Illustration: Paul Aitchison
Illustration: Paul Aitchison

The general’s atoll

The political grooming of the Maldivian armed forces threatens democracy, as well as the sanctity of the public sphere.

(This is an essay from our print quarterly 'The Southasian Military Complex'. See more from the issue here.)
The small island nation of the Maldives has little to fear from external enemy forces. Its closest neighbours are Sri Lanka and India – both firm allies. All SAARC member-states have been on good terms with consecutive Maldivian governments since the country gained independence and began entering into bilateral relations. Despite China and the US having rival interests in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives appears to be keeping both on side. Analysts predict that in terms of security threats, the Maldives has most to fear from those arising from non-traditional sources, such as piracy, terrorism, and, increasingly, climate change. Given this geostrategic scenario, it should be safe to assume that the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) would be playing a less central role in matters of state than armed forces in other countries of the region such as Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. Not so.

The MNDF permeates every aspect of Maldivian life today, from education to entertainment, faith to leisure. Indeed, a cursory look at the activities that the force has initiated or partaken in since the swearing in of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on 17 November 2013 provides a snapshot of how deep the military's tentacles now penetrate civilian life.

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