The Maldives has been witnessing a heightening political crisis since February 1 when the Supreme Court delivered a major ruling ordering the release of nine Opposition leaders, including exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed. On February 5, Mr. Yameen declared a state of emergency, citing “security concerns.”

 President Abdulla Yameen refused to comply with the decision and instead imposed a state of emergency for a period of 15 days. The government’s refusal to implement the ruling, prompted a wave of protests in the capital, Male, with angry clashes between police and demonstrators. Yameen declared a state of emergency in the island. Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another judge, Ali Hameed, were arrested hours after the government declared a state of emergency.

Exiled former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed had requested India to send “envoy, backed by its military” to release judges and political detainees. Reacting to the crisis in Maldives, India on Tuesday had issued a statement saying that the government’s refusal to abide by the Supreme Court and the imposition of emergency is disturbing. Alongside India, the U.S. and the U.K. have both urged Yameen to honor the rule of law and free the detainees.

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen on February 07, 2017  reached out to friendly countries and announced envoys to China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. According to media reports, Yameen’s office announced that the envoys will visit “friendly nations of the Maldives” and “provide updates on the current situation”.Earlier in the same day, China supposedly warned India against military intervention in island, cautioning that it could complicate the situation.

Amid growing calls internationally for the Maldivian government to abide by the rule of law, human rights organisations working in the region have strongly condemned the recent developments in the Indian ocean island. South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) said it was “deeply concerned” at the political crisis engulfing the Maldives, following President Abdulla Yameen’s increasingly “authoritarian and undemocratic actions”. It said, “Mr. Yameen stands accused of multiple charges of corruption and human rights violations” — allegations that he has denied in the past — the human rights organisation noted that the strongman President has been “politically isolated.” SAHR chairperson Sultana Kamal said in a statement that Mr. Yameen’s actions attacked two key pillars of liberal democracy — Parliament and the judiciary. “These acts show blatant disregard for rule of law and have justly drawn both international criticism and local protests in Male.”

Earlier this week, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) called on the Maldivian government to immediately lift the state of emergency and restore fundamental freedoms and rights of its people. “This is clearly an attempt to thwart any dissent against the government, and criminalise popular protests calling for compliance with the Supreme Court ruling,” said John Samuel, executive director of FORUM-ASIA, in a statement. The government should “fully comply” with the rulings of the Supreme Court and release the Supreme Court Justices in detention, the statement said, adding that the administration must ensure the independence and proper functioning of the judiciary and Parliament.

Background

The Republic of Maldives   is a South Asian island country, located in the Indian Ocean, situated in the Arabian Sea. It lies southwest of Sri Lanka and India. The chain of 26 atolls stretches from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north to the Addu City in the south. Comprising a territory spanning roughly 298 square kilometres (115 sq mi), the Maldives is one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries, as well as the smallest Asian country by both land area and population, with around 427,756 inhabitants. Malé is the capital and most populated city, traditionally called the “King’s Island” for its central location. The Maldivian archipelago took to Islam in the 12th century and consolidated as a sultanate, developing strong commercial and cultural ties with Asia and Africa. From the mid 16th-century, the region came under the increasing influence of European colonial powers, with the Maldives becoming a British protectorate in 1887. Independence from the United Kingdom was achieved in 1965 and a presidential republic was established in 1968 with an elected People’s Majlis. The ensuing decades have been characterised by political instability, efforts at democratic reform, and environmental challenges posed by climate change. The Maldives is a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). It is also a member of the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Non Aligned Movement. The World Bank classifies the Maldives as having an upper middle income economy. Fishing has historically been the dominant economic activity, and remains the largest sector by far, followed by the rapidly growing tourism industry. Along with Sri Lanka, it is one of only two South Asian countries rated “high” on the Human Development Index, with its per capita income one of the highest among SAARC nations. The Maldives was a Commonwealth republic from July 1982 until its withdrawal from the Commonwealth in October 2016 in protest of international criticism of its records in relation to corruption and human rights.

