Gulf states cut Qatar off, put India in a spot

With 7 million Indians in the Gulf (6 lakh in Qatar), India now has to navigate the faultlines in the region

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Published:June 6, 2017 5:42 am
qatar, saudi arab, qatar isolated, terrorism, india qatar relation, doha, world news, indian express explained, indian express For now, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain are on one side, while Qatar and Iran are on the other side of the divide. (Source: Reuters)

With an angry Saudi Arabia, along with some other Gulf countries, cutting off ties with Qatar on Monday over alleged support to Islamists and Iran, the regional power play in West Asia has put India in a spot.

With 7 million Indians in the Gulf (6 lakh in Qatar), India now has to navigate the faultlines in the region. Sources told The Indian Express that if the situation worsens, both Ministers of State in the Ministry of External Affairs, General (retired) V K Singh and M J Akbar, could be despatched with the interlocutors to these countries.

Hours after the diplomatic row broke out, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj underlined Delhi’s non-interfering position and played down its impact on India, saying that India has good ties with all regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“When Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, many thought that the West Asian region would not be our priority since they comprise Muslim-majority countries. But today, if there is one region where India has best relations, it is the West Asian region,” she said.

Stressing that this is an “internal issue” of the GCC countries, Swaraj said the only worry is about Indian nationals who may be caught in between the rival countries, as they have put travel bans on Qatar. “We are trying to assess who and how many are stuck in the middle, and then we will move,” she said.

While Delhi does not want to interfere, she said it will not impact India’s relations with these countries. For now, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain are on one side, while Qatar and Iran are on the other side of the divide.

Although it has deftly engaged the regional players over the last three years, it will be interesting to watch how the Modi government will respond to the challenges posed by the warring countries.

Over the last three years, Modi has visited UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar, while UAE’s Crown Prince visited India as the chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations this year. Modi hosted the Palestinian President last month, and is headed to Israel early next month.

This has meant closer strategic ties between India and these West Asian countries, which have traditionally been closer to Pakistan. In recent years, the enhanced counter-terrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia and UAE, in particular, has yielded rich dividends, as all of them have been able to intercept and send back people with links to the Islamic State.

Saudi and the UAE were among the few countries which recognised the Taliban government in Afghanistan in the 1990s, Qatar had facilitated talks with Taliban by allowing them to open an office in Doha.

As India’s strategic and security interests are intertwined with its relations with these West Asian countries, it will be difficult for India to choose sides. Also, India’s energy dependence on West Asia is very high — estimates suggest India depends on Gulf countries for almost half of its energy needs — both in oil and gas sector.

A turmoil in the Gulf, as was witnessed during the Gulf war, Arab Spring, war in Yemen, Libya crisis, has always had the tendency to adversely impact the flow of energy from the region to India.

An immediate issue which India will face will be the movement of workers in the region, as Qatar Airways will find itself isolated after the Saudi-led alliance’s decision to impose a travel ban. Many Indians use Qatar Airways — estimates suggest about 24,000 per week — to travel to Doha and other places in the region. This will be a big challenge for the Indian government to navigate, sources said.

And, if Indian workers in the region, who send remittances worth over US$ 60 billion, are caught in the crossfire, the image of the Modi government — which takes pride in rescuing Indians in distress (Swaraj put the figure at 80,000 in the last three years) — will be severely hit.

“The External Affairs Minister has already tasked all Indian ambassadors in the region to get a sense of how many Indians may be affected and stranded due to the current diplomatic standoff in the region. Once that assessment is done, we will send officials and, if need be, will send General Singh and Minister Akbar for rescue missions,” a top government source told The Indian Express.

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  1. V
    Vimla Basel
    Jun 14, 2017 at 9:05 pm
    Will this have any impact on the people coming to Qatar as a tourist or business visa?
    1. R
      Jun 7, 2017 at 4:20 pm
      The real issue could be elsewhere. I would not be surprised it was the news channel AL Jazeera which broadcasts news in Yemen and Egypt without fear of a backlash that seems to frighten off all countries including the US. Saudi Arabia etc cannot seem to get any traction in trying to curb the reporting done by this agency. The Egyptians have locked up a journalist Mahmoud Hussein since December 2016 for his reporting on the Egyptian military rule, when he was on a holiday visiting family and are making no efforts to either try him and none at all to released him. Bearing in mind most suicide bombers of 09/11 came from Saudi and yet no one is treating the country as a potential terrorist hot bed and threat. I might be wrong but something to consider.
      1. K
        kushal kumar
        Jun 7, 2017 at 3:59 am
        This Vedic astrology writer has been predicting that during year 2017 , ociations or unions or conglomeration of some en ies or countries may develop serious fissures which could even lead to break-away in vulnerable cases across the globe. It was also predicted that such trends could begin to manifest in some small measure around 24 June and after to grow stronger during August-September in year 2017 , more so from 19 August to 4 September with peak hype on 30 August ( it could be 29 in the west) 2017. While these are the indications of likely trends to shape up , these need not be construed to be of deterministic or certainty character because more human care and appropriate strategy has weight.
        1. m
          Jun 6, 2017 at 11:41 pm
          dear sir,qatar was decolonisation in 1971,islamists problem is far more intractable than any other nation it may be called as 'ocean devils' islam for private relationship between man and god their religion is opiate of the people if the extremists do all kind of nuisance to civilians at ude towards life and persisted fervently monoevering the communalisation of ins utes and administration with hand in hand govt.slowly it is going down as all know,it is very late that saudi bahrain and others understood qatar for spreading terrorists activities,perhaps oil and gas willbe the main problem for india if indians compromise there is chance but saudi arabia and other countries will strike down relationships let us hope sooner for a soft climate and situation arise for this crisis,
          1. G
            Gopal Sriniwasan
            Jun 6, 2017 at 11:12 pm
            It is nothing to do with terrorism.It is just a fratricidal war of words and to show who is the Boss? It will be solved quickly among the GCC Rulers till such time the Media will keep spinning speculative and exaggerated stories.
            1. P
              Jun 6, 2017 at 2:43 pm
              It is ti,e the external minister and the embassy in Doha give the open statement in Media cal the Indians to register themselves with Indian embassy so that Indian embassy can reach them if Indian citizens are in distress
              1. X
                Jun 6, 2017 at 1:15 pm
                If Modi saved 60,00 in Uttarakhand floods how can Sushma save 80,000?
                1. K
                  Kamal Pasha
                  Jun 6, 2017 at 12:20 pm
                  Nobody has to worry about 7 millions Indians , besides many illegals working in the Gulf. Sushma is there to help them as there is nothing for her to as as her foreign portfolio is managed by Modiji.
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