Maldives urges global action on a variety of fronts | Daily News

Maldives urges global action on a variety of fronts

Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih addressing the UN General Assembly.
Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih addressing the UN General Assembly.

Palestine, Afghanistan, terrorism, climate change, et al – Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed ‘Ibu’ Solih touched upon all these relevant issues and much more in his address to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and elsewhere during his recent visit to New York. What was noteworthy was that even though it was meant for an international audience, it also resonated with his domestic constituency.

This UNGA session was particularly special as in the Chair when he addressed the UNGA was Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, who was elected President of the 76th session with a thumping majority. President Solih described this watershed moment as a “testament to Maldives’ successes as a small, sovereign, island state.”

As the Head of State of a small country, “I am able to stand here and speak to you all today because my country is recognised as a state,” Solih said. “What has the world got to lose by fully recognising Palestine as an independent State?” He highlighted how the world still continues to bear witness to the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people being so wantonly violated in ever-escalating ways by Israel, and added that the Palestinian people have yet to see justice despite decades of UN efforts.

On Afghanistan, the President identified with the larger international sentiments. He called for an inclusive and representative Government and also for the protection of women’s rights. Indicative of the larger public mood back in his country for ‘a moderate Islamic nation’, the President did not flinch from cautiously distancing his Government from the present-day Taliban rulers in Kabul, lest it should send out wrong signals to fringe groups back home that might have derived validity from the current developments in Afghanistan, after the hasty withdrawal of all American troops.

Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid is UNGA President for 2021-2022.

Global platform

Solih declared that the UN is the most important global platform for deliberation and decision-making to solve the world’s most important challenges from “famine to pandemics, to terrorism.” As if addressing his nation personally from the home-front, he acknowledged that Maldives is not immune to the menace posed by radicalised extremists.

In particular, the President referred to the May 6 bomb attack on former President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed, the Speaker of Parliament. The nation “would not just stand idly” and watch as more such “cowardly” attacks are conspired, he asserted. This was an indication that Solih means business in this regard is borne out by facts.

As may be recalled, in 2019, the year President Solih addressed the UNGA for the first time, which was also the first time for a Maldivian head of state to be present in over seven years, he ratified the second Amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act, which accentuates political and religious extremism as well as radicalisation as acts of terrorism.

That this change in the law came around the time a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) appointed by Solih boldly acknowledged the presence of ‘Al Qaeda-IS affiliates’ in the country also highlighted the seriousness with which the Government was approaching the issue of religious terrorism. Incidentally, Parliament’s ‘241 Committee’, chaired by ruling party member, Mohammed Aslam, while going into security-related issues in the ‘Nasheed bomb attack’ case, also highlighted associated aspects.

The Maldivian President meets UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

In between the two, the Solih administration had initiated both combing operations and social re-education programmes to curb terrorism and curtail fundamentalist thoughts in the larger society, before the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown came in the way. While the shocking attack on Nasheed gave an urgent impetus to the terror hunt by the Security Forces, the re-education programme is expected to be revived once the pandemic is behind the nation.

Referring to Foreign Minister Shahid’s ‘Presidency of Hope’ coinage for his own one-year term at the UNGA, Solih said the title is highly appropriate, owing to the fact that hope is a highly desirable commodity in these difficult times. He urged the global community to give resoluteness to the hope, by “working together in solidarity and unity to achieve ambitions together as one.”

In context, he observed how the consequences of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have remained the same from small island nations to the powers spanning continents. The pandemic was a challenge, lacking a pattern, for the Maldives as well as the entire globe, he said. The key is vaccination, and ‘vaccine equity’ is of ‘paramount importance’.

No guarantee of survival

Solih also used the occasion to reiterate his nation’s continuing concerns on the consequences of Climate Change, owing to which the Maldives would go under, as per scientific studies. In a strongly-worded observation, he told the UNGA, “There is no guarantee of survival for any one nation in a world where the Maldives ceases to exist.” He presented the UNGA with letters penned by Maldivian children on what is a real concern of their generation, and pointed out how the report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change recently was a ‘shocking reiteration’ of what we have been aware of for too long. “We are determined to not passively wait on the climate front,” he declared.

In the same vein, addressing a parallel summit of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Solih flagged his nation’s eternal environmental concerns, caused by ever-rising sea levels, which was first highlighted when his long-term predecessor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (1978–2008) hosted the maiden summit of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in 1989, and whose continuing concerns were dramatically demonstrated by President Nasheed (2008–12), ahead of the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change, 2009, when he held the world’s first and only under-water Cabinet meeting.  He strongly urged multilateral collaboration to diversify SIDS economies and build sustainable climate resilience through financial assistance, technology transfer, and capacity-building. 

At the High-Level Meeting to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the ‘Durban Declaration and Programme of Action’ held on the sidelines of the UNGA meeting, President Solih called for easing debt burdens and aid for vulnerable nations to eradicate racism and inequality. “Maldives, like many other small island developing states, is extremely vulnerable to external shocks,” he said, also pointing to the fact that the nation imports almost everything required for daily living.

“Maldives has once again become the sunny side of life, come visit us,” Solih told his global audience at the UNGA, as the nation is limping back to post-pandemic normalcy, what with tourism being the mainstay of the nation’s economy. Given the huge negative impact of the pandemic on the nation’s economy, the Government had hurriedly unlocked Maldives for foreign tourists as early as July 15 last year. Tourist inflow, which was trickling in in the early weeks, has now begun picking up, with neighbouring India topping the charts in recent months.

Significantly, Solih was the third world leader from the long list of nations to address the UNGA this year. Traditionally, the first slot goes to Brazil, for no explicable reason, and the second to the US as the UN’s host. Rarely does the third slot go to a small, island-nation like the Maldives. The importance it conferred on the nation did not go unnoticed, both inside the country and outside. Adding another feather to the hat was Solih’s decision to deliver his UNGA address in Dhivehi, his nation’s mother tongue.

Apart from the fact that a fellow Maldivian was chairing the august UNGA body for the first time ever, the nation’s interest was glued on to what Solih said in New York also because of the much-advanced political campaign for the nation’s Presidential Poll, which is due in two years, in October 2023. Thus, Solih’s UN and other New York addresses which included diversified subjects such as Islam-centric Palestine and Afghanistan and religious radicalism and terrorism, apart from Maldives’ eternal concerns such as Climate Change and economic inequities, all of them highlighted by the pandemic this past year and more, had a special relevance for his domestic audience.

With his factionalised Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) holding grassroots-level organisational elections only days after his UNGA address, what Solih said overseas on issues of immediate concern to the nation mattered even more. Incidentally, the other faction leader, Speaker Nasheed, was also overseas, managing his camp’s campaign from the UK, where he is recuperating after overseas medical care for his blast wounds.

With unofficial results of the party polls out, Nasheed has claimed the backing of 53 of the 97 elected office-bearers for his plank, for a national change-over from the existing presidential form to a Parliamentary System of Government.  The Solih faction has not come up with any ‘official figures’ of its own, but sympathetic media analyses have put them on the top, also by including other voting members, comprising MDP Cabinet Ministers and party MPs, to give them a purported wide lead in the National Council ahead of the party congress that are anyway due. A clearer picture will emerge when the party’s poll managers come up with the final figures, after addressing complaints and after compiling the nation-wide figures in the coming days.

(Observer Research Foundation)

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