Mohamed Nasheed

Mohamed Nasheed  is a Maldivian politician, human rights and environmental activist, who served as the fourth President of the Maldives from 2008 to 2012. He was the first democratically elected president of the Maldives and one of the founders of the Maldivian Democratic Party. In the 2008 presidential election, Nasheed was elected as the candidate of the first opposition coalition defeating President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled the Maldives as President for 30 continuous years. Nasheed assumed office on 11 November 2008.

On 7 February 2012, Nasheed resigned as president under disputed circumstances, following weeks of protests by the opposition, which had then been joined by a majority of military and police forces. The next day Nasheed stated that he had been forced to resign “at gunpoint” by police and army officers, and that the protesters had joined with “powerful networks” of Gayoom loyalists to force his resignation in a coup d’état. Nasheed’s successor, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who had been a 2003 political appointee of President Maumoon Gayoom, denied these claims and stated that the transfer of power was voluntary and constitutional. The Maldives’ Commission of National Inquiry reported that it had found no evidence to support Nasheed’s version of events.

On 30 August 2014, Nasheed was elected as the President of the Maldivian Democratic Party. In March 2015, Nasheed was convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Act of Maldives for arresting Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed while president and sentenced to 13 years at Maafushi Prison. Amnesty International has described the conviction as “politically motivated”, and the United States Department of State expressed concern at “apparent lack of appropriate criminal procedures during the trial”. In 2016, Nasheed was given asylum in the United Kingdom, where he had gone for medical treatment.

Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom 

Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom   is the President of the Maldives, in office since 2013. He is the half-brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.  As the presidential candidate for the Progressive Party (PPM), Yameen was elected as President in 2013, defeating Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed in the 2013 presidential elections.

After a few years in People’s Alliance (PA), a political party he helped form, Yameen joined the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) in 2010. PPM is the party of former president and Yameen’s half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had governed Maldives for 30 years. The presidential election was held under controversial circumstances following the resignation of president Mohamed Nasheed in 2012. In the first round of voting, Nasheed received 45.45% of the votes and Yameen received 25.35% of the votes and finished in second place, forcing a second round which Yameen won by 51.39% of votes to Nasheed’s 48.61%. The results were disputed by opposition members due to the planned original second round being annulled by the Supreme Court due to a high number of ineligible voters being registered.

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Significance of celebration of several jubilees ~ 25 years of ASEAN-India dialogue partnership

The unprecedented participation of 10 heads of ASEAN states/governments as guests of honour at the Republic Day parade was a landmark development in the expanding role of India in international affairs. Celebration of several jubilees ~ 25 years of dialogue partnership, 10 years of summit-level dialogue and five years of strategic partnership ~ in such a grandiose manner signifies India being invested in ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) and the recognition by the leaders of this region of the country’s major role in its future.

This development needs to frame any perspective for an analysis of the growing relationship between India and ASEAN. This organisation has been in existence since 1967 when, at the height of the Vietnam war, five countries, namely the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, decided upon a modicum of cooperation amongst themselves in the face of an expanding threat of Communism, domestic as well as regional, spurred by Mao’s China. Its first summit took place in 1976 following Communist victories in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia following the US withdrawal from Vietnam.

Geopolitical dynamics underwent a sea-change at the end of the Cold War in 1991 when diminished presence of the US in the region provided the space to this organisation to fashion a regional security order, to admit the former Communist adversary nations as members and to create a wide network of dialogue relationships with extra-regional powers.

For a then ‘modernising’ but isolated ~ post-Tienanmen massacre ~ China, the organisation provided the ‘comfort’ to engage in multilateral diplomacy, and for India an opportunity to ‘Look East’ with its own peculiar circumstances of the loss of a friend in the Soviet Union and the near economic bankruptcy driving the new foreign policy and domestic reform agendas. Even then, India was seen by some ASEAN leaders as a kind of ‘balancer’ to China.

