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Maldives Requests India to Withdraw Troops Amid Growing Geopolitical Shift

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The President of the Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu, has formally requested India to withdraw its troops from the island by March 15, aligning with an election promise he made as part of his commitment to reducing India’s influence in the region. The move comes on the heels of President Muizzu’s recent visit to Beijing, where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, signaling a potential shift in the geopolitical landscape of the Indian Ocean region.

During the weekend, Muizzu informed reporters about the formal request made to New Delhi, emphasizing the need for troop withdrawal. The request follows rising tensions between India and the Maldives since Muizzu assumed power in September, advocating for a reduction in India’s influence in the island nation. Despite its small size and tourism-dependent economy, the Maldives holds strategic importance due to its location on a busy Indian Ocean shipping lane.

India currently maintains a military presence in the Maldives, operating radars, helicopters, and aircraft, some dedicated to medical evacuations. The Indian Navy also conducts patrols in the surrounding waters. The request for troop withdrawal puts existing agreements and arrangements between the two nations under scrutiny.

A high-level meeting took place on Sunday in the Maldives’ capital, Male, to expedite the process of troop withdrawal, according to a statement from the Maldives’ foreign ministry. The statement did not specify the number of troops involved but mentioned discussions aimed at finding a “mutually workable solution” for the continued operation of Indian aviation platforms providing humanitarian and medical evacuation services.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs, in its response on Sunday, did not explicitly address the troop withdrawal request but acknowledged discussions on finding solutions to ensure the ongoing operation of Indian aviation platforms in the Maldives.

The Maldives, sitting on a key shipping route, has become a focal point for both India and China, each vying for influence through substantial investments in infrastructure projects and extending loans to the country. President Xi Jinping, during Muizzu’s recent visit to Beijing, elevated diplomatic ties with the Maldives to a “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.” China expressed its intention to enhance direct flights to the Maldives and expand collaboration in trade, investment, agriculture, and other sectors.

The latest move by President Muizzu to seek the withdrawal of Indian troops adds another layer of complexity to the evolving geopolitical dynamics in the region. The request comes on the heels of a social media controversy that led to the suspension of three Maldivian ministers for alleged derogatory comments against Indians and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In response, Indian officials, celebrities, and tour companies announced the cancellation of holidays to the Maldives, redirecting their focus on promoting tourism to domestic islands.

As March 15 approaches, the decision on troop withdrawal will likely have far-reaching implications for the strategic interests of both India and China in the Indian Ocean region. The evolving situation underscores the delicate balance of power and influence as nations navigate regional complexities and pursue diplomatic strategies.

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