India Boosts Maldives Aid Amid Troop Dispute

01 Feb 2024

India has intensified its development assistance to the Maldives, allocating substantial funds to projects in the island nation despite strained relations over President Mohamed Muizzu's demand for the withdrawal of Indian troops. As global powers vie for influence in the Indo-Pacific region, India and China have sought to court the Maldives, traditionally a close ally of India but now tilting towards Beijing under Muizzu's leadership.

According to Indian officials and government documents, New Delhi has disbursed nearly 7.71 billion rupees ($93 million), almost double its initially budgeted amount, for projects in the Maldives during the current fiscal year ending in March. This commitment underscores India's determination to maintain its presence and influence in the region, even as bilateral ties face challenges.

Despite Muizzu's pledge to shift away from the country's "India First" policy and his call for the removal of approximately 80 Indian troops, India remains steadfast in its commitment to development cooperation with the Maldives. An Indian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, affirmed that development initiatives have continued unabated, with projects progressing at an accelerated pace, attributed to increased funding allocations from India.

Key projects include a $500-million endeavor for infrastructure development such as roads and bridges in Male, along with investments in airport infrastructure in remote islands, supported by lines of credit from India. However, Muizzu's recent visit to Beijing, without a corresponding trip to India, underscores the shifting dynamics in the Maldives' foreign policy.

Although India and the Maldives have agreed to replace Indian troops with civilian assistance by May, tensions persist amid concerns over the Maldives' growing engagement with China. Despite India's apprehensions, the Maldives recently permitted a Chinese research vessel to dock at its port, raising eyebrows in New Delhi.

Indian officials emphasize the importance of maintaining security in the Indian Ocean region and express reservations regarding the presence of external powers, particularly China, which could potentially undermine regional stability. India's continued investment in the Maldives reflects its strategic imperative to counterbalance China's influence and uphold its interests in the Indo-Pacific.

While challenges remain in the bilateral relationship, India has earmarked 6 billion rupees for future projects in the Maldives, signaling its enduring commitment to fostering economic development and stability in the region.

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