India Agrees To Withdraw Soldiers From Maldives Says Muizzu

This decision aligns with Muizzu’s campaign promise to revise the Maldives’s ‘India first’ policy and remove the small Indian military presence of approximately 75 personnel.

In a notable development, the recently elected President of Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu, announced on December 3, that the Indian government has agreed to withdraw its military personnel from the Maldives.

This decision aligns with Muizzu’s campaign promise to revise the Maldives’s ‘India first’ policy and remove the small Indian military presence of approximately 75 personnel. The agreement was reached during discussions with Indian officials on the sidelines of the COP28 climate summit.

The Maldivian President’s office has formally requested the Government of India to withdraw its troops stationed in the island nation. In response, the Indian side has expressed its willingness to engage in discussions to find viable solutions for continued cooperation. The Maldives is also reviewing more than 100 agreements signed with India, including those related to defence and security, which raises questions about the overall bilateral ties between India and the Maldives.

India, which provides certain military equipment to the Maldives and assists in disaster response and naval dockyard construction, recognizes the value of these collaborations. Ongoing discussions are being held to explore ways to ensure the continued operation of these platforms, with a core group established by both sides to facilitate progress. However, the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet provided a comment in response to the request made on Sunday.

The geopolitical implications of this decision are significant, as India and China have been competing for influence in the region. The coalition supporting Muizzu is perceived to lean more towards China. Most of the Indian military personnel were present in the Maldives to operate and manage two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft gifted by India.

President Mohamed Muizzu’s recent inauguration in the Maldives has raised concerns about the future of India-Maldives relations. Muizzu’s pro-China stance has the potential to hinder the traditionally strong ties between India and the Maldives. This shift in foreign policy is reminiscent of former Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who cultivated close relations with China and allowed the construction of various Chinese military and infrastructure projects in the Maldives.

President Muizzu has made it clear that he will not cancel any China-funded projects in the Maldives and has expressed his intention to remove all foreign military forces from the country, including those from India. This stance was a significant aspect of his election campaign, which was perceived to have an anti-India agenda.

India, with its shared geographical, cultural, and historical connections with the Maldives, has made substantial technological, military, and infrastructure investments in the country. These include the construction of a harbour and dock, the establishment of 10 RADAR stations, the development of a national broadband network, and the creation of a cybersecurity centre. India has also provided humanitarian and disaster relief aid to the Maldives and considers the country a strategic partner in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Muizzu’s inclination towards China may lead to a rise in Chinese dominance in the IOR, given China’s existing foothold in Sri Lanka. This could potentially jeopardize India’s security and impede its attempts to counter China’s influence in the area. The impact of this decision on the Maldives-India bilateral relationship in the future is yet to be determined.