It'll pay for India to keep ties strong with Qatar amid Gulf crisis

It's likely the stand-off will blow over soon.

 |  4-minute read |   09-06-2017
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Qatar, an emerging economy after the UAE and also the first host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in the Gulf region, has been stuck in a diplomatic breakdown by the neighbouring Arab countries.

The severing of all diplomatic and commercial ties would ultimately affect the overall economy of the country, which was witnessed in its stock market plunging 7 per cent on the first day of the crisis.

In spite of an economy highly reliant on petroleum and natural gas, these sanctions are mainly affecting Qatar due to the logistical embargo via the routes of air, sea, and land. The rift between the nations came about after Donald Trump's recent visit to Saudi Arabia and the UAE hacking incidence.

According to the Arab countries, the diplomatic fiasco is a result of Qatar’s soft stand on political Islamists and an intention to destabilise the region. On sectarian grounds also, Sunni-dominated Arab countries are mainly unhappy with Qatar's growing relations with Shia-dominated Iran.

However, economic reasons for the boycott cannot be ruled out as Qatar has abundant resources of natural gas and it was accused of planning the exploration of these resources with the partnership of Iran.

Over both set of reasons, neighbouring Arab nations are trying to pressure Qatar to surrender its over-ambitious unilateral foreign policies and to act under Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Qatar has refuted the allegations and termed them as baseless. Support of Qatar to political Islamists is not new and not without the consent of these regional allies. It had also previously facilitated dialogue among the Taliban and the Afghanistan government to establish peace in the war-trodden country.

After denial of the allegations, insisting on a one-sided blockade on movement of people and commodities with sudden effectiveness can’t be ethically justified, and would cause a further split among GCC partners.

trump-embed_060917025745.jpgSaudi king Salman presents US president Donald Trump with the highest civilian honour. Photo: AP

In spite of severance from the Gulf neighbours, Qatar still has overwhelming support from other regional powers like Turkey and Iran. A large number of countries including India are continuing diplomatic relations with the nation. The crisis seems to be of a short spell and after some negotiations and placation, ties are likely to be restored to normal.    

At this time of the intra-Arab rift, India’s stand on non-interference by continuing its relationship with Qatar is highly applauded, the outcome of which would certainly be reflected in the long term. India has to maintain a friendly diplomatic and commercial relationship with Qatar that is also desirable for the safety of the large chunk of its migrants staying there.

Over 6 lakh Indians are working in Qatar and constitute 7 per cent of the total NRIs living in the Arab region. These Indian migrants are sending $4292 million remittance from Qatar, according to 2015 estimates.

Remittance from Qatar accounted for 6 per cent of India’s total inflow while 40 per cent of total outflows from Qatar. A change in policy would badly impact the NRIs, mainly unskilled workers whose livelihood depends on the remittance sent to India. Major migrants to Qatar belong to 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.

Besides the remittance, Qatar is also among the major trade partners of India, with the total volume of trade at $8426 million. India mainly exports cereal products and imports petroleum products from Qatar. The size of total bilateral investment volume is around $4 million.  

For the sake of its own interest amid the intra-Arab conflict, India needs to adhere to the equidistance policy by treating all partners equally. Such a bold step in foreign policy would shape India’s global position and also open more trading and investment opportunities in Qatar.

Also read: How the Saudi-Qatar crisis affects India


Shafeeq Rahman, PhD Shafeeq Rahman, PhD @shafeeqrahman

A New Delhi based researcher. Comments & Tweets reflect my personal view, not linked to any of my association.

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