Jaishankar to focus on energy, investments on Qatar visit

Jaishankar to focus on energy, investments on Qatar visit

India also keen to track Afghan peace process

In his second visit to the Gulf region during the coronavirus pandemic, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will travel to Qatar on Sunday for a two-day visit and talks with Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani. Energy trade, investment opportunities, discussions on conditions for Indian expatriate labour and the ongoing Afghanistan dialogue process taking place in Doha will be on top of the agenda. Last month, Mr Jaishankar had travelled to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

“During the visit [Mr. Jaishankar] will hold talks with his counterpart on bilateral issues as well as regional and international issues of mutual interest. He will convey special gratitude to the State of Qatar for taking care of Indians during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said an MEA statement on Saturday. It also pointed out that the two countries had maintained strong ties during the pandemic, and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken to the Qatari Amir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani three times in the past few months.

After their last conversation earlier this month, the Prime Minister’s Office had said that India and Qatar had decided to set up a special task force to further facilitate investments by the Qatar’s investment authority into India, and discussed energy security. Bilateral trade stands at about $11 bn of which nearly 90% is made up by India’s imports, particularly in the field of energy where Qatar accounts for more than 50% of India’s global LNG imports.

Mr. Jaishankar’s visit comes at an important point in the Gulf region for a number of reasons, including the recent announcement by Saudi Arabia that talks between other Gulf countries and Qatar over a three-year economic blockade were heading for a resolution. At the same time, Qatar has strengthened ties with Turkey, and both sides signed a series of cooperation agreements last month when the Qatari Amir visited Ankara.

While the MEA statement made no mention of it, Mr. Jaishankar is also likely to discuss the status of talks between Taliban representatives based there and a negotiating team from Afghanistan. While the two sides took a break from talks in mid-December, they are expected to resume on January 5, and India has keenly watched the process from the sidelines, and sent a senior team to Doha earlier this year to witness the inauguration of the dialogue process.

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