India-Qatar cooperation in diverse sectors has been steadily growing in an excellent framework provided by historically close ties and regular and substantive engagement, including at the highest levels of the two governments.

The large, diverse, accomplished and highly regarded Indian community is making an important contribution to Qatar ‘s progress and in nurturing the bonds of deep-rooted friendship and multi-faceted cooperation between the two countries.

Qatar

Areas of Cooperation

Political

  • Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi paid a landmark official visit to Doha from 4-5 June, 2016 at the invitation of HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar.
  • PM’s visit provided an excellent opportunity to both sides to engage at the highest level, and imparted fresh momentum to bilateral ties.
  • This was the highest-level visit from India to Qatar since the visit of former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in November, 2008.
  • There has been regular exchange of high-level bilateral visits in the recent past. The Emir of Qatar HH Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani had paid a State Visit to India in March 2015.
  • Recognizing the existing goodwill, India and Qatar have agreed to further enhance and broaden the bilateral relations in areas like high-level political exchanges, defence and security cooperation, trade and economic relations and people-to-people linkages.
  • Developments during Indian Vice President visit (June 2022):
    • India-Qatar Start Up bridge:
      • The Vice President launched the “India-Qatar Start Up bridge” that aims to link the start-up ecosystems of the two countries.
        • India has emerged as the 3rd largest ecosystem for startups globally, with over 70,000 registered Startups.
        • India is home to 100 unicorns with a total valuation of over USD 300 billion.
    • Environment and Climate Change:
      • The Vice President invited Qatar, as India’s trusted partner in its energy security, to be a partner in this journey for sustainability and join the International Solar Alliance (ISA).
    • Joint Business Council Between Business Chambers:
      • Joint Business Council between Business Chambers of India and Qatar has been established and that a Joint Task Force on Investments would take its work forward.
      • Invest India and Qatar Investment Promotion Agency was appreciated for entering into a partnership of guiding and assisting businesses on both sides to tap new and emerging opportunities.
    • Collaborations at Multilateral Forums:
      • Greater collaboration between India and Qatar at multilateral forums like the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), Asian Parliamentary Assembly, and others was emphasized.
India-Qatar Relations

Trade and Investment

  • Qatar is the largest supplier of LNG to India, accounting for over 65% of India’s global import and 15% of Qatar’s export of LNG.
  • In 2015, an agreement for an additional supply of 1.0 mn tons of LNG annually from the RasGas through the remainder of the 25-year contract, ending in 2028 was signed.
  • The balance of trade continues to be heavily in Qatar’s favour.
  • In 2014-15, India’s exports exceeded $1 billion ($1056 million), though bilateral trade came down to $15.7 billion due to decline in Qatar ‘s exports to India.
  • India’s bilateral trade with Qatar in 2020-21 was US$ 9.21 billion. Bilateral trade was worth USD 10.95 billion in 2019-20.
    • India’s export to Qatar during 2020-21 was US$ 1.28 billion and India’s import from Qatar was US$ 7.93 billion.
    • Qatar’s key exports to India include LNG, LPG, chemicals and petrochemicals, plastics, and aluminium articles, while India’s key exports to Qatar include cereals, copper articles, iron and steel articles, vegetables, fruits, spices, and processed food products, electrical and other machinery, plastic products, construction material, textiles & garments, chemicals, precious stones and rubber.
  • India is among the top three largest export destinations for Qatar (Japan and South Korea being the other two) and is also among the top three sources of Qatar’s imports, along with China and Japan.
  • Qatar’s FDI in India is modest. Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) which manages sovereign wealth fund of Qatar is keenly looking at attractive investment options in infrastructural sectors in India.
  • There is vast potential for QIA to substantially increase its investments in India, keeping in view India’s huge investment needs ($1 trillion in next five years in infrastructural sectors alone) and investment friendly policies, as also QIA’s keenness to diversify its global portfolio.
India-Qatar Trade Relations

Cultural and Diaspora

  • Cultural ties between India and Qatar are deep rooted and actively nurtured by both sides. Qataris admire India’s cultural diversity. Both countries had signed an Agreement on Cultural Cooperation during the former Emir’s visit in April 2012.
  • The year 2019 was celebrated as India-Qatar Year of Culture, as envisaged in the Joint Statement issued during the visit of PM Modi to Qatar.

