IT is not yet a real reconciliation, but Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbours have agreed last week to suspend three years of intense hostilities. Nudged by the United States and local mediation from Kuwait, the Arab Quartet — Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — lifted their unsuccessful blockade against Qatar at the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The agreement to normalise relations was part of the shared commitment to “solidarity and stability”. Pessimists say the agreement to normalise relations between the Arab Quartet and Qatar merely papers over deepening mutual distrust. Optimists would hope that is the first step in ending a destructive phase of internecine conflict among the Gulf kingdoms.
Qatar, once deferential to Saudi political guidance, has in recent years carved out an independent regional path. Doha’s dalliance with Iran, Turkey, and the Muslim Brotherhood — all of whom are locked in intense ideological and political conflicts with the Arab Quartet — had steadily built up regional resentment. The negative coverage of the Arab Quartet on the popular Al Jazeera TV channel, owned by Qatar, added insult to injury. Led by an irate UAE and the impetuous Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the Arab Quartet acted decisively in 2017 to cut off diplomatic ties with Doha and enforce a blockade. The Quartet also issued a list of 13 conditions for ending the siege. They included an end to Al Jazeera’s hostile propaganda, downgrading of diplomatic ties with Iran and ending of military cooperation with Turkey. Qatar rejected the allegations, refused to implement the demands, and found ways to dodge the blockade with the support of Iran and Turkey. But as the costs of the conflicts mounted and the geopolitical landscape of the region began to change, Qatar and the Quartet have recognised the urgency of ending the standoff.
With the Joe Biden administration determined to restore relations with Iran, the Arab Quartet saw the importance of restoring a measure of Gulf unity. Qatar might be pleased that it has successfully stood up to pressures, but it can’t afford a permanent conflict with its Gulf Arab neighbours. India, which has huge stakes in the bilateral relations with all Gulf countries and more broadly in the stabilisation of a region, was quick to welcome the moves towards regional reconciliation. The Gulf hosts more than 8 million Indian migrants, who send home billions of dollars in remittances every year. The Gulf is also one of the biggest markets for Indian goods and is the most important supplier of hydrocarbons to its economy. While the dangers of instability have eased for the moment, Delhi needs to sustain the current intense levels of political engagement with the Arab Gulf.
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