India-Qatar relations: Focus on building ties in West Asia

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Updated: Dec 28, 2020 5:52 PM

The external affairs minister Dr S Jaishankar is on a two-day visit to Qatar where besides meeting with his counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, he will be meeting other top political leaders in that country.

s jaishankarThe external affairs minister Dr S Jaishankar is on a two-day visit to Qatar. (Photo source: Twitter/@DrSJaishamkar)

West Asia especially GCC countries are pivotal to India’s energy security and Diaspora welfare. Qatar is the per capita richest country and is the largest supplier of gas to India. The external affairs minister Dr S Jaishankar is on a two-day visit to Qatar where besides meeting with his counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, he will be meeting other top political leaders in that country.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the agenda of the visit to Qatar includes discussions of bilateral, regional as well as international issues. And he will also, convey India’s gratitude for taking care of its citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic in the last few months.

In 2020, there have been around seven visits to the region and the focus has been on the Diaspora, energy security as well as regional and international issues.

Views of a former diplomat

“During the last decade, more so since the onset of Modi Government, the high-level visits and interactions became frequent and most of those relationships have acquired a real strategic character,” a former diplomat opines.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited all GCC countries and some more than once. External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar’s visit to Doha should be seen in this context of expanding and deepening ties. Despite more than three years’ Gulf blockade, which is likely to ease, Qatar has emerged stronger in its international outreach,” Ambassador Anil Trigunayat tells Financial Express Online.

“India’s exports to Qatar have nearly doubled and India is hoping to draw in more investments and to make sure future gas supply contracts. It has been crucial in US’s Afghan policy and even now the talks between Taliban and the Afghan government are currently being held in which India has a significant interest as stability in Afghanistan is also very important to it. Diaspora welfare is of utmost importance and with over 7 lakh Indians in Qatar and their ongoing labour reforms are equally important to discuss so that Indians could continue to contribute in Qatar’s development,” the former ambassador to the region says.

“As West Asia goes through a churn and new political dynamic is emerging it’s useful to interact with the Qatari counterparts. Moreover, further high-level exchanges need to be planned by identifying newer areas of collaboration in bilateral and regional context hence Dr Jaishankar’s visit to Doha acquires greater salience as it happens to be his first visit to Qatar as EAM, ” Amb Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF, concludes.

Seven visits to West Asian countries

In September, on their way to Moscow for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting, both defence minister Rajnath Singh and the external affairs minister S Jaishankar made a stopover in Tehran. There they met with their counterparts respectively.

Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister for Petroleum & Natural Gas and Steel, visited Kuwait and offered condolences on behalf of India on the passing away of former Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al Ahmed al Jaber al Sabah.

In November, Jaishankar visited UAE and Bahrain.

And, earlier this month, in the first-ever visit to West Asia, the Indian Army Chief MM Naravane visited Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

This month the Minister of State in the MEA V Muraleedharan visited Oman.

India & Qatar

There are almost seven lakh Indians living and working in Qatar and many of them send big amounts of remittances back to India.

Qatar recently introduced labour reforms which have been adopted for the welfare of the workers. These measures which include the settlement of labour issues; safe movement and the institutionalisation of rights of workers have been welcomed by India.

The Gulf country is also the host of the intra-Afghan talks and Taliban delegation with Afghanistan. These talks are also the focus of talks between Jaishankar and the leaders of Qatar.

As has been reported earlier, the minister had virtually joined the ceremony marking the start of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which have been hosted by Qatar.

This month, PM Modi spoke to Amir Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. Investments was the focus of the telephone talks and the two sides have decided to set up a special task force which will help in facilitating investments by Qatar investment authority into India, especially in the energy sector.

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