New Delhi: New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Qatar on February 14, after his visit to the United Arab Emirates, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra announced on Monday.
The announcement comes within a day of news breaking that after 18 months of detention, Qatar had released the eight former Indian naval veterans who had been convicted to death and later imprisoned.
Although Modi’s visit to the UAE was anticipated, his unexpected stop in Qatar comes as a surprise.
In UAE, he will be inaugurating a Hindu temple, give a speech at the World Governance Summit and attend an Indian community event.
“After completing his UAE visit, on February 14, the prime minister will travel to Doha, Qatar on February 14 afternoon. During the visit the prime minister will hold bilateral talks with Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad, the Amir of Qatar and other high dignitaries,” Kwatra said at a special media briefing on Monday.
On being asked by reporters as to whether Modi is visiting Qatar to acknowledge the release of the veterans, foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra said that the prime minister’s visits are scheduled for months in advance.
“We are gratified on their return. We deeply appreciate the decision of Qatar’s government and the Amir to release them. We are happy to have seven of those Indian nationals back. The eighth Indian national has also been released and we continue to work with the Qatar government to see how quickly his return to India would be possible,” he said.
Seven of them arrived in the early hours of Monday, while the eighth former naval officer, Commodore Purnendu Tiwari, opted to stay behind temporarily to finalize the necessary formalities for his return, given that his family had been settled in Qatar for decades.
The seven veterans who are now back in India are Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commodore Amit Nagpal, Commodore Sugunakar Pakala, Commodore Sanjeev Gupta and Sailor Ragesh.
When asked as to whether the prime minister’s intervention had been key in the men securing a pardon from the Qatar Emir, Kwatra said that the prime minister had been monitoring the situation constantly and did not shy away from taking initiatives.
“The prime minister has himself personally constantly supervised all the developments in this case and has never shied away from any initiatives that would ensure the return of the Indian nationals back to home,” he said.
The eight naval veterans, who had been detained since August 2022, were sentenced to death by Qatar’s Court of First Instance on October 26 last year.
Modi had a small chat the Emir of Qatar, Tamim ibn Hamad Al Thani, at the COP summit in Dubai in December, but no details publicly released about the agenda of the conversation beyond a tweet.
Some of the freed men – seven of whom returned today and who spoke to the news agency ANI – said that it would not have been possible were it not for Modi’s intervention.
To another question on whether the Qatari Emir had released the Indian nationals with a pardon, the foreign secretary declined to comment.
“We can talk about different terminology etc.. whether it is a release or pardon..but I think we should see the facts for what they are. Seven of the eight Indian nationals in the Al Dahra case are back in India, back to their homes,” Kwatra replied.
The MEA press release had also shied away from using the term ‘pardon’, which would mean that the veterans were guilty of the charges, which have yet not been made public.