India’s response to coup “cold”, Ibra tells Times of India

India should come down hard on the present regime in the Maldives and ask President Mohammed Waheed Hassan to call for general election this year, senior Maldivian senior statesman Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, has told the Times of India.

Ibra said India’s response to the coup in Maldives was cold and that the largest democracy in the world had shut its eyes on the human rights violations that were going on in his country.

“The protests against the military rule are on the rise. In the last 40 days, more than 650 people have been arrested compared to the 10-15 detained for hooliganism in the last three years of democratic rule,” he said.

Ibra, who led the first pro-democracy mass protest in 2004, which led to the formation of the first democratically-elected government in Maldives, admitted they didn’t see the coup coming until it was too late. “We should have been careful as the elements of dictatorship don’t go away too easily.”

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Comment: Maldivian government endorses Deobandi Islam, the religion of the Taliban

The Religious Unity Regulations have provided the clearest indication yet of the official direction religion in the Maldives is taking: towards Deobandi Islam, the religion of the Taliban.

Among 36 institutions of Islamic learning approved by the regulations is the ultra-orthodox Jamia Darul Uloom in Deoband, India and at least six affiliated madrassas.

Established in 1867 to bring together Muslims who were hostile to British rule, the Deoband madrassa, created the so-called ‘Deobandi Tradition’ committed to a literal and austere interpretation of Islam. For the last 200 years, the Deobandi Tradition has argued that the reason Islamic societies have fallen behind the West on all spheres of endeavour is because they have been seduced by the amoral West, and have deviated from the original teachings of Prophet Mohammed.

It is the fundamentalist Deobad Da-ul-Uloom brand of Islam that inspired the Taliban movement. Many of the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan and in Pakistan are graduates of the Deobandi-influenced seminaries in Pakistan. Mullah Omar, for example, attended the Deobandi Darul Uloom Haqqania madrassa in Peshawar.

The Kabul Centre for Strategic Studies has reported that so many of the Taliban leaders were educated at the school that its head cleric, Maulana Sami ul-Haq is regarded the father of the Taliban. The Deobandi Tradition is highly critical of Islam as practised in modern societies, feeling that the established religious order had made too many compromises with its foreign environment.

The mission of the Deoband is to cleanse Islam of all Western influences, and to propagate their teachings with missionary zeal. Increasingly, the Deobandi movement has been funded by the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, leading to the former being co-opted by the latter.

Without a clear indication – such as ‘Darul Uloom’ appearing in the name of the institution – it cannot be said with certainty how many of the total of 10 listed Pakistani institutions in the regulations  are categorically Deobandi.

Available facts suggest, however, that more than just the two Darul Ulooms listed in the Regulations are Deobandi. It is the Deobandi that has the largest number of religious seminaries in Pakistan – of 20,000 registered seminaries in Pakistan, 12,000 are run by Deobandi scholars; and 6,000 by the Barlevi, with whom the Deobandi have many disputes.

Among the 10 Pakistani institutions approved by the regulations is also Jamia Salafia, a seminary whose alumni include several leaders in Al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the organisation behind the Mumbai terror attacks in which a Maldivian is alleged to have participated. It is also the leading supplier of Salafi neo-conservatism in the Maldives.

Even when the approved list of institutions in the regulations’ list goes beyond South Asian borders, it gravitates towards the Deobandi movement. The list includes, for example, the Dhaarul Uloom Zakariya in South Africa. The only institute in Britain the regulations approve of is the Islamic Da’wa Academy, a place which produces the Muslim equivalent of a missionary. Why is there such an acute need to proselytise in a country where the population already believes in Islam except to propagate a particular view?

The Deoband HQ has recently sought to distance itself from violent extremism. For the powers that be in the War on Terror, what matters is the graduation from extremism to violence. But, for societies such as the Maldives, and for the people who have to live under its precincts, what matters more is the oppression that extremism imposes on daily life. This is the reality that a Maldivian people living under the Religious Unity Regulations will have to face.

The application of the Deobandi school of thought on Maldivian women is a frightening prospect that is not too far in the distant future. The Taliban’s stance on women is a clear indication of the scale of the potential problem. An example of the Deobandi’s take on women is the 24 April 2010 Fatwa by the seminary in Deoband that declared it ‘haraam’ and illegal according to Sharia for a family to accept a women’s earnings.

