Eight Indian Navy officers were found guilty of spying for Israel and given the death penalty by a Qatari court.
The officers are charged with giving Israel access to confidential information about the Qatari Navy’s work on developing a stealth-equipped submarine.
Media sources indicated that neither Qatar nor India have formally disclosed the precise charges brought against the officers.
The death penalty was confirmed by India’s Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday, which expressed deep shock at the Qatari court.
In a swift response, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said, “We are awaiting the detailed judgment, and we are exploring all legal options.”
It also added “that due to the ‘confidential nature’ of proceedings of the case,” it would not be making any more comments.
The death penalty for the former Indian officials on allegations of espionage—allegedly on behalf of Israel—was also confirmed by Israeli, Pakistani, and Indian media outlets.
According to media reports, the accused were senior staff members of Dahra Global Technologies and Consulting Services, a technical firm that provided assistance on a project for Qatar that sought to acquire advanced Italian-built submarines that were capable of avoiding radar detection.
Media reports also claimed that “the accused have been identified as working for the Indian intelligence agency, RAW. They were reportedly caught by Qatari Intelligence services, carrying out espionage activities in Qatar.”
Since the beginning of the case, barely anything is known about the eight officials who face charges.
It was discovered that these eight people were placed under arrest in August 2022 as a result of the outspoken worries expressed by their families. They were held in isolation for several months prior to the start of their trial. It is also established that during the trial, New Delhi was granted consular access by Qatari authorities.
Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Brendra Kumar Varma, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commander Amit Nagpal, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, and Sailor Rajesh are among those who have received death sentences.
Commander Tiwari was serving as a managing director of the company.
Earlier, Tiwari was presented with the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award in 2019 for his outstanding services in advancing bilateral relations between India and Qatar.
The Pravasi Bharatiya Samman (Overseas Indian Award) is the highest honor for overseas Indians.
The Al-Dahra company was closed in May 2023 after Qatar claimed that it was transferring secret documents and spying for Israel. The corporation also trained Qatar’s security services and armed forces.
The company was owned by an Omani national, Khamis Al Ajami, a retired squadron leader of the Royal Oman Air Force.
Al-Ajami was also arrested along with the Indian naval officials but was later released (in November 2022).
Approximately 800,000 Indian citizens live and work in Qatar. Most Indian expatriates are members of the lower working class. Most of the jobs they do are unskilled or semi-skilled. There are also Indian welders, fabricators, fitters, engineers, and medical professionals employed in Qatar. These workers contribute significantly to India’s economy in addition to being a substantial source of foreign money.
To discuss various aspects of this high-profile case, The Media Line spoke with some Indians and a Pakistani analyst.
Rohit Sharma, a Delhi-based prominent political analyst told The Media Line, “Both India and Qatar have enjoyed warm relations for decades.”
“Qatar has been importing food from India, while India buys around 50% of its natural gas from Qatar, thus making it dependent on Qatari natural gas. There have also been maritime defense agreements between the two countries since November 2008,” Sharma added.
Regarding the eight Indian naval officers who were given the death penalty by a Qatari court, Sharma told The Media Line that “the Indian government is taking into consideration all the strategies that were used versus Pakistan in the Commander Kulbhushan Yadav case at the International Court of Justice. India was successful in delaying Kulbhushan Yadav’s execution in the International Court of Justice by presenting strong and convincing arguments.”
"India would take all necessary steps to guarantee the safety of the eight former navy officers. Both nations and Qatar have a prisoner swap deal, so a prisoner swap is one feasible solution in this circumstance. Moreover, India and Qatar are both important players in their respective regions. Handling this situation diplomatically and responsibly would be crucial for maintaining stability in the region"
To a question from The Media Line, Sharma replied, “India would take all necessary steps to guarantee the safety of the eight former navy officers. Both nations and Qatar have a prisoner swap deal, so a prisoner swap is one feasible solution in this circumstance. Moreover, India and Qatar are both important players in their respective regions. Handling this situation diplomatically and responsibly would be crucial for maintaining stability in the region,” he added.
In this regard, Sharma also alluded to another issue and said, “Modi led the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party; BJP’s spokeswoman, Nupur Sharma, made derogatory remarks about the holy prophet of Islam, which deeply offended Muslims worldwide. Qatar demanded that the Indian government issue a public apology, a demand that was not met. So it’s plausible that there has been reprisal from the Qatari authorities.”
