracy, India is well placed to promote democracy in the Maldives, without which there can be no acceleration of economic development in the Maldives or long-term stability and durable peace.

Thus, these two concepts, the notion of the J-Curve and the challenge of transforming a predatory society into a civic community are useful tools in thinking about how the India-Maldives relationship will develop in the context of democratisation in the Maldives. The exposure to instability will draw in India’s involvement in a number of areas where co-operation will be sought by the Maldives. These will focus on mitigating vulnerability to all sorts of threats, and therefore emphasising security co-operation and police collaboration. It is no coincidence that these areas have dominated recent discussions and have been attached high priority by the both India and the Maldives.

There is a long history of security co-operation between India and Maldives, from Operation Cactus onwards. But such co-operation now needs to be expanded to cover new and emerging threats, co-eval with but not necessarily related to democratisation, such as enhanced maritime surveillance and security. Reports of Somali pirates seizing ships within the EEZ of Seychelles and the sea-borne terrorist attack on Mumbai on 26/11, are all wake-up calls for the Maldives. So, one key aspect of the bilateral dialogue will focus on strengthening the resilience of the Maldives against various security threats, from poaching to organised crime and terrorism. The collaboration will also need to extend to enhancing the capacity of the police to operate in a democratic and pluralistic environment.

The people will not sense that democracy has improved their lot until functionally the government starts to deliver better services, whether in terms of job creation, health care and utilities. Functional co-operation in these areas and the mobilisation of investment will also remain high priority issues in the bilateral agenda. In addition to official level engagements, the process of opening up the Maldives and the advocacy of privatisation will increase the opportunity for deeper and broader economic collaboration between India and the Maldives. The high profile delegation of the Confederation of Indian Industry that visited the Maldives in February and the 15 MOUS that were signed represent the spirit of the times, and the opportunities that exist for wider engagement. Likewise, the prompt response given by India to the request for emergency economic aid by the new government demonstrates an appreciation of the continuing 911 role of India. The emergency standby loan facility and other economic and trade concessions given to assist the Maldives highlight the increasingly important role of India in nurturing the new democracy.

But the inward investments will not come without a conducive environment, which depends on institutional and social capital. Changing the political culture will take a long time, but building institutions requires a shorter time frame. As a vibrant democracy, India can contribute tremendously to building the institutional capital of the Maldives, through capacity building of horizontal accountability mechanisms: an independent and professional judiciary, a credible anti-corruption commission, an effective auditor-general and a functionally effective parliament. The development of these mechanisms will also open up lucrative opportunities for Indian investors and foster greater economic collaboration.

One outcome of democracy in the Maldives will also be the development of multi-sector and multi-actor dialogues between the two countries. To date, although large numbers of citizens of both counties live in each other’s country, the main focus is on the ties between the two governments. Over time, the dialogue will be more varied, will involve the civil society of the two countries more frequently and prominently, and develop a broader relationship between the two countries. Both countries are encouraging such contact, because of the potential benefit for both countries in terms of fostering better understanding and greater South-South co-operation. Broadening the engagement will also contribute to strengthening vertical accountability mechanisms necessary to build a vibrant civic community in the Maldives—such as the development of a professional and alert media, development of political parties, issue-based non-government organisations and empowerment of the people. The vast expertise and intellectual resources of India as well as its rich civil society sector can contribute tremendously to enhancing vertical accountability or people power in the Maldives.

My conclusion is that democratisation in the Maldives requires a stronger, deeper and broader bilateral relationship between India and the Maldives, since it is in India’s interest to ensure that peace and stability prevail in its neighbourhood and in the interest of the Maldives to have an ally in dealing with a host of challenges that the country faces.

The opening up of closed societies is often accompanied by instability, and the management of that transition over the next decade or so will tend to dominate India-Maldives relations. Indian foreign policy is not evangelical: it does not tell its neighbours how to govern. But India cannot avoid that dialogue with its neighbours, from the sheer fact of proximity, and also because of shared interests, the SAARC project and the growing volume of transnational traffic.