‘It is unlawful for Muslim women to do job in government or private institutions where men and women work together and women have to talk with men frankly and without veil.’

Embarrassed by the angry reaction in the Indian media and among women’s groups, the Deoband madrassa denied it banned women from the work place and only insisted that working women be ‘properly covered’. As analysts have pointed out, however, what the Fatwa suggests is that women can only work in such places where they can fully veil themselves and where they cannot ‘frankly’ talk to men, whatever that means. The Fatwa effectively banned Muslim women from the workplace in India.

The Religious Unity Regulations stipulate that no one should propagate their particular ideology of Islam as the ‘right Islam’. This stipulation looks good in writing, and is perhaps what has allowed the government to spin the document as ‘a crack-down on extremism’.

It is true the regulations prohibit the promotion of a particular ideology of Islam as the ‘true Islam’. But by regulating what truth about Islam would be considered as legitimate in the first place, a pre-selected knowledge of the ‘right Islam’ – what looks like Deobandi Islam – is being imposed on the people that pre-empts the regulations themselves. It is clear from the staggering changes that have occurred in Maldivian faith in the last decade that the Deobandi movement has been a resounding success in the country. Now it has the chance to flourish further, with no conflicting opinions to be allowed in.

Clamping down on other forms of Islam is, in fact, a defining characteristic of the Deobandi Tradition. Although from a global perspective the Deobandis are only one of many religious expressions of Islam, from the Deobandi point of view, theirs is the only true Islam.

The Deobandi regard all other forms of Islam as heretical, leading to continued tension and long-term violence between the Deobandi and other Muslims. In Pakistan, where the Deobandi is known to have played a crucial role in establishing an Islamic state, the Deobandi Taliban have carried out many acts of violence against followers of the Berlevi tradition, which many Pakistan’s Muslims follow.

The Religious Unity Regulations have already created tensions among those who have claimed the mantle of ‘religious scholar’ in the Maldives. The Islamic Foundation of the Maldives is arguing against the Regulations on the basis that the requirement of a first degree as a prerequisite for the Preachers License is unconstitutional. It is also fighting for the religious right to describe Jews as ‘evil people and liars’.

The Adhaalath Party, meanwhile, has objected to the regulations because the President and his advisors apparently watered down the purity of their contributions to the draft Regulations by contaminating it with “provisions from English law…not suited to a 100 percent Muslim country”, echoing the founding principles of the Deobandi Tradition.

‘Compared to the first draft’, President’s advisor on the Regulations, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, said, “the regulations do not impinge on freedom of expression”.

What matters is not whether, comparatively speaking, the first draft is a veritable Magna Carta. What matters is the final draft that has been gazetted. And it severely restricts the freedom of the Maldivian people in the name of the ‘right Islam’ – Deobandi Islam. To spin the document as something that “will allow liberal-minded thinkers to convince people of the middle ground” is deliberately misleading if not an outright lie. This document does the exact opposite.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Two “narco-terrorist” suspects arrested in Maldives

Two men accused of “narco-terrorism” conspiracies to support Hezbollah and the Taliban were arrested in the Maldives by “the long arm of US law enforcement”, reports AFP.

The two suspects along with another two arrested in Bucharest were being brought before a federal judge in New York, according to a statement by US Attorney Preet Bharara.

“According to the indictment undercover US narcotics agents pretending to represent Hezbollah agreed to purchase hundreds of kilograms of heroin,” AFP reports.


Taliban true to Islamic Ideology, claims Pakistani Tourism Minister

Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Tourism has said that the Taliban truly represent Islamic ideology, resulting in their vilification by the United States of America, according to local media reports in the country.

Maulana Attaur Rehman was reported by the Pakistan-based newspaper Dawn to have made the claims at a public gathering in the country this week, claiming terrorism cannot be defeated unless the US and the world gave respect and equal rights to “the muslims”.

Rehman is a member of Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam political party, the newspaper adds.

“Ulema and Taliban are the true followers of Islamic ideology and America is the biggest terrorist of the world, which is creating hatred against them,” said Rehman.

“It is a misconception that ulema and Taliban are against coexistence of people with different religions, in fact it is America which is against the interfaith harmony to maintain its hegemony on the world,” he added.


