South Asia and Beyond

Intense Backchannel Talks And A Commercial Deal Clinch Freedom For Navy Veterans

Qatar releases Indian prisoners on death row after $78 billion gas deal with Delhi?
 Intense Backchannel Talks And A Commercial Deal Clinch Freedom For Navy Veterans

Is there a link between the release of eight Indian ex-navy personnel under death sentence in Qatar and the signing less than a week ago, of the largest ever gas deal between India and that Gulf state?

It’s unlikely anyone in government in the know, would ever admit that publicly. But the coincidence is too obvious to be missed.

At $78 billion, this is a mammoth deal valid for 20 years and will see Qatar deliver 7.5 milion tons of gas to India for generating power, making fertilizer and converting to CNG. It was signed by India’s Petronet LNG with QatarEnergy on the sidelines of the Goa Energy Week event five days back.

Outlook magazine in a report, said Qatar which is the world’s second largest LNG exporter, “plans to expand its liquefaction capacity to 126 million tons per year by 2027 from 77 million and renewal of the deal with India was important for it.”

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To be sure, India had a deal with Qatar signed in 1999 for buying gas, which expires in 2028. The agreement said the two sides would begin negotiations on a fresh deal five years before that date, and the deadline was December 2023. Reports say India will save as much as $6 billion on the price with Qatar committing to deliver at any Indian port and paying the shipping cost.

The deal on gas may have come at the end of intense negotiations between the two sides over the imprisoned Indian ex-navy men. The prime minister himself, according to various reports, weighed in on behalf of his countrymen personally with the Qatari Emir Tamim ibn Hamad al-Thani, while AK Doval, national security adviser, worked on his Qatari counterpart.

Indian diplomats who have served in the Gulf, say it is rare for foreigners to be executed unless the crime is heinous. Yet the charge against them, of espionage on behalf of Israel, was serious and domestic opinion in Qatar would have been watching closely.

The appeals from India, and the pleas for clemency from the prisoners themselves, would have registered with Qataris, and in that sense, laid the ground for their release, sweetened of course by the $78 billion deal on gas.

Surya Gangadharan

Thirty eight years in journalism, widely travelled, history buff with a preference for Old Monk Rum. Current interest/focus spans China, Technology and Trade. Recent reads: Steven Colls Directorate S and Alexander Frater's Chasing the Monsoon. Netflix/Prime video junkie. Loves animal videos on Facebook. Reluctant tweeter.