Intelligence: Islands In The Sun


August 24, 2009: India will assist the Maldive Islands in building a maritime surveillance system, which will be linked with the Indian one. India will also give the Maldives two helicopters for their coast guard. All this is to help both countries better control their coastal waters.

India has been a staunch supporter of the Maldive government since it became independent (from Britain) in 1965. Basically, the Indians send in paratroops and ships if anyone tries to overthrow the elected government (which has happened a few times.) This recent generosity is part of an effort to keep Pakistan or China from displacing India as the major foreign ally of the Maldives.

The Maldive islands, a tiny Indian Ocean nation of 1,192 small islands, and 330,000 Sunni Moslems, lie about a 900 kilometers southwest of India. Only 200 of the islands are inhabited. The place is a major tourist attraction, and long noted for its hospitality. About half a million tourists come each year. It's a pretty peaceful place, although two years ago there was a brief outbreak of Islamic terrorism. The only victims, of the one bomb set off, were a dozen tourists (two Britons, two Japanese and eight Chinese) who were wounded. The bomb went off in a popular park. The government was quick to go looking for who was behind this violence. They soon found the culprits, a radical (heretical to many) Islamic group on one of the smaller islands. When a force of a hundred police arrived, they found 70 masked men defending the radical mosque. Many of these men were wearing red helmets, and all were armed with primitive weapons (clubs, spears, or just bricks). After several hours of negotiation, things turned violent. When it was over, 34 policemen, and most of the defenders, were injured, and the masked men were taken into custody. Most of the 600 inhabitants of the island were happy to see the Islamic radicals dispersed. Ten were arrested, but five were soon released.

 The Islamic radicals had been feuding with government demands that they worship in a government approved (and paid for) mosque. The government had been keeping an eye on this radical group, but had not suspected that there would be a bombing, or any other kind of violence. The bombing did some damage, at least in the short term, to the local economy. The Maldives enjoy one of the highest living standards in the region, because of all the tourism, and most Mardivians felt the fallout from this terrorist act. The Maldives were just recovering from the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, which killed a hundred people and made 12,000 homeless.

The Maldives have, for centuries, been ruled by a few wealthy families. This rule has often been arbitrary and unfair. This has caused violent unrest periodically. Although the country is technically run using Sharia (Islamic) law, the place is pretty easygoing. This has upset a minority of the inhabitants, who complain that all those foreign tourists are corrupting Islam. About a third of the population, living in the capital, enjoy most of the benefits of tourism. Until the bombing, most of these protests were vocal, not physical. India fears that Pakistan may attempt to cause more trouble by supporting the Islamic radicals in the Maldives. But so far, there is no evidence of that.



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