In the complex mosaic of global politics, espionage often acts as an unseen force that reshapes the contours of international alliances and conflicts. Nations strategically navigate this dynamic geo-political landscape, each manoeuvre aimed at securing their interests, fortifying their security, and expanding their influence.
It is essential to understand the tangled web of diplomatic and strategic engagements between India and Qatar against a broader canvas of international interactions involving major global players such as the United States, Iran, Israel, China, and Turkey.
The background to the developments in Qatar over the last two years begins with the strategic establishment of the Al Udaid Air Base in Qatar by the United States. This move prompted Iran to strengthen its ties with Qatar, thereby altering the regional balance of power.
This development parallels Italy’s maritime overtures linked with China’s expansive ambitions, catalysing Qatar’s military upgrade by acquiring submarines.
The emergence of Dahra Global Consultancy Services marks a pivotal twist, intertwining intelligence operations with corporate strategy and setting the stage for the QTP axis, which challenges the Western-centric geo-political order.
It analyses the consequences of the Qatar-Turkey-China alliance and India’s diplomatic strategies to address the critical situation of its detained naval officers, reflecting on the fine line between power dynamics, the essence of strategic negotiation, and the continuous pursuit of stability in a region prone to upheaval.
Espionage – Moves on the International Chess Board
The United States, recognizing Qatar’s strategic importance and natural gas reserves, subsequently established the Al Udaid Air Base there. Iran, seeing a threat in this development, pressured Qatar to realign its policies, leading to improved Qatari-Iranian relations, much to Israel’s dismay.
Parallel to this, the narrative touches on Italy’s aspirations to penetrate Asian markets through its shipbuilding prowess, ultimately leading to a partnership with China and engagement with Iran. Qatar seized this as an opportunity to modernize its military, including the induction of submarines with Italy’s assistance.
The plot further thickens with the introduction of a retired Omani Air Force officer, Khamis al Ajmi, who, with the CIA and Mossad, formed Dahra Global Consultancy Services. This entity played a crucial role in modernizing Qatar’s military, employing retired veterans, including Indian naval officers.
The event took a darker turn as the formation of the QTP axis, an alliance between Chinese, Turkish, and Qatari intelligence, orchestrated to counter the activities of the Indian naval officers in Italy. The unravelling of Dahra as a front company led to severe repercussions, including the cancellation of its contracts, the deportation of its CEO, and the arrest of eight Indian naval officers.
It is assessed that the culmination of these events, the formation of the I2U2 alliance, excluding Qatar and Iran, and the announcement of the India-Middle East corridor at the G20 summit, which purportedly prompted Qatar to sentence the eight Indian officers to death for espionage in 2023. The situation remains tense, with the resolution of the officers’ fates pending diplomatic actions from India.
Geo-Political nexus between Qatar, Turkey, and China
Qatar’s Role. Qatar has actively sought to diversify its international partnerships beyond its traditional alignment with the United States. This is partly driven by the blockade imposed by its Arab neighbours in 2017, which pushed it closer to Iran and Turkey. Qatar’s engagement with China complements its strategy to broaden its economic and security relationships.
Turkey’s Position. Turkey, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been pursuing an assertive foreign policy, often at odds with US and Israeli positions. Turkey’s close ties with Qatar, exemplified by the Turkish military base in Doha, are part of its broader ambition to expand its influence in the Muslim world and to counterbalance Saudi influence.
China’s Interests. China has significant economic stakes in the region through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has been increasing its involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. China’s partnership with Qatar and Turkey is likely aimed at securing energy supplies and investment opportunities while also challenging the traditional US-led security architecture in the region.
Negating US-Israeli Influence. The US and Israel have long been dominant players in the Middle East. However, the strategic moves by Qatar, Turkey, and China could be an attempt to create a counterweight to this influence. This includes challenging the media narrative with platforms like Al Jazeera, diversifying military and economic partnerships, and leveraging the BRI for infrastructure and influence.
Broader Regional Dynamics. This nexus also interacts with other regional tensions, such as the Sunni-Shia divide, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s internal rifts, and the competition for regional hegemony. These dynamics can lead to complex and sometimes contradictory alliances and enmities.
US and Israeli Reactions. The US and Israel might view this nexus with concern, as it could threaten their strategic interests, particularly in terms of security cooperation and energy politics. This may lead to increased diplomatic efforts to reconcile with erstwhile allies or to form new alliances to maintain their regional influence.
India – Qatar Defence Cooperation
India-Qatar defence cooperation is a significant aspect of the broader strategic relationship between the two countries. It is grounded in a formal Defence Cooperation Agreement signed during the visit of then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2008, which was subsequently renewed for another five years in 2018. This agreement is considered a “pillar” of the bilateral relationship, indicating its centrality to both nations’ foreign policy in the region.
The defence pact encompasses several areas of military collaboration. It includes the training of the Qatar Emiri Naval Forces (QENF) by India, which reflects a trust in India’s military expertise and an acknowledgement of the mutual benefits of such training exercises.
Additionally, this agreement has facilitated mutual visits between military officials, promoting a better understanding and strengthening ties at the institutional level. The cooperation is not limited to traditional defence parameters but extends to cybersecurity, as evidenced by a Memorandum of Understanding signed during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2016 visit to Qatar.