Yoga

  • India deeply appreciates Qatar’s support, as a cosponsor, to its Resolution at the UNGA, adopted unanimously with a record 177 co-sponsors, declaring 21st June as the International Day of Yoga (IDY), and for various activities to celebrate the first IDY in Qatar.

Defence

  • India-Qatar Defence Cooperation Agreement signed during the visit of former PM to Qatar in November 2008 and extended for a further period of five years in 2013.
  • A high level delegation from the Qatar Emiri Land Forces participated at the Ninth International Land, Naval, Internal Homeland Security and Defence System Exposition – ‘DEFEXPO INDIA-2016’ held in Goa.
  • The Qatari side has evinced interest in the opportunities offered under the ‘Make in India’ initiative for joint production of defence equipment in India.
  • India regularly participates in the biennial Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (DIMDEX) in Qatar.
  • Indian Naval and Coast Guard ships regularly visit Qatar as part of bilateral cooperation and interaction.
  • Za’ir-Al-Bahr (Roar of the Sea) is the naval exercise between Indian and Qatar Navy.
  • India’s defence cooperation with Qatar has so far been limited to training, participation in each other’s conferences/events and visits by ships of Indian Navy and Coast Guard.

Health

  • Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD) sent Covid medical relief material to India for combating second wave of Covid-19 by special Amiri Air force plane.
  • Indian community in Qatar too contributed in a big way in sending oxygen related material to India.

Education

  • There are 14 Indian schools in Qatar, offering CBSE curricula to over 30,000 students, most of whom are the children of Indian nationals working in Qatar.

Indian Community

  • There are over 700,000 Indian nationals residing in Qatar.
  • They comprise the largest expatriate community in Qatar and are engaged in a wide spectrum of professions including medicine; engineering; education, finance; banking; business; and media apart from a large number of blue-collared workers.
  • The Indian Community Benevolent Forum (ICBF), functioning under the aegis of Embassy of India, Doha – ICBF was awarded Pravasi Bharatiya Samman in January, 2011.
  • Remittances:
    • The remittances which the Indian expatriate community in Qatar send to India are estimated to be around 750 million dollar per annum.

Significance of Qatar to India

  • Indians are the largest expatriate community in Qatar. Remittances flowing to Indians from Qatar and the goodwill, safety of Indian in the country make Qatar vital for India’s interest.
  • Qatar is largest supplier of LNG to India. Hence, it is vital for India’s energy security.
  • Being a member of GCC, Qatar is of strategic importance for India in protecting its interest especially on Kashmir Issue.
  • India’s bid for permanent seat at UNSC requires support of Qatar.
  • A number of Indian companies such as Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Wipro, MahindraTech, Larsen & Toubro Limited operate in Qatar.
  • The stability of Gulf region is of strategic interests to India’s energy and maritime security.

Qatar Crisis

  • Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, severed ties with Qatar in June 2017. There have been rifts between Qatar and other GCC nations – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain – before. But this is the first time that Qatar is subjected to a series of co-ordinated hostile measures.
  • In June 2017, Qatar’s neighbouring Arab nations of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt shut off shipping routes and air space with Qatar for its alleged support for terrorism and its ties with Iran (Iran is Shia-led, while Saudi Arabia is Sunni-ruled. Shia and Sunni are different denominations in Islam).
    • It severed their diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar.
  • However, Qatar denied supporting Islamic extremism and has openly condemned its isolation as a clear attack on its sovereignty.
  • Qatar was cut off by Saudi Arabia and its allies by land, air and sea. Soon, Egypt and Yemen too joined the campaign against Qatar. Qatari diplomats and citizens were asked to leave UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. An economic blockade was also launched against Qatar.
  • All four neighbours issued a 13-point list of demands for Doha (capital of Qatar) to comply with in order to restore erstwhile relations.
    • Some of the demands included Qatar closing down news outlets such as Al-Jazeera, end ties with radical Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, scale down ties with Shia-majority Iran and remove Turkish troops stationed in the country.
  • Since 2017, the blockade of Qatar has included:
    • Closing of its only land border with Saudi Arabia.
    • Stopping Qatari ships from entering ports anywhere in the Saudi coalition.
    • Blocking Qatari planes from flying in their airspace.
    • Expelling Qatari citizens from these countries as part of the measures.
Qatar crisis

Has such steps been taken in past?

