Ali Zahir the Chief of Staff of the President’s Office, has claimed that only a “few” Indian soldiers were present in the Maldives, and such a small number could not affect the nation’s sovereignty.
Appearing on a Public Service Media programme last night, Zahir admitted that the number of Indian soldiers in the Maldives has “changed” given the additional bilateral treaties signed between the Maldives and India since President Solih’ inauguration in 2018. He had stated this in response to a question asking him if the number of Indian soldiers in the Maldives has increased since the inauguration of the Solih administration.
Nevertheless, Zahir had said that “only a few” Indian soldiers were present in the Maldives. He said that there would be more soldiers if India had had intentions to take over the Maldives.
“We’re talking about a very small number of soldiers, you know. If [sovereignty] could be played with like that—is that how soldiers would be stationed? Or would they instead install military bases?” said Zahir.
Pointing out that Indian military doctors were active at Senahiya, Zahir had said the Indian military were not armed and out terrorizing the public, or trying to take over the country’s sovereignty.
Although Zahir had announced that the Maldives only hosted a “small number” of Indian soldiers, the standard government response until earlier this year had been that there were no Indian soldiers in the Maldives. The government had since changed their narrative, and Defence Minister Mariya Didi had announced that although Indian soldiers were indeed present in the country, they were unarmed.
Despite the Defence Minister’s statements, the bilateral agreements grant these soldiers virtual diplomatic immunity; they are allowed to enter the Maldives without having their possessions, or habitations, searched or checked at any time. The government cannot be entirely sure if the Indian soldiers are truly unarmed.