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India our first & closest friend. But China a partner too, says Maldives foreign minister Shahid

‘India Out’ campaign in Maldives is being carried out by the opposition who have no development agenda, says Abdulla Shahid, who is also president of the UN General Assembly.

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New Delhi: From Operation Cactus in 1988 to the Covid pandemic of 2020, Maldivians have always found India to be their “first and closest” friend, Abdulla Shahid, Foreign Minister of Maldives, has said.

However, Malé will continue to work with China, Shahid told ThePrint in an interview.

He added that the anti-India campaign in Maldives is being carried out by the opposition members who have “no development agenda”.

Shahid, who is also president of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), further said that the the world body has to “reflect” the geopolitical changes taking place globally, while the UN Security Council needs to be more inclusive.

“Partnership between Maldives and India is based on mutual trust and mutual recognition of the closeness, the affinity we have between our two countries. And the relationship has thoroughly flourished during President [Ibrahim Mohamed] Solih’s time (coming to power) since 2018,” Shahid said during his just-concluded visit to New Delhi.

President Solih, who was in India earlier this month to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is facing elections in 2023. The neighbouring country is witnessing a tussle between Solih and his party colleague, Maldives Speaker Mohammad Nasheed, a former president himself.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attended Solih’s swearing-in ceremony in Malé on 17 November 2018, and Solih went on to visit India a month later. Modi then visited Maldives again in June following year, the first foreign trip he undertook after his re-election in 2019.

“Our two leaders have been working with each other closely. We are seeing India-Maldives ties going from strength to strength,” said Shahid.

“India has been the first country to respond and to consider Maldives’ concerns and emergencies whenever needed. Naturally, it is the first country which could, and it has proven itself, always,” the Maldivian foreign minister said.

“We recall [the incident of] 3 November 1988, when there was an armed attack on Maldives by a group of mercenaries and terrorists. There was an immediate response from India backed by the international community,” he said, referring to Operation Cactus.

Under ‘Operation Cactus’ Indian troops flew from Agra to Malé after Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom reached out to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for military assistance to foil a coup d’état by rebel forces.

“Then in 2004 during the tsunami when Indian ships sailed from Indian ports with essential products to Maldives. Then in 2015 during the water crisis in Malé, India helped again. Then during the pandemic, from vaccines to evacuation of students, India has always helped us,” Shahid said.

“People will never forget the kind of assistance India has always given to Maldives. So we will not forget this special relationship,” he added.

Also Read: Why Maldives’ Nasheed vs Solih is trouble. Delhi doesn’t want to rock the boat in Indian Ocean

Working with China and others

According to Shahid, while India will always remain Maldives’ “first and closest friend” which over the decades has culminated in an ‘India First’ policy, the country will continue to have cordial and working ties with China as well.

“At the same time, we will also continue to work with everyone, including China and many other countries, who have been also very generous in their assistance and cooperation,” he added.

Maldives is suddenly witnessing a surge in the ‘India Out’ campaign promoted by former president Abdulla Yameen, who plans to make a comeback in politics and contest the next year’s presidential election.

Yameen is believed to be carrying out this campaign with support from China. During Yameen’s rule from 2013 to 2018, Maldives had gravitated completely towards China and incurred a massive debt.

“It’s [India Out campaign] been done by a group of opposition people who have no development agenda except to create some fervour against our closest friend and neighbour,” stressed Shahid.

“This is a group of people who have nothing to offer to the people. So, they have to come up with something,” he said, adding that President Solih is going to be “re-elected and the people of Maldives have received his good work that has been done under his outstanding leadership”.

The ‘India Out’ campaign gained momentum in 2021 after Maldives and India signed a military pact in February that year.

‘UN has to reflect changes’ 

Shahid, whose one-year tenure as the UNGA president will end in September, noted that his presidency came at a time when the world was seeing “death, devastation and despair” due to the Covid pandemic, the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and then the Russia-Ukraine War.

“I have been able to bring back in-person diplomacy at the United Nations… But as more and more conflicts take place, it highlights the need to strengthen multilateralism, to increase confidence in multilateralism and to increase credibility in multilateralism,” he said.

Shahid also highlighted that the UN has to “reflect the changes” that have taken place in the world since the multilateral body was founded. “It is a must if the United Nations needs to be relevant,” he asserted.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: Maldives’ Nasheed meets NSA Doval in India, calls him ‘grandmaster of geopolitics’


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