Why did Wickremesinghe appoint Nasheed as advisor?

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With Nasheed’s appointment, Colombo has sent a signal that it is ready to embrace the West once again, reports Rahul Kumar

On Thursday, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed as an advisor to help his country secure foreign aid and bail Sri Lanka out of its unprecedented crisis.

Since late last year, Sri Lanka is grappling with a debilitating economic crisis that has pushed up inflation and caused scarcity of food and fuel.

In a tweet, Wickremesinghe said: “I have accepted former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed’s generous offer to assist in the relief efforts in Sri Lanka’s economic recovery by coordinating the efforts to secure foreign assistance”.

Nasheed warmly reciprocated Wickremesinghe’s announcement, saying: “Thank you Prime Minister. I am more than happy to help and will give it my best shot”.

India Narrative spoke with experts in India and Sri Lanka to find out more about the unprecedented appointment, considering that Nasheed is the Speaker of the Maldivian Parliament currently.

Colombo-based author and foreign advisor, Dr Srimal Fernando told India Narrative: “It is a smart move by Wickremesinghe. Nasheed has a vast network, particularly with Western nations. He has a wide global exposure and is quite advanced in his thinking”.

Fernando added: “Nasheed can help Sri Lanka because he is an influential figure and is backed by European nations. He has lived in many foreign countries and is strongly pro-India. The three countries — Sri Lanka, Maldives and India form a close triangle. People from all these countries are close to each other. During the recent crisis no other country came to help except India”.

Fernando said that Nasheed’s relations with Sri Lanka are very old, “almost since the time he formed the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). Once, during his political career, when Nasheed was deposed, he took asylum in Sri Lanka. At that time, both Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Rajapaksas facilitated asylum for many MDP supporters. Family members of many Maldivian politicians live here”.

Dhananjay Tripathi, Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations, South Asian University, told India Narrative that though surprising, Nasheed’s appointment will serve Sri Lanka well. “Sri Lanka has sent a clear political signal to China by appointing Nasheed as the coordinator for Sri Lanka’s economic recovery”.

Tripathi added that Nasheed enjoys a good political reputation and he will help Sri Lanka move close to its traditional allies – the Western nations. “We should remember that from the very early days, Sri Lanka was guided by the Western notions of liberalism and capitalism, much before India came into that space”.

Sri Lanka’s tilt to China took place during the reign of the Rajapaksa family. With Nasheed’s appointment, Colombo has sent a signal that it is ready to embrace the West once again.

Despite its size, Maldives – which is an archipelago, carries considerable heft in global affairs. Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid is currently the President of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Nasheed himself is widely accepted because of his strong democratic credentials and advocacy of the climate crisis.

The two islands have strong bilateral linkages and close connections. With just one hour travel time between the two island nations, the people-to-people connections are very strong. It is estimated that nearly 15,000 Maldivians live in Sri Lanka permanently.

As Fernando said: “The people of the two nations too are governed by a certain island mentality which brings them together”.

(The content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)

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