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


Anonymous said...

The courage shown by the reformers on Black Friday and its anniversary reveals that those who were arrested that day have the courage of soldiers, they understand the meaning of sacrificing themselves for the sovereignty of the country, for freedom from tyranny. In this sense, the reformists are truly one with the spirit of the soldiers and the police. This is why it is crazy to imply that they (now as the Government) would threaten the sovereignty of the Maldives when they would clearly die for it.

Though the reformists of the Maldives rejected violence as a means of reform, being that their love for their people was too deep to perpetrate violence, their hearts were as brave as lions, and they are truly also soldiers with the same heart as the forces.

The current Defence Minister, the Honorable Ameen Feisal, is also a great warrior of peace and freedom, and for that he commands the respect of the forces. By going on a hunger strike when in prison, Ameen won a fierce battle against his own self, the winner in his battle was you and your freedom. Our Defence Minister is truly a grand prince, he is our own wonderful people’s Prince. Yet he is deeply humble, demonstrating that he is truly a servant leader. He emphatically insists that he is not a Be’Fulhu but an ordinary man. He is as strong as iron yet as humble as a leader should be. It is therefore absurd, knowing the extent to which the Government would go to protect Maldivians, to think that the Government or any in MNDF would invite India to Maldives unless it was on terms determined by Government's committment to Maldivian sovereignty.

In fact, how dare Maumoon and Yamin’s followers accuse the Government of betraying Maldivian sovereignty after Maumoon brutally crushed Maldivian sovereignty for over 30 years?

According to Kant’s “Perpetual Peace” theory only a people whose government rules with that people’s consent can properly be called sovereign. Maumoon never ruled with the consent of the majority. Sovereignty relates to the sovereignty of the people in liberal theory, not to the sovereignty of a ruler. To say that Maumoon and Yamin crushed the sovereignty of the Maldivian people would be a dramatic understatement.

It was the Government who - as activists moved by the Grace of Allah – sacrificed so much for the true sovereignty of the Dhivehin. The MDP cabinet members would, at any time, give their lives for Maldivian freedom; they are warriors for Maldivian peace and sovereignty. The President and the Defense Minster would NEVER betray Maldivian sovereignty. I know them personally, and they are deeply protective of Maldivian sovereignty and would do anything to defend it – I mean ANYTHING! I trust that Dr. Shaheed has matured to the same level of self sacrifice for the people's sovereignty.

There is no way Indian security would have been invited into the Maldives on terms not determined by the Governments commitment to Maldivian sovereignty.

The philosophy behind the MNDF's duty to protect the Maldives is deeply rooted in the Islamic principle that the suffering of any Muslim is felt by every Muslim. The Maldivian forces live by that, and are prepared to give their lives for that whenever necessary. Their duty is to protect you, and this noble ideal is esteemed by every officer of the defence force.

The Maldivian forces live by that, and are prepared to give their lives for that whenever necessary. Their duty is to protect you, and this noble ideal is esteemed by every officer of the defence force.

Anonymous said...

I read about this initially from the Indian press, before it became a big hype in the local media. I must admit I felt a twinge of concern when I read about the 'exclusivity' of the pact. Being such a small nation I thought we should leave room for us to maneuver defence agreements with other countries if we had the need to do so. After all Diego Garcia is not that far away!

In any case I could not understand all the hype that ensued unless you were willing to totally exclude the geo-political situation and the past and present cooperation from India. I must admit though I was a little worried when I heard your initial reactions on DhiFM radio, which sounded rather tentative. However, you did make a good explanation later on TVM. So I assume that was because of the secrecy you mention in this article about everything concerning MNDF. I put it down to a lack of experience by the new government, although I must admit that I agree with you when you say that this government is definitely more transparent and accountable than the past government.

I agree with you that there is a need for a framework. But on the question whether this should be the agenda for SAARC in 2011, I guess that would depend on the global and regional realities of the time. Who's role should it be to develop one? May be you should activate the Foreign Service Institute. And like you say, if Maldives is to play a more strategic role like Singapore, we may also need to look at building alliances to our west.

In any case, I didn't really understand all the hysteria and hype surrounding this whole issue, except perhaps to put it down to the opposition trying another ploy at convincing the public that MDP is trying to "sell the country", which they had tried to do in the case of the government's PPP programme too. I guess we were lucky to have an ex-FM as the Speaker!

The whole thing is even more absurd when you think about how our whole culture (including our music, language, dress, food, etc) has been 'Indianised' to the extent that our media only allows tolerance towards Hinduism as opposed to any other religions, other than Islam!

Anonymous said...

Nice piece of writing doc. But the big questions still remains unanswered. What’s the real deal? Why is the deal been done in secrecy? Can we put the secrecy of the affair just to the infantile democracy? For any curious and critical mind , that argument of yours is not convincing enough. Give something more sound.

We do not suspect India’s friendship for a second. No Maldivian will deny that fact India’s willingness to help us both at troubled and untroubled times. I am sure no sensible Maldivian will disagree that there is a need for greater and more streamlined security relations between the two countries. But how we do it and in what context we let that much needed relations mature are the two key issues we all have to agree on. This will not only shape our relations with the rest of global sphere but will determine how sustainable this will be irrespective of the government in New Deli or in Maldives.

As you said where there is secrecy speculations flourish and misinformation impregnates in the minds of many. Why do let that happen? Again are we going to say that our democracy is too young to handle the issue? I disagree.

I disagree simply because when democracy is young a big issue like this has to be pursued with more caution and with greater openness. Such approach not only will foster confidence in our democracy but will leave no room for doubt to those skeptical and critical minds such as mine.

