"" Welcome to my thoughts: July 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Maldives: A New & Happy Era

This article was posted on Times Magazine. Friday, August 6, 1965.
If someone remarked that the Maldives became free last week, one might certainly be pardoned for asking, "Oh, really? How much had they cost before?" Nevertheless last week the Maldives, a collection of 2,000 coral islands in the Indian Ocean, became free.

Even the British, who had drawn up the independence papers long ago, were unprepared for the event. There was no Union Jack that could be dramatically rung down. None of the Queen's relatives were there. The ceremony was not even held in the Maldives. It took place, quite unexpectedly, when Sultan Ibrahim Nasir appeared at the door of the British High Commissioner's home in Ceylon and said he was ready to sign. He was sorry to arrive without warning, said Nasir, but he hadn't expected to be coming to Colombo so soon. He had made the three-day boat trip only because he needed to see a dentist.

Independence was hardly a burning issue to the Maldives, whose 95,000 Moslems mostly fish. Although the British had held them as a protectorate since 1887, the islands had always governed themselves, and the British had never even sent an administrator to their capital at Male. Britain's only responsibilities, in fact, were the conduct of Maldivian foreign affairs (nonexistent) and defense (unnecessary). Its only interest was the R.A.F. runway on the island of Gan, which it will retain as a steppingstone to Southeast Asia.

"I am confident," Commonwealth Relations Secretary Arthur Bottomley told Parliament in London last week, "that this will mark the beginning of a new and happy era in Anglo-Maldivian relations." But even that did not seem very likely. Rather than join the worldwide stampede of newly emerging nations, the Maldives seem intent on submerging. They are not going to join the Commonwealth. They have not applied for membership in the United Nations. Nor, apparently, will they seek diplomatic relations with any nation anywhere. The closest thing the Maldivians have to a foreign service, in fact, is a Male fish trader who has set himself up in business in Ceylon