Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen's first visit to New Delhi as head of state comes at a time when India-Maldives ties are showing signs of improvement. After being sworn in on November 17 last year, Mr. Yameen’s initial actions show that he is moving to establish himself as a leader not overly weighed down by the compulsions of the powerful partners who propelled him to office. His visit comes after Maldivian Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim met Defence Minister A.K. Antony and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon in New Delhi. The Maldives has special concerns relating to disasters arising out of climate change, apart from routine security issues such as aviation security and border control. It was clear that Mr. Nazim’s visit was successful: at the end of the visit, the Maldives was gifted a second twin-engine helicopter. Also, India is pushing ahead with maritime domain security awareness in the region, in which the Maldives and Sri Lanka are the other partners. The crux of the exercise — Mr. Nazim was in New Delhi ahead of a meeting involving the three nations — is to put in place a security architecture which will be independent of individuals in positions of power. Thus, in some ways, Mr. Nazim’s trip set the tone for the visit, but the issues to be addressed at the highest level are many.
Topping the list of Maldivian concerns are the visa restrictions that India had imposed following a souring of relationship with former President Mohamed Waheed, the ban on export from India of certain types of construction material, and the lack of adequate trained health services personnel. In return, India wants a definitive set of rules that will guarantee Indian investments in the Maldives, apart from cooperation on security related matters. President Yameen’s visit, which was postponed once, has already made some headway with the signing of three agreements on January 2, of which two relate to the health sector. Since India had announced ahead of the much-delayed presidential polls that it would do business with anyone who was elected to the post, Mr. Yameen’s Delhi visit is expected to be a win-win for both sides. It will be in the interest of both countries to amicably settle the issue relating to throwing out GMR, the Indian operator of the Ibrahim Nasir airport in Male. However much Mr. Yameen may argue that this was a company-to-company matter, the fact remains that it was the Maldivian government that threw out GMR. It will not be business as usual unless this issue is settled to the satisfaction of all parties to the dispute.