Maldives has reportedly signed an agreement with a Turkish company to purchase military drones to patrol the country’s waters.
The Maldives under pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu has signed a deal with Turkey to buy drones to patrol its exclusive economic zone waters. So far, New Delhi and Male jointly patrolled this region in the Indian Ocean.
Maldives-based Adhadhu on Tuesday reported that Male had signed an agreement with a Turkish company to purchase military drones to patrol the country’s waters. It has allocated $37 million from the state’s contingency budget to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).
The deal comes just days after the Maldives asked India to withdraw its troops stationed there by March 15. New Delhi has 88 or so military personnel in the Maldives to operate and maintain India-sponsored radar stations and surveillance aircraft, including the Dornier plane and two Dhruv helicopters gifted to Male over the past decade.
India enjoyed a good relationship with Male during Mohamed Nasheed’s presidency from 2008 to 2013 and then Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s stint from 2018 to 2023. From 2013 to 2018, Abdulla Yameen, who was also pro-China, ruled the island country.
In 2018, once Yameen was replaced by Solih, the Indian Navy deployed an offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) – Sumedha – to carry out surveillance of the exclusive economic waters of Maldives with the Maldivian military. The elite Marine commandos of the Indian Navy were in Maldives to train the Maldivian military on asymmetric warfare.
However, equations have changed under Muizzu, who came to power on the plank of the ‘India-out’ campaign. Muizzu, who assumed power in November 2023, has so far made two foreign visits – Turkey and China. His five-day visit to China last week was also seen as a snub to New Delhi as the tradition so far was that the Maldivian always visited India before Beijing.
The relationship also deteriorated after three Maldivian deputy ministers made derogatory remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi following his visit to the Indian islands of Lakshadweep earlier this month.
For decades, India and China have been competing with each other for influence in Maldives, which is a few hundred nautical miles from Kerala and whose strategic location makes it important for both Asian powers.
On January 13, in an apparent reference to India, Muizzu said that the Maldives was not located in the backyard of any country. “Even though our islands are small, we are a huge country with a very large exclusive economic zone of nine lakh square kilometers,” he said. “Maldives is one country that holds the largest proportion of this ocean. This ocean is not the property of a specific country.”
Muizzu then said that Maldives had begun the work to build its power and capacity to do continuous surveillance of the nine lakh square kilometer exclusive economic zone. “Hopefully, soon we will establish our capacity to manage this vast area.”