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Maldives Strategic Environment and Projections

The Maldives, an atoll nation of approximately 400,000 population, is set in the pristine seas of the Indian Ocean region and is a major tourist attraction mainly due to the developed resort network spread over 280 inhabited islands. The geographical location astride major sea lanes of the Indian Ocean have also led the country to be the centre of competition of major powers in the region and beyond.

Prevalence of Islamic extremism has been a trend in the past two decades that manifested in the yet to be unravelled May 06 bomb attack on the former President and Speaker of the National Assembly, the Majlis Mohammad Nasheed. Beyond the attack which seriously injured Nasheed who was flown to Germany and later UK for convalescence, is the ugly face of political competition amongst peers that has assumed the dimension of a bilateral fracas in the past of divisions tilted towards India and China.

Thus, the nation with the highest per capita income in South Asia has been caught in foibles, the makings of Maldives leadership their bitter personal and political rivalries.

Geographically speaking the division of the country across an archipelago is creating major political divisions.

There are 21 administrative atolls (atholhuthah, singular - atholhu) in Maldives, in an archipelago of 1,190 coral islands which includes 200 inhabited islands, plus 80 islands with tourist resorts.

Maximum population around one third is concentrated in capital Male while southern Addu City is the second largest.

The large coastline of 644 km entails principally a maritime threat while land availability is scarce with a total area of 298 sq km land.

The impact of climate change is considerable on the atolls, and there are concerns of many atolls being submerged due to rising sea levels.

The geographic configuration has impacted politics, creating a highly surcharged competition for the Presidency having vast executive powers. Presently tensions prevail over the Presidential system, and proposals for a referendum to adopt a parliamentary mode have been floated by the largest political party, the Maldives Democratic Party or MDP. How far these will fructify remain to be seen?

Islam is the state religion citizenship is bound by the same. Recent surge in radical extremism in Islam has had an impact, and the influence of the Islamic State in Maldives has led to many joining the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria while there are estimates of approximately 1400 religious extremists in the nation. The May 06, 2021, attack on former President and Speaker Mohammad Nasheed, which left him scarred by heavy injuries, is symptomatic of this trend and has also led to political divisions within the MDP.

Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) is unified defence and security organization for maintaining security and sovereignty of Maldives, having primary task of managing internal and external security needs of the country, including the protection of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and maintenance of peace and security. The MNDF is being supported extensively by Indian armed forces and is involved in training and capacity building activities. Other countries have also been providing necessary assistance.

Short Term Future Trajectory

Political. Ongoing contestations in the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), including differences between the President and Speaker who is the leader of the MDP and demand for referendum for change over to the parliamentary system, are some of the key challenges in the immediate future.

International and Regional Relations. Managing relations between key regional and global powers for stability and balance assumes importance for Maldives with growing geopolitical and regional power play in the Indo Pacific.

Economy. Large debt burden is a major concern for Maldives an economic enigma with the highest per capita income in the South Asian region. Tourism, the main economic draw has recently picked up (October 2021), thus COVID 19 trajectory will also determine the way ahead.

Internal Security. Radical extremism is a major challenge for Maldives and attempts at preventing the same taking a violent turn will determine the way ahead.

Defence. A vast EEZ and multiple atolls and islands poses a complex challenge for the Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) with counter-terrorism response being poor


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