- The global community was in awe of how the Indian leadership led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi went about the G20 presidency that culminated in the hugely successful G20 summit. With this, the Indian government showed the entire world how capable we are of organizing events of global importance with panache and finesse. One of the most significant outcomes of the G20 summit was the announcement to press ahead with the India-Middle East-Europe-Economic-Corridor (IMEEC) which would not only act as a comprehensive alliance between like-minded nations but also act as an effective counter to the Chinese endeavor of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). However, things have not panned out on expected lines due to geopolitical churnings.
- The unexpected attack perpetrated by Hamas on the Israel people has come at an extremely wrong time for the Indian leadership’s efforts at forging a long-lasting alliance/presence in the Middle East. The Indian diplomatic outreach over the last nine years has paid handsome dividends by helping us position ourselves as an important voice that cannot be ignored anymore. As things were looking positive on this front came the news of Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel. To add to the challenge, a Qatari court handing down the death sentence to eight former Indian navy personnel is also to be construed as a huge foreign policy challenge for India.
- More so, because the verdict, after the in-camera trial, comes at a delicate geopolitical moment in the Middle East. As things stand now, the precise nature of the charges against the Indian nationals remains unknown: various news reports suggest that they were arrested for allegedly leaking classified information related to a high-value Qatari submarine project. The Indians were associated with a defense services company working with the Qatari navy. There is also speculation in some news reports that the receiver of the classified information was Israel. That the whole trial was held in secrecy and that the precise nature of charges is not yet known makes the death sentence appear very dubious prima facie.
- This is a particularly tricky case for India not only because of the possibility that Qataris have leveled espionage charges against its citizens but also because this is happening in a Gulf state where India has invested a lot to improve bilateral relations, which have been on the upswing over the last two decades. Mind you, the upgrade in India-Qatar relations has virtually coincided with Doha’s own growing ambitions in the Middle East and India’s greater engagement with other Gulf states. Qatar punches well above its weight in regional stakes, as was exemplified by its resilience during the Saudi Arabia-led blockade against it between 2017-21. Simply put, Doha has an opinion-influencer in the region. Importantly, Doha is a gas-fueled financial muscle and India is one of the largest importers of Qatari gas even as 8 lakh Indians live and work in Qatar. Thus, New Delhi must tread carefully as it tries to help the ex-navy personnel.