The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has moved to mitigate public concern over the replacement of Indian military personnel with civilians, amidst a climate of scepticism and political tension. In a statement that adds yet another layer to the unfolding narrative, MNDF’s Principal Director of Plans, Policy, and Resource Management, Colonel Ahmed Mujthaba, confirmed the civilian status of the technical personnel arriving from India. 

This development forms part of the Maldives’ broader strategy to fulfil its diplomatic commitments, emphasising the transition of operational control over emergency response aircraft from Indian military hands to those of civilians.

Despite these assurances, the controversy persists, fuelled by opposition claims that these so-called civilians are, in reality, Indian soldiers in disguise. This allegation strikes at the heart of a critical national debate over sovereignty, transparency, and foreign influence, reflecting deep-seated concerns about the true nature of the Maldives’ relationship with India. Colonel Mujthaba’s reassurances aimed to quell such fears, asserting that the civilian personnel will operate under the MNDF’s command and control, thereby maintaining Maldivian sovereignty over their operations.

Yet, the MNDF’s commitment to transparency seems to falter when it comes to the specifics of these civilian replacements. Colonel Mujthaba’s reluctance to disclose further details about the civilians, including their employment backgrounds or the Indian authority under which they were hired, does little to dispel the atmosphere of distrust. 

This lack of openness inevitably raises questions about the legitimacy of the replacement process and whether it truly marks a departure from military collaboration or simply rebrands it under a civilian guise.

The commitment to remove all foreign soldiers stands as a testament to the current government’s pledge to reclaim full sovereignty over its military operations. However, the execution of this pledge, marred by ambiguity and accusations of deceit, continues to be a source of contention. The narrative of civilian replacement, while technically fulfilling the promise of troop withdrawal, has not sufficed to assure a wary public and a sceptical opposition.

During a recent visit to Eydhafushi, Baa Atoll, President Dr Mohamed Muizzu also addressed the growing scepticism over the nature of the troop withdrawal, with critics alleging that the Indian military personnel are merely being replaced by soldiers in “plain clothes,” rather than seeing a true demilitarisation. 

In his speech, President Muizzu condemned the spread of misinformation and urged the public to recognise the tangible progress being made, stating, “Now because we are able to do this as well, liars have a habit of lying. ‘They’re not leaving, they’re changing uniforms and coming in plain clothes.’ Creating doubt in our hearts like this and spreading lies is not something we should allow.”

The criticism points to a nuanced fear of foreign influence persisting under the guise of civilian operations, challenging the government’s transparency and the authenticity of its commitment to national sovereignty.