There is alarm in India over Jehadi indoctrination of youngsters from the island nation of Maldives in Pakistan. Red flags have gone up over young Maldivians going for Islamic studies at seminaries in Pakistan and later turning up at the wrong place at the wrong time. Like a 31-year-old Maldivian national killed in a bomb explosion in Afghanistan in December 2013.
To curb the spread of Pakistan-induced radicalisation in the atoll—as it could pose a greater security challenge due to Maldives’ strategic position and freer travel guidelines—New Delhi is moving towards increasing contacts with moderate Indian Islamic institutions to educate youths from its Indian Ocean neighbour.For a year now, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has been working on a proposal to increase engagement and contact between Islamic groups in Maldives and moderate Islamic educational institutions in India. All with the hope that more Maldivian youth would prefer to come to India in large numbers to pursue Islamic education than go to Pakistan.
The latest example of the phenomena which has raised concern came to the fore just last month, when the family of a Maldivian national, who had been studying in Pakistan for nearly six years, learned that he had died in a bomb blast in Afghanistan. A media report quoted a local politician as saying that when he called home, he would just “talk about Jihad and independence of Palestine”.
Sources made it clear that the government will try not to barge into this sensitive area in a heavy-handed manner, so it will only be a “facilitator to increase contacts with moderate Indian groups”.
“We would like to bring delegations from Maldives to visit and talk with our moderate Islamic institutions in Deoband and Hyderabad,” said a senior government official.
They are, so far, not looking at scholarships to sponsor Maldivian students at Islamic schools here. Instead, the plan is that increased contact would lead to heightened awareness about alternatives available in India, rather than the Maldivian youth making a beeline for Pakistan or Saudi Arabia for Islamic studies.
Sources said that the proposal was discussed “tangentially” during discussions with visiting Maldives president Abdulla Yameen on Thursday. The Maldives government, which acknowledges that a “small part” of the population has been radicalized, “welcomed” India’s interest.
This would, of course, require coordination with Maldives’ ministry for Islamic affairs, which has been controlled by the Adhalaath party. In fact, nearly all the leadership in Adhaalath party have studied in Pakistani religious institutions.
India’s relations with the Adhalaath has been a bit testy in the past, especially since it was one of the prime movers of the campaign to kick Indian conglomerate GMR out of Male international airport project. In fact, India had even complained against a Twitter account spewing anti-India statements, which Adhalaath claimed was an imposter operating under its name. Maldives has become more conservative over the years, which observers say is directly linked to the 30-year-rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, as he introduced several hardline Islamic elements in the polity and education.
With lack of education facilities in the islands, parents were tempted to send their children to Pakistan starting from the seventies, with madarsas often offering free education. The numbers of Maldivians studying in Pakistan vary from 200-300 to over a thousand.
The spotlight focused sharply in 2007, when a local Lashkar-e-Toiba module perpetrated the only ever terrorist strike in Maldives, when a bomb attack injured 12 foreign tourists. While three were arrested and sentenced, most of the others fled to Pakistan. After the incident, Gayoom said that it had alerted Maldives to the threat of extremism. “Maldivians are influenced by what is happening in the world. They go to Pakistan, study in madrasas and come back with extreme religious ideas,” he said.
In 2009, Ali Jaleel, a Maldivian citizen who had studied at Jamia Salafia seminary in Faislabad, Pakistan, was part of team of three who conducted a suicide bomb attack at ISI headquarters in Lahore.