Jaishankar's Afghan agenda in Doha, Indo-Pacific in Manila
India will engage Qatar in Afghanistan as its position is different from Pakistan with close ties with the Kandahari faction rather than the Haqqani Network supported by ISI. Cementing ties with Philippines post-sale of BrahMos is top of EAM Jaishankar's agenda.
Before heading to Quad foreign ministers' meeting in Australia on Friday, external affairs minister S Jaishankar today will be engaging with his Qatar counterpart on Afghanistan, bilateral investments, and comprehensive energy partnership.
Post-Quad meeting, the Indian foreign minister will be visiting Manila for the first time in nine years to consolidate bilateral ties with the Philippines after the latter signed a USD 375 million contract to buy BrahMos anti-ship missile system. The BrahMos supersonic missile, with a range short of 300 km, will act as a deterrent to China, which has been belligerent in the Indo-Pacific with territorial dispute with Manila.
According to diplomats based in Doha and New Delhi, EAM Jaishankar will be meeting with his Qatar Deputy Prime Minister and foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani to discuss stability in Afghanistan after the capture of Kabul by the ultra-conservative Sunni Taliban with the support of Haqqani Network, a designated terror group.
It is understood that Qatar's position and objectives in Afghanistan are based on stability and renewed role of Taliban's Kandahari faction, which has been sidelined by Pakistan supported Haqqani Network in Kabul. Qatar has close links with traditional Taliban leadership like Mullah Baradar and Sher Mohammed Stanekzai, who were part of Taliban’s political office in Doha. Not only has Qatar been sending humanitarian aid to Taliban occupied Kabul, with a position like the West, and unlike Pakistan, does not require aid in the name of Kabul. India has also been sending humanitarian aid to Kabul despite the machinations of Pakistani deep state.
While Afghanistan will be top of the agenda during the bilateral discussions, EAM Jaishankar will also be reviewing energy ties with his Qatar counterpart with Doha supplying nearly 40 per cent of India’s gas needs. The two countries have decided to upgrade their energy relationship to a comprehensive long-term partnership, way beyond buyer and seller relationship. Already, a task force set up in 2020 is looking into structuring the comprehensive partnership with forward movement recorded during the three meetings held in the past year.
As Qatar foreign minister Al Thani is also the chair of Qatar Investment Authority, New Delhi is looking at Doha to invest in gas supply in Indian cities through dedicated terminals, pipelines, and energy grids. This is because India wants to move to natural gas based economy rather than get stuck with volatile crude oil based network.
EAM Jaishankar is expected to be in Manila on February 13 for a bilateral meeting with his Philippine counterpart Teodoro Locsin to cement the relations with a major player in the Indo-Pacific. Rather than wait for general elections to be held in Philippines, EAM Jaishankar has decided to land in Manila on Sunday to maintain continuity in ties with Indo-Pacific foremost on the agenda.
While Vietnam has been discussing possible acquisition of BrahMos missile from India for the past decade, it was Philippines which became the first East Asia power to purchase the supersonic anti-ship missile. Unlike Vietnam, Philippines has no ambiguity over Chinese belligerence in South China Sea with Beijing disputing over Manila’s claims to Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal. Philippines wants China to follow the Laws of Seas and allow freedom of navigation in South China Sea.