The relations between India and Qatar are century old, rooted and nurtured through history. Both countries have been united through the pearl trade, the construction of dhows, traditional boasts, spices and textiles and people to people contact over the years.
This century old link worked as a foundation to the relations based on cooperation and coordination between the two. Qatar is not only a key energy security and trade partner but will play a major role in India’s rise and growth.
India historically had close economic ties in the Arabian Peninsula, but they grew stronger during the British Raj. The British Raj not only wanted to flourish economically but also to establish a strategic position. A protectorate was established in Abu Dhabi in 1820. In the next few years, the protectorate was established in Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai and others which makes the United Arab Emirates (UAE) today. British administered the Gulf Arab States through British officials in India and were secured by the Indian soldiers in British army.
The relationships between India and Qatar changed after independence and have been stronger and flourishing (Akhilesh Pillalamarri, 2016).
Qatar and India established diplomatic relations in 1973. Since then, both countries have engaged in a spectrum of relationships including political, economic, defence, and cultural relations. From several high-level visits to being one of the popular tourist destinations, Qatar India bilateral relations have steadily grown over the years.
Emir H.H. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani visited India in 1999, 2005 and 2012.Qatar and India’s relations took over a major milestone when India’s then Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh paid an official visit to Qatar in November 2008 (MEA, 2016).
During H.H. the Emir’s visit to India in March 2015, the two sides discussed ways and means to build better relations between the two countries and lead to signing of Six Agreements / MOUs:
- Transfer of sentenced Persons.
- Mutual Cooperation between Foreign Service Institute, MEA and Diplomatic Institute, MFA
- Cooperation in Information and Communication Technology
- Cooperation in Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences
- Cooperation in Radio and Television
- Mutual Cooperation and Exchange of News between Qatar News Agency and United News Agency
Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, State of Qatar paid his first official visit to the Republic of India during 2-3 December 2016 at the invitation from Shri Narendra Modi, Hon’ble Prime Minister of the Republic of India. On 2nd December 2016 Qatar-India Business Council was established.
In 2016, PM Narendra Modi took a visit to Doha. This was the highest-level visit from India to Qatar since the visit of former Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh in November 2008 (MEA,2016).
During the visit, both leaders stressed on building up relationships based on cooperation and coordination. They took responsibility for promoting peace, stability and security in the region and the world. They agreed to further enhance high-level political exchanges, defence and security cooperation, trade and economic relations and people-to-people linkages.
Seven MoUs/ Agreements between the two sides were signed during PM’s visit, including:
- MoU for investment in National Investment and Infrastructure Fund of India
- MoU between Financial Intelligence Unit – India (FIU-IND) and the Qatar Financial Information Unit (QFIU)
- MoU for Cooperation in Skill Development and Recognition of Qualifications
- MoU for Cooperation in the field of Health
- Agreement on Cooperation and Mutual Assistance in Custom Matters
- MoU on Tourism Cooperation
- First Executive Program for MoU in the field of Youth and Sports
On 23rd September 2019, PM Narendra Modi and H.H. the Emir of Qatar met on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly New York to further discuss the steps to be taken to improve the relations between the two countries.
In 2018, October 28, Sushma Swaraj, then EAM visited Doha, which was the first-ever visit by any Indian External Affairs Minister to Doha. She discussed the issues of common concern and reviewed the bilateral relations with H.H the Emir. During the visit the two sides also signed a Joint Declaration to establish Joint Commission (Indian Embassy, 2020).
During the year 2020, Qatar’s MOS for Energy Affairs Saad Sherida Al Kaabi visited New Delhi and met with the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Shri Dharmendra Pradhan. They discussed the importance and need for bilateral cooperation in the field of energy.
On 28th December 2020, the External Minister Dr S Jaishankar visited Qatar and not only met his counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, but also the other top political leaders. The meeting was to discuss the bilateral, regional as well as international issues (Huma Siddiqui, 2020). In 2020, there have been a total of seven visits to the region; the focus has been on the diaspora, energy security as well as regional and international issues.
