By H Siddique
The break in Saudi-Qatar relations last week caught India by surprise as it did the rest of the world. India’s stakes in Qatar as well as other Gulf countries are considerable. Qatar is home to nearly 650,000 Indians whose safety and well being is a paramount concern for the NDA government which has made engagement with Indian Diaspora a show-piece of its foreign policy.
Additionally Qatar is the largest LNG supplier to India that fuels power plants and fertilizer units. Indian construction companies like Larsen and Toubro have massive construction projects there. Qatar Air has provided economical and dependable connectivity to various destinations in the world.
Asserting that it has “vital stakes” in peace and stability in the Gulf, India has asked countries in the region to resolve the Qatar crisis through constructive dialogue and well-established international principles of mutual respect.
In an official release the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has stated that India is closely following the emerging situation in the region in the wake of the recent decision by Saudi Arabia and some other countries to break diplomatic relations with the State of Qatar.
Last Monday, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar on allegations of supporting terrorism, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Yemen, Libya, the Maldives and Jordan also took similar steps. The charge has been denied by Doha.
“India has time-tested friendly relations with GCC countries. With over eight million Indian expatriates living and working in these countries, we have vital stakes in the regional peace and stability,” the ministry said in a release.
About India’s role in handling the crisis, a former diplomat to Qatar, R Dayakar says, “The government has taken the prudent step not offering its services to peace making. It has counselled the Indian Diaspora not to panic and stay calm. For one thing the sanctions by Saudi Arabia, UAE etc don’t target the expatriate people, as those countries service sector depend on the foreign workers.”
Adding, “India has good relations with all the Gulf countries and counts on their goodwill to see the Indians do not come in harm’s way. The essential supplies like food, water and medicines are being imported by Qatar from Iran and other countries to meet the immediate needs and to ensure there are no shortages particularly in the month of Ramzan.”
Diplomats to the region opine that there would be financial costs both for the Qatar government and people and inflation might be unavoidable. As for LNG supplies, they are not covered in the blockade and even Egypt and UAE depend on Qatar for its gas needs. So India need not worry.
Terming the developments in the Gulf country as unfortunate, former ambassador Anil Trigunayat to Jordan, Libya& Malta, says, “If the situation further escalates, it will make the region amenable to greater big power rivalry to the disadvantage of the gulf countries.”
America’s ambiguous approach and changing statements will act as a spoiler of possibility of reverting to a lasting peace. “It is possible that US may be weighing its military-commercial interests and who the bigger client is especially after the recent visit of President Donald Trump. The welfare of the region lies in the unity of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and not undermining one another.”
“For us GCC countries are our close friends and extended neighbourhood and obviously deteriorating situation is a great cause of concern and we hope the dialogue will ensue and they will resolve the crisis addressing mutual concerns,” he adds.
India believes that peace and security in the Gulf are of paramount importance for the continued progress and prosperity of the countries in the region. International terrorism, violent extremism and religious intolerance pose grave threat not only to regional stability but also to the global peace and order and must be confronted by all countries in a coordinated and comprehensive manner.
Meanwhile, the Indian Embassy in Doha has also issued an advisory to expatriate Indians in the Gulf country asking to them to remain updated about the developments and not to believe in rumours.
Around 6, 30,000 Indians, comprise the largest expatriate community in gas-rich Qatar which is by size a small nation.
More than $4292 million remittance from Qatar
Workers from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Punjab.
During the year 2016-17, total passenger movement by air between Doha and 12 cities of India was 2.8 million while the freight movement was 161 thousand tonne.
India-Qatar Bilateral trade is $10 billion due to the down trend in the global fuel prices.