This is an issue that all Maldivians, old and young, small and big have a right to know. The only way to let that happen is by debating the issue in the public domain. All details of this India Maldives security pact should be made available to the Parliament and to the public. I see no harm in that. This hasn’t happened so far. And to be very blunt I am unsure that you yourself are fully aware of what is in the small print. So it is right for the media to by hysterical about the whole issue and its also right for Maldivians both conservative and liberal to be worried and ask the big questions. What’s in the small print? Is our sovereignty been compromised?

Anonymous said...

well, I see all good comments here. What I heard from media and my friends is that the defense agreement is primarily to protect the nation from international terrorists. My point here is, how many terrorist threats were there to Maldives during the whole history of Maldives, as far as I know it was just one, which too was politically motivated one to bring down the then government. And again, even if we have those radars and helicopters, if the terrorists want, they can blast any number of bombs here, once they are inside the country, they are easily available with the required chemicals and other equipments to make a dirty bomb. Now, what is going to happen if we align with India regarding this defense framework. Let us think from the side of terrorists:
1. Till to date, Maldives have not been targeted by any terrorist organization. We were never on their target list but once we make the deal with India, even Al-Qaida would target Maldives, coz according to their view those who assist the infidels in their war against terror are a great threat to them. So, definitely they would target us.
2. The relation between India and Pakistan totally messed up since their existence, they fighting for the land of Kashmir, both side sponsor terrorism to defeat the other. This fact is known to all. Why do you this Pakistan got aligned with China and Sri Lanka? Coz, India was enemy to these two. Similarly, Pakistan, who was never a good neighbor to us due to the same reason, would part away from us, and the terrorist organizations in Pakistan will see Maldives as a threat to them.
3. China, who is the competitor to India, who is competing to gain the power over the region, was keen to make good relation with us, but the sudden agreement with India, would definitely make China’s relation with us weaker, they would never trust on us. This would cost us economically than the threat of terrorism.
4. Why do International Terrorist organizations target on Diego Garcia? They are actually not at all targeting Diego Garcia, but US military base in there. So, as soon as India establishes the defiance system in Maldives, they will put us on their list, and the result won’t be sweat to taste.

Anonymous said...

Very good piece and very thought-provoking. You are right in saying that India-Maldives relations are more important than to be left for politicians, bureaucrats and journalists. Politicians are corrupt; bureaucrats are lazy and journalists sell sensation. What role did Zaki play in November 3?Now that the government has changed, the parliament should re-open the files on 3rd November and see why innocent people like Omar Jamal was convicted; what role did personal jealousy play in Ilyas targeting Sikka; why was DB tortured in prison; why was Karo Abbas imprisoned; and what role did Kabila Majeed play? Was there an intelligence failure? What are the real lessons of November 3?

Anonymous said...

Doc, you are worse than Neville Chamberlain! Do you really think you can trust India? Or China for that matter? Or even Sri Lanka? If you could trust other countries, we need not have remained independent. Might as well become an annex to Kerala! Or attached to Galle! Why chase out the Bora merchants? Why worry about Sri Lankans owning 20% of our tourism beds? In the 19th century, all Britain wanted was to deny Maldives to a hostile power: ie France. During the Cold War, all that the US wanted was to deny Gan to the Russians. And all that Indians want today is to deny Maldives to China. And China, for its part will be happy if the Maldives belonged to nobody. So, China and India have devised the best plan possible- a bit like what Stalin and Hitler did for Poland; or what the UK and Russia did for Persia.But rather than partition it, they have a better plan- which is to deny Maldives to each other or to anyone else, or even to the Maldivians for that matter. And the means are simple: at Copenhagen, both India and China will drown the Maldives. That way, both countries can freely use the high seas and the underwaters. Anni must be crazy to ask the Indian Navy to determine the Maldives territorial sea! Why didn't Anni ask Gayoom to count the votes in Theemuge during the last presidential election? Is this how Dr Shaheed is going to get 1 billion dollars for Anni?

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Doctor Shaheed, its a very nice article and all with big words. But I just wish you would use simpler language so that us common folk would know what you're on about. Right now, you just come across as this aloof arrogant little man.

Farah said...

To put it in a nutshell, we cannot ignore the fact that that the Indian Ocean (atleast the Southern bit) is no more an Ocean but an Indian Pond. We have to work within that security matrix.

PS. I agree with the comment made about writing in layman's terms. Not everyone has read the Peloponnesian War to Buzan & Acharya and all that's in-between :-)

Anonymous said...

A very interesting article, but clearly not for DO. The subject matter is too serious. But you do write very well. That said, I do not see India agreeing to any triangular dialogue. It would rather deal with the South Asian minnows as individual states. It is something the British Raj taught the Indians, and it is called divide and rule.

Anonymous said...

We have intellectuals who could discuss these issues and inform the public, but sadly we do not have a forum. We badly need to establish think-tanks that could enlighten both the government and public on these important issues.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comment. Our security is a national issue and needs to be debated at an intellectual level. We need a think-tank for informed engagement. Right now all we have are party haruges and they are for emotion rather than thoughtfulness. But thank you Dr Shaheed for the post. At least your post shows that there are informed people shaping policy rather simply cheap politicians!

Anonymous said...

Hello friends, pleasant piece of writing and
fastidious arguments commented at this place, I am actually
enjoying by these.

Look into my website :: cccam free servers

Anonymous said...

I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on
your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?
Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one today.

Stop by my website; cccam 2.2.1 config download

Anonymous said...

You need to be a part of a contest for one of the finest sites online.
I am going to recommend this blog!

my web site - cccam server free