Beyond the direct impacts of democracy, there are global trends that will also have an impact on India-Maldives relations, especially as they affect the national security of the two countries. There are a range of global phenomena that affect the national interests of the two countries, ranging from piracy and terrorism to sea-level rise. Then there are the traditional or strategic “games” that nations play, in which India and Maldives need to operate as a tag-team. This has been the spirit in which India and the Maldives have collaborated and co-ordinated positions in multilateral forums, and nearer home, given primacy to the SAARC project.
In short, my forecast is for a more intensified engagement. My recommendation is that both states seek to structure the relationship in ways that will provide an abiding focus on common interests and informed dialogue so that the bilateral agenda remains stable even as the Maldives rides the J-curve, and pursues democratic consolidation.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Remembering Black: Time to Make People Power Durable

TV Maldives has asked me to give them an interview about Black Friday, 13 August 2004. It was the day that a government for which I was its chief spokesperson, declared a state of emergency and locked up the opposition. I rarely say no an interview, so I promptly agreed.

Yet, I do feel some unease about talking about that day; because it is one of the darkest days that I have lived through yet.

No doubt, I rose to political prominence in the Maldives in my role as a government spokesperson, an office that I held from 9 May 2004 to 14 July 2005. Some people (those who wanted immediate regime change) hated me for my performance in that job and others (those who opposed regime change) adored me for the same performance. In that polarised atmosphere, where there was no dialogue amongst opposing groups, and everyone was viewing me through a prism of their own objectives. Very few recognised that I had my own goals for being where I was, and that those had nothing to do with either regime change or regime maintenance. I wanted a democracy with human rights safeguards – a new Maldives. And Professor Samuel Huntington’s The Third Wave: Democratisation in the Late 20th Century, published in 1992, gave me the roadmap to do that – the way to a New Maldives.

I said that Black Friday brings uneasy memories. That is because a lot of people suffered that day and from the events that followed. But, as everyone knows, that was not my doing, and, as many know well, I did my best to mitigate that. Working for a 25-year old outdated and atrophied regime is a perilous task, but I kept a clear conscience. In fact, one of my main roles was to teach the old guard at the “Sitcom” (Situation Committee) how to respond to the Opposition in ways consistent with international norms of democracy and human rights. That is why I can today team up with several victims of that day.

But at the time, few people knew what went on behind the scenes (or the numerous death threats that I received). The people who had a proper perspective of what I was doing were the foreign ambassadors and the international news media, who kept a close dialogue with both the government and the opposition. US Ambassador Lunstead, Colin Hicks at the UK High Commission, Indian High Commissioner Gavai, Dutch Deputy Ambassador van Dyke, as well as Sanjeev Srivastava of BBC, Simon Gardner of Reuters, the late Dilip Ganguly of Associated Press, Amal Jayasinghe of Agence France Presse, Abbas Faiz of Amnesty International to name a few from the summer of 2004, quite well understood and appreciated my role.

What was that role? It was to build bridges of understanding between the Maldives and the international community. It was neither to glorify former President Gayoom nor to demonise current President Nasheed. MDP were quite adept at putting across their side of the argument. But as all rational human beings know, there is always more than one perspective to any human endeavour. And really, as I always say, democracy is a process, not an event.

Of course, being cast in that role, I was being ostracised within my own community of friends: for example, Mahmood Razee and Ali Hashim were among my best buddies, and were very openly MDP. I was not part of the ruling elite, so naturally, my friends and associates felt that I was sacrificing my own future by trying to rescue a sinking ship. So the question all asked was why I was cast in that role?

Among those who asked me that question was Hassan Afeef, former MP for Thaa Atoll, MDP stalwart, and married to a relative of mine.

I explained to Afeef that I quit my foreign service career and took up the post of government spokesman because Gayoom gave me a credible undertaking that he would make the Maldives a modern democracy. I had a clear human rights agenda, and I had a credible undertaking from Gayoom that he would implement that agenda. I had enough reason to believe that he would not wiggle out of that commitment, and I was there to ensure that he did not wiggle out of that commitment. Afeef always protested that Gayoom would never be sincere, and I pledged to Afeef that the day that I came to believe that, I would quit Gayoom and join the opposition.

I explained to him and many others why I, at that time, believed that Gayoom was sincere. On Saturday, 9 August 2003, more than one month before Evan Naseem was murdered, I proposed a Human Rights Commission modelled on the Paris Principles to Gayoom and he accepted it the following day. Today we are all familiar with the Paris Principles; it was I who tied Gayoom down to them, using my position as Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Ministry. At the same time, I had secured Gayoom’s approval to accede to the UN Convention against Torture, and had begun the legal paperwork to do that. Then, on 15 February 2004, at Gayoom’s request, I travelled from New York to London to meet Amnesty International on 16 February to open a dialogue with them and to invite them to the Maldives, and they promptly agreed. I do not know what Gayoom’s motive in all this was—it may have been to improve the country’s image, as he kept on saying, but my intent was to mobilise the international legal framework and Amnesty International to effect lasting human rights reform in the Maldives. I honestly believed there was a lot of scope to make a lot of progress—and a lot of progress we did make.

