Dec 26, 2008

World - Maldives offers help to ‘observe’ Indian Ocean

Sandeep Dikshit

NEW DELHI: President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed on Thursday offered his country’s assistance in “observing” the Indian Ocean following the rise in piracy and the use of the sea route from Karachi to Mumbai in carrying out the Mumbai terror strikes.

Having come to power via the ballot box after ending over three decades of “authoritarian” rule, Mr. Nasheed ruled out vendetta against former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and offered a glimpse into the manner in which his nation was attempting to check the rise of religious fundamentalism. He also vented his ire over the Indian media’s entire focus on ties while ignoring all other developments.

“On any given day, there are a greater number of people from the Maldives in the Indian Ocean than anyone else. People have to understand that the Maldives has survived in the middle of the Indian Ocean for centuries. We understand the topography of the Indian Ocean; we are ready to cooperate in observing the Indian Ocean,” he told journalists at the end of his three-day tour to India, his first after taking over as President.

Counsels vigilance

Mr. Nasheed wanted a peaceful subcontinent and in that respect felt that “all countries should be vigilant in their own actions” in view of the Mumbai terror attacks.

“We have noticed that in this particular case, the attack was facilitated through the sea. We are a nation of seafarers in the middle of the Indian Ocean. We are very concerned about it. We also see an increase in piracy in the Indian Ocean. We would like to see the Indian Ocean as peaceful. So we need to know what is happening in the Indian Ocean.”

Acknowledging that many students from the Maldives were going to madrasas in Pakistan and their parents were largely unaware of their whereabouts or what they were being taught, the President pointed out that as long as there was limited education opportunities in the Maldives and India, parents would continue to send their children to the madrasas in Pakistan.

“We are requesting India to open up as much as possible to the Maldivian students so that there is no need to go to madrasas to satisfy that demand. No parent in his right mind would send children to madrasas if India opens up its educational institutions. The Indian government has given assurances in this regard,” he said.

Mr. Nasheed, a former journalist himself, pulled up the Indian media for going “on and on about Pakistan-aided terrorism.”

Terrorism, he said, won’t stop if media kept on writing about it. Indicating the need for a collaborative and non-confrontationist approach, he said: “You write you electrified the Indo-Pak border and pushed them into the Indian Ocean. Tamil Tigers are also being kicked out of Sri Lanka and into the Indian Ocean.”

“I am shocked [by the media coverage],” he said after the tenth question put to him on terrorism. “I respect the need for independence of views but you have to think out of the box,” he counselled.

Asked about the bomb blast in Male and religious extremism, Mr. Nasheed said once there was room for centrist political parties, Islamic extremists lost ground because “we occupied most of the available political space.”

The process was helped by the centrist parties convincing some Islamic parties to join the democratic mainstream. In the elections too, Islamic parties did not get many votes.

“But there are groups people have to be vigilant about. The government will observe them,” he added.

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