Our strategic interests lie with India: Maldives foreign minister (Interview)

November 17th, 2008 - 12:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Male, Nov 17 (IANS) The Maldives’ primary strategic interests lie with India and there is nothing that can change this plain fact, says the new foreign minister of the Indian Ocean country that installed a democratic regime last week after three decades of one-man rule.”Our primary strategic interests lie with India. And there is nothing that can change this plain fact,” Maldives Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed told IANS in an interview in this capital city days after the 41-year-old Mohamed “Anni” Nasheed was sworn in as the first democratically elected president of the country.

“We have always been able to identify our interests with those of India. The 400 miles (640 km)between Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) and Male is never going to change. That simple geographical fact is the cornerstone of our foreign policy,” said Shaheed, a self-confessed Indophile who has visited India at least 20 times.
“Our foreign policy is convergent to that of India,” he stressed.
Shaheed played a key role in the democratic movement in the Maldives that dislodged Asia’s longest serving ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the country’s first multi-party elections last month.

He also served as foreign minister in the Gayoom presidency, but resigned last year and joined the pro-democracy alliance after he felt Gayoom was not interested in promoting real democracy in the Maldives, home to 25,000 Indians.

“People should credit Maldives with more maturity in foreign policy. We have never embraced any policies that will upset the regional balance of forces,” Shaheed said when asked about China’s attempts to scale up its presence in the Maldives that some fear could endanger India’s interests in the country.

The 44-year-old Shaheed, who became the country’s youngest foreign secretary at age 34, is upbeat about new areas of expanded cooperation between India and the Maldives under a new democratic dispensation like science and technology, IT and renewable energy.

“The past contains the seeds of the future. After the 2004 tsunami, the Indian government provided the budgetary support to the Maldives. We are hopeful it will come this time also,” he said.

“We are inviting Indian companies to invest in schools, hospitals and infrastructure. We are also planning an international tender for the construction of an intra-Maldives marine transport network. Indian companies are welcome to participate in it,” he said.

“Some people link strong India-Maldives ties with the Gayoom era. But all the primary architects of Gayoom’s foreign policy are on this side now - Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, who is now presidential spokesperson, long-time foreign secretary Salah Shihab and myself,” he said.

“In fact, I articulated the India doctrine. Our foreign policy is convergent to that of India,” he stressed.

Capturing national enthusiasm and the sense of renewal that has washed across the shores of the Maldives after the democratic elections, Shaheed said: “People are thrilled. Many of us have aspired and dreamt of this moment for a long time.”

Shaheed asserted that the new government will overcome “all cleavages and obstacles” and fulfill the promises of better governance and economic conditions to about 370,000 inhabitants who live in 200-odd inhabited islands of the archipelago, better known as a tourist paradise that is a big draw with privacy-seeking Hollywood celebrities.

In a country that relies overwhelmingly on tourism, restoring financial health will be a top priority, the minister said while admitting that the recession in Europe has affected the flow of tourist dollars into the country.

“The rough and tumble of politics and governance has begun. What is now required is common sense, stability to resolve real issues. I am confident that this government can pull it through,” he said.

There is no alternative but to live up to soaring expectations of people, he stressed.

“People have said yes to democracy. We are confident we will deliver. Till then, we are in warranty period.”

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