And in April, Hill and Knowlton were contracted to help with government communications. It defied logic that at small island state would try to hoodwink a premier PR firm – and pay a lot of money while at it! Indeed, H&K were livid about the way the government handled the Black Friday protests.

And in late May, Gayoom confided in me details of what became his reform agenda. He called Shahid, Mohamed Hussain and me to his office and read out the 30-odd points of his reform proposals. They were generally very good, but I did suggest some revisions which he readily incorporated. Later, I met him privately and asked him when he would unveil his proposals. He told me that he would unveil them when he went to inaugurate the People’s Special Majlis- which could be July. I told him that it would be too late; that he should do it immediately before his ideas were leaked and he lost authorship, and that I would organise BBC interviews and other media platforms for him to publicise that.

So on 9 June Gayoom outlined his ideas – much to the chagrin of the old guard cabinet, for I had managed to get Gayoom to by-pass Cabinet approval by going public. Before he spoke, I shot out press releases to the international media that he would unveil an agenda to transform the Maldives into a “liberal democracy”. After he spoke, I proclaimed an “Agenda for Reform, Human Rights and Democracy” through press releases from the SCU. After a few uses of this phrase, objections were raised by the old guard to the use of the word “liberal”, so I began to use variously, “modern democracy”, “working democracy”, “functioning democracy”. All these terms implied that there would be very strong human rights safeguards.

I said my role was to build bridges of understanding between the government and the world. This involved explaining what was happening in the Maldives to the international community. It also involved in equal if not a greater measure, explaining the world to the old guard and making them conduct themselves in ways acceptable to the international community. Because no one was willing to take on the first role, I had quite a lot of influence in the second role, often being able to marginalise the old guard advisors. Often, I was able to predict quite accurately what the pro-democracy activists will do next- my training as a diplomat helped me to listen to the chatter more closely than others in the government did, and it enabled me to avert over-reactions by the Old Guard on many occasions. And I slipped them a copy of Gene Sharp’s handbook From Dictatorship to Democracy, which has been used as a manual by pro-democracy activists of Otpor in Serbia and in the “coloured revolutions” of the early years of this century. (The “Rose Revolution” in Georgia had occurred in November 2003 and perhaps explains why Dr Hussain declared “Finifenma Ingilaab” on Black Friday.)

And it was because of the second role – restraining the Old Guard -- that I did not walk away from the government when it declared emergency on Black Friday. The emergency showed that the Old Guard had lost it, and knew not how to handle the brewing crisis. That would be dangerous for any country. In any case, having done extensive research on the PRG revolution in Grenada, I could not believe that revolutions were the best way to establish democracy.

I was at home when the emergency was declared. I was shocked! Emergency rule has been the norm in Egypt, but in South Asia, it reminds one of the period in India when emergency rule was imposed. It was a traumatic and painful experience in India, and it scared me. When Shahid, my boss at that time, called and asked me to come into the office, I hesitated. I took time to think about it. Something inside me rebelled against the whole notion of emergency rule, especially where opposition MPs are locked up. That is a dangerous path.

As the phone kept ringing, I thought about my decision deeply. I took up the post of chief government spokesperson with a plan, based on Huntington’s seminal work on democratisation. It was Gene Sharp versus Samuel Huntington (and my friend Hussain from Mashhad). Huntington showed that democracy was most durable when it was achieved peacefully and by regime transformation rather than by abrupt replacement. Democracy was a process not an event.

Viewed from that perspective, I saw that the Black Friday was not the endgame, and that the Reform Agenda must still be pushed along. There were pre-planned visits by Amnesty International and by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs: the former to advocate for human rights and the latter for political pluralism. And left for themselves, and cornered as they were, the Old Guard could lash out even more irrationally and brutally. There was still a role I had to play without selling out my conscience. The process must be pushed forward.
I went to office some 90 minutes after I was summoned.

The first thing I did when I went to office that day was to call Mr Ahmed Mujuthaba of the Human Rights Commission and Mr Minh Pham of the UNDP and invite them to go with me to Jumhooree Maidhan and also to see the condition of the detainees. Mr Minh Pham could not move without approval from New York and the Human Rights Commission, bound by their rules, could not respond because a majority of its members were just leaving for the USA. Mr Mujuthaba did call back ready to go, but by that time, the window had closed. This was an opportunity lost—most of the complaints of ill-treatment related to these initial hours of arrest, and had we been able to visit them, such mistreatment may have been deterred or averted.