Since then, regional geopolitics has taken yet another churn although ASEAN considerations towards India remain the same. In a survey of regional geopolitics in the course of his talk on Singapore’s priorities as the current ASEAN chair, on 5 December last year, the Singapore Foreign Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, described the US in a state of “introspection” about its future role as China and India rise; there were expressions of anxiety, in his speech, about the Korean tensions and about the South China Sea, and exhortations about the unity of ASEAN as it faces its internal and external challenges.

Clearly, China’s assertiveness in the region, militarily and economically, compound these challenges as ASEAN as an organisation endeavours to maintain its cohesion and ‘centrality’ ~ and steering capacity ~ in the South-East Asian security architecture.

Even as a wide range of issues were discussed in the summit meetings in New Delhi befitting this long-lasting relationship, both sides had a convergent focus on the broader strategic picture. The New Delhi Summit ‘Retreat’, an informal, off-the-record sharing of ideas, had ‘Maritime Security and Cooperation’ as the sole agenda. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) briefing on the ‘Retreat’ mentioned an agreement to establish a mechanism to address “both traditional and non-traditional challenges”.

In his opening remarks at the plenary session, Prime Minister Modi, laying stress on a “rules-based order for the oceans and the seas”, elaborated on the scope of the maritime cooperation to include “humanitarian and disaster relief efforts, security cooperation and freedom of navigation.” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his opening remarks, stated that “India makes a major contribution to regional affairs, helping to keep the regional architecture open, balanced and inclusive”.

What shape this maritime cooperation will take in a strategic sense will unfold in the near future. Asean has not embraced the expression ‘Indo-Pacific’, which the Chinese do not like, and the Singapore Foreign Minister in his speech did not go into the terminological hairsplitting between ‘Indo-Pacific’ and ‘Asia Pacific’, adding that it “really translates into the question of what prospect do you see for India in the next couple of decades”.

At the same time, the Delhi Declaration, issued after the conclusion of the summit, expresses support for “full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea” and for “an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC)” in that body of water; although such references are made in bilateral documents with ASEAN’s interlocutors, it is important to note that DOC is a bilateral document between it and China and COC refers to a recent commitment between them, after considerable pressure on China, to initiate negotiations for a legally binding agreement between them for the South China Sea.

Despite a nuanced position on India’s strategic role in South-east Asia, ASEAN recognises that this is essential for its strengthening and its centrality in the regional security architecture under threat substantially due to the Chinese assertiveness. It also embraces the dimensions which were identified, for the purposes of the summit, as the 3C’s ~ Commerce, Connectivity and Culture.

An entire agenda has been fleshed out in the Delhi Declaration, including, inter-alia, the effective implementation of India-Asean Free Trade Area (FTA), swift conclusion of “mutually beneficial” Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), better digital, air and maritime connectivity, other forms of economic cooperation, promotion of civilizational ties, health cooperation, tourism, education, women empowerment, environment, and connectivity etc. These are, of course, in addition to an elaborate agenda of political and security cooperation to “ensure an open, transparent, inclusive and rules-based regional architecture” through various ASEAN-led mechanisms.

Over these decades, a bilateral cooperative relationship, reflecting ASEAN’s own institutional spectrum, has evolved. There are 30 dialogue mechanisms across all sectors, including seven at the ministerial level. Yet, there is criticism, largely motivated by comparison with China, about this relationship still being insufficiently developed due to inadequate effort on India’s part. There is recognition in bilateral documents that more needs to be done. Connectivity projects in Myanmar and Thailand through India’s North-Eastern states are behind schedule as China’s ‘Belt-and-Ruled-Initiative’ (BRI) projects proceed at a rapid pace. The current trade at $ 71 billion pales in contrast to China’s at $514.8 billion, with some observers commenting that India is not yet part of ASEAN’s production value chain.

