India has little room for maneuver to delay withdrawing its troops from Maldives: experts
Published: Feb 04, 2024 09:18 PM
Aerial photo taken on Sept 1, 2019 shows the panoramic view of Male, capital of Maldives. Photo: Xinhua

Aerial photo taken on Sept 1, 2019 shows the panoramic view of Male, capital of Maldives. Photo: Xinhua

India will withdraw its troops from Maldives by March 10, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Maldives said after the second high-level meeting between the two sides in New Delhi. 

Experts said on Sunday that Indian military presence in Maldives is a matter of sovereignty, and India has little room for maneuver in withdrawing its troops.

India's foreign ministry said the two countries "agreed on a set of mutually workable solutions to enable continued operation of Indian aviation platforms" that provide humanitarian services to Maldives.

However, the ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment from media on the troop pullout, and its statement did not mention a timeframe, Indian media outlet The Hindu reported on Saturday. 

India has about 70 soldiers who operate and maintain radars, helicopters and aircraft in the Maldives, some of which are used for medical evacuations. Its navy also patrols surrounding waters. Last month, Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu asked New Delhi to pull out its troops by March 15.

Experts believe that India has little room for maneuver in withdrawing its troops. From India's perspective, terms like "withdrawal" are seen as losing face. Additionally, with the upcoming elections for the Modi administration, India is trying to provide vague statements to minimize diplomatic setbacks, Lin Minwang, deputy director at the Center for South Asian Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

From an international moral perspective, India does not have sufficient reasons to refuse the request, Lin pointed out. After all, Maldives is a sovereign country, and if a sovereign country does not welcome Indian troops, India needs to respect the Maldives' sovereignty. "Let alone that the so-called previous presence of troops did not exist in the form of a national commitment," Lin noted.

However, even as the issue of Indian military personnel drags on, a new controversy began on Maldivian social media over a video purportedly showing Indian Coast Guard (ICG) personnel boarding Maldivian fishing vessels within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Maldives.

The Maldives government says it has asked for clarification of why Indian coast guard personnel boarded three Maldivian fishing vessels operating within its own economic zone earlier this week without consultation, AP reported on Saturday. 

The Maldives defense ministry said in a statement Friday night that its military was informed on Wednesday that personnel from a foreign military had boarded a Maldives fishing vessel, and on reaching the location it was found that they were from the Indian coast guard.

The Maldives military also found that Indian coast guard personnel had boarded two more boats, the statement said without explaining what they did on the boats. 

At present, some opposition forces in India are looking for reasons to create difficulties in Maldives-India relations. If the Indian side clearly violates the Maldives' sovereignty, the Maldives side has the right to demand an explanation, which is also a necessary act to safeguard its sovereignty, Lin said. Essentially, the conflict between India and Maldives stems from India's desire to maintain its hegemony in the South Asian region, experts said.