Then I did the famous BBC interview where Nasheed and I spoke for the opposition and the government respectively. I did my best to verify the data that were given to me, including personally interviewing a number of senior NSS officers at the scene. I have never knowingly misrepresented the facts, being a student of Joseph Nye and avid believer in his “soft power” thesis, a cardinal principle of which (unlike the Machiavellian precept) is, never lie or deceive, for credibility is of utmost value.

Today, I do not regret my role during and after the emergency. When I had to announce the charges against the detainees, I spoke in the third person because I found the charges quite repulsive. My job was simply that of a reporter of a charge-sheet. But behind the scenes, I did my best to bind the hands of the old-guard. I by-passed the Foreign Minister and allowed the first EU mission to visit the detainees at Dhoonidhoo. The second time, I was overruled and the Foreign Minister met the EU delegation and fought with them, blocked access to detainees and attacked the EU in a press release against my advice and invited the condemnation of the EU. Perhaps without my intervention, the regime would have fallen faster; but regime change, an event, did not equate with democracy, and a new regime would have many priorities other than reform.

A 25-old regime would be under a lot of international pressure to either reform or get out. A new regime would be given a lot of time before pressure is put on it to pursue reform. A dying regime would be under intense international pressure to quickly build democratic institutions. A new regime will have a lot of space for excuses. So logically, a dying regime must sell a lot of reform to buy time; a new regime need not sell as much reform to buy time. But of course, it was highly unlikely, but not impossible, that a 30 year-old regime can reinvent itself and buy another term; and I don’t doubt MDP’s commitment to human rights.

My role in explaining to the old guard how the modern world worked meant that I had to do a lot of intervention in domestic matters—lecturing the Home Minister and others of the infamous Sitcom.

On at least 2 occasions, I threatened to quit if I did not get my way on leniency or release for detained activists (on one occasion, on 5 June 2005, I even copied my threat to Ali Hashim, that I would resign if Anni was not returned home before 6 pm that day and Haruge re-opened by the same deadline).

Very often, I would engineer visits by the Jail Inspection Committee (on which Afeef and Aminath Didi served) to investigate reports of the status or wellbeing of political detainees. It was for this reason that often I received calls from family and friends of political detainees to intercede with President Gayoom on behalf of several detainees. (But of course, these behind-the-scene moves were not well-known, as you can see from the entry in DO on 7 June 2005 as “Letter from Dylan: A letter to the good doctor, Phd, on certain events on the night of 5 June” See )

The international community did not take sides in domestic political disputes. Their interest was in advancing reform. Sappe of DO and I would frequently debate on BBC TV or elsewhere on what should come first, reform or regime change. At the end of the day, this was what divided me from MDP then and later from DRP. Where I put reform ahead of regime change, MDP found me an obstacle; where I was willing to risk regime security for reform, DRP found me a threat.

Ultimately, it was my sense that there was a great opportunity to pursue reform in the Maldives that did not lead to me to quit the Maldives when many political heavyweights abandoned Gayoom in the months following Black Friday – for them, it was the endgame, or so they thought. For me, this was the last chance to usher in a modern democracy without bloodshed. Already, as it subsequently turned out, the change has been revolutionary enough; but it has still been smooth. Regime change without reform would have been far worse than whatever has happened since Black Friday. And it was the promise of that peaceful transition of power that kept me going even in the bleakest days following Black Friday.

Anyone remember the famous debate that MDP Chair Nasheed and I had at Giyasuddin School Hall on 30 June 2005? Nasheed said all that was necessary was regime change; and I said reforms were more important. Mercifully, what we got was both regime change and reform. Both of us remember Lord Acton’s famous quote: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely; there is no worse hearsay than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.” On this, we both agree, and always have.

For the past several months, I have been advocating the erection of a memorial for victims of torture. As that memorial goes up, I want to remind my erstwhile colleagues on the Sitcom that the reason that they today have the right to remain silent, the right to legal representation, the right to protest peacefully, the right to actively oppose the government and many of the other rights that they enjoy today are the result largely of the reform process of the past five years. And I am sure that the most important thing today for those who were locked up 5 years ago is to find ways to make people power durable—and the way to achieve it is by building institutions. The process must go on.

