The Maldives and India have crafted a strategic plan to replace Indian military personnel with civil staff in the operation of military aircraft gifted to the Maldives by India. This significant shift in operational personnel was agreed upon during the second meeting of the High-Level Core Group on Friday in New Delhi.

The decision to replace military with civilian operators marks a nuanced approach to addressing the sensitivities surrounding foreign military presence in the Maldives, while ensuring the continuity of critical services provided by the aviation platforms, including humanitarian and medevac services.

Despite the absence of direct mention in the official statements from both nations’ foreign ministries, a senior government official confirmed the details to a local news outlet, emphasising the transition as a key achievement of President Muizzu’s administration.

This arrangement aligns with President Muizzu’s campaign pledge to reduce the number of foreign troops on Maldivian soil and to localise the operation of gifted aircraft. The official narrative has evolved from an outright removal of Indian military personnel to a strategic replacement, showcasing a commitment to maintaining bilateral relations with India while addressing domestic political promises.

The government also plans to start air ambulance services in March with repurposed Dash 8 planes of Maldivian Airlines, along with the introduction of air ambulance services between the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

The establishment of emergency and medevac helicopter services is another step towards bolstering the Maldives’ medical response capabilities, moving away from reliance on neighbouring countries.

This nuanced policy manoeuvring reflects the Maldives government’s strategic balancing act between fulfilling electoral pledges and sustaining its defence and development partnership with India. A third meeting of the High-Level Core Group is scheduled to be held in Malé during the last week of February, on a mutually agreeable date, to further this initiative.