Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu announced on Sunday that India has agreed to withdraw its army from the country

The President of the Maldives announced on Sunday that India has agreed to withdraw its army from the Indian Ocean archipelago nation.

"In the discussions we had, the Indian government has agreed to remove Indian soldiers... We also agreed to set up a high level committee to solve issues related to development projects," the President Mohamed Muizzu told reporters in Male.

Despite the Maldivian President stating that New Delhi agreed to withdrawing Indian military personnel, sources from the central government clarified that the two sides are currently engaged in discussions on the matter.

According to government sources, the troop withdrawal issue was briefly discussed during the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Maldivian President on the sidelines of the COP29 Climate Summit in Dubai.

The sources added, "We have seen reports about the status of Indian platforms in the Maldives engaged in HADR [high availability disaster recovery] activities. The continued usefulness of the Indian platforms, as recognised in discussions, needs to be looked at from a proper perspective."

The central government sources also pointed out that the Maldivian side has acknowledged the utility of these platforms. "The fact that it is an important segment of our bilateral development partnership is recognised by both sides. Discussions on how to keep them operational are ongoing," government sources said.

Muizzu, who was recently elected, formally requested India on November 18 to withdraw its military presence from the country. Soon after assuming power earlier this month, he had asserted that he was firmly committed to ensuring that his country remains "free" of any "foreign military presence" to preserve its independence and sovereignty.

Earlier, Muizzu had stated that the Maldives is too small to get caught up in geopolitical competition. He also stated that he has no interest in interfering in the current foreign policy of the Maldives. 'Maldives is too small to get caught up in geopolitical rivalry.

"I am not very interested in interfering in the country's foreign policy," explained Muizzu.

In October, Muizzu had said that talks had begun with India to remove its military presence in the Maldives.

The removal of Indian troops was the main campaign weapon of Muizzu's party, who ousted President Ibrahim Solih last month. At present, around 70 Indian troops, along with Dornier 228 maritime patrol aircraft and two HAL Dhruv helicopters, are stationed in the Maldives.

Muizu, 45, won the election in September 2023. He prioritised campaigning against India's political and economic influence in the Maldives. At the same time, he also clarified that asking India to remove military personnel is not to bring Chinese or any other country's troops to Maldives.

China And Maldives

China and Muizzu's party have a good relationship. China's influence in the Maldives has become visible in the past few years. China has invested heavily there. Moreover, 10 islands there have been leased. According to reports, China is also stationing ships there and conducting military operations on a large scale. There has also been talk of a free trade agreement with the Maldives from the Chinese side.

If the current government, known for its pro-China sentiments, accepts this, it will be a major setback for India. Diplomatic experts say that there is a possibility that China will put pressure on the Maldives and damage its relations with India. A similar situation was seen in Sri Lanka and Nepal when the relationship with India started to deteriorate until the debt crisis blew up in Colombo leading then back to an upward tick in India-Sri Lanka ties.

The Maldives is a group of about 1,200 islands. But only about 100 of these islands are inhabited. Many of these islands are famous for tourism.