Paradise hosts third round of Taliban peace talks

The Maldives last week hosted a third round of peace talks between the Afghan government and members of Taliban-linked resistance group led by ex-Mujahideen Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the three key leaders of the armed opposition in Afghanistan.

Paradise’s manager Qaisar Naseem confirmed to Minivan News that the third meeting, “of 50 or so people”, was held at the resort around November 9.

“It was independently organised and involved some people from Afghanistan, but they were not [identified] as Taliban. There were people from the [Afghan] government as well,” he said. “They brought the media with them.”

The delegates caused no problems and were “very decent, very friendly, and talked to the other guests,” he said.

In a press conference today prior to his departure to Sri Lanka, President Mohamed Nasheed said the government was “aware of these conferences” but had no involvement.

“We do not at all feel that they bring a security risk. The security services of this country – police and other intelligence services – have a very good grip on who is doing what,” Nasheed said.

“Our position is that anyone wishing to have a conversation or bridge a gap to resolve a conflict is always very welcome in the Maldives.”

However, in the event of future talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, it is likely the gates of Paradise will remain closed.

Naseem said that while hosting the conference itself was harmless, the resort was “fully dependent” on European visitors, and management was acutely aware that the meetings could have a “negative impact” on guest perception.

“There’s no problems actually holding these events, but it does have an adverse effect on perception,” he explained. “To be honest, we’re not going to do it again.”

President of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), Mohamed Ibrahim ‘Sim’, told Minivan News that he had not had heard of any adverse reaction to the meetings from tour operators or the wider travel market.

“I don’t understand why there should be an impact [on perception],” he said. “The fact we are providing a safe haven for people with a peaceful agenda to come and discuss issues across a table does not detract from the image of the country.

“Some of these leaders are seen as terrorists and warlords, and the fact they are coming to the meeting emphasises the safety of the destination,” Sim said.

“We are a tourist destination and we don’t want to dragged into global geopolitics and the animosity between nations. We don’t want to antagonise anybody – that’s how a small and defenceless nation like the Maldives has been able to survive, and will hopefully continue to do so.”


Central Asia Online reported that during the five day conference delegates proposed to form a supreme shura (‘consultation’), the Shura-e-Aali Amniyat-e-Milli, under which representatives from Afghanistan’s political, ethnic and warring groups would review “all major government policies before they are introduced before the parliament.”

“Policies would have to be passed with a two-thirds majority of the shura to be passed on to parliament or be implemented,” the US government-sponsored news site reported.

Taking on an almost parliamentary function, the shura would also approve ministerial, judicial, and independent commission appointments, the site reported. In the meantime, a ‘peace commission’ would be created to broker a ceasefire between the government and insurgent groups. A communique on the final day also called for the “immediate withdrawal” of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

The meeting was the third in a series of gatherings held this year in the Maldives, and the second to be held at Paradise Resort.

The first, under a veneer of secrecy, was held at Bandos Island Resort and Spa in January at the same time as the US, Britian and Japan spearheaded a proposal to ‘bribe’ Taliban fighters to disarm.

State Minister for Defence, Mohamed Muiz Adnan, told Minivan News at the time that he was not aware of the group’s arrival until he “saw it in the newspaper”, and had no knowledge of the meeting.

The second event in May – held at Paradise – was more widely publicised, and filmed by television news network Al-Jazeera. It was organised by Almayoun Jarir, Hekmatyar’s son-in-law.

Image taken during May meeting at Paradise Island Resort and Spa.


Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban: Time

Mutilation, beatings, and oppression of women for ‘crimes’ that are not enforced for men, continues in areas of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban.

Time magazine asks whether women’s rights will be sacrificed in any deal with the Taliban.

Read more – Warning: graphic photos


A Taliban victory in Afghanistan: William Dalrymple

The respected historian of India, William Dalrymple, is predicting defeat for the US and its allies in Afghanistan, and victory for the Taliban.

