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India benefited in Qatar from tactful diplomacy that avoided brinkmanship.

There is much to be relieved about with the release of all eight former Indian navy officers from Qatar, only around three months after they were given an unexpected death sentence. The eight individuals, who worked for Dahra Technologies in Qatar and consisted of seven senior former naval officers and one sailor, were detained in 2022, but little information has been released about their cases.

The allegations against the men must have been severe enough to have resulted in the death penalty, even if their relatives refuted rumours that they had been charged with espionage, potentially for Israel or some third nation. The death punishment was commuted to jail terms by an appeals court in December, but the conviction was nonetheless affirmed. Seven of the eight have now returned, and it is to the government’s credit that it was able to arrange for their release. The strategies that New Delhi used appear to have contributed to the case’s success: they included taking the case to the highest levels of government, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussing it with the Qatari Amir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, during a meeting in Dubai in December; avoiding all escalatory rhetoric and public sparring; and pursuing the case in court while respecting the Qatari legal system and giving the accused full legal support and counsel. The fact that Mr. Modi disclosed an impromptu flight to Doha on Wednesday, following his current visit to the United Arab Emirates, indicates his personal engagement and his intention to express gratitude to the Amir of Qatar.

In a moment of brinkmanship and global conflict, the case of Qatar serves as a pertinent reminder of the value of quiet diplomacy, especially when it comes to partnerships when there are so many other considerations at play. As a key mediator between the West and Hamas during the Israel-Gaza conflict, Qatar has gained significance for India as a West Asian state. Qatar has strong and long-standing relations with India, even after its Gulf rivals boycotted the country a few years ago. The signing of a $78 billion LNG deal last Friday may have been an early indication that the agreement for the release of the prisoners had been finalised by then. Qatar provides one-third of India’s import needs of natural gas. In addition to bringing in significant remittance earnings for India, over 8,000 000 Indians work in Qatar and offer vital services. The decision made by New Delhi to neither pursue international intervention, as it did in the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav, the former naval commander who was found guilty of espionage and terror charges in Pakistan, nor to respond to Qatar’s accusations with the kind of severe diplomatic measures observed in the aftermath of the Nijjar assassination case in Canada, ultimately produced a result that satisfied everyone.

 

Dr. Abhishek Verma

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