India, Maldives to enhance marine anti-terror cooperation

December 25th, 2008 - 3:36 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 25 (IANS) In the wake of the terrorist attack on Mumbai from the sea route, India and the Maldives have decided to scale up anti-piracy and marine counter-terrorism operations in the Indian Ocean. Underlining the importance of greater maritime surveillance in the Indian Ocean, Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, popularly known as ‘Anni’, Thursday said the Mumbai attacks have “all the footprints of a 16th century piracy activity in the Indian Ocean”.

“It (the Mumbai terror attack) came from Karachi via the sea. We would like countries to remain vigilant in the Indian Ocean, specially in view of the Mumbai attacks,” Nasheed told reporters here when asked about his country’s perception of the Mumbai terror attacks.

“We are a nation of sea-farers. We understand the topography of the Indian Ocean. We are very concerned about it,” said Nasheed, a former political prisoner who is Maldives’ first democratically elected president in three decades.

Nasheed dislodged Asia’s longest-serving ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the country’s first multi-party elections in October.

“There are pirate activities. We would like the Indian Ocean a peaceful one,” Nasheed said while underscoring the importance of greater security cooperation between India and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.

With the Mumbai attacks as a backdrop, the two countries plan to intensify interaction between their coast guards, Nasheed said.

“Joint exercises are now held every two years. It will be more frequent now,” he said.

“Pirates could be recruited into terrorist cells. You have sealed your borders (with Pakistan), but you have pushed terrorists to the Indian Ocean,” he said.

Fisheries contribute over 40 per cent of Maldives’s GDP and employ a large chunk of nearly 300,000 people who live in around 200 inhabited islands in the country.

“There is a need for greater vigilance in the Indian Ocean. We need to think out of the box,” he stressed.

The Mumbai terror attacks and enhanced security cooperation in the Indian Ocean figured prominently in discussions between Manmohan Singh and Nasheed Wednesday.

Nasheed wrapped up his four-day visit to India - his first to the country as the head of the state - and left for Male Thursday.

Nasheed also struck a cautionary note about the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the Maldives, but added in the same breath that greater educational opportunities for Maldivian students could prevent their radicalisation.

Around 150 Maldivians are presently studying in madrassas in Pakistan due to the lack of schools and colleges in the Maldives, Nasheed said. Of them, 40 students are studying in radical madrassas in Pakistan, he said.

Maldives has sought the support of the Indian government to provide more opportunities for Maldivian students to study in premier institutions of India like the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“There are radical groups and we have to be vigilant. Our government will observe them and seek cooperation of regional countries in identifying them,” the 41-year-old Maldivian leader said.

He, however, added that radicals did not enjoy much support and religious parties have been co-opted into the political mainstream after the democratisation of the political system.

India and the Maldives Wednesday signed a pact that gives $100 million credit to the Indian Ocean nation and another accord on enhancing air links between the two countries.

Nasheed also made a vigorous pitch for scaling up economic ties between the two countries and invited Indian companies to pick up stakes in the Maldives government-owned industries and joint ventures in building airports, transport networks and harbours.

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