India is preparing to bring back the two helicopters it had gifted to the Maldives, in a sign that it is hoping to use dialogue as the way forward in resolving issues with Male after months of strain in ties, caused by a squeeze on work permits to Indians and unhappiness over the Maldivian election process.
According to an official source, the government has in principle decided to withdraw the helicopters, as well as accompanying personnel from two atolls in the Maldives, which has been the consistent demand of the Yameen government for the last few months.
“The process has been initiated,” the source told The Hindu , adding that the orders need to be cleared by the Ministry of External Affairs, and then sent for action to the Ministry of Defence.
MEA officials declined to comment on the specific status of the decision, saying only that talks on the helicopters were still “ongoing.”
The helicopters were gifted in 2013 and the agreement for the first one, operated by the Indian Coast Guard, expired earlier this year but the helicopter has remained there. The agreement for the second one operated by the Indian Navy expired on June 30. About 28 Navy personnel are still in Maldives with expired visas awaiting instructions to return.
After months of a standoff, the government is understood to have decided that talks are the only way forward and that India will not force any action on the Maldives.
“Sometimes inaction is also a policy. We are not suggesting that India should not ever act, but we needn’t react to situations on a knee-jerk basis,” another source said, adding that, “As a responsible stakeholder in the region, we have to act in a manner that is responsible”
India hopes that it will also persuade the Maldives to end an unofficial squeeze on visas to Indians, particularly of non-essential job-holders who have been employed by hotels and educational institutions, but have not received work permits for several months.
“It is the sovereign right of a government to decide who will or will not stay there. It doesn’t matter whether you are the size of the United States or that of the Maldives,” the official source said, explaining difficulties with the negotiations.
“We still have to work with [the Maldivian] government. We are doing whatever is necessary to persuade them to sanction the visas…There is a line beyond which the denial of visas cannot be countered by any forceful intervention,” the source continued.
However, India will continue to raise its concerns over the conduct of elections in the Maldives, which it believes it is entitled to as a “SAARC country and as a neighbour.”
“We have urged the Government of Maldives to return to the path of democracy and ensure credible restoration of the political process and the rule of law, before the elections are conducted,” spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told reporters.