Ahmed Shaheed for OSA


Thursday, 16 July 2009

No Pleasure Cruise: The Long and Winding Road from Cairo to Copenhagen

Diplomacy is about saving nations; not drowning them

Some of my cabinet colleagues weren’t sure that the Maldives should participate at the Summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt from 15-16 July. But they deferred to my opinion and allowed me to travel to Egypt. Having debriefed some of them on my visit to Sharm El-Sheikh just a fortnight earlier for a conference on renewable energy, I knew, and they knew, that it would not be a pleasure cruise.

On that particular visit, an Australian delegate and I had to race around Cairo Airport (I usually travel without an entourage), from the chaotic domestic terminal to the congested international terminal and plead with airline staff to get us on the connecting flight to which we reported with 57 minutes to go, just 3 minutes after they closed the check-in counter.

The other delegate from the conference, who spoke in an accent that was all so familiar to me, pressed on saying that it was imperative that she made the connection out of Dubai as well. I chimed in, as if a chorus would move the staff into swifter action.

The ground staff spoke to each other in a language that I did not understand, and minutes that seemed like an eternity, passed.

I did not relish the idea of having to stay behind in Cairo and come back to the airport another day. A million thoughts flashed across my mind—and I instantly blurted out to the fellow delegate if she read P. J. O’Rourke. “Yeah, Holidays in Hell,” she replied. “So you remember the bit about Cairo then?” By the time we finished relating our apprehensions to P.J. O’Rourke, and found out that we had attended the same university in Brisbane, the airline staff said that we could be checked-in!

The good news did not distract her from O’Rourke as she instantly ran carrying her Waltzing Matilda through the Immigration lines with an airline escort and proceeded to the boarding gate. I did not bandwagon or follow. Like Forrest Gump, I decided to line-up behind the nearest immigration queue.

And I ran into Murphy’s law! This turned out to be slowest line. Minutes passed. I learned that a line-up is not necessarily a queue, and a queue is not necessarily linear! While I waited, and sweated, and thought myself a Gump, I typed an sms to my Chief of Protocol, who was somewhere in Male, saying: “Lessons from near misses: 90 minutes are not enough to catch a connection in Cairo!” Then I deleted the sms when I realised that I wasn’t gonna make it in time to the boarding gate! I thought of the quarrel Maria Didi and I had on BBC a while ago over Egypt and related matters. But I turned my attention to using all my powers of persuasion to let the guys ahead of me let me pass ahead of them.

And thank God, they did! And so I made it! (And dismissed all recollections of the BBC interview!)

So when, a few days later, the Finance Ministry says that I shouldn’t go to Sharm El-Sheikh, I didn’t need any persuasion.

And I am a NAM sceptic and have been for a long time. I advised Gayoom not to go Havana in 2006, but he wouldn’t miss out on the chance to revisit Havana after 28 years! But President Nasheed heeded my advice and decided not to attend the NAM in Egypt.

But it would have been wrong for the Maldives to be totally absent from the NAM Summit. After all, even the Americans were attending the Summit—under the new Obama dispensation! And with over hundred delegations present, it would be an economically efficient way of carrying out numerous bilateral business meetings. So, P. J. O’Rourke or not, I ended up in Sharm El-Sheikh again.

The NAM meeting in Egypt has only reinforced my NAM scepticism. The Final Report comes to several hundred pages, and as I leafed through it, I was utterly dismayed by a number of equivocations. Terrorism is bad, no doubt. But NAM, in my view, can still not say, categorically, that it is wrong to kill non-combatants, or blow up women and children. NAM still does not believe that human rights are universal – it seems quite allergic to civil and political rights. And NAM is in true form when it comes to climate change and sombrely speaks about the “historical and differentiated responsibility”—yeah, that should save the Maldives, no doubt, if we quickly grow gills, as President Nasheed recently told Senator Legardo from the Philippines. But we cannot dissent from the Third World consensus!

The Melian Dialogue

So the more I read the document, the more I felt like the people of Melos. Before me were the King of Traditional Kings Qaddafi, our host Mubarak, the renowned Bouteflika, the much heralded King of Swaziland, all not out batsmen with centuries to their credit. But my mind raced passed the centurions and the centuries to the Peloponnesian Wars and Thucydides. Although my eyes were on the speech that my able staff had drafted for me, what was going through my mind was the Melian dialogue: “the strong will do what they can and the weak must suffer what they must”.

