The travails of eight former Indian Navy personnel, who were sentenced to death in Qatar after being held on undeclared charges, appear to have ended with their release on the orders of the emir of the West Asian State. Following the intervention of the Indian government and the launch of a legal challenge by the families of the men, a Qatari court commuted the death sentences and gave them prison sentences of varying durations. Developments over the weekend saw the men, some of them decorated officers who commanded frontline warships, being set free and brought home on Monday. This is clearly a diplomatic win for the Indian government, which has invested heavily in recent years in improving relations with several key players in West Asia, especially Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar. While countries in this region were always crucial energy suppliers for India, many had a pro-Pakistan tilt in their foreign policy approach. With the dwindling of Pakistan’s fortunes in recent decades, many of these countries have realised the importance of stronger relations with India, increasingly an important player in the economic and security domains.
However, there are aspects of the case of the former Indian Navy personnel that deserve closer scrutiny. Ever since they were detained in 2022, neither Qatar nor India provided details of the charges brought against them. The legal proceedings against the men and the verdicts in the case were deemed confidential. With the highly qualified personnel of India’s armed forces being perceived as prized employees in West Asia and other regions, greater clarity regarding this episode will make others aware of potential pitfalls. It would perhaps also be helpful if India clearly defined conditions for the re-employment of retired military personnel in foreign countries.
The resolution of this case is evidence of India’s growing influence in West Asia, which is home to some nine million Indians. The developments also reflect the willingness of India’s partners in this strategic region to trust New Delhi as a friend and a collaborator in pursuing common diplomatic and security goals. Besides the existing partnerships focused on energy security and people-to-people ties, India would do well to ramp up on openings provided by burgeoning military and security cooperation with West Asian countries.