Indian foreign secretary pledges “continued support” during official visit

Indian foreign secretary pledges “continued support” during official visit
January 12 16:17 2016

Indian Foreign Secretary Dr S Jaishankar departed this morning after a one-day official visit to the Maldives for talks on strengthening bilateral cooperation.

During a courtesy call at the president’s office yesterday, Dr Jaishankar and President Abdulla Yameen “spoke of supporting each other in the international arena and in times of political distress.”

The foreign secretary “reassured the president of India’s continued support,” the president’s office said.

Yameen also assured the Indian prime minister’s special envoy of his commitment to strong bilateral ties with India and “went on to express his appreciation for India’s support of the Maldives in the international arena.”

The pair also discussed “cross-border terrorism, health care and economic development in the Maldives” and Yameen briefed the foreign secretary on the Maldives’ political situation.

Indo-Maldives relations, which came under strain with the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed, are now improving.

The opposition leader’s 13-year jail sentence after a rushed trial in March last year had drawn widespread international condemnation. At the time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dropped the Maldives from his Indian Ocean tour.

In the wake of a UN human rights panel declaring Nasheed’s jailing illegal and politically motivated last October, India’s ruling BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy had called on Modi to send a special envoy to Maldives to secure Nasheed’s release.

But India has not made any public statements on Nasheed’s case either since his conviction in March or after the judgment by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in October.

Signs of improving ties include a visit by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in October for the revival of the Maldives-India joint commission after a 15-year hiatus. Both sides committed to broadening cooperation in the defence, human resource, trade and health sectors.

In a meeting with his Maldivian counterpart Dr Ali Naseer yesterday, Dr Jaishankar discussed the implementation of matters agreed upon by the joint commission.

The meeting also focused on “close collaboration at international forums,” according to the Maldives foreign ministry.

The emphasis on international relations follows the European parliament’s adoption of a resolution last month calling on member states to impose targeted sanctions against top Maldivian officials over human rights abuses.

Nasheed’s high-profile international lawyers are also lobbying the governments of the US and the UK to impose travel bans and asset freezes against senior state officials.  Dr Jaishankar also met with Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon.

Dr Jaishankar meanwhile also met with Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon yesterday during his third official visit to the Maldives,.

The foreign secretary’s previous visit came in August last year after the opposition raised fears of Chinese military expansion in the Maldives following controversial amendments brought to the constitution that allow foreigners to own freeholds in the country.

New Delhi is reportedly concerned over China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean with plans to build a network of ports dubbed the ‘string of pearls.’

But Yameen assured the Indian government at the time of the Maldives’ commitment to “keep the Indian Ocean a demilitarised zone.”

At a meeting with the outgoing Indian High Commissioner last month, Yameen lauded India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and urged other South Asian nations to “adopt similar stances.”

India-Maldives relations had previously soured in 2012 with the previous government’s abrupt termination of an agreement with Indian infrastructure giant GMR to develop the international airport. The Indian government subsequently tightened visa requirements for Maldivians and revoked a special quota for the import of aggregate and river sand.

The restrictions were lifted after Yameen assumed power in November 2013 after prolonged political turmoil.