Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani paid tribute to the thousands of Indian expats living in Qatar as he wrapped up a state visit in New Delhi this week. The trip concluded a brief three-country south Asian tour.
In a joint communique with India, the Emir said he expressed appreciation for the role and contribution of the Indian community toward the development of Qatar and said Indians are highly respected for their peaceful and hard-working nature, according to Qatar’s state news agency.
Official figures released during the Emir’s visit said there are 631,000 Indians living in Qatar – considerably higher than the previous estimates of approximately half a million, which already made the Indian expat community the Gulf country’s largest demographic group.
On the Indian side, President Shri Pranab Mukherjee thanked Qatar for its treatment of the Indian community during a speech in the Emir’s presence:
“Qatar has generously embraced a large number of Indian expatriates and has encouraged them to flourish and prosper, for which we sincerely thank you. The positive contribution that the Indian community in Qatar has made towards the development and progress of their host country has been well acknowledged and appreciated. We are confident of the continued support of Your Highness in ensuring their safety and well-being.”
That message is a change in tone from three years ago, when former Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani traveled to India with his wife, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. While there, he was reportedly pressed on the treatment of Indian migrant workers in Qatar.
But this time, foreign investment and trade between the two countries appeared to be the focus of the Sheikh Tamim’s first state visit to India.
Qatar is a key supplier of energy to India, supplying 86 percent of the country’s liquified natural gas (LNG), officials said. However, India is eager to expand the countries’ trade relationship beyond energy.
Its external affairs minister reportedly highlighted railways, defense, infrastructure, retail and LNG terminals as offering “immense opportunities.”
For his part, the Emir appeared to respond warmly to the overtures:
“The new government is taking a number of interesting initiatives. We trust the Indian economy. So we will invest in India,” he told The Times of India.
Meanwhile, Doha Bank CEO R. Seetharaman – who was accompanying the Emir on the state visit – highlighted opportunities for Indian companies in Qatar during a panel discussion that also featured Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker.
The airline executive said he remains interested in buying a stake in Indian carrier IndiGo:
Al Baker appears not to have repeated his previous blunt critiques of Indian aviation policy that restricts access to foreign carriers such as Qatar Airways – something Al Baker previously suggested was a result of Indian politicians putting “their personal interests above the nation.”
Before leaving India, the Emir signed six agreements, including one that formalized a previously reported prisoner transfer treaty allowing Indians jailed in Qatar to serve out their sentence in their home country, and vice-versa.
There are 96 Indians currently incarcerated in Qatar, Indian newspaper The Tribune reported. No details were released regarding the conditions prisoners must meet in order to be eligible for a transfer.
The Emir’s South Asia trip also took him to Sri Lanka, where officials from both governments discussed ways of boosting trade and foreign investment.
During his visit, the Emir pledged to help Sri Lanka improve access to drinking water in the country’s north and east regions, the Gulf Times reported.
Sheikh Tamim also spent time in Pakistan, a visit that came several days before the first shipment of LNG arrived in Karachi from Qatar.
Pakistani officials used the Emir’s visit to press Qatari officials to allow more foreign workers into the Gulf country.
Government officials in Islamabad said there are some 100,000 Pakistanis living in Qatar whose remittances are an important part of their home country’s economy.
“We would appreciate if Pakistani manpower in Qatar is substantially enhanced,” Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was quoted as saying.
The visits marked Sheikh Tamim’s first visits to Pakistan and Sri Lanka as Qatar’s Emir.