Some of the criticism is fair although the entire blame need not be placed at India’s door. Whilst ASEAN-China FTA encompasses trade in goods, services and investment, in the Indian case FTA in services and investment has not come into effect due to lack of ratification on the part of Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines. Also, in the RCEP negotiations, according to news reports, Indian concerns about cheap Chinese goods and adequate provision to support its strengths in services and investment are yet to be addressed by the other participating countries.

Although the ASEAN countries are sensitive about regional tensions, especially in the South China Sea, anxiety about the necessity for a certain balancing against China’s increasing assertiveness provides the motivation for this new high in the India-ASEAN relationship. The salience of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ construct, the revival of the ‘Quad’ dialogue process between India, the US, Japan and Australia and the trilateral Malabar naval exercises, involving India, the US and Japan, alternating between the Bay of Bengal and the western Pacific region are indication of India’s desire to play that role.

Post-Doklam, India’s standing as a credible regional player has risen in the eyes of the South-east Asian leaders as, indeed, in regions farther afield. In sum, a new chapter in the recalibration of the balance of power relationship in the region has begun where each stakeholder seeks to pursue its own geopolitical interests.

The writer is former Indian Ambassador to the Philippines and writes on maritime affairs. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Amid tightening of screws on Kashmiri separatist Hurriyat leaders by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) on charges of terror funding, a section of Hurriyat leaders including All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF head Yasin Malik reacted rather vehemently, stating that those arrested by the NIA for terror financing had no active involvement either in the 2016 uprising or in issuing the protest calendars.

Such defensive and faint arguments notwithstanding by the Hurriyat, NIA seems to be on a stronger wicket as it has done its homework well and the investigations carried out so far are scientific and rational.

Clarifying the reasons for sparing other separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, NIA said investigations are still on and once the designated court consents on the request to proceed against them, action will be initiated. It may be recalled that NIA has charged Pakistan-based terrorists Hafiz Saeed and Salauddin along with ten of their accomplices for criminal conspiracy and related charges under the clauses of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

NIA claims to be in possession of hard evidence, both material and technical, gathered during the course of investigations probing terror financing. As part of the enquiry, NIA had raided as many as 60 locations leading to procurement of allegedly incriminating documents. Above all, NIA has also named hardcore separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani ‘s son in law, Altaf Ahmad Shah aka Funtoosh, Geelani ‘s personal aide, Bashir Ahmad Bhatt and businessman Zahoor Ahmad Shah Watali in the chargesheet.

Further, the NIA has accused Hurriyat leaders of acting under the overall direction of Hafiz Saeed and Salahuddin in collaboration with their Pakistani handlers, suspected to be ISI operatives. Communicating to the Hurriyat activists through “ protest calendars” channelled through social media and ultra religious clerics, NIA perceived that such acts are not only detrimental to India’s security interests, they were also designed to create an atmosphere of terror and fear in Jammu and Kashmir to destabilise the state.

Significantly, NIA strongly believes that the investigation based on scientific and oral evidence has established beyond doubt that for carrying out such terrorist and subversive activities, the accused persons were receiving funds from Pakistani agencies through hawala channels such as accused Zahoor Ahmad Shah Watali and others and also mobilising funds from LoC barter trade through under-invoicing and nefarious cash dealings. Investigation also suggests that money was routed through bogus companies floated abroad and remitted to the Hurriyat leaders.

It must be added that Hawala channels were exploited by many and to a larger measure by none other than Syed Salahuddin and Hafeez Saeed. In the meantime, confessional statements of one of the accused directly complicit in the terror fundings in Kashmir should help secure conviction. In other words, evidence is direct.

Statements recorded in many cases go to the extent of stating that funding of stone-pelters was done by separatists. One of the accused has agreed to be an approver. The case is likely to deal a severe blow to the Hurriyat Conference, other terror affiliates and Dukhtaran-e-Milat. Also it is bound to adversely affect their operations.

