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India Triumphs – Qatar Releases Navy Men

Defying diplomatic odds, India's remarkable rescue mission in Qatar results in securing the release of all eight Naval Veterans

February 27, 2024 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By ddnews.gov.in, PIB, YouTube
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army

 

Qatar court releases all eight former Indian Navy personnel in its custody

The unconditional release of eight former Indian Navy men from Qatar, imprisoned since 2022, is a stupendous diplomatic triumph for India. Qatar released these individuals a month after converting their death penalty into lengthy prison sentences. The eight Navy veterans were working for the Oman-based defence company 'Dahra Global' after their superannuation from service. They were arrested on August 30, 2022, subjected to a secret trial and sentenced to death by the Qatar's First Court of Appeals on October 23, 2023.

It is believed that the accusations against them were for spying "for Israel" on Qatar's nuclear submarine programme, although the charges were never made officially public. Interestingly, the Qatari midget submarines in question are not even being built in Qatar but in Italy.

The unconditional release of eight former Indian Navy men from Qatar, imprisoned since 2022, is a stupendous diplomatic triumph for India

Following the award of the death sentence, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) expressed that the ruling of the Qatari court was "deeply shocking", and said that they would explore all legal options to get the charges against the former Indian Navy personnel dropped. Thereafter, the capital punishment for the jailed Indian Navy veterans was commuted to an extended prison term after diplomatic talks between Qatar and India. The prison term was also shortened after various kin of the jailed Indians approached the MEA, which in turn assured the use of all diplomatic channels and legal assistance to bring them back.

Notably, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, also met on the margins of COP28 in Dubai on December 1, 2023, where the issue of the imprisoned Indian Navy veterans was discussed directly between the two leaders. Prime Minister Modi reportedly also reminded the Emir of India's commitment to boost the $15.03 billion bilateral trade between the two countries.

PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI HOLDS A BILATERAL MEETING WITH THE EMIR OF QATAR, SHEIKH TAMIM BIN HAMAD AL THANI AT DOHA, IN QATAR.

Following the above meeting, Qatar's First Court of Appeals commuted the death sentences of the eight Navy veterans to jail terms varying from three to 25 years on December 28, 2023 and gave the eight accused 60 days to file appeals. An Indian legal team was assisting the eight to file appeals against their conviction in Qatar's Court of Cassation. However, the office of the Emir of Qatar issued the pardon decree for all eight on February 9, 2024 and all of them were released on February 11, 2024.

The MEA said in a statement, "The Government of India welcomes the release of eight Indian nationals working for Dahra Global, who were detained in Qatar. Seven out of the eight of them have returned to India. We appreciate the decision by the Emir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals. Arrangements are being made to bring the last released veteran home."

The eight naval veterans were released on February 11, 2024, and seven of them were flown out of Doha that evening. Only veteran Commander Purnendu Tiwari remained in Qatar at his relative's place since some formalities about his return to India were still being worked out.

The Emir of Qatar's pardon did not wait for the accused to appeal to the Qatar's Court of Cassation and its ruling, which is unprecedented

Qatar is America's blue-eyed country in the Middle East. The forward headquarters of the US Central Command is based in Qatar, in addition to the largest US Air Force base in the Middle East at the Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The US Army is stationed in Qatar at the Al Sayliyah Army Base. However, Qatar also has the history of designated terrorists and terrorist financiers living with impunity in that country. Qatar supports Hamas. According to the US media, three top leaders of Hamas (Ismail Haniyeh, Moussa Abu and Khaleed Mashal) alone have a fortune of $11 billion and have maintained a luxurious lifestyle in Qatar, which provides a safe haven for them.

India Diaspora in Qatar includes expatriates, as well as persons born in Qatar of Indian origin. Qatar has a population of 2,740,479 (as of May 2019) and the Indian population stands at around 6,91,000. Qatar has no legal provisions that allow foreigners to become permanent residents. However, according to some researchers, certain clauses in the country's laws allow foreigners to apply to become Qatari nationals.

India's triumph in getting back the eight Indian Navy veterans from Qatar is unprecedented on two counts:

  1. foreigners accused of spying for the enemy (Qatar supports Hamas and considers Israel enemy) and on death row getting unconditionally pardoned is unprecedented;
  2. the Emir of Qatar's pardon did not wait for the accused to appeal to the Qatar's Court of Cassation and its ruling which also reportedly is unprecedented.

At the same time, the flip side of Qatar releasing the eight former Indian Navy men should also not be ignored, which proves that Qatar or its Emir also have a price. It goes without saying that India signing its biggest ever $78 billion deal to extend LNG imports from Qatar by another 20 years till 2048 provided the impetus for securing the release of the eight naval veterans, although no price is high where lives of Indians are at stake.

The MEA said in a statement, "The Government of India welcomes the release of eight Indian nationals working for Dahra Global, who were detained in Qatar. Seven out of the eight of them have returned to India."

The above deal covers a total volume of 150 MT over 20 years, surpassing the two 108 million tons deals signed by Qatar Energy with the China National Corporation and Sinopec in the past two years. It will play a crucial role in India reaching its target of increasing the proportion of natural gas in its energy mix to 15 per cent by 2030, a significant rise from the current 6.3 per cent.

Here, the question also is whether there were external forces to accuse the Indians for spying for Israel (Qatar's enemy) or was this a deliberate case of award of death sentences from within Qatar in order to pressure India to ink future economic deals that Qatar wanted?

Kulbhushan Jadhav

The irony is that there is no such leverage, like LNG import, that New Delhi can apply against Pakistan because the only major export of Pakistan is terrorists, which are no use to India but finds use in the US-led west as proxy boots. 53-year old Indian veteran Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav continues to remain incarcerated in a Pakistani prison since 2016, having been arrested in Balochistan for alleged spying activities.

On April 10, 2017, Jadhav was sentenced to death by a Field General Court Martial in Pakistan. On May 18, 2017, the International Court of justice (ICJ) stayed the execution pending the final judgment on the case. On July 17, 2019, the ICJ rejected India's appeal for Jadhav's release and ordered Pakistan to suspend the execution. It ruled that Pakistan will have to review the entire process of trial and conviction of Kulbhushan Jadhav and provide India with Consular access. Pakistan allowed one Indian Consulate visit to Jadhav, but subsequent visits have been denied.

Ironically, the US which reportedly did help persuade Qatar to release the Indian naval veterans, is unlikely to persuade Pakistan to release Kulbhushan Jadhav because of the CIA-ISI links.