The diplomatic channel between New Delhi and Doha has clearly been working overtime. In the wee hours of the day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an impromptu visit to Qatar, the visit brought home seven of the eight former Indian sailors sentenced to death in the Gulf country.
This return ended a protracted effort to secure their release through multiple strategies that involved both legal and diplomatic interventions in addition to political outreach at the highest levels.
The Indian government welcomes the release of eight Indian nationals working for the company Dahra Global and detained in Qatar, the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this morning.
Seven of them returned to India. We appreciate the decision of the Emir of the State of Qatar to allow the release and return of these people.
The death sentences were commuted to life sentences last December by a Qatari appeals court.
Later on Monday, the Ministry of External Affairs announced that Prime Minister Modi would visit Doha on Wednesday as part of his planned two-day visit to the UAE starting Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Vinay Mohan Kwatra announced the short trip to Doha during the press briefing on the UAE visit, but refused to say whether the so far unscheduled visit to Qatar was linked to the release of the veterans .
This will be the Prime Minister's second visit to Qatar. He met the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani, on the sidelines of the climate conference in the United Arab Emirates in December, ahead of the kingdom's national day on December 18, during which the head of state is authorized to pardon the condemned.
When asked if the prime minister's intervention led to the release of the veterans, Kwatra did not reveal much.
The Prime Minister himself has constantly personally supervised all developments in this matter and has never shied away from any initiative that would ensure the return of Indian nationals home, he said.
In addition to the legal support provided to veterans, all diplomatic channels were exploited simultaneously. The foreign ministry has also sought to keep a tight rein on media discourse, urging Indian journalists to avoid speculation, lest an incorrect report disrupt behind-the-scenes talks.
Asked when the eighth veteran identified as Commander (Retired) Purnendu Tiwari but not officially named would return, Kwatra said: “He has been released and we continue to work with the Qatar government to see to how quickly his return to India would be possible.
Sources said that as Tiwari had been living in Qatar for almost two decades with his family, he needed more time to complete his stay.
Interacting with journalists at the Delhi airport, some of the seven veterans attributed their release to Modi's personal intervention and his equation with Qatar. On arrival, they chanted Bharat Mata ki jai at the airport.
One said: I feel relieved and delighted to finally be back home safe and sound. I would like to thank Prime Minister Modi as this would not have been possible without his personal intervention. I also express my gratitude to the Emir of Qatar.
A Qatari court handed down the death sentence last October to seven retired naval officers and a former sailor, after spending more than a year in solitary confinement in the West Asian country.
Neither Qatar nor India has officially revealed the nature of the charges against the eight people leading to their arrest in August 2022.
Media reports, however, indicated that Qatar claimed to have intercepted an electronic communication revealing that the eight men had spied on behalf of Israel on the Qatari navy's secret project to create Italian midget submarines capable of evading the radar detection.
Besides Commander Tiwari, the men are Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, Commander Amit Nagpal and Sailor Ragesh.
They were working for private defense provider Al Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services when they were arrested by Qatari intelligence services in Doha.
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