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Mint Explainer: Why the Maldives has asked Indian troops to leave

The new government of the Maldives has pushed for Indian troops to leave the island nation. Indian defence personnel, who are involved in the maintenance of Indian military platforms in the country, have been a subject of some sensitivity in Maldivian politics. Mint breaks down why.

What has the Maldives requested?

The country’s newly elected President Mohamed Muizzu said India and the Maldives have reached an agreement to secure the withdrawal of Indian military personnel in the country. As a candidate, Muizzu had called for the removal of any foreign military personnel and followed up this request soon after taking office during a meeting with union minister Kiren Rijiju. 

“The president further shared that after a series of constructive meetings and dialogues with the Indian government, an agreement has been reached to withdraw Indian military personnel, which is currently in progress at a technical level,” Muizzu’s office said on Sunday. 

Indian government sources said the matter came up during the Maldivian president’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of COP28 in Dubai. However, they also said discussions were ongoing to see if India-supplied defence platforms could remain in service.

What are Indian troops doing there?

According to Muizzu’s office, there are 77 Indian defence personnel in the country. They help operate helicopters and Dornier aircraft, which have been provided to improve emergency services and medical evacuations in the Maldives. These troops have conducted more than 500 medical evacuations over the past five years. According to experts, these platforms are also expected to improve the island nation’s maritime surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

Why is the Maldivian government requesting their departure?

The presence of foreign military personnel on Maldivian soil has been portrayed by some groups as a threat to the country’s sovereignty . This was particularly true during the “India Out” campaign. As scholar David Brewster points out, this has led to disquiet and suspicion about the Indian military’s presence in the country. Muizzu has also framed his decision as a move to protect the country’s sovereignty, and called on India to respect the decision.

What does it mean for India-Maldives ties?

Muizzu’s decision to ask for the withdrawal of Indian troops is unlikely to go over well in New Delhi, especially since his predecessor Ibrahim Solih was a firm supporter of a closer relationship with India. 

The country is also a vital part of India’s broader strategy in the Indian Ocean, given its strategic location. The Indian government’s decision to send a lower-ranked cabinet minister to President Muizu’s inauguration was seen by some as a sign of New Delhi’s displeasure. However, others suggest that Muizzu’s government simply wants a more balanced foreign policy that reduces the country’s dependence on India. Bilateral ties may not be as warm as they were under Solih, but are likely to remain stable.

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