Diplomatic Tussle: India-Qatar ties hit by death sentencing
Muddassir Quamar, associate professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the immediate priority had to be to ascertain the complete list of charges, consider the legal context and implications, and work towards exploring possible legal, diplomatic and political avenues to save the lives of the accused
Days after a Qatari court sentenced eight Indian naval veterans to death, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met with the men’s families in New Delhi and promised that the government would make “all efforts” to help release them. “The government attaches the highest importance to the case. I fully share the concerns and pain of the families, underlined that government will continue to make all efforts to secure their release,” Jaishankar said in a statement on social media.
The veteran officers had worked for Al Dahra, a private Gulf-based company, reported the AFP news agency. Al Dahra offers “complete support solutions” to the aerospace, security and defence sectors, according to its website. Neither New Delhi nor Doha have disclosed specific details of the charges, however, according to The Hindu newspaper, the men — who had been arrested in Doha in August 2022 — were accused of spying for a “third country,” while The Times of India said “various reports claimed they were accused of spying for Israel.”
Unnamed sources in India and Qatar cited by the Reuters news agency also suggested the men were charged with spying for Israel. “While the specific charges were never disclosed publicly, their confinement in solitary cells hinted at possible security related offences,” an intelligence official told DW on condition of anonymity. Qatar, a tiny gas-rich country on the Persian Gulf, has historically friendly ties with India and trade has been a central pivot — with India sourcing 40% of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) needs from Qatar, accounting for nearly half of the global imports, according to official data.
In addition, Qatar is home to a sizable Indian diaspora, who send back a significant share of foreign remittances. Given this context, former diplomats and academics say the death sentence constitutes a significant challenge, which has taken India by surprise and made India-Qatar relations a sensitive issue.
Deepa Gopalan Wadhwa, a former diplomat and the first Indian woman to be appointed ambassador to Qatar in 2008, said that the verdict was a shock to all Indians, and statements and action by the Indian government show that the case is receiving the highest priority. “There are over 700,000 Indians in Qatar who have played a key role in the development of the country and both economic and political ties have been close,” Wadhwa told DW. She added Qatar and India were likely to not let the case harm “the larger interests of bilateral relations.”
“No stone will be left unturned to ensure the safe return of our citizens. They will be extended all legal help to proceed with the case and I am sure, as is normal, appeals will be made to the highest levels,” Wadhwa said. Muddassir Quamar, associate professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the immediate priority had to be to ascertain the complete list of charges, consider the legal context and implications, and work towards exploring possible legal, diplomatic and political avenues to save the lives of the accused. “The sentencing of eight former Indian naval officers by a Qatari court on thus far undisclosed charges can pose a serious test to the ties between India and Qatar, especially given the sensitivity attached of the case,” Qamar told DW.
“Announcement of capital punishment means that the nature of the allegations is serious. The government’s reaction has been considered and rightly so given the complexity and seriousness of the issue. It would require deft diplomatic and political handling to seek a favourable outcome,” he added.