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Qatar Reprieve Highlights India Diplomacy

By Business Standard
February 26, 2024 11:23 IST
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The incident remains a reminder of the inherent fragilities of all geopolitical relationships.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim ibn Hamad Al Thani in Doha, February 15, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

The hectic behind-the-scenes diplomacy that played a key role in ending the 18-month ordeal of eight former Indian Navy personnel imprisoned in Qatar on alleged espionage charges can be viewed as a reflection of strengthening economic ties between the West Asian powerhouse and India.

The rapid change in the Qatari government's stance from the death sentence in October last year to jail terms in December to freedom took place ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's two-day visit to the United Arab Emirates on February 13.

The PM reportedly played an active role in securing the release of these men, personally negotiating with Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai in December.

Though this case has a happy ending, the episode has raised many questions about the complexities of geopolitical alignments in West Asia, highlighting the constant challenges India faces in managing them.

The official details of the charges against the Navy men have not been made public and the circumstances remain murky.

They were employees of a Doha-based company called Dahra Global, a now defunct entity owned by a Qatari citizen, which reportedly specialised in training defence personnel.

Reports say the eight Indian men were accused of passing on sensitive submarine-related information to the Israeli intelligence and the death sentence was passed just weeks after the war between Gaza-based Palestinian group Hamas and Israel broke out on October 7.

Qatar is one of the militant outfit's strongest backers.

Although India has traditionally supported the two-State solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict, it has developed closer ties with Tel Aviv, which has become the country's second-largest supplier of defence equipment.

India has historically enjoyed cordial relations with the array of West Asian powers, from Sunni Saudi Arabia to Shia Iran.

In recent years, it has deepened this relationship as part of the rapprochement between the Arab world and Israel.

In July 2022, in partnership with the United States, New Delhi signed on to the I2U2 technological collaboration among India, Israel, the UAE, and the US.

Last year, the development of an India-Middle East-Europe corridor was announced at the G20 summit in New Delhi.

Qatar, too, has emerged as a significant investor in India.

Recently, Qatar Energy and Petronet signed a long-term deal, the biggest in recent years, to supply 7.5 million metric tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) annually.

Qatar accounts for half of India's LNG imports and this deal is critical at a time when Europe is also exploring the region for similar deals to reduce dependence on Russian gas.

Qatar's sovereign wealth fund also has significant investment in the Indian private sector, including the startup universe, while several Indian companies have a presence in Qatar.

Economic ties between the two are strengthened also by a large presence of Indian workforce there.

No doubt this symbiotic economic relationship and Mr Modi's personal rapport with Emir Al Thani played a part in the reprieve for the Navy men and can be seen as a major achievement for Indian diplomacy.

Nonetheless, the incident remains a reminder of the inherent fragilities of all geopolitical relationships.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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Business Standard
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