On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives suspended all diplomatic ties with Qatar, stating that the country was fomenting, extremism and radicalism. The Saudi Arabian state run press agency said "Qatar is harboring a multitude of terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to create instability in the region". Doha was of course quick to deny all such allegations. Significantly, the move came exactly two weeks after US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
While Saudi Arabia and other countries accused Qatar of supporting extremist terrorist organizations like Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, Daesh, Al Qaeda and Hamas.
The Saudi Kingdom and other GCC countries, not only created a blockade like situation, by closing the border and denying air and sea route to Qatar, but also urged "all brotherly countries and companies to do the same".
While Saudi Arabia and other countries accused Qatar of supporting extremist terrorist organisations, such as Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, Daesh, Al Qaeda and Hamas. While most analysts point to external factors for the decision to sideline Qatar, it is also a result of rivalry between the Saudis and Qatar. The former has thought of itself for long as the undisputed leader of the Islamic World, while off late Qatar by taking an independent foreign policy stance, while also differing on a number of foreign policy issues has sought to distinguish itself. Significantly, the Taliban had set up an office in Afghanistan, which was later shut down. Qatar has also sought to play a role in reconciliation taks between Taliban and Afghanistan.
On June 14, 2017, Mutlaq al-Qahtani, a senior counterterrorism adviser to Qatar’s foreign minister said “Qatar hosted the Taliban reconciliation talks with the Afghan government on the request from the United States but now U.S. President Donald Trump along with a number of Arab regimes has accused Doha of supporting extremist groups,” Apart from this, Doha has also maintained a manageable relationship with Iran.
What has been the role of major powers in this issue?
All major powers are taking sides in accordance with their interests. The US, seems to be fueling tension in the region instead of diffusing it. On the very first day, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave a statement on Monday while on a state visit in Australia, urging the Gulf states to stay united. However, Tillerson’s assurances came under doubt after Presidents Trump sided with Saudis, and lambasted Qatar for fomenting terror stating, “The time had come to call on Qatar to end it’s funding……and it’s extremist ideology”. Later, US President Donald Trump realised that Qatar hosts the biggest US military Base in the region, and spoke over telephone with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, expressing readiness to participate in the efforts to resolve the crisis in the GCC. More recently, the US not only finalised arm deal of worth 12 billion US dollars but also sent US Navy vessels to Doha to take part in a joint military exercise with the Qatari Emiri Navy.
Turkey's parliament has approved a legislation allowing its troops to be deployed to a Turkish military base in Qatar.
Though Russia has taken a neutral position from the start of the conflict, it sympathises with Qatar rather than with Saudi Arabia and its allies, because the investment authority of Qatar has made significant investments in different sectors, during difficult economic time.
Sushma Swaraj categorically stated that, “There is no challenge arising out of this for us. This is an internal matter of GCC (Gulf Coordination Council). Our only concern is about Indians there. We are trying to find out if any Indians are stuck there.
More than 650,000 Indians are living in Qatar. Almost half of the Indians (3,00000) are from Kerala. Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to the central government and sought its intervention for ensuring the safety of these Indians.India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj categorically stated that, “There is no challenge arising out of this for us. This is an internal matter of GCC (Gulf Coordination Council). Our only concern is about Indians there. We are trying to find out if any Indians are stuck there."
It is estimated, that expats from Arab nations, send back remittance of well over 60 billion US dollars to India annually. A large number of these resident are in Qatar, on contract to work for the FIFA World Cup, to be hosted by the country in 2022. If one were to look beyond remittances and the diaspora factor, India has strong economic connections with Qatar in the economic sphere. They include:
Qatar has the world's third-largest gas reserves after Russia and Iran, and is the largest supplier of LNG to India, accounting for 66 per cent of the total imports in 2015-16. It is worth noting that last year India renegotiated the gas price formula and saved around 20000 crore rupees.
Qatar has a sovereign wealth fund of around 300 billion US dollars, which is managed by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA). It has significant investments in India across the board such as Qatar Foundation Endowment picked up 5 per cent stake in Bharti Airtel with an investment of US$ 1.26 billion in July 2013. In July 2013, Qatar Investment Authority decided to invest US$300 million in India’s real estate sector. QIA invested US$ 150 million in India’s e-commerce major Flipkart. At the same time, Indian companies have invested US$ 100 million in different joint ventures across the different sectors. Qatar Airways and QIA are planning to invest in Airlines sector of India. India has been engaging with QIA and other state-owned and private entities in Qatar to draw investment for PM Modi’s flagship program ‘Make in India’.
According to the Indian embassy in Doha, “The bilateral trade had touched nearly US$17 billion in 2013-14, with India's exports amounting to nearly US$1.0 billion.” India mainly exports iron or steel, plastic & articles thereof, construction material, electrical and electronic items, textiles, chemicals, precious stones, rubber, spices and cereals to Qatar.
Apart from it, Qatar hosts many Indian companies. There are a total of 26, 100 per cent Indian owned companies working in Qatar in various fields such as infrastructure, contracting, information technology, gold trade, and food items trade. Nearly 6,500 Qatari-Indian companies in joint venture partnerships are working practically in all fields in the country. Many Indian companies such as L&T, Dodsal, Punj Lloyd, Shapoorji Pallonji, Voltas, Tata motors, Simplex, TCS, Wipro, Tech Mahindra, Aptech and NIIT have set up offices in Qatar and have secured major contracts/business.
New Delhi needs to look at the isolation of Qatar as an opportunity in the long run, which it should seek to leverage for economic and strategic purposes.
New Delhi needs to take care of its national interests as other countries are doing. While in the short run, India could face significant economic challenges, with lay offs of sections of Indian workers being a significant possibility. Yet, New Delhi needs to think out of the box, and ensure that its relationship with Qatar is not viewed from the prism of Saudi Arabia and other countries. New Delhi needs to look at the isolation of Qatar as an opportunity in the long run, which it should seek to leverage for economic and strategic purposes.
*Sandeep Sachdeva is an Independent Policy Analyst.