How can I say that to this so-called august body? Tiny Maldives must not ruffle the feathers of the big birds. But we are going down to drown, unless global carbon emissions are cut back quick enough for the emissions to peak within the next decade or so. Diplomacy is about saving nations, not drowning them.

NAM boasts about collective security. But the first principle of collective security is the protection to the weakest members. But in the climate change negotiations we have so far seen nothing that would save the Maldives from drowning. We can ban water-boarding of individuals (and we should!) but endorse water-boarding a whole nation—now that’s a line for PJ! Every time I saw Copenhagen 2009 written in the speech, it read back at me as Munich 1938. The Maldives is the new Sudetenland.

Obviously, NAM isn’t going to save the Maldives.

Maldives Delegation to Make a Splash at Copenhagen

So I came out to do what I effectively came here to do. I met the Bangladeshi’s and gave them the heads up that we might be forced into a maverick position if nothing good was going to come out of Copenhagen, that we might even stage a walk out from Copenhagen. But more urgently, I wanted to obtain some emergency pharmaceuticals from Bangladesh, needed for hospitals in the Maldives; and sought their support for the V-10 Summit in the Maldives.

With several others, mostly from the Caribbean and Pacific, I lobbied for support for the resolution that the Maldives was tabling at the UN designed to insulate the Maldives from the shocks of graduation from LDC status.

With the Australians I discussed deeper engagement with the democratic Maldives and collaboration at the Commonwealth and the UN.

With everybody, covering all regions, I lobbied for support for the Maldives candidature to the Human Rights Council. I paid particular attention to Timor Leste, not merely because the Foreign Minister Zacarias was in the same political position as I am in a coalition government, but because I am keen to obtain the endorsement of Timor Leste, a possible competitor, to our candidature to the Human Rights Council.

From Portugal, I ensured critical support to safeguard our claim to the maximum continental shelf in the Indian Ocean, and from Mauritius I learned more about the potential for us to benefit from the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and the Indian Ocean Commission.

From Djiboujti I learned how we could keep tabs on the potential threat to the Maldives from Somali piracy, and a few lessons about warding off militant Islam.

From a number of countries, whose names I do not wish to reveal yet, I pursued how the Maldives can reclaim monies that have been lost to corruption over the past thirty-years, chalking up an operational action plan on how to identify and pursue the missing funds. Indeed, even if no one else wants to track down the embezzled funds, I am on a crusade to get them, and President Nasheed is aware of that. I am not one to ride a corrupt tiger, for, as Kennedy said, “history shows that all those who rode tigers ended up inside them”.

Indeed, as I proceeded to return to the conference hall, Robert Mugabe began to preside over the conference. I decided to wait until someone else took over the chair.

As I waited, a former High Commissioner from the SAARC region in the Maldives walked up to me and said, I still think you should not be in politics! I told him that I had not forgotten his advice, and that is why I am so attached to the OSA, and told him that I was not going back in until Mugabe left the chair. “It’s more that politics had joined me than me joining politics,” I tried to make light of it. We traded a few quips about the post-Westphalian state, the Wars of the Roses and how DRP lost the election last year, and jumped from topic to topic, from Kerensky to Trotsky, and the possibility of joint representation in Moscow. Yes, I agreed: it would be a good idea for the Maldives to be jointly represented in Moscow, teaming up with a SAARC partner.

And when Mugabe finally left the Chair, I returned to my seat and re-worded my draft speech to include a call on NAM countries to accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and urged them to seek effective caps on carbon emissions so that the rising seas will not exceed beyond 0.8 metres within the next 100 years.

The Maldives statement may not be music to many ears. But that is because the cries of help from a drowning person are never musical; did the last dodo sound like Dido?

And tomorrow I head out to Cairo. Once bitten twice shy, I have allowed myself some 6hours of transit time!

But I leave Sharm El-Sheikh hopefully having done enough to satisfy the Finance Minister.

I also had the opportunity to discuss at length the rise and fall of Maurice Bishop and the Grenada Revolution, a most stimulating intellectual discussion with the Foreign Minister of Grenada, on politics in small spaces, on Archie Singham’s “Hero”, on George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, on Gerhard Casper’s “Caesarism” or in Bishop’s language, “One-Manism”.

Meanwhile friends from as far away as Australia and UK kept texting me about the disputes and disturbances in Male on Wednesday. Politics in small spaces-- but that is another story for another post.

Submitted by Ahmed Shaheed for OSA