Dhiyares, the sister-newspaper of The Maldives Journal, has received a copy of the draft agreement signed between the Maldives and India which permits the stationing of the Indian military in Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF). The copy had been provided by a high-ranking officer of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) on the condition of anonymity.
The UTF agreement comprises of several clauses that put Maldivian state-sovereignty in grave jeopardy.
The UTF Agreement
The UTF agreement had been signed on 21 February 2021 during a trip taken by the Indian Minister of External Affairs, Dr Subramanyam Jaishankar. Dr Jaishankar had signed on behalf of India, and Minister of Defence Uza Mariya Ahmad Didi signed on behalf of the Maldivian government.
The draft ageement is titled "Maritime Security and the Development, Management, Administration and Maintenance of MNDF Coast Guard Harbour at Uthuru Thilafalhu (UTF)".
The agreement had been signed to develop, support, and maintain a Coast Guard harbour at UTF, located some 15 kilometers from the capital city of Malé. As reported in the Maldivian media, "India will also support the development of other infrastructure needed for the harbor... [India would also] support development of communications resources and radar services... and provide training".
The development of the facilities at UTF is funded by a $50 million USD line-of-credit given out by the Indian EXIM bank.
The term used by the draft agreement to describe the "maritime, communication, aviation, and other infrastructure and facilities" in UTF was simply "Facilities".
The Solih Government's Finalised Terms
The agreement copy received by Dhiyares had an attached note stamped by the High Commission of India's Defence Wing. The note had been addressed to the Ministry of Defence.
The note read that the agreement had been prepared by the Government of India based on the finalised Terms of Reference received from Maldivian Ministry of Defence on 24 September, 2019.
Prior to receiving the terms from the Maldivian government, the Maldivian Chief of Defence Force Maj. Gen. Abdulla Shamal and Indian Secretary of Defence Sanjay Mitra had discussed UTF at the 2nd Defence Cooperation Dialogue on January 2019.
An Armed Military Presence
The terms of the agreement permit Indian military personnel to carry weapons at UTF.
Article 6 of the draft agreement highlight the terms for the management, administration, and maintenance of the facilities.
As per Article 6.6, Indian military personnel "on active duty" at UTF Facilities would be allowed to "carry arms and other such equipment". The clause also allowss Indian military personnel to use and operate the communucations facilities in order to carry out maritime surveillance and "security"-related tasks.
During a press conference held with regards to the signing of the UTF agreement, the Vice-Chief of the Defence Force, Brig. Gen. Abdur Raheem Abdul Latheef had claimed that no foreign military personnel would be stationed at the harbour, and that only MNDF and Coast Guard personnel would be active at UTF once the project was completed. The MNDF had also said that the only Indian personnel present on the facilities would be "technicians".
60 Years of India
The UTF agreement is to enter into force from the day of its signature and would remain in force for a period of 60 years, in total.
According to Article 12 of the agreement, it would remain in force for a period of 30 years from the date of signature. The agreement's validity would then be "automatically" extended for another 30 years, unless both the Maldivian and Indian governments "mutually agree" not to extend it.
This signing of the UTF agreement is the first time that a Maldivian government had permitted a long-term foreign military presence in the country since the British had left.
During the press conference held in February by the MNDF, Vice Chief of Defense Force Brig. Gen. Abdur Raheem Abdul Latheef had claimed that Indian personnel would only be allowed to remain on the facilities for however long the MNDF decides. However, based on the text of the agreement, it is clear that Brig. Gen. Abdur Raheem's statements are categorically untrue.
Free Access for Indian Military Vessels
According to the UTF agreement, Indian vessels and aircraft would have unrestricted free access to berth and land at UTF.
According to Article 6.3 of the copy of the UTF agreement, both "personnel, marine and air vessels and other platforms as well as other communication systems" that belong to India and the Maldives would have "the right to full utilization of the facilities".
The terms also state that India may berth and land their vessels and deploy their personnel at UTF "free of charge".
The following Article 6.4 states that the Government of Maldives would, on commercial basis, provide full logistical support to Indian vessels when requested. The agreement states that such support would be "supply of rations, food supplies, petroleum, fuel and lubricants, spares etc to the personnel, marine and air vessels of Government of India utilizing the Facility".
Live Link to the Indian Navy
Article 6.5 states that both the Maldivian and Indan Governments should consider siggning an Implementing Arrangement between the UTF facilities and an Indian naval dockyard. The purpose of the Implementing Arrangement would be to "institutionalize and streamline the process of providing technical expertise and materiel [sic] support".
