President Abdulla Yameen has lauded India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ foreign policy and urged member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to prioritise improving relations with each other.
In a message yesterday on the occasion of SAARC charter day, Yameen called on neighbouring countries to work together to combat cross-border terrorism and violent extremism in order to ensure peace and prosperity in the region.
“All SAARC Member States must work collectively together to deliver human security for our people, and ensure that terrorist organisations have no room to spread their venom in the region,” he said.
“The foreign policies of SAARC Member States should therefore prioritise improving relations with its neighbours, as a peaceful region is integral to ensuring peaceful nations. In this regard, the Maldives welcomes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, and encourages other member states to adopt similar stances.”
Indian High Commissioner Rajeev Shahare visited Yameen yesterday and “expressed India’s keen interest in further contributing to the development of Maldives,” according to the president’s office.
The president “reassured the Indian High Commissioner of the government’s commitment to strengthening the Indo-Maldives relations.”
Yameen reiteration of the Maldives’ policy of “India First” comes amidst concerns over China’s growing presence in the Maldives. The government is also strengthening ties withe Saudi Arabia.
India-Maldives relations had soured in 2012 after the 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.
But former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment in March appeared to strain relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi dropping the Maldives off his Indian Ocean tour in March.
In a sign of improving ties, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited the Maldives in early October and revived a Maldives-India joint commission after a 15-year hiatus. Both sides committed to broadening cooperation in the defence, human resource, trade and health sectors.
India has not made any public statements on Nasheed’s case since his conviction in March or after a UN human rights panel ruled his imprisonment arbitrary.
But India’s ruling BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy had called on Modi to send a special envoy to Maldives to secure Nasheed’s release. He described Nasheed’s trial as “politically biased, inadequate and subject to external influence.”