NEW DELHI | 8th Dec 2012
Two tourists walk past a GMR banner at the Male International airport on Tuesday. PTI
credulous Government of India "accepted the word" of key Western allies that the replacement of the India-friendly Mohammad Nasheed by his Vice-President, Waheed Hassan Manik on 7 February 2012, "would not change the situation in the slightest". With "reckless haste, and without ascertaining facts about the new team, the GoI backed the change and blessed Waheed", a senior official lamented. He added that "the Vice-President was known to be close to senior officers in the Pakistan military, and was also a welcome guest in China", both countries where then President Nasheed was "looked upon with suspicion because of his known affinity with India". Another official revealed that "although our intelligence agencies warned that the new team may refuse to continue an India-friendly policy", such counsel was disregarded by the Prime Minister's Office "on the advice of two friendly European countries, who had received glowing testimonials about the new man (Waheed) through their contacts in Dubai". That this city is known to be an effective disseminator of ISI disinformation was ignored when President Nasheed was forced to resign. Later, in a transparent cover-up, a committee appointed by the new team found that the ousted head of state had "resigned voluntarily", even though he himself had been alleging the contrary since his dismissal.
A senior official revealed that not only the new Maldivian President "but Home Minister Abdulla Mohammad and Defence Minister Mohammad Nazir are also hostile to India and close to the Pakistan military". However, unlike in the case of President Waheed, whose removal requires a two-thirds majority in Maldivian Parliament, both the Home and the Defence Minister can be removed by simple majority through a no-confidence vote in Parliament. Ousted President Nasheed is proposing just that. However, intelligence agencies in India warn that "the two ministers will defy the law and refuse to quit, even after they are impeached by a Parliamentary majority". However, he was sceptical of the Manmohan Singh government taking steps to assist democratic forces in the Maldives against those defying the Constitution of the country. "As the US, the UK and France all three are hostile to Nasheed, there is zero chance that Manmohan Singh will back him," a senior diplomat claimed.
President Waheed has the backing of not only Pakistan, China, the US and the EU but religious groups as well. "Maldives has a growing number of converts to Wahhabism, thanks to preachers from the Gulf region who come here in large numbers", a Maldivian analyst claimed, adding that "these groups disliked former President Nasheed because of his refusal to ban alcohol and dancing and to impose Sharia law among the local population". He added that such groups "have been given oxygen because of the takeover of Tunisia and Egypt by religious parties that have close links with countries having significant Wahhabi populations". Another Maldivian analyst said that "the Pakistan army wants China to replace India in running the airport". He said that a Chinese company had "already been promised the concession by Waheed, Nazir and Abdulla Mohammad", the alleged pro-Pakistan trio now running the Maldivian government.
However, a Maldivian official claimed that the decision to take over the airport was based on "commercial considerations". He alleged that "because of political influence in India, GMR got a sweetheart deal that would give it a huge profit at the cost of the Maldivian exchequer". He claimed that "the final straw was GMR's proposal to hike airport and passenger fees to such an extent that tourist traffic would get impacted". According to him, "GMR has made Delhi the most expensive in the world and wanted to do the same in Male International Airport". Those close to GMR deny such a claim, saying that the proposed $500 million modernisation would have made the airport "among the world's finest".
After the dust clears, it is almost certain that the Indian company will lose the airport contract. "India is getting a taste of its own medicine, after its Supreme Court took back the licences given to foreign telecom companies", a Maldivian official gleefully said, adding that "the GMR contract has become a political football because of the imminence of fresh elections". Given its track record, it is unlikely that the Manmohan Singh government will take any steps barring noise to safeguard Indian interests in the nearby country.
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