Vice President of the Maldives Dr Mohammed Waheed Hassan has told Indian media that young Maldivians are being recruited by militant groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan to wage ‘jihad’.
The Indian Press Trust (IPT), among others, also reported that Waheed had claimed an increasing number of young Maldivians “are embracing a version of Islam which is more strict than the traditional Islamic values [of the Maldives].”
The vice president is currently visiting India, which recently signalled its willingness to increase defence cooperation after reports that extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, believed responsible for the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, was active in the Maldives.
At the time, Indian news portal Rediff.com reported Indian intelligence bureau sources as saying the group had “nearly 1,000 operatives active in the Maldives”.
Indian media reported that Waheed had asked for the country’s assistance in preventing the passage through India of young people suspected to be attending radical institutions.
“Some of these people are going to Pakistan and Afghanistan and are waging jihad. We want these people back,” he told PTI. “These are students and it is very easy for them to say they are going to pursue education.”
Presidential Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the vice president’s comments were based on “certain statistics from education authorities, police and Pakistani authorities.”
“This government estimates there are 200-300 unregistered [Maldivian] students in Pakistan,” Zuhair said.
“The government has made a point of checking up on any student travelling to Pakistan and making sure that what recruiters have told their families is accurate, and that the institutions are recognised by the Pakistani government,” he said.
However, “students are leaving the Maldives with the good intentions of obtaining an Islamic education, but are being told to bypass the government’s legislation and monitoring [processes].”
There was a requirement for someone travelling abroad to study to register with the government, he said. “In the latter stages of the previous government [unregistered] students would be brought back once they reach Colombo,” he noted.
The government was developing a range of Islamic scholarship programs for students at registered institutions in countries like India and Malaysia to try and address the issue, Zuhair explained.