India to replace military personnel in the Maldives with skilled technical personnel

The two nations are presently in talks regarding the withdrawal of over 75 Indian military personnel from the Indian Ocean archipelago, prompted by Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu’s request for their removal by March 15th.

On Thursday, India announced that it would be substituting military personnel stationed in the Maldives, responsible for the operation and maintenance of two helicopters and an aircraft utilized for medical evacuations and humanitarian endeavours, with skilled Indian technical personnel.

The two nations are presently in talks regarding the withdrawal of over 75 Indian military personnel from the Indian Ocean archipelago, prompted by Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu’s request for their removal by March 15th.

After the second meeting of a high-level core group established by both parties to address the matter, India announced on February 2nd that mutually acceptable solutions had been agreed upon for the operation of the three aircraft. The Maldivian foreign ministry stated that India would substitute military personnel for one aircraft by March 10th and finalize the replacement of all personnel by May 10th.

During a regular media briefing, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal stated that the existing personnel would be replaced by skilled Indian technical personnel, without elaborating on the details.

Jaiswal mentioned that a third meeting of the high-level core group would be convened “subsequently.”

Individuals knowledgeable about the situation indicated that the Indian side is exploring various alternatives to replace the current military personnel stationed in the Maldives, tasked with operating two ALH helicopters and a Dornier aircraft provided by New Delhi. Among these options is the substitution of military personnel with civilian operators who are acquainted with the two platforms, potentially including retired personnel from the armed services possessing experience in both flying and maintaining the aircraft, according to the sources.

Following his victory in last year’s presidential election, Muizzu, who is widely viewed as having close ties to China, has endeavoured to steer the Maldives away from reliance on India in key sectors such as food security and defence. In addition to solidifying agreements with Sri Lanka for medical evacuation services, Muizzu’s administration has also entered into deals with Turkey to acquire wheat and drones intended for maritime surveillance purposes.

Despite this, Jaiswal affirmed that India remains dedicated to its development partnership with the Maldives. He highlighted that the budgetary allocation for the Maldives within the external affairs ministry’s budget for 2024-25 stood at ₹779 crore, an increase from the earlier projection of ₹600 crore.

“We remain an important, committed development partner for the Maldives,” he emphasized.

Under India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy, the Maldives has been among the primary beneficiaries, with New Delhi investing billions of dollars, including grants and soft loans, into various development and infrastructure projects across the archipelago.