When Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed was asked by TV Maldives whether the country was in danger of becoming a safe haven for terrorists, he answered with “a flat no” and said “the government would not allow the Maldives to become a playground for the Taliban.”
On the weekend of 22 January, a group of Afghan MPs, “a government official” and seven people linked to the Taliban met in the Maldives for secret talks. At the time, Al-Jazeera reported that one of the Taliban’s representatives claimed the destination was chosen because “we feel safe.”
Photographs of the meeting have surfaced showing the Afghan MPs with another group gathered at the Bandos Resort conference centre.
A spokesman for the resort confirmed a group guests including Afghan MPs stayed at the resort and used the conference facilities, but noted it had no way of knowing whether the group was linked to the Taliban or not.
“We don’t go in [to the conference centre] when there is a meeting going on,” the spokesman explained.
Dr Shaheed said that the government was “fully aware of [the meeting] before it happened,” and at the time tried to determine whether to stop the meeting or allow it and see what was going on. He added that there was also no legal reason for denying them entry into the country.
“If they were complying with the UN resolution 1267, we had to allow them in,” he said.
Dr Shaheed is referring to the travel ban imposed in 2002 by the UN Security Council which bans “Osama bin Laden, members of the Al-Qaida organisation and the Taliban and other individuals associated with them” from entering or transiting through the territories of UN Member States.
Press Secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair, said the group “weren’t technically Taliban; there was one group from the Afghan government and another group who were sympathetic to the Taliban.”
Zuhair added the Maldivian government wants to focus on “reintegration and reconciliation.”
Dr Shaheed said that if there proves to be an “official affiliation between a foreign government [and the Taliban]”, the Maldives will protest to that government.
He added that the Maldivian government “are on our guard” and there is an ongoing investigation “examining who was here” and “whether there was anyone in that group who wasn’t meant to be here.”
He also said the government is “not too pleased about this” and is “very watchful” for these types of meetings taking place within the country.