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Maldives President issues March 15 deadline for Indian troop withdrawal

The directive follows the controversy over derogatory comments made by Maldivian ministers against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leading to strained ties. 

Maldives President issues March 15 deadline for Indian troop withdrawal
First Published Jan 14, 2024, 5:58 PM IST

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu has issued a deadline for India to withdraw its troops from the island nation, setting March 15 as the ultimatum. This directive follows President Muizzu's recent state visit to China, marking an upgrade in diplomatic ties between Maldives and China. The strained relations between India and Maldives escalated after derogatory comments were made against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Maldivian ministers following his visit to the Lakshadweep islands. The subsequent diplomatic row resulted in the dismissal of three ministers, with President Muizzu emphasizing that despite being a small nation, Maldives would not tolerate bullying.

'They don't have license to bully us' - Maldives president's jibe at India after arriving from China

Maldivian Stance

Abdulla Nazim Ibrahim, the public policy secretary at the President's Office, reiterated President Muizzu's policy, stating that Indian military personnel cannot remain in the Maldives. This directive is consistent with Muizzu's election promise and his "India Out" campaign. Reports suggest that approximately 88 Indian troops are currently stationed in the Maldives.

Negotiations and High-Level Core Group

To address the withdrawal of troops, Maldives and India have established a high-level core group, which recently held its inaugural meeting at the Foreign Ministry Headquarters in Male'. The agenda focused on the request for troop withdrawal by March 15. While Indian High Commissioner Munu Mahawar attended the meeting, the Indian government has not yet confirmed or commented on the reports.

Indian Perspective

Union Minister Kiren Rijiju's visit to the Maldives in November aimed to find a "workable solution" to allow the continued use of Indian military platforms in the island nation. These platforms, including radars and surveillance aircraft, play a crucial role in addressing shared challenges, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and combating illegal maritime activities in the Maldives.

Historical Context

The shift from Ibrahim Solih's "India First" policy to Muizzu's "India Out" stance is not abrupt. The campaign against India was initiated by Abdullah Yameen in 2013, and his successor, Ibrahim Solih, maintained friendly ties with India. Social media and Maldives' Dhiyares News are believed to have played a significant role in crafting an anti-India narrative during Yameen's term.

Balancing Act

Muizzu, while emphasizing the importance of maintaining a fine balance in ties with both India and China, has stated that he does not intend to replace Indian military presence with Chinese troops. Despite China's significant economic interests in Maldives as its largest external creditor, concerns about falling prey to China's debt trap policy persist.

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