Maldives’ news president wants Indian troops out of his country
“We don’t want any foreign military boots on Maldivian soil… I promised this to the people of the Maldives and I will live up to my promise from day one.”
Dr Mohamed Muizzu, who won the Maldives presidential election last month, is wasting no time in asking India to get its troops out of the country, BBC reported.
The Maldives has long been under India’s sphere of influence and Mr Muizzu’s demand is likely to trigger diplomatic tensions between Malé and Delhi.
In fact, when Mr Muizzu won the Maldives presidential poll, that was seen as a setback for India – especially as his opponent, the incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih – had drawn his country closer to Delhi since taking over in 2018.
The alliance backing Mr Muizzu portrayed this relationship – strengthened by Mr Solih’s India-first policy – as a threat to the Maldives’ sovereignty and security.
Mr Muizzu’s alliance favours closer ties with China, which has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Maldives in the form of loans and grants for infrastructure and development projects.
But India, which wants a foothold in the strategically located islands to monitor a key part of the Indian Ocean, has also provided about $2bn in development assistance to the country.
If its troops are forced to leave, it will be a blow for Delhi.
But a furore over “gifts” that Delhi gave the Maldives – two helicopters received in 2010 and 2013 and a small aircraft in 2020 – has given the “India out” campaign a huge boost.
Delhi said the craft were to be used for search and rescue missions and medical evacuations.
But in 2021, the Maldivian defence force said about 75 Indian military personnel were based in the country to operate and maintain the Indian aircrafts. This fuelled suspicion and anger as many felt the reconnaissance aircraft were being used as an excuse to put Indian boots on the ground.
Mr Muizzu also says that the presence of these troops could put the Maldives at risk – especially as tensions between India and China escalate along their Himalayan border.
“Maldives is too small to get entangled with this global power struggle. We will not get entangled into this,” he said.
Before the presidential poll, the outgoing president Mr Solih said fears about the presence of Indian troops were exaggerated.
“There are no militarily active overseas personnel stationed in the Maldives. Indian personnel currently present in the country are under the operational command of the Maldives National Defence Force,” he said.
But it’s not just the aircraft. Mr Muizzu said he wanted to review all the agreements the Maldives has signed with India in recent years.
“We don’t know what’s in there. Even in Parliament, some of the MPs during the debates said that they didn’t know what’s in there. I am sure we will find it out,” he said.
“I am a pro-Maldives person. For me, Maldives comes first, our independence comes first” he said. “I am not pro or against any country.”