Qatar’s Enhanced Diplomatic Clout

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Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal conveyed the request on behalf of the government of Nepal to the visiting minister of state for foreign affairs of Qatar for cooperation in securing the release of Nepali student Bipin Joshi from the reported captivity of Hamas, the Islamic group fighting Israel and conducting violent attacks on its targets. Prime Minister Prachanda also appreciated the Qatar’s mediation efforts to persuade the conflicting parties to agree for ceasefire and release of the hostages held by Hamas.  Joshi is one of the seventeen Nepali students who were living at Kibbutz Alumin in Southern Israel close to Gaza strip. At least ten Nepali students were killed in the Hamas attack when nearly 2000 militants stormed into Israel, killing around 1200 people, mostly Israeli civilians including children and women. Bipin Joshi’s whereabouts was not known till the previous week and it is traced that he is among the hostages held captive by Hamas.

Encouraged by its success in brokering Russia-Ukraine grain supply deal a few months ago, Turkey was also making some deserving attempts to thaw the Hamas-Israel tension. However, Qatar’s mediation endeavours have borne some fruits towards provisional cessation of the conflict and release of hostages. It shows that the dominant role of the western countries in mediating the settlement of inter-state or intra-state armed conflict has been slowly replaced and taken over by the non-western countries though the role and support of the western countries especially the US, UK and Germany still remains vital in such endeavours.

Growing clout

As Qatar has been praised for its successful role in helping to secure agreement of Hamas and Israel for ceasefire and release of hostages, this article sheds some light on the growing clout of Qatar in the region and increased credibility to execute peace diplomacy. In fact, Qatar is a tiny nation that JUTS OUT of the Arabian Peninsula with a small size of population. However, Qatar's influence spreads far and wide.  It is home to Al Jazeera news network and a sprawling US airbase. Last year, it hosted the world cup soccer games which earned global fame and reputation. Qatar is a close U.S. ally and the regional power best positioned to influence Hamas and play a mediating role with Israel. 

In recent weeks, Qatar has helped broker the release of four Israeli hostages held by militants. It helped to negotiate in coordination with the U.S and Hamas for foreigners trapped in Gaza to leave through the territory's crossing with Egypt. Several dozen Palestinians wounded in the war have also been let out to receive treatment in Egypt this week, according to the news report quoting Palestinian health officials. Qatar has been able to play this role because it has hosted Hamas leaders in exile. The Hamas political office in Doha, according to reports, was opened over a decade ago in coordination with the U.S. after a request from Washington to establish indirect lines of communication. Qatar says it has been used across multiple U.S. administrations for mediation efforts. The Biden administration and senior Israeli officials have lauded Qatar's role in trying to free more than 200 hostages, among them children and elderly, held by militants in Gaza.

Qatar has long hosted or directly talked to groups the U.S. and Europe do not want to deal with directly in difficult negotiations. That has helped Qatar exert influence, play a key role on the global stage and maintain relations with a wide range of players from Washington to Tehran, say political analysts. Qatar has also sent construction materials into Gaza after infrastructure was destroyed in previous Israeli wars. It also helped pay for United Nations food rations to Gaza's poorest families.

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera news network, primarily funded by the government, is one of the most widely seen Arabic channels in the world. It's also one of the very few broadcasting live from across the Gaza Strip throughout the current war. It's broadcasting on Arabic and English channels. The network has long angered Israel and some Middle East governments for its alternative viewpoints on major Mideast crises, like the Arab Spring revolts. Western critics say the channel promoted Islamist movements. But for hundreds of millions of homes with Arabic satellite receivers that can watch Al Jazeera, it is an indispensable source of news and information.

Qatar’s negotiating skill 

Qatar hosts thousands of U.S. troops at the airbase which also serves as the regional headquarters for U.S. Central Command. Doha is paying for an expansion of that airbase, which the U.S. and others have used to launch airstrikes against the Islamic state group in Iraq and Syria. It is in order to note that Qatar has hosted U.S.-Taliban peace talks and other meetings, and continues to be home to members of the Taliban — and to Afghanistan-focused diplomats who withdrew from Kabul in 2021. Doha has helped free Western hostages held by extremist groups in Syria, and recently negotiated a high-profile prisoner swap between the U.S. and Iran. 

The country maintains close ties with Iran. Meanwhile, Qatar is also home to senior Hamas leaders in exile. Qatar, like several other Arab states, has not publicly condemned the Hamas attacks on Israel. And like other Arab states and Iran, it has blamed Israeli policies for the escalation in violence. It is pointing to the occupation in the West Bank, deadly raids into Palestinian cities there and allowing more Israeli hardliners into the sensitive Al Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount. Still, Qatar was one of the first Gulf Arab states to establish official trade ties with Israel in the 1990s.  Qatar’s increased clout and go-between role in negotiating the settlement of intractable conflicts shows that a small country can play a bigger role in international diplomacy. Qatar’s cooperation sought to trace whereabouts and release of Bipin Joshi from the Hamas captivity should, therefore, make sense.  

(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow.  rijalmukti@gmail.com)

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