India has formally appealed against the death sentences handed to eight former Indian Navy personnel by a court in Qatar. All efforts are afoot to put together “a water-tight legal counter” to ensure that all the ex-Navy personnel are released. But New Delhi is, at the same time, equally focused on leveraging its strong ties with Qatar and other countries including Italy, the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran, UAE, etc., to reach a diplomatic solution.
Soon after filing the appeal, Indian authorities, including diplomats, have held three rounds of meetings with their Qatari counterparts in Doha on this matter, The Sunday Guardian has learnt from diplomatic sources. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is discussing this matter at every bilateral meeting with his counterparts from different countries and other global leaders in a bid to exert all-round and sustained diplomatic pressure on Qatar. “In fact, Jaishankar has told the families of the eight Indians who have been given the death sentence in Qatar that the Indian government gives the highest importance to the case. So, he is relentlessly working on this,” a source said. Jaishankar is likely to meet the families again soon.
A week back, Jaishankar touched upon the Qatar court sentencing issue during his meeting with Italian counterpart Antonio Tajani in Rome, sources said. It is believed that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has sound rapport with both her Qatari counterpart and Qatar’s Emir. Diplomats are of the view that Meloni could help India in resolving the impasse amicably in Qatar. During the G-20 Summit in New Delhi, India and Italy decided to elevate their bilateral ties to a strategic partnership after talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and PM Meloni. This speaks volumes about India-Italy ties getting stronger.
The Ministry of External Affairs is not officially sharing a single word on Jaishankar’s interactions on this issue, but the fact is that he is discussing it with his counterparts from the countries which have sound ties with Qatar, sources said. Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra may have said on Friday that the Qatar sentencing issue was not a matter of discussion between India and the United States, but the fact is that Jaishankar did discuss this matter during the bilateral meeting with his US counterpart Antony Blinken on the sidelines of India-US 2+2 dialogue in New Delhi on 10 November. “The Indian side shared its perspective with the US on the development in Qatar,” a source told The Sunday Guardian. However, the MEA did not confirm it on record, given the sensitivity of the issue. Jaishankar is visiting the UK from 11-15 November. He is likely to use the opportunity to push the larger strategy to ensure global diplomatic pressure on Qatar.
Undoubtedly, the US has tremendous influence over Qatar due to the security partnership between the two nations. Qatar is home to the largest US military presence in the Middle East, which serves as a strategic hub for US operations in the region and a major source of US investment. The American companies are playing a leading role in fortifying this security relationship with Qatar. The Indian diplomatic establishment believes that the US could be helpful in building pressure on Qatar.
Meanwhile, there is an agreement which was signed between India and Qatar in 2015 on the transfer of sentenced prisoners during the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad-al Thani’s trip to India. Under the agreement on the extradition of convicts, Indian nationals sentenced in Qatar can be sent to their home country to serve the remaining part of their jail term. India is also likely to invoke these provisions if its appeal for clemency is accepted, sources said.
According to a diplomatic official who has been posted at the UN, there is enough space to address this issue in a manner that preserves the upward path of bilateral ties between India and Qatar. “A significant point that the Indian side is highlighting at different meetings in order to exert sustained pressure on Doha is that the purported spying case against Indians is political as the Qatari midget submarines are being built in Italy and not in Qatar,” an official said.
Meanwhile, two weeks after eight former Indian Navy personnel were sentenced to death in an alleged case of espionage by a court in Qatar, the MEA said an appeal has been filed in the case. “The judgment is confidential. There is a court of first instance that gave the judgment, which was shared with the legal team. Considering all legal options, an appeal has been filed. We are in touch with the Qatari authorities,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday. “We got another round of consular access with the eight Indians on 7 November. We are in touch with the family members,” he said, adding that India would continue to extend all legal and consular support in the case. The Indian nationals, all employees of Doha-based Dahra Global, were taken into custody in August 2022. The charges against them were not made public by the Qatar authorities. According to a report in the Financial Times, they were charged with spying for Israel. Bagchi confirmed that the Indian government was engaged with the authorities in Qatar to find a resolution to the issue.