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May 29, 2024

India and Maldives Try to Ease Tensions in High-Stakes Meeting

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Jan 19, 2024

Foreign Ministers Meet for “Frank Discussions”

Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar met with his Maldivian counterpart, Abdulla Shahid, in New Delhi on Friday in an effort to ease escalating diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

The meeting was described as “frank” and “productive” by both sides, but failed to immediately resolve a dispute over the continued presence of Indian military personnel in the island nation.

Earlier this week, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih demanded that India withdraw the soldiers and hardware by March 15th, accusing New Delhi of refusing to remove the military despite repeated requests.

Timeline of Recent India-Maldives Dispute

Date Event
Jan 10 President Solih requests Indian troop withdrawal in speech
Jan 13 Maldives threatens to review ties with India
Jan 15 Foreign Minister Shahid renews withdrawal demand
Jan 18 Indian MEA says troops are there at Maldives request
Jan 19 Jaishankar – Shahid meeting in Delhi

The ultimatum has put further strain on ties already frayed by the Maldives’ deepening relations with China.

India Caught Off Guard by Public Demand

India was reportedly caught off guard by Solih’s public call to withdraw troops. Sources said New Delhi had expected the issue to be resolved quietly through diplomatic channels.

The demand touched a nerve by publicly questioning Indian military presence, which many in India see as key to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

“We have a long standing relationship with Maldives that should not be held hostage to any one issue,” said an Indian government source soon after the withdrawal call.

Background to Indian Troop Deployment

India first deployed a small military contingent to Maldives in 1988 after a coup attempt against then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. At Gayoom’s request, Indian troops quickly neutralized the coup plotters in an operation codenamed “Cactus.”

Gayoom ruled Maldives with an iron fist for another 20 years after the Indian intervention saved his presidency. As a result, India enjoyed considerable goodwill and influence over the strategically located islands.

However, in recent years Maldives has tilted toward China under former President Abdulla Yameen, much to India’s consternation. Yameen signed several lucrative infrastructure contracts with Beijing and embraced Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The current Solih administration has continued this shift away from India’s traditional sphere of influence in South Asia. Last month, Maldives signed a new defense agreement with China.

Troop Numbers Thought To Be Around 1,500

The exact number of Indian troops and hardware currently stationed in Maldives is unknown. But estimates range from 1,200 to 1,500 personnel, along with helicopters, patrol aircraft and drones.

They are deployed across the Indian Ocean archipelago nation’s many far-flung islands and strategic outposts. Indian personnel help maintain radar systems and conduct aerial surveillance to aid Maldives’ national defense.

New Delhi insists the soldiers are still in Maldives at the invitation of its government. It remains unclear whether President Solih’s unprecedented public call for withdrawal carries backing from Maldives’ security establishment.

Strategic Location Makes Maldives Critical for India

The Indian Ocean region, with sea lanes that account for the bulk of the world’s oil shipments, has taken on increased geopolitical importance in recent years.

India has traditionally seen countries like Maldives and Mauritius as within its natural sphere of influence and key to maintaining regional supremacy against encroachment from China.

Losing influence over Maldives would allow China to make strategic inroads practically at India’s doorstep. It would also give China potential access to install military infrastructure in the Indian Ocean.

For tiny Maldives, caught between two giant neighbors competing for influence, maintaining good relations with both India and China has become a delicate balancing act.

Jaishankar-Shahid Meeting Fails to Break Impasse

Friday’s meeting between the Foreign Ministers lasted over two hours but failed to produce any breakthrough agreement to end the row.

Minister Shahid said he again impressed upon Dr. Jaishankar the “urgency” of India withdrawing its military presence. Jaishankar reiterated India’s position that its soldiers are in Maldives legally at the request of its legitimate government.

Both Ministers described the interaction as open and productive. But behind the diplomatic pleasantries, tensions clearly remain high.

Shahid is expected to brief President Solih and other senior Maldivian officials about the outcome of the talks.

Deadlock Raises Risk of Rapid Deterioration in Ties

With neither side blinking on the troop withdrawal issue, analysts warn that India-Maldives relations now face substantial danger of rapid deterioration.

“This has become a prestige issue for both. Maldives wants to assert itself while India believes its security interests are at stake,” said Dr. Ayesha Qazi, an expert on South Asian geopolitics at the London School of Economics.

The coming weeks will be critical in determining whether New Delhi and Male can revive the trust and goodwill underpinning their traditionally close friendship – or whether the current tensions spiral into a more serious estrangement with consequences for regional stability.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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