Mending the rift

The international community must pushfor a resolution of the Qatar crisis

The fact that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have handed over a list of demands to the Qatari regime should, on the face of it, indicate some progress in the impasse created after they cut ties with Qatar. The list has not been officially released, but is reported to include demands that Qatar snap all but trade ties with Iran, end military cooperation with Turkey and shut down the Al Jazeera news network. It may be that many of the demands are only meant to be bargaining counters — even U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has been running the backroom negotiation along with the Emir of Kuwait, said they are “very difficult for Qatar to meet”. In any case, such demands on the list may be more understandable if these countries complied with them as well. For example, in asking Qatar to disown ties with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE cannot ignore their own role in building up Sunni extremist groups across West Asia, sometimes in partnership with Qatar. The UAE has a thriving business relationship with Iran. And while the Saudi-led bloc may object to “negative narratives” and the platform given to their dissidents on Al Jazeera and the other news outlets named, it is unlikely that they will lean too much on the internationally recognised news networks to close shop. The bulk of the demands, however, focusses on asking Qatar to enforce its own commitments from the 2014 Riyadh declaration of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on ceasing support to extremist and terrorist groups. This indicates that a path is being cleared for a resolution to the current crisis. The next few days will be crucial in ensuring the outcome.

There are implications of this crisis that India and the international community cannot afford to ignore. While the action against Qatar is mainly political and nowhere close to the Saudi-led action on Yemen, where more than 10,000 people have already been killed, in both cases the muscle power of the regional bullies has been allowed to prevail over a weaker nation. The treatment of Qatar could well become the playbook for future diplomacy, which would lead to a further weakening of the international order, the rule of law and the UN system of conflict resolution. There are also signs that this may be the precursor to a larger conflict with Iran. This is a troubling scenario for the world, and for India in particular with its commitment to build connectivity and shore up oil reserves. The impact of any conflict in the Gulf cannot be over-estimated, given India’s dependence on oil supplies and remittances from some eight million Indians based there. For New Delhi to continue to be as sanguine about the Qatar crisis as it appeared to be a few weeks ago, when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called it an “internal matter” of the GCC, is no longer an option.

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