Diplomatic Immunity for All Indian Personnel
As per Article 6.9, all Indian personnel working to implement the UTF agreement would "at all times" respect the laws of Maldives. However, such personnel would not be subject to any suit or proceedings would be instituted against such a person for anything "done or purported to be done in good faith" in the course of their duties, "except in the case of gross negligience or willful misconduct".
Article 6.10 require that all Indian personnel who would be present in the Maldives to carry out the "implementation of the agreement", and the Maldivian Government was to grant "full immunity to the personnel deputed by the Government of the Republic of India". The article requires that their papers, and their premises, would be granted immunity from all Maldivian legal and judicial processes.
The agreement grants India the legal the power to prevent any third-party from utilizing the UTF facilities.
Article 6.8 stated that the UTF facilities may only be used by "non-Government" third-party commercial maritime and air traffic with the "prior consultation and mutual agreement between" the Maldivian and Indian governments.
It is worth noting, the Indian government had proposed developing UTF on the condition of Indian exclusivity during President Yameen Abdul Gayyoom's administration. The Yameen administration rejected the proposal.
India Runs the Show
The UTF project is managed and maintained through the co-operation of the Indian and Maldivian governments.
The agreement states that the project's execution would monitored by the Joint Project Monitoring Committee (JPMC), and the agreement states that the Committee would comprise of the following individuals:
The Chief of Defence Force of the MNDF, currently Maj. Gen. Abdullah Shamal
The Indian High Commissioner, currently Sanjay Sudhir.
Two persons nominated by the government o India
Two persons nominated by the government o India
The Indian High Commissioner and the Chief of Defence Force would serve as co-chairs of the JPMC.In addition would be two people nominated by each Government.
The JPMC may act upon and take action any written decision signed by the co-chairs of the JPMC.
The JPMC is required by the agreement to meet at a location in either the Maldives or in India at least once every six months. The JPMC would be disbanded six months after the completion of the project, only to be replaced by the Joint Working Group.
All day-to-day operations would be carried out by a Joint Resident Team, which would comprise of two advisors nominated by each of the Maldivian and Indian governments.
Article 7 agreement calls for the formation of a Joint Working Group on completion of the project and once the UTF facilities are commissioned. The mandate of the Joint Working Group would be to monitor and review the progress of the agreement and to resolve any issues that may arise in its implementation. The Joint Working Group is required to meet at least once every six months in either the Maldives or in India.
The Joint Working Group would consist of the Chief of Defence Force of the MNDF, the Indian High Commissioner (who would both co-chair the Joint Working Group as they did the JPMC). In addition would be the Commandant of Coast Guard of MNDF, Defence Advisor at the Indian High Commission, two persons nominated by each of the Indian and Maldivian governments, and the heads of the Joint Resident Team.
The agreement states that the Joint Working Group may act upon any written decision signed by the both of the co-chairs of the Joint Working Group, as it was with the JPMC.
Although the MNDF, when speaking to the press, had made the impression that Indian technical assistance would be provided to cater to the demands of the MNDF: the text of the agreement makes it clear that India would be closely involved in running the facilities at UTF, contrary to the public statements made by the MNDF.
Awash with Dirty Money
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a General of the MNDF told Dhiyares that India had spent $20 million USD in bribes to bring about the UTF agreement signing.
The money had been paid to high-ranking officials of the armed forces, several ministers, several parliamentarians, and some local media outlets.
The bribes had been given through Indian-owned companies operating in the Maldives. The higher-ups of several media organizations are reportedly still on the payroll of these companies.
Photographs and videos of the bribe being paid had been taken by taken by the Indians.
"Some people are heavily compromised. Most MDP parliamentarians cannot speak publicly about this agreement", said the General.
The Government's Response
Dhiyares' publication of the leaked agreement had evoked a rushed reaction from the government.
As Dhiyares' website came under several malicious denial-of-service attacks throughout the afternoon, all members of the Advisory Council of the MNDF were summoned to Bandaara Koshi, the MNDF head-quarters, with regard to the leaked documents.
As per a high-ranking official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, speaking anonymously, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid took several calls from Sanjay Sudhir, the Indian High Commissioner.
Minister Shahid had then called Minister of Defence, Uza Mariya Ahmad Didi and requested that she release a statement through the Ministry of Defence claiming that the leaked agreement was a forgery.
Some time later, the Ministry of Defence released a press release claiming that the leaked agreement was a forgery.