It is reliably known that bank officials in Kashmir are on a 24×7 watchlist and officials are keeping a tight vigil on deposits. Informal channels of funding Islamic Trusts and the like are again being discreetly pursued and watched. Delhi has been the hub of hawala transactions with a modus operandi that seems almost untraceable and hidden (kachcha bill and circulation of money).

Chats of stone-pelters, their exact locations during stone pelting and their accomplices from Pakistan in the group are important leads. Literature, pamphlets etc mentioning links and texts obtained from across the border are also part of the evidence.

With NIA tightening its noose around the Hurriyat leaders in terror funding, and vigorous pressure by the US on Pakistan to slash funding and dismantling of terror camps, the image of Pakistan has been further dented. The all round offensive unleashed by India to root out terror through decisive counter-terror operations and to isolate Pakistan with robust diplomacy appears to be paying off.

The writer is a retired IPS officer and security analyst. The views are personal.

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The Reserve Bank of India announced its 6th bi-monthly monetary and credit policy on January 06, 2018. It kept the key policy rate unchanged at 6 percent for the third consecutive time  in view of firming inflation. The Reserve Bank of India’s monetary policy committee on Wednesday decided to maintain status quo on the policy repo rate as it saw inflationary pressure building up in the economy. The pressure, among others, is likely to arise due to the staggered impact of house rent allowance increases by various States, the possibility of crude oil and commodity prices going up, the impact of an increase in the minimum support price for kharif crops, and fiscal slippage.

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), headed by RBI Governor Urjit Patel had last reduced the benchmark lending rate by 0.25 percentage points to 6 percent last August, bringing it to a 6-year low.In its December review, the MPC had kept the benchmark interest rate unchanged on concerns of a possible price rise but had left the door ajar for a rate cut in future. Retail inflation crossed the RBI’s comfort level and rose to 5.21 percent in December on increase in prices of food items. The retail inflation, based on Consumer Price Index (CPI), was 4.88 percent in November. In December 2015, it was 3.41 percent.

Highlights

* Key lending rate (repo) unchanged at 6 percent;

* Reverse repo rate remains at 5.75 percent and marginal standing facility (MSF) rate and Bank Rate at 6.25 percent;

* Monetary policy’s stance neutral;

* Petrol and diesel prices rose sharply in January, reflecting lagged pass-through of past increases in global crude prices;

* Retail inflation estimated at 5.1 percent in Q4 this fiscal and 5.1-5.6 percent in H1 of FY2018-19;

* Inflation likely to ease to 4.5-4.6 percent in H2 of FY19;

* Gross Value Added (GVA) growth for FY18 seen at 6.6 percent;

* GVA growth for 2018-19 projected at 7.2 percent;

* GST stabilising, which augurs well for economic activity;

* Early signs of revival in investment activity;

* RBI seeks pick-up in credit growth due to recapitalisation of PSBs and resolution proceedings under IBC;

* Export growth expected to improve further on account of improving global demand;

* RBI says focus of Union Budget on rural and infrastructure sectors a welcome development;

* Five members voted in favour of status quo in interest rate; one member voted for increase of 0.25 percent;

* Next meeting of the MPC on 4 and 5 April.

As was widely anticipated, the six-member committee (MPC) voted 5:1 to keep the policy repo rate (the interest rate at which banks borrow funds from the RBI to overcome short-term liquidity mismatches) unchanged at 6 per cent in the sixth and last bi-monthly monetary policy review of FY18. It continued with a neutral monetary policy stance. Market players expect the central bank to leave the policy repo rate unchanged in the first bi-monthly monetary policy review for FY2019, scheduled for April 5. “We look at inflation projections longer than what is happening in this quarter,” said Urjit Patel, RBI Governor, at a media briefing. “If you look at our 2018-19 forecast, and if you make adjustments for HRA, going forward the inflation rates are still around 4.5 per cent… In some quarters, some months, they (inflation rates) may be a little high. Taking all that into account, we felt that at this stage, without more data coming, it was not necessary to change the repo rate or the policy stance.”

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