Sanjiv Arora (Photo courtesy: Qatar Airways / Flickr)
H E Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of Qatar, is in India on a two-day visit at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The level and frequency of exchange of visits between two countries are an important parameter of the level of engagement and cooperation between them. By this standard, there has been a rapid stride in India-Qatar ties in the last two years.
Sheikh Abdullah was the first leader of an Arab or an Islamic country to make a congratulatory phone call to Modi on the same day when election results were announced in India on Friday, March 16, 2014. This was a most gracious gesture on his part, especially on a holiday and day of prayers. In his tweet thanking Sheikh Abdullah, Prime Minister Modi had affirmed : “We will take India-Qatar ties to newer heights”.
The visits of the Emir of Qatar His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to New Delhi in March, 2015 and of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Doha in June, 2016, and now of Qatar’s Prime Minister, are a testimony not only to the historic friendship but also to the emerging partnership between the two countries. These exchanges are building on the cooperation developed in earlier years, with significant contribution made by the three State visits of Father Emir His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to India in 1999, 2005 and 2012, and of former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in 2008.
Sheikh Tamim’s visit last year at the invitation of President Pranab Mukherjee was his first visit to India and also the first Head of State level visit from an Arab country (and perhaps the only one so far) after Prime Minister Modi’s Government assumed office. For Sheikh Abdullah also, this would be his maiden voyage to India.
I had the privilege of being closely associated with the further strengthening of India’s relations with Qatar during my tenure in Doha until recently. Having been fortunate to have access to Qatari leadership and received their guidance and support in overwhelming measure, and having made a large number of Qatari friends engaged in different spheres, I admire the warmth of the Qatari people; their fondness for India; and their enthusiasm to expand linkages and partnership between Qatar and India.
As India welcomes Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah, I warmly and gratefully recall his most graciously receiving me in his office and Majlis on several occasions. He is truly an inspirational personality – a workaholic, a man of great depth but few words, a most attentive listener, a stickler for punctuality, and above all, a very kind human being.
Qatar is a small country with large hearted people. It is a country not only endowed with big resources but with a lofty aspiration and vision for its people. The progress achieved by a country with a population of only 2.4 million (the nearly 6.5 lakh Indians comprise the largest community) in the last two decades is remarkable.Qatar’s astute utilisation of its huge resources of natural gas; highly resourced Sovereign Wealth Fund; the massive infrastructural projects coming up as Qatar prepares to host FIFA World Cup in 2022 (among them Msherib Downtown Doha project, which was visited by Prime Minister Modi, in a touching gesture, to meet Indian workers at a medical camp immediately after his arrival in Doha); and globally acclaimed institutions such as Qatar Foundation and its Education City headed by Her Highness Sheikha Moza, Qatar Museums led by H E Sheikha Al Mayassa, and Qatar Airways headed by its workaholic and hands on CEO Akbar Al Baker (who is proud of his college education in India), are a few examples of the opportunities in which India can partner to the mutual benefit of both sides.
The landmark new agreement for supply of LNG signed between RasGas and Petronet in New Delhi on December 31, 2015 is an excellent example of a win-win situation. Prime Minister Modi highlighted this deal in his Independence Day Address from the ramparts of Red Fort on August 15, 2016.
There is also an enormous potential to increase Qatari investments in India, with Qatar’s leadership and investors deeply appreciating ‘Make in India’ and other initiatives for developing India as a preferred business partner — this was well reflected in the friendly and frank discussions at Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with 20 top investors during his visit to Doha.
The two countries have also been taking steps to promote cooperation in the areas of defence and security, and counter- terrorism. The visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah, who has a distinguished career in defence and internal security, and has been Qatar’s Interior Minister for many years, presents an excellent opportunity to take bilateral cooperation in these areas to a new level.
[The writer is Additional Secretary in Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. He was India’s longest serving Ambassador to Qatar from August, 2012 – October, 2016, and was awarded the ‘Sash of Merit’ by Qatar’s Emir for his contribution to enhancing bilateral ties. The views expressed in this article are personal.]