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DOHA FORUM 2022

Doha Forum 2022: U.S. position on Ukraine fails to find takers

Print edition : May 06, 2022 T+T-
Roya Mahboob,  CEO of Afghanistan-based Digital Citizen Fund, receives an award from Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the Doha Forum in Qatar’s capital on March 26.

Roya Mahboob, CEO of Afghanistan-based Digital Citizen Fund, receives an award from Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the Doha Forum in Qatar’s capital on March 26.

Malala Yousafzai,  Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel laureate, speaking at the Doha Forum on March 27. The denial of education to girls and women in Afghanistan was highlighted at the Forum.

Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel laureate, speaking at the Doha Forum on March 27. The denial of education to girls and women in Afghanistan was highlighted at the Forum.

Becky Anderson,  CNN's Managing Editor and anchor, moderating a panel with Iran’s former Foreign Affairs Minister Sayyid Kamal Kharrazi at the Doha Forum. She tried to magnify the threat to the revival of the JCPOA from Russia’s demand for exemption. Kharrazi replied that Russia’s demand did not stand in the way.

Becky Anderson, CNN's Managing Editor and anchor, moderating a panel with Iran’s former Foreign Affairs Minister Sayyid Kamal Kharrazi at the Doha Forum. She tried to magnify the threat to the revival of the JCPOA from Russia’s demand for exemption. Kharrazi replied that Russia’s demand did not stand in the way.

At the Doha Forum 2022 held in March, the U.S. position on Ukraine did not find much favour with audiences and there was also the realisation that rational dialogue and the right balancing of values and interests should characterise the new world.

THE theme of the Doha Forum 2022 HOLD on March 26-27 was “Transforming for a New Era”, appropriate in the context of the violent times humanity is passing through not only in Ukraine but even in other regions that have got less attention, demonstrating the continuing occidental dominance of the information space.

The war in Ukraine practically dominated the Forum, though other issues such as the Iran nuclear deal, the Palestinian struggle for justice, climate change, and the global economy were discussed, at times, in depth.

The Amir of the State of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, 41, in his inaugural address, delivered without a teleprompter, pointed out that Islamophobia was unjust and dangerous. He also said anti-Semitism was wrongly used against anyone criticising Israel’s wrong policies; that there was a growing trend to seek military solutions to disputes; that wars were started with geopolitical calculations; that the seven-decades-old fight for justice for Palestinians remains without any sign of successful conclusion; and that the peoples in Syria and Afghanistan were wickedly denied justice.

Coming to the new world, “we all should work for”, the Amir said, it should benefit all humanity. Rational dialogue and the right balancing of values and interests should characterise the new world. We need an era of peace and security, with access to resources for all.

Before leaving for Doha, I had picked up in Delhi that the Taliban would be present at the Forum. The Acting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan was listed as a speaker on the website. However, there was no representative of the Taliban among the 1,200-odd delegates. Credible sources in Doha told me that an invitation was sent, but no aircraft was sent. Obviously, Qatar was not all that keen that the Taliban should be there. Fawzia Koofi, former chairperson of Women, Civil Society, and Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan, was a speaker.

Denial of Education to women

The denial of education to girls and women in Afghanistan was highlighted. Roya Mahboob, 35, chief executive officer of Afghanistan-based Digital Citizen Fund, was interviewed by Nelufar Hedayat, also from Afghanistan. Between the two of them they tore into the absurd Taliban policy of denying education to the better half of the population, to repeated applause from the audience. The Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, 24, also spoke eloquently for the same cause. The Doha Forum wanted to send a clear and firm message to the Taliban. Whether such a message will have the intended impact is a different question.

I asked many a delegate from the Islamic world, including a former Prime Minister from Africa and currently a professor of political science, for an explanation of the absurd stand taken by the Taliban. None gave me a convincing explanation. The best explanation offered was that the Doha-based Taliban pretended to be in favour of education for girls and women only for public relations reasons. In short, the Taliban have, like the Bourbons, forgotten or learnt nothing.

Also read: Taliban revoke Afghan women's hard-won rights

My own guess is that by refusing to recognise the Taliban government and embezzling $3.5 billion belonging to the Afghan Central Bank, President Joe Biden has, wittingly or unwittingly, strengthened the Afghan hardliners, including the Haqqani network. We might recall that in revolutionary France the reign of terror started partly because of the threat of external aggression. History teaches us that any regime threatened by external powers clamps down on civil liberties and human rights. We can see this in Iran, too. Is there any way to convey all this to the White House? Alas, knowledge of history is not an essential qualification for political leaders in our times.

President Volodymyr Zelensky made an online address to much applause, but the U.S. delegation was almost the only one to give him a standing ovation unlike in the European Union Parliament. The rest of us remained seated. Zelensky endeavoured to focus on the plight of the 4,000 Muslims in Mariupol. His idea was to evoke sympathy of the Islamic world.

Ukraine was represented by First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova. She highlighted the ground reality for everyday Ukrainians during this crisis. She has been pursuing Ukraine’s request to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to be accorded an observer status. It is clear that the OIC is in no hurry to agree.

Selective approach of Western media

Many delegates from the South commented on the selective approach of the Western media in highlighting human misery. They felt that by neglecting Yemen and other conflict zones while focussing exclusively on Ukraine, the so-called international media was less than international. However, there was no Q&A in the plenaries, and the delegates could not respond to the speeches. In the Forum in 2019, there was scope for asking questions from the floor. This year the large number of themes and speakers made time management tricky and there was no time for Q&A.

