Government “will not allow Maldives to become a Taliban playground”: Shaheed

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.

Delegates at the meeting between Afghan MPs and representatives linked to the Taliban
Delegates at the meeting between Afghan MPs and representatives linked to the Taliban

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.”

The government says it was aware of the meeting held at Bandos Resort
The government says it was aware of the meeting held at Bandos Resort

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.


Taliban in paradise – what awaits these virgin islands?

The first war of the twenty first century, US President George W Bush said after 11 September 2001, will be “a new kind of war”. It will be “a conflict without battlefields or beachheads”.

Well, almost 10 years on, we can see he was a bit off the mark with the battlefields – Afghanistan is one, Iraq another, Iran is a strong possibility, Yemen cannot be ruled out entirely. Some of us foresaw the prospects for disaster in many a decision made by President Bush before he blundered, swaggered or smirked his way into them. But I bet no one foresaw that he could also be wrong about the beachheads.

There could yet be many a beachhead in the ‘War on Terror’. Hundreds of them. Around nice pristine Maldivian beaches. The Taliban were “smoked out” of the caves in Afghanistan – will they be fished out of our waters, or simply blasted out? And at what cost to our lives? In Afghanistan the civilian death toll was over 2000 in 2008 alone… what fate awaits us?

Safety first

“Taliban feels that the safest place in the world for them right now is the Maldives”. Less than a decade after the world’s strongest military power declares war on not just the ‘terrorists’ – but also on those who “harbour them, feed them, house them, encourage them, and comfort them” – the Maldives offers them a peaceful retreat. With no military power to speak of, being of little or no geo-strategic consequence, not quite the most sophisticated of movers in global realpolitik – we go ahead and provide the Taliban a beautiful sanctuary where they can sit and plan their next move, with nothing to fear except perhaps a wayward coconut.

The government response to the discovery of the Maldives’ novel status as the Taliban’s new BFFL (best friend for life) is to tell us it is a compliment. A compliment, dear citizens. Pluralism personified, the New Maldives – a Taliban sanctuary, where religious extremists are a protected species. Follow the government line of thinking on this, people and you begin to see the advantages. Given the burgeoning numbers of people following their brand of Islam, we might not have to hang up our tourism hat just yet. There is an untapped market with huge potential out there. Think of the ads – “Tired of being vilified? Find unconditional adulation in the Maldives”; “Sick of being loathed? Come and feel the warmth of the Maldivian embrace”. “Sun, sea and blind faith”; “Maldives – no bad news, no bombs”.

Countering terror

A week later, and the same government is about to formalise a counter-terrorism agreement with India. The same government spokesperson that told us to be flattered by Taliban’s friendship, tells us that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to be signed with India is “very important because it gives notice that the Maldives will not allow terrorist operations here.”

I beg to differ. The MoU is to be welcomed, if there is anything the Maldives can do to help shore up the security of the exemplary democracy that is India, we should to it. But, the agreement does not in anyway signal to us Maldivians that “the Maldives will not allow terrorist operations”.

How can that be, when the government is positively preening from the Taliban’s exclusive attentions; and continues to form subversive and inexplicable alliances with political parties and dubious NGOs who are making Maldivians look, speak, behave, eat, have sex, punish and procreate according to the teachings of the Taliban?

What the MoU, coming as it does on foot of the government’s warm embrace of the Taliban, signals to us is that this government does not have a cogent or coherent national security policy. It is being formed on ad hoc basis, according to whatever political interests that needs to be served at a given time. We can sign hundreds of agreements, treaties and conventions. On paper, it makes the Maldives look good. But for the people who are living this enforced politicization of their religious beliefs, and being told to see this sea-change in Maldivian culture and identity as ‘pluralism’, it signals impending disaster, and a government that is unable to see the threat from within.

The Maldivian government was unaware of the Taliban hosting secret talks on our islands or was unable to detect their presence in the country because it can no longer tell the difference between a Maldivian and an Afghan, or any other follower of the Wahhabbi sect for that matter. We cannot tell who is Ibrahim Maniku and who is Abdul-Ibrahim bin Abu Muharram, or whatever other name we are now apparently required to have in order to be Muslims.

