Amid row, India and Maldives work on 'roadmap' for military withdrawal

The meeting between S Jaishankar and Mossa Zameer in the Ugandan's Kampala came amid unease in the Maldives' bilateral ties with India.

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Courtesy: ANI

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Thursday met his Maldivian counterpart Moosa Zameer and held a "frank conversation" on bilateral ties between the two nations.

EAM S Jaishankar meets his Maldivian counterpart, Moosa Zameer

The meeting between S Jaishankar and Mossa Zameer in the Ugandan capital city of Kampala came amid unease in the Maldives' bilateral relationship with India.

Notably, the foreign minister is in Kampala to represent India at the two-day summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) beginning Friday.

Taking it to X, S Jaishankar said, “Met Maldives FM @MoosaZameer today in Kampala. A frank conversation on India-Maldives ties. Also discussed NAM-related issues.”

Here’s what Moosa Zameer said:

Meanwhile, Zameer said in his tweet that it was a pleasure to meet Jaishankar in the margins of the NAM Summit.

"We exchanged views on the ongoing high-level discussions on the withdrawal of Indian military personnel, as well as expediting the completion of ongoing development projects in the Maldives, and cooperation within SAARC and NAM," he wrote.

"We are committed to further strengthening and expanding our cooperation," the Maldivian minister wrote. He also posted a photograph of the meeting.

India, Maldives ties at stake?

Relations between India and the Maldives have hit a rocky patch as newly elected President Mohamed Muizzu signals a shift away from New Delhi and towards Beijing.

Meeting on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Kampala, Uganda on Thursday, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Maldivian counterpart Moosa Zameer had what sources described as a "frank conversation" about the future of ties between the two Indian Ocean neighbors.

The cordial talks belied recent strains that have emerged since President Muizzu took office last November. Muizzu campaigned on a promise to evict Indian military forces from the strategically located island archipelago. The president has also made overtures toward China, which is seeking to expand its influence across South Asia.

How did India-Maldives tension escalate? 

Tensions escalated recently when Maldivian government ministers used derogatory language against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media. The offending officials were suspended, but the incidents stirred outrage in India and calls to boycott Maldivian tourism destinations that rely heavily on Indian visitors.

The Indian government has invested heavily in the Maldives, seeing the islands as a key partner in its "Neighborhood First" foreign policy vision.

Last May, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh visited the Maldives and gifted military patrol vessels. Modi has also launched regional infrastructure projects, like the Greater Male Connectivity Project that will build bridges and causeways between the capital and other islands.

What Jaishankar, Zameer’s underscore?

However, Muizzu's drift toward Beijing challenges Indian ambitions in its strategic backyard. With Sri Lanka also leaning Chinese, New Delhi is at risk of losing influence across the Indian Ocean. The attempted rapprochement between Jaishankar and Zameer may reflect India's desire to pull its maritime neighbor back into its orbit through soft diplomacy.