  • Yes, in 2014
  • Qatar’s supports the Sunni Islamist political group Muslim Brotherhood which has been outlawed by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE
  • This made Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in 2014 to recall their ambassadors from Qatar.
  • Only after eight months, the ties were normalised after Qatar forced some Brotherhood members to leave the country.
Stand of other Countries in the Region
  • Kuwait and Oman, also members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, have not cut ties with Qatar. Kuwait has offered to mediate in the dispute, while Turkey and Iran opened their airspace to more Qatari flights.

Impact

On Gulf Region and Qatar
  • Many travellers of the region are affected as flights to and from Doha have been suspended.
  • According to a report, about 40 percent of the food of Qatar comes via its land border with Saudi Arabia, which has now been closed. Hence, Qatar may face food shortage.
  • Instability in the oil-rich region will affect trade and business, and also change its geopolitical condition.
  • Moody has estimated that Qatar used $38.5 billion – equivalent to 23% of its GDP – to support the economy in the first two months of sanctions.
Qatar crisis - impact on Qatar
On India
  • The region is home to about 6- 8 million Indians. Travel between India and Qatar is unlikely to be affected. Indian passengers who hope to use Doha as a hub to get to other destinations in the Gulf will be affected. It may impact remittances flowing from the region.
  • An economic blockade could also affect Indian community in Qatar as much as its other residents.
  • India’s dependence of oil from Gulf may be impacted given the hostile situations between Qatar and other Gulf countries in the region.
  • It may impact India’s connectivity and access plan to West Asia, Central Asia and Africa (INSTC, IndiaIran undersea gas pipeline etc).
On World
  • The treatment of Qatar could well become the playbook for future diplomacy, which would lead to a further weakening of the international order, the rule of law and the UN system of conflict resolution.
  • There are also signs that this may be the precursor to a larger conflict with Iran.
  • Qatar is the world’s largest LNG exporter and hosts a thriving financial industry. Its military significance is also notable given that the U.S. CENTCOM (central command) is headquartered in the country. The air command of the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State is also in Qatar. This means stakes are too high for the U.S. to take a side in this diplomatic conflict.
GCC Rift - Qatar crisis

India’s Stand on the Issue

  • India Foreign Ministry office has said that this is an ‘internal issue’ of the GCC countries. India also has good relations with Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest exporter of crude oil. Abu Dhabi in the UAE is also a major oil exporter.
  • Meanwhile, Qatar is the biggest supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and a major seller of condensate – a low-density liquid fuel and refining product derived from natural gas.
  • Therefore, India needs to have a balanced stance for the time being unless Indians living in Qatar are affected in a major way. However, further fragmenting of West Asia will require even more deft diplomacy than simply staying out of the Arab divides to keep these ties untouched by the tensions.

Critical Perspectives

  • US backing has “given the Saudis and company a blank check in agreeing to underwrite the risks of confronting Qatar”.
  • In the wake of the Arab Spring, both Saudi Arabia and UAE see a political threat to their domestic patronage-based, royal family-led order from the Muslim Brotherhood, and a strategic threat from Iran that is viewed as expanding its regional influence through its sectarian allies.
  • The myth of Arab unity is exposed time and again. The current crisis is yet another manifestation of this myth and dark underbelly of undemocratic rule in these Arab countries.
  • India’s dilemma is acute as it has friendly relations with all these countries. India’s official reaction to the crisis is a boilerplate statement.
  • There is not much India can do in what is basically a fratricidal dispute underpinned by regional geopolitical rivalries. India’s worries will be focused on the welfare of its citizens and the flow of energy, mainly gas from Qatar.

Conclusion

  • All these countries are extended neighbours with which a cordial and meaningful engagement is sine qua non not only from domestic demand and Diasporas point of view but also from gaining legitimacy to stand tall at global level.
  • India must not be shy to be involved positively for global peace as well as to constructively engage the region and even monarchies like Qatar, Bahrain etc.



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