The Mohamed Muizzu administration has made classified an agreement with India concerning the withdrawal of Indian military personnel, citing national security concerns. This move forms part of President Mohamed Muizzu’s fulfilment of a campaign promise to eliminate foreign military presence in the Maldives, asserting the country’s sovereignty.

Details of the agreement, reached on 9 February between the foreign ministries of Maldives and India, remain undisclosed, with local media’s attempts to access the document, under Article 29 of the right to information law, rebuffed . The administration’s decision to classify this document has sparked debates over transparency and the nature of the threats that disclosure might pose to national security.

In line with the agreement, President Muizzu announced this week at a campaign rally the departure of the second batch of Indian military personnel, who were stationed at Hanimaadhoo International Airport. This group, primarily composed of pilots and technical staff, managed a Dornier aircraft among other assets. Their withdrawal and replacement by Indian civilian personnel mark a significant step towards reducing India’s military footprint in the Maldives.

Despite the replacement process being publicly acknowledged, the specifics regarding the civilian personnel—who they are, and under what arrangements they are working—remain largely under wraps. This ongoing secrecy raises questions about the effectiveness and genuineness of the demilitarisation process touted by the administration.

The first batch of civilian replacements arrived in February, beginning the transition that saw Indian military personnel operating two navy helicopters and one Dornier aircraft replaced by civilian operators. The transition also includes military doctors at the Sena Hiya Hospital, further diminishing the Indian military presence.

The confidentiality surrounding the agreement and the replacement process has been a critical issue, with opposition and public scrutiny intensifying. The Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) confirmed earlier in March that 26 Indian military personnel stationed in Addu City had been successfully replaced by civilians. However, neither the Maldives nor India has disclosed information about these civilians, including their previous roles or the authorities under which they were employed.

Amid these developments, the diplomatic relationship between Maldives and India remain strained yet pragmatic. Recent derogatory comments by Maldivian officials about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have soured relations. However, in a contrasting move, the Muizzu administration requested and received an increase in quotas for essential commodities from India, signalling a complex, multifaceted relationship between the two neighbours.