This MoU covers cooperation in multiple domains, including cyber security, defence, health, and energy, suggesting a multifaceted approach to security that transcends just military aspects.
The joint naval exercise called ‘Zair Al Bahr’ is a practical manifestation of this cooperation, having been conducted in two editions. Such exercises are crucial for enhancing interoperability and understanding between the two navies, and they serve as a deterrent to potential adversaries in the region.
India – Qatar Economic Ties
India and Qatar have cultivated strong economic ties, with significant cooperation in the energy sector. Qatar agreed to invest $5 billion in India’s energy sector in 2008 and proposed a deep-sea gas pipeline through Oman to India. In 2016, Qatar decreased the selling price of gas to India, reflecting global market changes and also waived a hefty fee due to India’s previous non-compliance with a gas import agreement.
Bilateral trade between India and Qatar has been robust, with India exporting cereals, machinery, and electronic equipment to Qatar and importing primarily oil, followed by plastics and organic chemicals from Qatar. In 2014, Indian exports to Qatar totalled $1.2 billion, while Qatari exports to India were $16.8 billion.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his 2016 visit to Qatar, encouraged Qatari investment in India, highlighting India’s investment-friendly policies and assuring the resolution of economic bottlenecks. These economic engagements are a testament to the multifaceted relationship between the two nations, encompassing strategic partnerships beyond trade and investment.
India – Qatar Diplomatic Ties
India and Qatar have maintained diplomatic relations since 1973, with embassies in each other’s capitals and a Qatari consulate in Mumbai, emphasizing the importance of these ties. Notable diplomatic engagements include the visits of Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani to India in 1999, 2005, and 2012, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Doha in 2016, which aimed to strengthen economic ties, particularly in the hydrocarbon sector.
During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Qatar in 2008, a landmark maritime defence agreement was signed, enhancing mutual defence training and facilitating the exchange of classified information to combat extremist threats. This was complemented by establishing a joint committee on defence cooperation, with meetings held in both Doha and New Delhi.
India’s Options for Securing the Release of Retired Naval Officers
India could potentially seek amnesty for the naval officers sentenced to death in Qatar by invoking the bilateral agreement from 2015, which presumably contains provisions for cooperation on legal and consular issues. The process of seeking amnesty in such a situation would involve a series of diplomatic engagements and legal manoeuvres.
Diplomatic Outreach. The Indian government would likely initiate a high-level diplomatic outreach to Qatar involving the Indian External Affairs Minister or even the Prime Minister engaging directly with their Qatari counterparts or the Emir himself.
Legal Framework. The 2015 bilateral agreement would serve as the foundation for India’s plea. India’s legal teams would need to carefully review the agreement’s provisions to determine the best legal strategy for arguing the case for amnesty.
Humanitarian Grounds. Appeals for clemency often involve highlighting humanitarian concerns. In this case, India might emphasize the officers’ service to their country, their circumstances, and the impact of the sentence on their families.
Reciprocity and Cooperation. India may offer assurances of continued and strengthened bilateral cooperation in other areas as a gesture of goodwill and an incentive for Qatar to grant amnesty.
International Law and Norms. India might also cite international human rights laws and norms that generally oppose the death penalty, especially if there are doubts about the fairness of the trial or the evidence presented.
Consular Access and Legal Representation. Ensuring that the sentenced officers have had consular access and proper legal representation throughout their trial would be a critical step. Any lapses in due process could strengthen India’s plea for amnesty.
Lobbying through Allies. India could leverage its relationships with other countries with strong ties with Qatar to advocate on behalf of the naval officers.
Public Opinion and Media. While such diplomatic efforts are often discreet, there might also be a parallel attempt to shape public opinion and use media channels to build a narrative that supports the case for amnesty.
Bilateral Talks and Negotiation. Formal and informal rounds of negotiation would take place where India might negotiate terms under which the amnesty could be granted, potentially involving concessions or agreements in other bilateral matters.
Follow-Up and Implementation. If the Emir agrees to grant amnesty, there will be a series of legal and administrative steps to follow, ensuring the decision is implemented Furthermore, the officers safely returned to India.
The success of these efforts would depend on the strength of the bilateral relationship between India and Qatar, the specifics of the 2015 agreement, the details of the case against the naval officers, and the broader geo-political context.
The defence, economic, and diplomatic ties between India and Qatar epitomize the multifaceted and strategic nature of the relationship between the two countries. Defence cooperation is a cornerstone of this relationship, marked by mutual training exercises, cybersecurity collaborations, and military official exchanges, which enhances regional security and showcases India’s rising defence diplomacy in the Gulf. Economically, the partnership is underscored by significant investments and robust bilateral trade, particularly in the energy sector, with both nations benefiting from a dynamic exchange of goods and resources. Diplomatically, the history of visits and agreements, including prisoner repatriation and joint defence committees, illustrates a deep-seated reciprocal commitment to enhancing bilateral relations.
The potential scenarios for India to secure the release of retired naval officers from Qatar highlight the complexity and delicacy of international diplomacy, reflecting the intricate web of geo-political considerations, legal frameworks, and regional stability concerns. The India-Qatar relationship, therefore, has not only implications for the bilateral ties between the two nations but also the broader geo-political dynamics of the region, particularly in the context of emerging alliances, such as the Qatar-Turkey-China nexus, which challenges traditional power structures Moreover, it could reshape regional alignments.