SOURCE: THE HINDU
The deadline for Qatari diplomats to leave Saudi Arabia and five other countries expired on Sunday, part of a series of measures against Qatar for sheltering groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and extending ties with Iran, measures that include sealing borders for trade and supplies and access to Qatari flights. Speaking to The Hindu, Saudi Ambassador to India Saud bin Mohammed Al-Saty (also called the Ambassador of the Custodian of the two holy mosques) says India’s firm stand on terror is appreciable, but rejected comparisons between the Saudi-Qatar relationship to India-Pakistan.
Just a week after we saw a show of strength by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) with U.S. President Donald Trump attending a summit of Islamic nations in Riyadh, the region seems to be in disarray with actions against Qatar by several nations led by KSA. What led to this?
This didn’t happen overnight. We have been speaking to Qatari authorities since 2012. In 2013 and 2015, the Qatari government signed agreements, and said it would stop support to extremist groups that work against the security of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and UAE and Egypt. Among the commitments were to stop the negative messaging from the Al-Jazeera channel that aims to create social unrest in our countries, and to remove all the leaders of extremist organisations from its soil, including the Muslim Brotherhood. We exhausted all other means before taking these steps. Qatar is a neighbour and a brotherly country, we have close societal ties, tribal ties…they even call themselves Wahabbis, and we want to resolve the situation.
Saudi Arabia too is accused of arming and funding rebels in Syria, of funding Wahabbi extremism in madrassas in South Asia….when KSA points the finger at Qatar, it has many fingers pointing at it.
There is no truth, whatsoever, in the allegation that the Kingdom funds extremist madrassas or mosques. I don’t even know if there are such mosques in India, it’s not for me to say. Our strategy on counter-terrorism and security cooperation and to ensure terrorists cannot find funds is excellent. We work very closely with India on this.
We do not donate a single penny without the full consent of the government of India. We take any request for funding to the Indian government, and even before transferring funds we notify the government.
We have also banned giving to any charity outside Saudi Arabia. If individuals break that law, we will prosecute them. With Qatar, we have a list of entities and individuals who are terrorists who we want them to prosecute. Why would we make up such accusations against a member of the GCC family?
Yet the blockade is reportedly causing some hardships.
I want to clarify that there is no blockade whatsoever. We have closed our borders with them, and we have banned Qatar airlines from going through our airspace. However, their airspace is not closed, and their access to the seas, ports is open. Our foreign ministry has said we are ready to help with humanitarian needs, if necessary. The food shortages are not because of us. They import most of their foods, it is true, through KSA, but they will have to look for alternatives for now.
Has India expressed concern? Since half of Indian expatriates in West Asia work in Saudi Arabia, and more than half-a-million work in Qatar.
Well, India has issued a statement, expressing its concerns for the millions of Indians that live there, that we appreciate. It made a very strong point about countering terrorism, and rightly calls it a grave threat to our region, and to South Asia. Terrorists take advantage of differences between countries, and they carry out attacks as we have seen in Yemen, and other areas, and strongly believe cooperation is essential to defeating terror.
Has KSA asked India for support? Reports this week suggested King Salman asked Pakistan PM Sharif to pick a side…
Well, let me just say that when it comes to terrorism, all countries should have a full commitment to countering it.
India’s statement on this issue was very clear, and if we can work together moreon fighting terrorism and extremism, so we welcome any efforts from India in that regard.
Some in India have suggested that everything KSA accuses Qatar of, India accuses Pakistan of. If India were to enforce a similar blockade, would KSA support India?
I could put that question back to you..as these are not similar or comparable situations. Do you have open borders with Pakistan, as we normally have with Qatar? Do you have the kind of trade we have with thousands and thousands of trucks moving back and forth [normally]?
The idea is to find workable solutions through dialogue. We hope to see that the comprehensive dialogue between India and Pakistan is resumed, as this is the best way to resolve differences. From our side, we will be happy to help in any way we can, as we have excellent relations with Pakistan and India.