Interview | Abdulla Shahid International

We have rock solid ties with India, says Maldivian Minister Abdulla Shahid

Abdulla Shahid.

Abdulla Shahid.  

Minister says Maldives will work with all countries in region for better security

Maldivian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdulla Shahid, is a veteran of democratic politics in the island nation and has been at the forefront of recent shifts in the balance of power in Male. On a brief visit to Chennai, he spoke about why the Maldives is strategically positioned to play a critical role on issues such as counterterrorism and climate change, even as it strives to address economic challenges inherited from the previous administration in Male. Edited excerpts:

We’ve seen a change in the political trajectory of the Maldives since last year, including a perceptible shift in the bilateral space. How do you see that evolving?

The relationship that we have with India now is rock solid. There is mutual respect from both countries. Both understand that it is to the benefit of both countries that we cooperate on development, security, and every facet of relations. It is mutual respect and understanding that has taken us to this new level of relationship and cooperation.

Uppermost on everyone’s mind on the region now is the security question, especially after the Easter Sunday attack in Sri Lanka. What do you see as the Maldives being able to contribute in terms of security?

The Maldives is the guardian of the Indian Ocean, because it straddles the middle of that region. Therefore, the responsibility that is on us to make sure that we work with all countries in addressing such issues is fundamental. The threats that are faced by countries, including the Maldives, India, Sri Lanka and the U.S., have no boundaries, no religion. It is pure evil. We can confront this evil only by making sure that we put aside our differences and work together. The Maldives will play its role in making sure that our intelligence agencies and security forces and our border control officers work with all our partners. Together, I am sure that we will defeat terrorism.

In terms of specifics, we’ve heard in India that there were people from Kerala, for example, who went across to Syria. How much radicalisation has been seen within the Maldives?

We have some Maldivians who have gone to Syria as foreign fighters, and some of them have been killed. We are very seriously monitoring the people who had left the country to join as foreign fighters in other parts of the world. Again, our intelligence agencies will be able to keep track of them, with cooperation within an international framework.

The big concern for the Maldives is mitigating climate change, and there have been numerous conversations on this with India. Do you think that there’s more for a country the size of India could be doing, either for the Maldives or by itself, to help mitigate climate change effects?

The Maldives’ carbon footprint is almost nil. But as a country there is a responsibility, a role that we have to play. We have continued to raise the voice of small island states in international fora, because we are at the forefront of the victim list. India is helping us in renewable energy sources. Recently, during Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit, the Indian government donated many environment-friendly street lights and home lighting. These are little things, but it does go a long way. The Maldives is in need of renewable energy projects, because we could become the first country that is entirely run on renewable energy, based on today’s technology. We will aim for the moon, so far as environmental protection is concerned.

Looking at your domestic politics, the new government has settled in. Given the history of the Maldives’ politics, and even its geography, do you feel that there are any challenges for the ruling coalition to hold together?

I would not hide the fact that we would have our differences. But I believe we have had enough experience to be more mature and avoid the mistakes of the past. I am confident that in these five years [ahead], we will be able to maintain the coalition as far as the government is concerned. In the parliamentary election, the people have come out and given a resounding, overwhelming majority for the Maldivian Democratic Party. But it is not the intention of President Ibu Solih to run the country by one party. It is his intention to maintain the mandate given by the people in the presidential elections. The people gave their mandate not to one party but to a coalition.

On the subject of the debt-trap situation, we know that the new administration is looking into it. Can you give us a sense of how specifically this could be addressed, given that the size of these debts is huge?

Like many other countries who have this challenge, we should be looking at some means of refinancing some of the debt, to more affordable terms. Some of the borrowings are at very high interest rates. In order for us to get a proper view of management of the debt, we are getting expert advice from the Government of Japan and also the U.S. Treasury. Officials are advising the [Maldivian] Minister of Finance on this. We will be working closely with India and learning from other regional countries such as Malaysia and Sri Lanka, who have experience dealing with these difficulties. The Maldives does not need to reinvent the wheel. There are enough countries that have gone down that road. We will try to benefit from their experience.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 7:43:58 PM |

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