India participated in the Biennial Doha international Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (DIMDEX) in Qatar. As a part of our bilateral cooperation, Indian Naval and Coast Guard ships regularly visit Qatar. The India- Qatar Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed in 2008, has been extended for five years each in 2013 and 2018. The agreement was further implemented during the fifth meeting of Joint Defence Cooperation Committee (JDCC), which was held in Doha on 27-28 November 2019 (Embassy of India, Doha).
A three-member delegation from Joaan Bin Jassim Joint Command and Staff College, led by its Commandant, visited National Defence College (NDC), Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), National Maritime Foundation (NMF) and Defence Services Staff College (DSSC, Wellington) in India in April 20 15. A Brigadier rank officer of Qatar Armed Forces joined the 56th NDC course in January 2016.
A 6-member delegation from Qatar Emiri Naval Forces [QENF] attended Indian Navy’s International Fleet Review (IFR) at Visakhapatnam in February 2016 (International fleet review, 2016).
The Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition (DIMDEX) was organized by the Ministry of Defence, Qatar under the theme “Building Capabilities in Challenging Environments through Visionary International Military Cooperation and Defence Equipment” in 12th -14th March 2018 and was held at Qatar National Convention Centre (MEA, 2016).
The Chief of Staff of Qatar Armed Forces, Lt. Gen. (Pilot) Ghanim bin Shaheen Al Ghanim, visited India from 19-22 June 2018 and an agreement on white shipping information sharing was signed during the visit.
Five-day bilateral maritime exercise was held in 2019, between the Indian Navy and the Qatari Emiri Naval Forces (QENF) named ‘Za’ir Al-Bahr’ at Hamad Port. Indian Naval Ship (INS) Trikand and Patrol Aircraft P8I and Qatari Navy’s anti-ship missile equipped Barzan Class fast attack craft along with Rafale multi-task fighter aircraft took part in the event.
Indian Coast Guard Ship (ICGS) Samudra Paheredar visited Qatar in January 2020 to the Gulf region as a symbol of peace, harmony, and cooperation (MEA, 2016).
Cultural ties between India and Qatar are deep-rooted from centuries and regular cultural exchanges between the two sides have brought the people closer. The visits have been conducted under the provisions of the Agreement on Cultural Cooperation signed between the two sides in 2012.
Numerous Indian artistes perform in Qatar at events organised by community organizations affiliated to the Indian Cultural Centre (ICC). Indian films/documentaries are shown at the annual Film Festival of Doha Film Institute as the Qataris admire them. ICC organized a large-scale Community Festival titled ‘A Passage to India’ in November 2013; March 2015 and April 2016, with an aim to present India’s rich cultural diversity as well as the growing relationship between the two. During this same festival a large-scale celebration happened to mark the 125th Birth Anniversary Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, architect of the Indian Constitution (MEA, 2016).
Qatar was a Co-sponsor to India’s resolution at the UNGA declaring 21 June as the International Day of Yoga (IDY). The Government of India released a commemorative stamp to mark the occasion as well. The Embassy of India in Qatar organized a yoga session at the iconic National Museum of Qatar as part of the 5th IDY celebrations on June 22, 2019. Many Yoga enthusiasts participated at the event making it successful (The Peninsula, 2019).
The year 2019 was being celebrated as India-Qatar Year of Culture, as envisaged in the Joint Statement issued during the visit of PM Modi to Qatar. Over 45 cultural events including exhibitions, fashion shows, art displays, dance performances, musical concerts, etc. were organized in Qatar by the Embassy during the year with the cooperation of Ministry of Culture & Sports of Qatar, Qatar Museums, Katara Cultural Village, Qatar Posts, and Qatar Foundation (Q Life, 2019).
Indians are one of the largest communities in Qatar with approx. 7, 56,000 Indian living in Qatar as of June 2019. They are involved in a variety of professions including medicine, engineering, education, finance, banking, business, and media apart from a large number of blue-collared workers. A special Labour and Community Welfare Wing has been established to cater the Indian Community that systematically registers and follows-up grievances brought to its notice.
