Qatar Crisis and India’s Worry

Customers are seen shopping at the al-Meera market in the Qatari capital Doha, on June 10, 2017.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain announced on June 5 they were cutting diplomatic ties and closing air, sea and land links with Qatar, giving Qataris within their borders two weeks to leave. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

Since the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981 the six Arab Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar had moved forward as a consortium with each working towards the common interest of the GCC. When many other regional groupings in the world were running with internal rift and lack of a clear objective, GCC was relatively united and moved together on many of the matters that unfolded the region including the Gulf War, Arab Spring or Energy Crisis. To many the latest decision of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain to sever their diplomatic ties with Qatar has become as a surprise. Qatar under a young monarch is growing as one of the world’s richest nation and over the years had taken a leading role in the matters of West Asia which was traditionally a sphere of influence for Saudi Arabia due to factors like massive petro dollars, closeness with the United States and its legitimacy as the custodian of the two holy mosques.

Present Crisis

Apart from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE the two other Muslim nations that had cut off its relations with Qatar are Egypt and Maldives. Not only that their ambassadors have been recalled from Qatar, but there is a total ban on the Qatari channel Al Jazeera in all of these countries and all the boarders including land, sea, and air had been closed. The cutting of diplomatic ties had put Qatar in sever crisis with many believe that it is running out of food and Saudi Arabia is reported to have blocked its border which is a major supply route. Qatar like many other Gulf countries relies heavily on food imports, as growing food is a problem in its arid conditions almost all GCC nations own massive acres of land in the third world countries of Asia and Africa. Though Qatar claims that there won’t be food shortages, the current crisis if not resolved early, may affect industries like banking, shipping, and infrastructure within a short period. Many believe that the present rift occurred mainly due to the difference in Qatar’s conduct of foreign policy. Saudi Arabia and other GCC nations accuse Qatar of supporting organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in Gaza and also due to its closeness with Iran which is a traditional rival of the Arab Kingdoms of the Gulf. During the past many decades Qatar had granted asylum to the Egyptian Cleric Youssef Al Qaradawi which annoys the GCC. Since 2012 Qatar has been hosting Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal who had shifted his base from Damascus following the outbreak of the civil war. When Mohammed Morsi was ousted in a military coup in 2013, all GCC nations welcomed the move, but Qatar instead supported the Morsi regime.  In 2012 then Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani became the first head of the state to visit Gaza since 2007, it had also tried to make a peace agreement between the Palestinian factions Al Fatah and Hamas. Qatar also became the first state within the GCC to have de facto recognition of Israel, and it did provide an Israeli trade representation office in Doha which was later closed following the intifada, the Afghan Taliban too have a presence in Doha.

During the civil war uprisings in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, Qatar along with Saudi Arabia had taken a major role in arming the rebels against the regimes. But in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings, while UAE and Saudi Arabia called for moderate groups to take over the leadership, Qatar, in turn, had turned out to organizations relating to political Islam to take over the reins and this has antagonized countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE. The other Arab kingdoms also accuse Qatar of being very soft on Iran which Saudi Arabia and UAE sees as an existential threat.

The timing of the decision is also crucial as it happened only after a few days of the visit by US President Donald Trump to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where he called on the Islamic leaders to take a call to fight religious extremism; interestingly he too met leaders of Qatar too during his stint in Saudi Arabia.  The United States cannot sit idle to the situation as Qatar hosts one of the largest US military deployments in the region, its Central Command. Although all hopes are on the initiative taken by Kuwaiti Emir to mediate the crisis many fear that if the current crisis is not resolved it may be escalated as countries like Turkey and Iran have pulled in and extended their support for Qatar, Turkey had even offered to send its troops to Qatar’s defense if there arises a military conflict.

India’s Concerns

One of the countries which are deeply worried about the current developments in the region is India. Even during the past incidents of conflict in West Asia be it Arab/Israeli or Persian/Arab, India had never taken sides which made it strike a balance with all the players of the region. Due to the presence of India’s huge diaspora, the energy value attached to the region together with the remittances that they send home any volatility in the region of West Asia will bear a high price for India. Even in the past when there were incidents of the Gulf war, the civil wars in Libya, Yemen, etc. Indians who were in large numbers as expatriates had to suffer. Similarly, if the crisis in Qatar is not resolved at the earliest, Indians as being the largest expatriates and would be paying a hefty price. As most of the Indians do blue collar jobs, problems such as food shortages, and financial crisis can put the additional burden on them and their families back home. A lot of Indians working in Qatar are subjected to human rights violations and unhealthy working conditions. Qatar is the largest LNG supplier to an energy deficient country like India, and if the economy of Qatar crumbles, then it would be costly for India. As a moment of hope the international community is looking at Kuwait for its mediation efforts, an early conflict resolution would be an ideal situation for Qatar who cannot afford to go too far by antagonizing its Arab neighbors, and also for the GCC nations losing the energy-rich Qatar completely to the orbit of political Islam or Iran would also be costly.

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