“Certainly it is becoming clearer than ever that the once-hated Taliban, far from being swept away by General Stanley McChrystal’s surge, are instead regrouping, ready for the final act in the history of Hamid Karzai’s western-installed puppet government. The Taliban have now advanced out of their borderland safe havens to the very gates of Kabul and are surrounding the capital, much as the US-backed mujahedin once did to the Soviet-installed regime in the late 1980s… The Taliban already control more than 70 per cent of the country, where they collect taxes, enforce the sharia and dispense their usual rough justice. Every month, their sphere of influence increases. According to a recent Pentagon report, Karzai’s government has control of only 29 out of 121 key strategic districts…

“It appears that the Taliban have regained control of the opium-growing centre of Marjah in Helmand Province, only three months after being driven out by McChrystal’s forces amid much gung-ho cheerleading in the US media. Afghanistan is going down… It is time to shed the idea that a pro-western puppet regime that excludes the Pashtuns can remain in place indefinitely. The Karzai government is crumbling before our eyes, and if we delude ourselves that this is not the case, we could yet face a replay of 1842.”

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Footage of the Taliban in Paradise: Al Jazeera

Thirteen members of Afghanistan’s parliament, an Afghan governor “and a variety of political parties and armed groups” have held the second in a series of meetings in the Maldives, according to news network Al Jazeera.

Press Secretary at the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, on Thursday confirmed that the peace talks were taking place and all involved in the talks had valid passports and visas.

The Maldives is one of the few countries to provide Afghan nationals a visa on arrival.

“None of the representatives involved are listed in UN or other international travel blacklists,” Zuhair said, noting that the MNDF was aware of the meeting. The Al Jazeera report observed that US and NATO were not represented at the talks and that while it was interested the discussions, Afghan government had not officially endorsed them.

Al Jazeera’s report contained footage of the talks and of man the network said had arrived at the last minute “claiming to be a member of the Taliban.”

The representatives told Al Jazeera that their presence at the meeting, which the Maldivian media speculated was being held at Paradise Island Resort, was not official.

The event was organised by Almayoun Jarir, the son in law of former Mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who is one of the three key leaders of the armed opposition in Afghanistan.

Topics of discussion included the need for fresh elections, and the future of foreign troops in the country. The report noted that one of the Afghan MPs who attended was female.

Besides the ease of visa issuance, the Maldives was chosen as the venue for the three day talks “because it is considered neutral ground for all countries [involved]” Al Jazeera said. “It is also an example of what peace can bring to an islamic country.”


Second round of Taliban peace talks to be held in the Maldives

The Maldives is hosting a second round of talks between Afghan lawmakers and “groups opposed to the Afghan government.”

Press Secretary at the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, confirmed the talks were taking place and said the Maldives government had “no involvement”.

“We cannot disclose the location of the talks, although we can confirm that they are not being held in Male’ or other population centres,” he said.

In late January Al Jazeera reported that a group of seven men allied with the Taliban had met in the Maldives on January 22 to discuss an ambitious plan to bring peace to the war-torn country by offering cash, jobs and incentives to Taliban fighters in exchange for laying down their arms. Taliban fighters are reportedly paid US$10 a day, a considerable sum in an embattled country with 40 percent unemployment.

One of the Taliban’s representatives told Al Jazeera the Maldives was chosen as a venue for the talks because “we feel safe.”

Photos of the meeting at Bandos Island Resort and Spa were later leaked to the press.

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, Siyamak Herawi, later told news agency Reuters the visiting group included “Hekmatyar loyalists along with some former Taliban members who are now sitting in the parliament. It happened in January in the Maldives and they decided to hold more talks,” he said.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is an Afghan Mujahideen leader who was the country’s prime minister from 1993-1994, and is considered by the US to be one of the three main leaders of the Afghan insurgency. He was a key figure in the insurgency against Soviet occupation, reportedly receiving millions in CIA funding, but is now labelled as a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ by the US.

The last secret meeting in the Maldives coincided with the International Conference on Afghanistan, held in Lancaster House in London on January 28, where discussions revolved around a national council for peace, reconciliation and reintegration to be set up by the Afghan government.

The programme was to channel development funds towards luring fighters away from the insurgency into alternative livelihoods, with US$140 million in international funding earmarked for the first year.

While many elements of the Maldivian government were oblivious to the first meeting, Zuhair said this time “Maldivian security and intelligence agencies have been fully informed of the talks.”

“All the representatives involved in the talks are holding valid passports and visas. None of the representatives involved are listed in UN or other international travel blacklists,” he said.

“Afghanistan’s stability affects the peace and security of our region. The Government of the Maldives supports efforts to bring a resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan,” Zuhair said.