Sanctions, leaving military base ‘possible options against Qatar’

Robert Gates. (Courtesy: U.S. Department of Defense)
Updated 27 May 2017
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Sanctions, leaving military base ‘possible options against Qatar’

WASHINGTON: Qatar was under increasing pressure in Washington this week as Congressman Ed Royce and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates raised possible sanctions and the moving of the US military base out of the country if Doha does not change its ways.
The news comes after a recent diplomatic spat between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors, as well as signs of lukewarm relations between Doha and the Donald Trump administration.
At a conference hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies this week, Royce and former US officials from both Democratic and Republican administrations called for a more hawkish response to what they described as Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as groups such as Hamas, the Palestinian group designated as terrorist by the US.
Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs committee, lambasted Qatar for its alleged support for Hamas. “Qatar hosts the worst of the worst of Hamas’ leaders,” Royce said, adding that his committee is putting together an “acid test legislation” to target Hamas’ backers.
The congressman said that “if it doesn’t change, Qatar will be sanctioned under a new bill I’m introducing to punish Hamas backers.”
Royce also appeared willing to have Congress consider having the US military leave Al-Udeid air base, where the US has been operating since 2003. “If their behavior doesn’t change, we in Congress would absolutely be looking at other options including moving out of Al-Udeid base.”
The change of behavior that Washington appears to be seeking from Qatar is related to cracking down on alleged terror funding activities and “commitments on terror support behavior,” as Royce indicated.

Gates was also open to the idea of ratcheting up pressure on Qatar. Responding to a question on moving the base from Qatar, Gates said: “My attitudes toward Al-Udeid and any other facility is that the United States military doesn’t have any irreplaceable facility.”
Gates criticized the apparent lack of strong action from Qatar against radical groups. “I don’t know instances in which Qatar aggressively goes after (terror finance) networks of Hamas, Taliban, Al-Qaeda,” he said.
He urged both Congress and the Trump administration to “tell Qatar to choose sides or we will change the nature of the relationship, to include downscaling the base.”
The former defense secretary, who served under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, added: “Qatar has long had the welcome mat out for the Muslim Brotherhood.” He called the group “science fiction shape shifters.” Gates referred to a generational split within the Brotherhood and said “it’s a mistake to see it as a solid group,” leaving the decision to designate it to Congress.
Jake Sullivan, former Obama official and aide to Hillary Clinton, also advocated a harder line against terror financing. Sullivan said that “terror financing needs to be a persistent issue we bring out from behind closed doors and continually have on the table.” While many Arab leaders have flocked to Washington, Qatar Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani has not made a visit to the White House since Trump took office.
The highest-level visit of a Qatari official to Washington this year was made by Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who met US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this month.
The concerns raised in the US follow tensions in the Gulf earlier this week, after a series of controversial comments attributed to Qatar’s emir.
Sheikh Tamim alleged comments, carried by the official state news agency QNA, apparently saw him endorse Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah — strongly diverging from the stance of Qatar’s Gulf neighbors. Doha claimed the report was the result of a hacking attack.
Criticizing the event, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al-Thani said that no Qatari official was invited to attend the event.


Modi secures a second five-year term with landslide win in Indian elections

Updated 44 sec ago
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Modi secures a second five-year term with landslide win in Indian elections

  • The governing alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, sweeps back to power after a bitter campaign

NEW DELHI: India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday scored a landslide election victory, increasing its seats in Parliament after a bitter and divisive campaign.

The results amount to a massive blow for the 133-year-old Congress Party, which dominated India’s political life for more than 50 years after the country gained independence in 1947. Narendra Modi has made history by becoming India’s first prime minister in the last 40 years to be re-elected with a parliamentary majority.

The BJP on its own is expected to have a little over 300 seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house), more than it had in the outgoing chamber. The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), of which the BJP is a part, will have nearly 350 MPs in the Lok Sabha.

The Congress Party is expected to finish with just 55 seats, albeit 11 more than its 2014 election tally. By most projections, the Congress-led opposition alliance will not even have 100 seats. Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi suffered a major personal setback in the family borough, the constituency of Amethi in northern India, where he lost to a Modi Cabinet minister. But Gandhi won his second seat in Wayanad in the south by a big margin. 

“I concede defeat and congratulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi for winning the elections,” Gandhi said on Thursday. He has offered to resign from his post in his party’s most powerful organizational body, the Congress Working Committee, but political analysts say it is highly unlikely that his resignation will be accepted.

The margin of the BJP’s victory has come as a surprise to many, with the party not only retaining its seats in the battleground states of northern and western India, but also expanding its footprint in two eastern states: West Bengal and Odisha. “Together, we’ll build a strong and inclusive India. India wins yet again!” Modi tweeted after the results showed the BJP sweeping to victory.

Modi’s India can do its bit for Middle East and Gulf stability

Shashi Shekhar, a New Delhi-based political analyst, told Arab News: “This is a phenomenal election victory that has stumped all the pollsters. The BJP was expected to face a big challenge from the opposition alliance in some of the crucial states, such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, which together account for 128 seats. But it seems the narrative of muscular nationalism propagated by the BJP overcame all challenges. There’s a now a genuine fear that if the BJP continues with its old policy of marginalizing religious minorities, India might turn into a majoritarian state. However, I hope Modi’s second term turns out to be more inclusive.”

Sudheendra Kulkarni, a Mumbai-based political commentator, said: “The Congress Party failed to capture the imagination of the people. The party’s slogans didn’t click with voters the way the BJP’s did.”

Against this backdrop of an imminent decisive win, Modi began to receive messages of congratulations from world leaders on Thursday. Among them was Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. “I congratulate Prime Minister Modi on the electoral victory of BJP and allies. Look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia,” Khan tweeted.

In his second term, in addition to addressing economic problems at home, Modi will need to keep a close eye on relations with neighboring Pakistan. Bilateral relations remain tense months after they came close to war following a deadly attack in Indian-administered Kashmir on paramilitary soldiers, and an Indian air raid deep inside Pakistan.

“There’s no alternative to dialogue,” said Kulkarni. “We should expect that with a renewed mandate (for Modi’s government), there should be a fresh attempt to engage with Islamabad.”