Hundreds of residents from Qatar’s Indian community gathered in July to commemorate the 70th anniversary of their independence from Britain.
There are 700,000 Indian expatriates in Qatar, many working on the infrastructure projects getting ready for the 2022 World Cup, glad to have the opportunity to send funds home to their families.
India’s tradition of quiet diplomacy and peacekeeping are sorely needed in the world, at present, to smoothe trouble waters in the Persian Gulf.
Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the sheikhdoms comprising the United Arab Emirates were British protectorates and bases until they were granted nominal independence in 1970–71, when the US took over guaranteeing their security within the western camp. Qatar has been a member of OPEC shortly after its founding in 1960. Its other main alliance is the Gulf Cooperation Council (1981), which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Qatar hosts a airforce based with over 11,000 US and US-led coalition forces, but at the same time, (Sunni) Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani signed a defense agreement with (Shia) Iran in 2010 and supports Iran in its insistence that its nuclear program is peaceful. Qatar has developed into the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas (LNG).
Diplomatic relations between India and Qatar were established in 1973. During a visit made by Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in March 2015, five MoUs entailing co-operation in several fields were signed, including security and extradition. During the first-ever diplomatic visit to Qatar made by the Prime Minister of India in November 2008, a maritime defence agreement was approved between the two countries. The agreement was described by the Indian government officials as a ‘landmark’ that would permit mutual maritime defence training and facilitate mutual visits.
In 2008, Qatar agreed to invest $5 billion in India’s energy sector. A deep-sea gas pipeline from Qatar to India through Oman has also been proposed. Qatari imports from India amounted to $1.2 billion, or 3.8% of its overall imports in 2014. Qatari exports to India totaled $16.8 billion, or 12.7% of its overall exports in 2014. The highest valued export commodity is oil, of which $14.9 billion worth has been exported from Qatar to India. Vying for second place is plastics; a recorded $700.8 million worth has been exported to India.
In March 2015, Qatar’s emir became the first head of state from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to visit India since Prime Minister, Narendra Modi took office. In June 2016 PM Modi arrived in Doha on a two-day visit which was focused on giving a new push to the economic ties, particularly in the hydrocarbon sector. During the visit he shared a meal with Indian workers living in Qatar and also addressed some of the 700,000 Indian workers at a gala event.
During his June 2016 visit to Qatar, PM Narendra Modi urged Qatari business leaders to invest in India and take advantage of India’s investment-friendly policies. He assuaged the concerns of Qatari businessmen and assured them that economic bottlenecks will be resolved. Qatar is keen to invest in Modi’s “Make in India” initiative and has also invited Indian companies to participate in major construction projects ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
India’s growing ties with Qatar are also part of a broader policy of Indian engagement throughout the Gulf and the wider Middle East, on issues from labor access to counter terrorism cooperation to, above all, energy security. Like Qatar, it promotes peaceful relations with all sides.
India is keen to promote detente and to work to lessen the threat of rising instability, using diversified partnerships with Qatar, Iran and other Gulf countries to protect its interests. At the same time, India has good relations with Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Modi visited Saudi Arabia in 2016. There are 3 million Indians working in Saudi Arabia.
India as Peacemaker
India continues its quiet diplomacy, emphasizing peace and economics as the foundations of a 21st century multi-polar world.