While the government was busy allying itself with religious parties for political gains and shoring up sandbags to ward off sea-level rise, we have all been turned into sheep in Muslim clothing, following blindly those who have assumed leading roles in remote islands through their preaching and their sermons, filling a leadership vacuum left by the appointment of so-called councilors as a reward for faithful campaigning regardless of their qualifications or lack thereof.

One of the biggest questions asked of the disastrous last government was how and why heroin was allowed to permeate the very core of Maldivian society. How could the authorities not stop the destructive drug being smuggled into this small island nation? Well, Wahhabism is the new heroin. It has got our youth addicted, it has robbed them of their identity and it has taken possession of them to the exclusion of all else. Why is this government allowing this to happen? No amount of posturing on the international stage, or pieces of paper signed promising our co-operation in the ‘War on Terror’ is going to be sufficient to protect Maldivians themselves from being sucked into this ‘endless war’ that has already claimed so many lives in every corner of the world.

Anti-terror agreements signed with one hand while holding the door open for the Taliban with the other are going to be ineffective, otiose. What will a Memorandum of Understanding with a foreign ally, however well-intentioned, do for our own protection when we have yet to understand that the biggest threat we face is within?

Munirah Moosa is a journalism and international relations graduate. She is currently engaged in research into the ‘radicalisation’ of Muslim communities and its impact on international security.

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


Maldives hosts secret Taliban talks

A group of Afghan MPs, “a government official” and seven people linked to the Taliban met in the Maldives last weekend for secret talks, according to a report by Al Jazeera in Afghanistan.

According to the report, the talks were part of 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.

Afghan parliament member Ubaid Ullah Achackzat, one of the MPs who reportedly visited the Maldives last week, told Al Jazeera the meeting was an effort “to find a third way, a way for the foreigners to leave [Afghanistan], with the possibility of merging the Taliban with the government and the possibility of a cease fire – there are lots of issues.”

Seven of the men were reportedly part of an armed opposition group linked to the Taliban and held in high respect by the Taliban’s leadership, Achackzat said.

The Al Jazeera report claimed the Taliban selected the Maldives as the venue for the meeting “because it was the only place the fighters felt safe.”

“I believe that is a compliment to the Maldivian government and our pluralist policies,” said the president’s press secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, adding that he did not feel the comment would negatively affect international perception of the Maldives.

“Our government has a policy to include followers of all sects of Islam,” he said.

“For years other versions of Islam have been stifled [in the Maldives]. The president has said democracy is the best answer to keep fundamentalists at check.”

Assistant controller of Immigration Ibrahim Ashraf expressed a different opinion.

“If this so-called group of Afghans had a link to the Taliban, that is in no way safe for the Maldives,” he said.

“If people from internationally recognised groups such as the Taliban or other institutions keep coming to the Maldives, that is quite dangerous.”

Zuhair acknowledged that the government had received reports of sightings of “a group of people who look like the Taliban wandering around the streets of Male’.”

“Our stance is that the fact people happen to look like the Taliban doesn’t mean they should be labelled that way,” he said.

He admitted the government had noted the arrival of “a group of 20 people from Afghanistan” who were “quite quite closely monitored by the concerned authorities.”

“They apparently conducted a meeting amongst themselves,” he said, emphasising that the group had not associated with any group in the Maldives.

Ashraf confirmed the government had received some information about the group, but would not say whether this came from inside or outside the country.

“We do have a watch list and a very good system in place,” he said. “Those who are flagged would not be allowed into the country.”

He would not say whether the visitors were flagged.

“A lot of people come to Maldives and nobody needs a visa, whether they are Afghan or Israeli,” he said. “To my knowledge, they have now left [the country].”

State Minister for Defence Mohamed Muiz Adnan said he was not aware of the group’s arrival until he “saw it in the newspaper” and had no knowledge of the meeting that apparently took place.

Regarding the Taliban fighters considering the Maldives to be ‘safe’, Muiz commented that “irrespective of who says it, anywhere in the world a safe environment is good for everybody.”

An international conference on the Afghanisatan’s future is currently being held in London. Al Jazeera reports that Japan, the United States and Britain are rumoured to be spearheading a proposal to ‘bribe’ Taliban fighters to disarm and turn over to the government’s side.

Japan is said to be providing most of the money, thought to be between US$500 million and US$1 billion over the next five years, a far cheaper option than the annual $30 billion currently being spent by the US on its military ‘push’.