Several volunteers from the Indian community are also helping the workers, mainly through the Indian Community Benevolent Forum (ICBF), functioning under the aegis of Embassy of India, Doha (MEA, 2016). Both countries have a Joint Working Group on Labour and Manpower Development, which regularly holds meetings to carefully look after the working class in Qatar.
Qatar adopted labour reforms recently for the welfare of the workers. These measures include the settlement of labour issues, safe movement and the institutionalisation of rights of workers can be viewed as the major initiatives by the Qatar Government for not only the betterment of Indian community in Qatar but also to further strengthen the relations with India (Huma Siddiqui,2020).
Until 1966, Qatar used the Indian rupee as its currency, in the form of Gulf rupees. When India devalued the rupee in 1966, Qatar chose to introduce its own currency and began issuing the Qatari riyal on May 19 May 1973.
The economic ties between both countries have increased over the years. India has been exporting cereals, machinery and electronic goods exported while importing oil, plastics and chemicals imported to India amounting to $17 billion. But liquefied natural gas (LNG) is the most important element of the bilateral trade relationship. Qatar accounts for 80% of India’s LNG supplies. LNG is the most important element of the Qatar and India economic relationship (Mohammed Sinan Siyech, 2019).
Besides LNG, India also imports ethylene, propylene, ammonia, urea and polyethylene from Qatar. Therefore, the balance of trade continues to be heavily in Qatar’s favour. Trade exchange between the State of Qatar and the Republic of India had reached 10 billion dollars during the financial year 2015-2016. According to the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (QCCI), about 600 Indian companies are operating in Qatar.
The concerned authorities in Qatar including the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) exhibited their interests to make investment in India in the domain of the infrastructures which include roads, highways, economic corridors, airports, ports, tourism, and hotels apart from the projects related to gas and fertilizers.
India is readily looking forward to the direct investment in the manufacturing and production of the liquefied natural gas and chemical industries thereof especially the industry of fertilizers, urea, petrochemicals including the projects concerning the infrastructures related to the industry of the natural gas and drillings of oil, minerals and power.
The collaboration between the two countries is increasing intensively. A delegation of Indian Electrical & Electronics Manufacturers’ Association [IEEMA] visited Qatar on 27 October 2015 to promote ‘ELECRAMA 2016’ scheduled to be held in Bengaluru, 13-17 February 2016 (MEA, 2016).
At the trade cooperation level, the last year witnessed a number of developments marked by the visits of the delegations from the higher bodies of the trade and industry in India, as an office of the Qatar National Bank and an extended branch of the bank of Doha were set up in Mumbai, India.
The trade and economic cooperation and the investment exchanges are regarded as the pivot of the economic and trade relations between Qatar and India added to it the remittances which the Indian expatriate community in Qatar send to India which, according to the Indian sources, are estimated to be around 750 million dollar per annum.
In January 2019, QIA invested US$ 200 million through a primary equity issuance in Bharti Airtel’s arm Airtel Africa Ltd which was the starting of the major investment in India. In July 2019, BYJU’S announced that it has received an investment of US$150 million led by Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar.
In 2019, Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) invested about US$450 million for a 25.1% stake in a unit of Adani Transmission Ltd. The deal included a subordinated debt investment by QIA, according to the filing, which said that the two sides have signed a definitive agreement. The transaction is expected to be completed in early 2020 after obtaining regulatory approvals (Indian Embassy, Doha).
The India Qatar relations are getting stronger especially with the recent high ministerial and delegate visits. The coordination and cooperation in different sectors between the countries will only flourish with time. The efforts of the Qatar Government to keep the Indians safe and sound at the time of COVID-19 was highly appreciated by India. Both countries can further strengthen their relationship and focus on counter terrorism and developing up safer, cleaner and more energy efficient environment.