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Decoding India's Diplomatic Triumph In Qatar – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

Decoding India's Diplomatic Triumph in Qatar

Anil Trigunayat

On Monday, a large number of concerned Indians especially the families of the former imprisoned Navy officers heaved a sigh of relief as they returned home after a court of Qatar allowed them to leave. 
The eight former naval officers, who were engaged by Dahra Global Technologies and Consulting Services, a company advising on a Qatari programme aimed at obtaining high-tech, Italian-made, submarines that could evade radar detection, were accused of spying and passing on some information to Israelis even as no concrete evidence in this regard was available. 

Language of the Law and modality of execution in some countries has its own challenge. New Delhi played its diplomatic cards very well. It gave due credence and respect to Qatari legal process to follow the course while working directly and with the friends in the region to secure the release of the accused Indians.

The judgement of death penalty to the Indian officers by the lower court was a disturbing development as it polarised the Indian public opinion pushing the public discourse urging the government to do more.  Conspiracy theories in such situations become rampant and Qatar Gate was no exception. But all’s well that ends well. 

The Indian government without much ado stated that; “We appreciate the decision by the Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals” after 18 months. It also corroborated the Indian government policy of rendering assistance to Indians abroad at all cost be in the peace time or evacuations from the conflict zones. 

India-Qatar Relationship 

India and Qatar, like other Gulf and West Asian countries, enjoy a substantive relationship across all domains from people to historic to energy to economy to nearly 850000 expatriate Indians. 

Qatar is one of the first countries in the region with which India signed a defence cooperation MoU. In India’s quest for her energy security Qatari gas plays a critical part. It was only recently that both countries renewed a long-term gas purchase agreement. 

Bilateral trade is touching $20 billion and diversified Qatari investments increased significantly as 15000 Indian companies in Qatar held expand that even more. Indian diaspora that is the biggest of all foreigners in the country is widely welcomed and their contribution to Qatari development is widely appreciated by the people and the leadership there. Even during the run up to FIFA world Cup, a signature Qatari achievement, Indian workforce and companies did their best to make it a grand success which was not lost on the leadership. 

While energy, economy and expatriates may comprise to be a key element in any relationship and India-Qatar is no exception, an X factor is the mutual respect and affection between Amir Sheikh Tamim and PM Narendra Modi. In fact Sheikh Tamim was the first Arab leader( March 2015) to visit India after PM Modi took over. PM Modi also reciprocated the visit next year. Since then they have met and spoken several times. 

A spate of Ministerial visits is yet another indicator of the robust ties. External Affairs Minister Dr Jaishankar has been there at least four times. Even during the Qatar blockade, Indian support to Doha increased manifold. The contribution of Yusuf Ali’s Lulu chains in keeping the supplies going was well recognised. 

PM’s Personal Intervention

Most recently, on the sidelines of the COP28 in Dubai, both leaders met (December 1, 2023), and it is surmised that PM Modi personally raised the concern of detainees with the Amir and an understanding was said to have been reached while the due process of law took its course. It was expected that some respite would be found. 

In a few weeks’ time the higher court of appeal commuted the sentence and removed the death penalty awarded to the ex-Indian navy officers. During my recent visit to Qatar for the prestigious ‘Doha Forum ‘ I gathered in my interactions with several Qatari officials that we could see the home coming of the naval officers sooner than later or latest by the Ramadan when usually the Amir is expected to pardon many people. 

But the fact that it has happened even before is indicative of the desire of Qatari leadership to remove the irritant before the two leaders meet again on February 14. This is a clear application of principle of mutual respect, mutual interests and mutual sensitivities. Cost benefit analysis is the crux of diplomacy and strategy.

Also the fact that this release happened without the fanfare and bravado or religious backdrop is yet another testament to the sagacity of the Qatari smart diplomacy which in recent years has made it a ‘Go To’  country in many a crisis situations and helps it punch above its weight in the international discourse. It was witnessed when it acted and facilitated the release of five US prisoners from the clutches of Taliban and was also the conduit for the “Doha Agreement ‘ between USA and Taliban and became a hub for evacuations of large number of foreigners out of the beleaguered Afghanistan. 

Likewise, Qatar also helped facilitate aid and interaction between Israel and Hamas led Gaza for which even the Israeli President felicitated and expressed gratitude towards its leadership for years. Even during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, it is playing a mediatory role with Egypt to secure the release of remaining 130 Israeli hostages from the clutches of Hamas, while ensuring humanitarian supplies to Gazans and ensure longish ceasefire or pauses, despite Benjamin Netanyahu’s caustic comment against them.

Prime Minister Modi has been personally invested in securing the release of the Indian navy officers who in turn also held him singularly responsible for their freedom. 

PM Modi who will be visiting Abu Dhabi on 13-14 February for inauguration of the largest Hindu Temple in the region will also visit Doha to personally thank his friend Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani as well as  to follow up on projects for further enriching bilateral ties. He would also be conferring with Emirati and Qatari leaders on the conflagrating regional situation as the situation which continues to deteriorate, with non-state actors like Hamas and Houthis leading the charge and it is a major concern for the Indian government.

Anil Trigunayat, is a former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta, and currently heads the West Asia Experts Group at Vivekananda International Foundation.

The article was first published in CNBC TV18  as India’s significant diplomatic win in Qatar — here’s how it worked on February 13, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

Read more from the author at:

Analyzing the Two-Month Israel-Hamas Conflict: Exploring the Future Classification of Gaza as ‘Zone D

Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Tanu Paliwal, a research intern at IMPRI.

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