After almost two months of diplomatic tussle between New Delhi and Male, the Abdulla Yameen government is finally reaching out to India and sending its Foreign Minister, Mohamed Asim, on a three-day visit to mend ties that have suffered a setback.
Sources told The Indian Express that Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar met Maldives Ambassador to India, Ahmed Mohamed, at least twice in the last one month or so to “convey India’s concerns”, setting the ball rolling for a possible visit from Maldives.
Male then decided to send Asim, a career diplomat-turned-minister, as Yameen’s “special envoy” to overcome the “trust deficit” between the two countries. Asim, who will arrive on Wednesday, is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and counterpart, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, on Thursday. He will leave on Friday.
Asim, who was till a couple of years ago Maldives’ envoy to Bangladesh, has a difficult task ahead as he has to work on “resetting the relationship”, South Block sources said.
Maldives is keen to host Modi for a bilateral visit as he has not visited the country — his trip was cancelled in March 2015 due to the absence of a conducive atmosphere in domestic politics in the island nation. In fact, it is the only country in the neighbourhood which Modi has not visited.
The Yameen government wants “increased engagement” at a “high level”, since, sources pointed out, Maldivian foreign ministers have visited India four times in the last three-and-a-half years, while the Indian foreign minister went there only once.
The strain in the relationship has intensified since November last year, when the Yameen government rammed through its Free Trade Agreement with China in their Parliament (Majlis) on November 29, without any debate and scrutiny of the pact. This raised alarm bells in South Block, which has been tracking the developments in Male.
Following the FTA pact, which was signed during Yameen’s visit to China last month, New Delhi had publicly articulated its hope that as a close and friendly neighbour, Maldives would be sensitive to India’s concerns in keeping with its “India first policy”.
The relationship was further strained in mid-December, after the Maldives government suspended three members of a local body on charges of meeting Indian Ambassador Akhilesh Mishra without seeking prior approval.
Asim, who holds a PhD in political science and international relations from the Australian National University, Canberra, was appointed foreign minister in July 2016. He earlier served as Maldives’ envoy to Pakistan and the United Kingdom in 2004-2008.
“We are keen to listen to his ideas and proposals on how the Maldives government wants to take the relationship forward, as it has suffered some serious setbacks in the recent months,” said a South Block source.
With Maldives due to hold its presidential polls in 2018, sources said that New Delhi and Male would have to work on direct meetings for more open communication and transparency with regard to the situation in the island nation.