Maldivians in 26/11: The power of ‘security’?

October 28, 2009

President Nasheed stated this week in an interview that Maldivian nationals may have been involved in the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.


Earlier this week, President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives stated in an interview:

Any terrorist attack through the underbelly of India, that is peninsular India, would have to go through Maldivian waters. We will be the first to see what is happening. For example, if we had this equipment, we would have been much more vigilant about what was going to happen in the Mumbai [ Images ] attacks…that is why it is essential to safeguard Maldives’ territorial waters and defend our coastline.

Is it true that the Maldives has a serious issue with Islamic fundamentalists?

Yes, we have a serious issue with Islamist radicals, we know that many are being trained by the Al Qaeda [ Images ] in the northern reaches of Pakistan.

How do you know?

Because several Maldivians have been arrested by Pakistani authorities after they crossed into Pakistan from India. The recruitment of Islamist radicals takes place in the Maldives and their channel of movement is all the way up to Pakistan.

Are you saying that the Maldivians are being trained by the Al Qaeda in Pakistan, in Waziristan?

Yes, they are getting trained there by the Al Qaeda to fight the war in Afghanistan.

You talked about the Mumbai attacks and of being more vigilant about your territorial waters…what did you mean by that?

I believe that the identity of all the dead terrorists in the Mumbai attacks has not been broken down into nationalities. I feel there is a Maldivian connection to the Mumbai attacks.

In what way?

Well, we have information from the families of terrorists who are still in the Maldives about this.

This is, in and of itself, interesting. For one, President Nasheed is identifying the Maldives as a potential terror entrepot to India. Second, he says Maldivians are being recruited into Al Qaeda. Third, by stating that “the identity of all the dead terrorists in the Mumbai attacks has not been broken down into nationalities,” he is pointing to what we don’t know for sure and then adding, “I feel there is a Maldivian connection…” Not the “We know” of security establishments worldwide, but “I feel.”

Presidents don’t draw attention to their countries as places from which terrorists originate; not on the basis of “feeling.” So does he know something that others are overlooking?

Or, is this a “calling attention” motion of some sort? Maldives has been an active campaigner against global warming, but President Nasheed has taken the campaign to a different level by talking about purchasing land for displaced Maldivians and holding underwater cabinet meetings. There is a penchant for the dramatic in these actions that offsets the Maldives’ disadvantages of size and remoteness. Seen in that context, a teaser like this, strategically slipped into an interview with a popular news portal, must be intended to place the Maldives on South Asia’s security agenda.

But there is a broader point here, and one that all of us recognise intuitively. It is, as Ole Waever once wrote, that security is a ‘speech act.’ When you draw anything into the realm of security, it gets the attention it should get anyway. It ratchets up its importance instantly. As scholars, we sceptically debate whether this is what the non-traditional security research agenda is about, at bottom. As activists, we know well that it partly explains the genesis of “human security” reports; they are a way to underscore the urgency of public health, displacement, gender inequity and other humanitarian crises.

What does it mean however, when the President of a country like the Maldives states that its citizens might well be foot-soldiers in one of the world’s most complex security problems? If there are Maldivians involved in South Asia’s many terror attacks, then the Maldives will attract welcome and unwelcome attention. Some positive investment and foreign assistance will flow in, no doubt, but also a great deal more scrutiny and pressure than a small state and fledgling democracy can probably bear. And if it is all based on a “feeling”? What is the cost-benefit analysis of a statement of that? That’s something for all of us, especially for this intelligent President and his advisors to think about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s