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How Will India’s Withdrawal of Troops Impact Relations with Maldives?

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India has announced its decision to replace military personnel stationed in Maldives with civilian technical staff, who will operate humanitarian service aircraft from India. This decision follows the demand made by the new Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu for the withdrawal of Indian military personnel by March 15.

Approximately 75 Indian military personnel are currently stationed in Maldives, engaging in various activities such as transporting patients from remote islands and conducting sea rescue operations. India had previously provided Maldives with a Dornier airplane and two helicopters to support such humanitarian efforts.

Diplomatic tensions between India and Maldives have escalated since President Muizzu assumed office last year, advocating for a pro-China stance. The Maldives Foreign Ministry disclosed that discussions between the two nations in New Delhi on January 2 resulted in an agreement for India to commence the withdrawal of its troops from Maldives on March 10, with completion slated by May 10.

Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal, addressing reporters, stated that the Indian military personnel would be replaced by proficient Indian technical individuals, without providing further details on the matter.

President Muizzu’s visit to China ahead of India and his subsequent remarks emphasized that the Maldives’ small size does not permit any form of intimidation. These statements were perceived as a response to social media calls in India urging tourists to boycott Maldives following derogatory posts against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made by three Maldivian deputy ministers.

The dispute initially arose in January when Prime Minister Modi shared images on X, previously known as Twitter, showcasing his leisure activities in Lakshadweep, an Indian archipelago believed to possess significant tourism potential. This move was interpreted by some in Maldives as an attempt to divert tourists away from their pristine beaches and luxury resorts.

President Muizzu took swift action by suspending the deputy ministers responsible for the derogatory remarks, emphasizing that their views did not align with the government’s policies. However, upon returning from China, Muizzu announced intentions to reduce Maldives’ reliance on India, seeking alternative avenues for education, healthcare services, and essential imports such as food and medicines.

The decision to replace military personnel with civilian technical staff underscores the evolving dynamics of India-Maldives relations amidst geopolitical shifts in the region. While India remains committed to providing humanitarian assistance to Maldives, President Muizzu’s efforts to diversify strategic partnerships and reduce dependency on India highlight a shifting diplomatic landscape in the Indian Ocean region.

As India and Maldives navigate through these diplomatic challenges, the decision to replace military personnel with civilians marks a strategic recalibration aimed at maintaining bilateral ties while addressing the evolving needs and priorities of both nations.

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