Trade between the two countries has reached $6.3 billion, but political differences raise several questions on how each nation views international affairs.
Earlier on Sunday, India’s foreign minister, Dr. S Jaishankar landed in Qatar for a two-day visit to discuss bilateral, regional as well as international issues of mutual interest.
The bilateral talk will take place during a meeting set with Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and other government officials.
However, during his first day, the minister met with several business leaders from Qatar Chamber [QC] and the Qatar Businessmen Association to discuss ways to attract more investments and enhance economic relations. He also held an online interaction with Qatar’s Indian community to discuss their needs and potential partnerships.
But beyond the strong trade ties, relations between Doha and New Delhi seem to be somewhat of a balancing act.
This analyst says, is partially due to India’s controversial Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who seems to stand with everything Qatar opposes. From strong diplomatic ties with Qatar’s rivals (the UAE), to disputes with Doha’s allies (Pakistan) ending with human rights abuses: both countries do not see eye to eye on an international political level.
Business first, as always
To better understand the complexity of regional politics, it is essential to analyze the economic ties of both countries.
This year alone, Doha and New Delhi’s bilateral trade reached $10.5 billion, striking $6.3 billion at the end of the third quarter of 2020 despite the coronavirus pandemic. Not only that, but national carrier Qatar Airways flies to more than 13 cities in India, with some destinations serviced by daily flights.
This is why many believe business will always come first, and why India’s foreign minister prioritised meetings with businessmen during his current visit to Qatar.
Jaishankar started his visit on Sunday with a business roundtable, emphasizing that India “considers economic cooperation is the foundation of the contemporary relationship.”
“The relationship with Qatar is strong. I am here to urge them to look at more opportunities, taking the relationship to a higher level,” said Jaishankar.
During the meeting, he highlighted his country’s keen interest in enhancing economic cooperation further and attracting more “Qatari investments” to India, describing the already existing relations as ‘historic and robust.’
“There will be a lot of opportunities in India for the world economies, including Qatar to spread out the investments and business interests. The climate is suitable in India and there are several new possibilities in many areas including food security,” he added.
“There are opportunities for potential partnerships and this is where India can be beneficial to Qatar. I will communicate these possibilities to Qatari authorities and how India can contribute to Qatar’s growth.”
India’s workforce and expat community
Qatar hosts more than 700,000 Indians, working in different sectors that greatly aid the economy and the overall workforce of both countries.
With that in mind, cooperation is essential for the well-being of the community and overall growth.
During his visit, Dr S Jaishankar held an online meeting with Indian community members to discuss their needs as well as potential business opportunities.
The minister started by praising Qatar’s efficient response to the pandemic and thanked the government for the “support and care they have been taking of Indian community members” during those challenging times.
He also listened to ideas and suggestions made by the community leaders, these included the need for more sports centres, enhancing education opportunities and supporting skilled Indian scientists in the country.
“Investment suggestions raised in this meeting will be discussed with my colleagues in India. Covid-19 has made us think differently in several areas. People are now looking at solutions more practical than a year ago,” explained the minister.
“We will also try to harness the investment potential of NRIs in Qatar as well as the potential to expand the export possibilities from India to Qatar.”
International relations and points of contention
Despite the strong ties between both countries, the relationship on an international level is particularly tricky. While Qatar is an ally to India, the country also holds close ties with rival Pakistan.
On key area of dispute is India’s continued illegal occupation of Kashmir, a territory that lies between it and Pakistan.
Since revoking its autonomy in 2019, Kashmir has been kept under a tight grip by the Indian government, with its authorities killing, arresting, and torturing many of Kashmir’s political leaders and activists. Its been described by human rights groups as the world’s most militarised zone, with one Indian soldier for ever 9 or 10 Kashmiri civilians.
This, along with the Indian Prime Minister’s strong ties with outgoing US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, appear to be at odds with Qatar’s stated foreign policies. Furthermore, India is the number one importer of Israeli arms, while UAE-India yearly trade is about $60 billion alone.
Yet, the country balances both relations simultaneously.
Dr. Farhan Chak, Associate Professor of Political Science at Qatar University, told Doha News that this balancing act is thanks to Qatar’s history and its ability to navigate between larger powers, which is also evident in other cases.
“Qatar’s emergence and maturation since independence, not only considering its historical, deeply entrenched relationship with the Ottomans, but it’s navigation between larger, aggressive powers, forged its identity,” he said.
“An identity that recognized very early the need to constantly balance between antagonistic regional and global hegemony – Saudia Arabia and Iran, Pakistan and India, even China and the US. Balancing, while maintaining its own interests and ensuring order within their own ranks, has been Qatar’s strength.”
On the other hand, Chak also said that strong economic ties do not equal strong political relations. Thus, while trade is increasing—which benefits Qatar— there’s still a downward political trajectory to this relationship.
“Trade does not mean good, political relations. So, while the economic relationship is increasing, the political relationship is souring considerably. Qatar does have a 700,000 strong Indian expat population, but a large percentage of them are Muslim. The lynchings, crimes and outright fanatical, fascist Hindutva leadership is alienating India throughout the world,” Chak added.
That raises several questions regarding Qatar’s future relations with India. So while the economic ties continue to grow, Chak predicts that the political ones are not bound to get better due to the nature of the Hindutva regime.
“Economic relations can continue, but it is likely the political relationship will continue to sour as crimes against minorities in India and gross violations of human rights in Indian-Occupied Kashmir continue,” said Chak.
“India, irrespective of the false news, is in serious economic decline and catastrophe. Every honest economic indication is that it is in a downwards freefall. Qatar’s relationship with India is purely economic, trust levels are quite low.”