It is noteworthy that following Nupur Sharma’s derogatory remarks in June 2022, Qatar was the first Islamic state to summon the Indian envoy to Doha.
Sultan bin Sa’ad Al Muarikhi, Qatari minister of state, handed a note to the Indian envoy and asserted that “the insulting remarks would lead to incitement of religious hatred among the two Muslims across the world and Qatar is expecting a public apology from India,” which has never been met yet. However, Nupur Sharma was fired from her position, in response.
Dr. Paulami Sanyal is an assistant professor at KR Mangalam University Gurgaon, Haryana, India. She has been a researcher of Middle Eastern and South Asian Politics for the past 10 years.
Sanyal told The Media Line, “The sentencing of Indian Navy officials to death by Qatari authorities on alleged charges of spying presents a complex and sensitive situation.”
"From the Indian perspective, this decision threatens to strain the diplomatic relations between the two countries and may affect their extensive trade relations"
She added, “From the Indian perspective, this decision threatens to strain the diplomatic relations between the two countries and may affect their extensive trade relations.”
“Both nations have collaborated on various fronts, including energy, infrastructure, and labor. Qatar is the largest supplier of liquid natural gas (LNG) to India, providing over 48% of India’s total LNG imports,” she stated.
Sanyal also told The Media Line that “maintaining cordial relations with Qatar is essential for the Indian government. As per official data, in 2022-2023, India’s export to Qatar was $1.96 billion and India’s import from Qatar was $ 16.8 billion. She continued, “India has set a target to increase the share of natural gas in primary energy usage to 15% by 2030 from a little more than 6% at present. Under such a situation, with India’s energy security concerns and ambitions, the case of the retired Navy personnel presents a sensitive challenge for Indian diplomacy.”
"The death sentences could lead to a diplomatic crisis and require India to carefully navigate its response to protect the interests of its citizens and maintain the overall stability of its bilateral relations with Qatar"
In a reply to The Media Line, Sanyal said, “The death sentences could lead to a diplomatic crisis and require India to carefully navigate its response to protect the interests of its citizens and maintain the overall stability of its bilateral relations with Qatar.”
“Meanwhile, India’s inability to resolve the issue promptly is being questioned; it is nothing short of mandatory for India to take logical steps to protect the broader interests of both nations,” Sanyal concluded.
Adeeb Uz Zaman Safvi, a Karachi-based leading defense and regional security expert, is a retired Pakistan Navy captain. He is a graduate of the US Naval War College.
Safvi briefly told The Media Line, “Espionage as a [normal] means of intelligence-gathering has been a regular activity in the international arena. Indian Navy intelligence setup has been exposed many times at sea as well when their submarines on intelligence gathering have been caught by Pakistan Navy surveillance platforms.”
He further claimed, “Sources confirmed that all these officers belonged to the Indian intelligence agency and had been spying for Israel for a long time. Qatar’s intelligence has got hold of them not on the basis of mere assumptions but only after obtaining concrete evidence, were they apprehended.”
Safvi went on to say that “in this high-tech spying operation for Israel, the collaboration between the CIA, Mossad, and Indian intelligence cannot be disregarded.”
Indians appear to be treating this case lightly, but they are forgetting that neither Qatar’s leadership nor the Qatari media have offered an analysis of the court’s ruling. The fact that none of the main media outlets in the kingdom shared the death sentence ruling further illustrates how pervasive the trial was.
Safvi noted that “the accused have been granted a full opportunity to present their defense. In fact, these officials received the death punishment upon the completion and verification of all relevant evidence.”
Answering a question from The Media Line, he said, “It is a known truth that Indian Naval Intelligence actively sponsors extremism and terrorism in the area.”
“Is it merely a coincidence that the only people caught engaging in these kinds of activities are Indian Navy officers?” Safvi wondered.
Safvi further told The Media Line, “Kulbhushan Yadav, a commander serving in Indian naval intelligence, was being held captive in Pakistan. Yadav had already confessed his involvement in terrorist activities across the country and his part in training rebels in Baluchistan.”
Yadav was also given a death sentence by a Pakistani military court, but the International Court of Justice is now hearing the case, thus the judgment about the death punishment has not yet been rendered.
This article is written by Arshad Mehmood and reprinted with permission from The Media line.