On his second visit to the country after taking over as President in the Maldives’ first admittedly open and fair elections less than a year ago, Mohamed Nasheed brought the extreme vulnerability of his country due to rising sea levels to the global centre stage by holding an underwater meeting of his Cabinet. In an interview to The Hindu , Mr. Nasheed spoke on several subjects including security assistance from India, safety for Indian professionals in Maldives and investments expected from Indian companies. But the Maldives President, who believes there is space for a common narrative that can break the impasse on climate change talks, complains that the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) format is too traditional.
What is your agenda in India this time?
A number of Indian companies have shown high interest in the Maldives. Hopefully our team will be able to finalise a number of issues. It is up to them what they want to do in the Maldives and the kind of investment they want to have there. So we will be doing two things, having an engagement with the Indian government and briefing them about the situation in the Maldives and how we can strengthen the bilateral relations. And also we would talk to the Indian government how best we may be able to have a common narrative in Copenhagen.
Could you elaborate on the common narrative approach you are suggesting?
India and some richer countries don’t seem to see eye to eye on issues how we will be able to deal with climate change. India has no issue on the science of it unlike some other countries unwilling to do anything because they do not believe in what is happening. But the Indians are talking about a bigger picture of who should be more responsible on the predicament the world is facing. So I think here is an opportunity if we can have a common narrative both with India and also with some western countries. That might be beneficial for a better deal in Copenhagen.
What is the solution out of this logjam?
There is a logjam mainly because the Kyoto Protocol is a list of things we shouldn’t do. It is asking India not to consume energy or not to produce energy. That is going to be very difficult for a dynamic fast developing country. We could change the thing to a more positive list to say India should be producing so much renewable energy to the extent that mathematics comes down to the same -- 350 part per million and 1.5 degrees. It is a question of how much investment India would have to make in renewable energy and we should be asking the western countries to contribute in these investments and in technology transfer. If we can come out with that kind of option -- asking for greater investment instead of reduction in consumption -- we can make Copenhagen a more positive thing rather than a negative thing. We feel this might be a way out of the impasse.
How do you see the common SAARC draft?
The whole UNFCC of negotiations in Copenhagen is so traditional. It is as if you have just ended a war and are talking of repatriation. Or you are having a crusade on splitting the spoils. You cannot cut deals with Mother Nature, you cannot negotiate with laws of physics. How do we change the whole framework of negotiations? The UNFCC framework is so traditional that it is difficult to work within the framework. If we can start thinking out of the box and see how we may be able to have an additional framework of things. In this sense we must be able to come out with something in Copenhagen.
How has the recession hit Maldives and what are the plans to pull the economy out of it?
It has hit us very badly for two reasons. One is the former government in its last days went into a very heavy spending spree and we got into heavy deficit. Meanwhile, revenue is low because tourist arrivals have dwindled. And fish catches too. So the recession is having a very very strong impact but for the three four months we have seen tourism is picking up. We are hoping for Indian investments in Maldives. Returns in Maldives are very lucrative. There are fair amounts of Indian investments already. There is Taj there. It has again opened up an upmarket brand. I met Mr. Tata recently and they have very strong desire to invest because it gives very good returns. There are opportunities in education, transport, utilities, energy and water.
You were several times at the receiving end of autocracy in Maldives and were even adopted by Amnesty International as a Prisoner of Conscience. How are you modernising the political structure?
We need to strengthen our institutions. We have come up with a more liberal Constitution with separation of powers. Greater freedoms and a number of civil liberties and human rights issues have been clearly spelt out in the Constitution. We now need to implement that and are in the process of doing that. We need to strengthen the institutions especially the judiciary which is very backward. We need to find mechanisms and procedures through which the executive -- which is me -- can relinquish power to independent institutions. That is the only manner to build a sustainable democracy. I am trying to find avenues through which I can relinquish the extraordinary powers I have. There can then be a balance of power between Parliament and the President.
Could you give examples of that?
Well I can arrest even you (laughs)….
How do you propose to combat the asymmetrical security threats to your country?
Maldives’ security is very common to Indian security. If you cannot defend the Maldives you cannot defend the Indian soft belly, you cannot defend peninsular India. Recently you found your threats materialising from the sea [Mumbai attacks]. Strengthening the security of Maldives is very very important for everybody. Meanwhile we have a fairly efficient military. It serves its purpose for repulsing a terrorist attack. But we have issues as long as Pakistan is unstable, we have people going there and the Taliban is recruiting from the Maldives. As long as that goes on and there is opportunity to recruit people from elsewhere and run a terror network, it is going to be very difficult to put our house in order. So we would like to see the Pakistani military succeed in what they are doing now. I hope the Pakistan government will push them back and finish the issue. We had a very good example from the Sri Lankan government recently. And I also do wish the international community would assist Pakistan in doing it. And I hope India would also assist Pakistan in doing this. I am sure we don’t have a quarrel in that regard. So hopefully Pakistan would try and deal with that situation. At the same time there is piracy. Somali pirates can be bold enough to come all the way to Maldives. They sacked Mahe port in Sychelles. They could do that here. We should be mindful of that. Somalis don’t have a clue to who to attack. It doesn’t matter whose flag the ship is flying. For them a ship is a ship. They are very rural people who got hold of AK-47s. India needs to sort Somalis. India needs to venture outside and see that the whole Indian Ocean Rim is secure. Unless the Indian Ocean Rim countries are not secure India should not feel confident they are secure in peninsular India.
There were reports in the
We got seven radar stations with Indian assistance because we want to look after our fishing grounds. Just the other day with Indian assistance we were able to catch two poaching fishing vessels. Because of the arrangements with military and Indian establishment, we have been very successful. We purchase the radars through Indian assistance and installed them, may be also through Indian assistance, we will get our people trained through Indian assistance and we will look after the territory. Whenever there is information we can share with India, whenever there is threat to India we will of course tell them. It is very simple. Others might say India has gone and installed the radars. It is not that. It was we who asked, they didn’t tell us. They were in a sense fairly hesitant. But I think we were good in presenting our case. So Indians have been in good in supplying us technology. It is a case of technology transfer.
During the previous regime, there were complaints about Maldives not being sensitive to issues being faced by Indian teachers from Tamil Nadu and Kerala. How is the atmosphere now?
Not only Indian teachers all expatriate teachers. There is a juvenile delinquency problem, there is a huge drug problem so teachers are being harassed. They are not harassed because they are Indians but because there are so many drug addicts who want a fix and Indians are victims as much as Maldivians. We will defend them and we will protect them. They are a part of us and have made a very good contribution. I am sure the people of the Maldives value that. If you ask this question about their safety and security now, their answer will be very different. We have done our best sometimes to the extent of discreetly providing security to protect teachers, doctors and nurses. We want to make them a part of our lives, they are a part of our lives. We love Indian stories, we watch Indian films, we come here for treatment, so India and Maldives are very close.