Marking the beginning of the fulfilment of President Dr Mohamed Muizzu’s pledge to remove foreign military troops from the Maldives, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has confirmed the departure of Indian military personnel from Gan of Addu Atoll. 

This group, responsible for operating a helicopter in the region, has successfully handed over its duties to Indian civilian operators and returned to India, heralding the first tangible step in this diplomatically sensitive process.

The transition comes amidst ongoing scepticism and heated political debate over the nature of the troop replacement and the broader implications for the Maldivian sovereignty and security. The arrival of the first batch of civilian operators on 26 February, comprising 26 personnel tasked with managing search and rescue and humanitarian aircraft gifted by India, was a critical milestone in this endeavour. 

Despite assurances from both the MNDF and the government that these civilians are not military personnel in disguise, the absence of detailed information about their identities and prior employment has done little to quell public concern. This move is part of a larger agreement between the Maldives and India, aiming to replace military personnel with civilians across three aviation platforms by 10 May 2024. 

The issue of Indian military presence in the Maldives has been a focal point of political contention, with accusations from the opposition suggesting that the civilian replacements are merely soldiers in another guise. Such allegations have underscored the deep divisions within Maldivian politics regarding the country’s foreign policy and defence strategy, especially in relation to India.

The Muizzu administration, having come to power on a platform that included the reduction of foreign military footprint, now faces the challenge of demonstrating its commitment to national sovereignty while maintaining the delicate balance of its international relations. 

The successful handover in Gan represents a step forward in this complex process, but the journey towards full transparency and public trust in the government’s actions remains ongoing.