Qatar needs to hedge its bets, protect economic prospects, and encourage India to reconsider its policies by offering mediation on Kashmir, writes Farhan Chak.
During CBS’s flagship show 60 Minutes, soon after the unjust blockade on Qatar, Sheikh Tamim boldly countered allegations of backing ‘terror.’
In it is an important lesson on navigating troubled political waters. After all, that defamatory accusation was even recklessly tweeted by President Trump.
Normally, that would have sounded a death knell. However, rather than panic, Sheikh Tamim was honest. Without hesitation, when asked by host Charlie Rose about the presence of the Taliban and Hamas in Qatar, His Highness flatly stated ‘America asked.’
For a moment, all went silent. Charlie sat, wide-eyed and stunned.
Usually, Middle Eastern rulers, wary of upsetting the US, dare not respond with such candour. They would stumble, plead, or even, sheepishly giggle. Fear would best them. Yet, not now.
Sheikh Tamim, unequivocally, stated that the US had asked for support, and Qatar positively responded. This left Charlie, and millions of viewers, stupefied. The consequence of which immediately flipped the narrative.
In a fearless moment, all terror accusations against Qatar seemed specious. After all, how could it be that America gives you a match, then starts yelling ‘fire.’ Critically, by Qatar standing its ground, it affirmed its commitment to honesty, dialogue, mediation and transparency – all hallmarks of Qatar’s foreign policy. Naturally, for those reasons, Qatar needs to consider offering mediation on Kashmir.
Consider this – at the heart of the Gulf rivalry is the clash over Palestine. For the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, normalisation with Israel is the hope of goodwill. However, as scholars insist, the “prospects for peace are dim.”
In fact, deserting Palestine will contribute to greater domestic instability by turning your own people against you. This is something Qatar refuses, as Third Secretary of the Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar to the UN Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani reiterated. Abandoning Palestine is an unforgivable betrayal of their core values.
So, too, with Kashmir.
To explain, the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir remains the longest unresolved conflict on the UN agenda. It’s the most militarised space on the planet.
Worse, this international conflict involves Kashmir, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China, and is a nuclear flashpoint. Now, the reputable NGO Genocide Watch has issued two ‘Genocide Alerts’ for Kashmir.
Undoubtedly, it’s among the ‘hottest’ global conflict zones and threatens Qatar’s broad geopolitical sphere. Not only that, it’s adjacent to Afghanistan, where Qatar is deeply invested. And, Qatar’s security/military relationship with Pakistan, trade with India, and the substantial South Asian diaspora in Qatar – furious at the targeted killings of Muslims in India, compels Qatari involvement.
Hence, Qatar needs to formulate a well-thought out policy by considering these five variables: (a) Indo-Israeli alliance; (b) Islamophobia in India; (c) Indo-US China Containment; (d) One Belt and Road Initiative; (e) Strategic Vision.
First, India’s relationship with Israel puts it in direct conflict with all those who support Palestine. Admittedly, there are layers to understanding the Indo-Israeli alliance, however Hindutva fascism in India is entrenched with Israel.
Historically, India has played a different political role, by giving lip service to Palestinians and the non-aligned movement. Yet, those days are gone. Ever since Hindutva right-wing fascists partnered with exploitative capitalists, a new Indo-Israeli regional order emerged. Particularly worrisome are Indians in the Israeli army, and deepening relations with the UAE. The Indo-Israeli-UAE nexus poses a direct threat to Qatar.
Second, the BJP electoral victory in 2014, led to distraction through demonisation, popularity through victimising, and power through disenfranchising Muslims.
In fact, nowhere in the world is Islamophobia as dangerously manifest as in India, and Kashmir today. This includes discrimination against Muslims, and other minorities, stripping citizenship from millions of people, threats to rape dead Muslim women, and lynching of Muslims in broad daylight. And, in Kashmir, an altogether different settler-colonialism and apartheid system has emerged.
All this makes the unabashed nature of Islamophobia in India a monstrosity. In fact, just days ago, Zia Mustafa – a Pakistani farmer from Rawalakot, Azad Kashmir who had accidentally crossed the ceasefire line and was arrested by Indian forces has been murdered outside the prison precincts. Qatar cannot turn a blind eye to the ongoing Islamophobia in India.
Third, India has wholeheartedly jumped on the US bandwagon heightening tensions along its borderlands with China and Pakistan. This has placed India on the frontline against both nations, and wants Qatari support.
Recklessly, India is trying to ‘contain’ China, even goading the US for war. This perilous policy involves aggressive blocking of Chinese goods across the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean. Such a foolhardy strategy ignores the African proverb “when elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.”
Qatar should stay out of the intensifying Chinese-US entanglement and remain neutral. However, its growing divergence from India is bound to create a backlash, so it must wisely ensure cards to play – Kashmir.
Fourth, Qatar signed a monumental 22 year LNG deal with China, signifying the expansion of its global network.
Importantly, Pakistan is the conduit to transport its liquefied natural gas (LNG) via the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, rightly described as a ‘game-changer.’
‘Hedge its bets’
Qatar could partner with the infrastructural developmental projects, such as Gwadar – a deep water port in Pakistan’s Arabian Sea. It would extend Qatar’s geopolitical footprint, enhance Qatar’s security, training and storage needs.
Of course, this would antagonise India, who already they view Chinese investments, Afghan involvement and Pakistan relations with dread. In turn, India will further embrace the UAE.
Qatar needs to hedge its bets, protect economic prospects, and encourage India to reconsider its policies by offering mediation on Kashmir.
Lastly, the leadership of Qatar, Turkey and Pakistan all share a strategic vision, with their people-centric policies, but, also, geo-political threats. Ultimately, their indefatigable struggle, as every post-colonial society, is to facilitate representative governance that champions people. Their legitimacy is built on that. So, it is incomprehensible to forsake Palestine, and Kashmir.
As Prime Minister Imran Khan stressed that if Pakistan recognised Israel at the expense of Palestinian rights, “we will have to give up Kashmir as well then.”
Of course, this will cause a reaction, and like-minded nations needs to be vigilant.
Dr. Farhan Chak is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Qatar University.