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’.