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Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is welcomed by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, New Delhi, India, March 25, 2015 (photo from the website of the Prime Minister of India).

Qatar Ties Reflect India’s Middle East Balancing Act

Thursday, April 16, 2015

In late March, Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, became the first head of state from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to visit India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office last year. The visit came at a time when India is looking to renegotiate its long-term gas contracts with Qatar, given the opening up of other sources of supply around the world. Qatar is still India’s primary liquefied natural gas supplier and also hosts 600,000 Indian nationals, most of whom work as migrant laborers, which in recent years has led to India extending security guarantees to its Gulf partner. Yet both sides still feel the need to deepen their relationship through more diversified economic ties. Qatar is keen to invest in Modi’s “Make in India” initiative and has also invited Indian companies to build major construction projects ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

But India’s growing ties with Qatar are also part of a broader policy of Indian engagement throughout the Gulf and the wider Middle East, on issues from labor access to counterterrorism cooperation to, above all, energy security. That includes Oman, with which India has expanded naval cooperation, as well as Iran. India is the second-largest buyer of Iranian oil and is invested in a major Iranian port project in Chabahar. After the framework agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program and amid the ongoing Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, India is hedging its bets against both the prospect of detente and the threat of rising instability, using diversified partnerships with Qatar and other Gulf countries to protect its interests. ...

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