CNN’s Becky Anderson interviewed Iran’s former Foreign Minister Sayyid Kamal Kharrazi on the fate of the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). She tried to corner Kharrazi but was not successful. Asked about the justification for demanding the lifting of sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Kharrazi said that they were active in many sectors of the economy and unless the sanctions on them were lifted Iran’s economy would suffer. Becky Anderson tried to magnify the threat to the revival of the JCPOA from Russia’s demand for exemption. Kharrazi replied that Russia’s demand did not stand in the way.

Also read: Why West Asian countries are yet to take sides in the Ukraine conflict

Becky Anderson interviewed U.S. Special Representative for Iran, Robert Malley. She was less aggressive and got practically nothing out of him. Malley said that in the context of sanctions against Russia, it would be “convenient” to have more oil from Iran on the market, but the White House had no plans to engage with Iran on this matter. He was not asked why U.S. had taken so long to recognise that it was in U.S.’ interest to revive the deal. Nor was he asked about the stand taken by Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Senate before his appointment was ratified. He had, in order to get approval from the Senate, taken the Trumpian position of linking JCPOA with other matters. All this shows that some, if not most, Western mediapersons are unwilling or unable to ask their governments searching questions.

CNBC’s Hadley Gamble was aggressive with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. She started by asking whether it was possible for him to find a face-saving formula for Russian President Vladimir Putin in the context of Ukraine. He replied that in any such situation both parties needed an agreement acceptable to their respective constituencies. It is to be noted that he did not use the words “face-saving formula”.

It will be good to see more non-U.S. mediapersons acting as anchors in future editions of the Forum.

An outstanding anchor was Dr Comfort Ero, president and CEO of the International Crisis Group. Born in Nigeria in 1981, she has served for years in the United Nations. Comfort Ero anchored a session where Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud, Qatar’s Deputy Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdurrahman Al-Thani, European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Josep Borrell, and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham spoke. Graham called for Putin’s “political demise” to the applause confined to the 60-member-strong U.S. delegation.

The session on “Online Misinformation and Radicalisation” moderated by Ravi Agrawal, Editor-in-Chief of Foreign Policy magazine was too brief for any attempt at in-depth discussion. Qatar’s Foreign Minister told CNN that it was not planning any investment in Russia and in parts of Europe experiencing tension right now:

“Right now with the current situation we are not thinking about any new investments there. Even in Europe, until we have some clarity on the stability of the situation… Well, not entire Europe, but the areas where we are feeling that there are some tensions or we might have any political risk, because we have to look at it from all the dimensions.”

Also read: ‘The Civilian Casualty Files’ expose the Pentagon’s killing fields in West Asia

Talking about “misinformation”, The Peninsula, published from Doha, carried the interview under the headline “Qatar not planning new investments in Russia: Foreign Minister”. Was The Peninsula attempting to please Washington?

The Doha Forum 2022 had 247 listed speakers.

Qatar’s progress

For me it was indeed exciting to see the progress of Qatar since the 1990s when I was Ambassador there. The buildings are a study in engineering and architecture. I counted 60 floors of a building. The previous Amir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa, had decreed that no building on the West Bay should have fewer than 10 floors.

That reminds me of Sheikh Hamad’s coup in 1995 to seize power from his father who was on a visit to Switzerland. On June 27, 1995, early in the morning, I got a few phone calls about an impending coup. I called and rushed to the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. He told me that if I waited for two hours I could report to Delhi that a coup had taken place. I rushed back to my embassy and sent a telegram. Qatar started exploiting its natural gas assets in 1995.

There is a story about Enron. Once when I was in Delhi for consultations, the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) officials wanted me to meet them on my way back to Doha. They wanted me to find out whether Qatar would supply LNG (liquefied natural gas) to them. I agreed to find out, hinting that I could persuade Qatar to agree. However, I wanted the MSEB to write to me with copy to the Ministry of External Affairs. The letter never came.

It is possible that the government of Chief Minister Sharad Pawar did not permit the MSEB to source LNG from Qatar as Enron was interested in getting it from the same source. Some electrical engineers working for Qatar Petroleum, formerly from the MSEB, told me in Doha that they were outwitted by Enron. They said that Enron came out with differential calculus equations when there was not much time left to conclude the deal. The Indian side was foxed. In this context, I remember the Tata Power chief telling me that the MSEB had rejected their offer to sell power at rates cheaper than that offered by Enron. The reader might recall that the Enron deal was a disaster and that India lost heavily.

Also read: Still a long way to go on human rights ahead of 2022 World Cup

The median age of Qatar’s population of 29.6 lakh is 33.2 years. The population is overwhelmingly male with females accounting for only 25 per cent. This asymmetry comes from the fact that over 88 per cent are foreigners and many of them do not have their families here.

The Indian community is about 7.5 lakh. The Embassy has become much bigger since my time as the community and India’s engagement grew by leaps and bounds.

The India House is excellent, and the Embassy headed by Dr Deepak Mittal works almost 24/7. That the Embassy and the community worked together to organise a yoga event in which 114 nationalities participated shows to what extent Doha has got globalised.

India-Qatar bilateral trade has gone up from $7,195 million in 2010-11 to $9,200 million in 2020-21. India’s exports to Qatar in 2020-21 were valued at $1,284 million. Qatar supplied 39.6 per cent of India’s LNG import. First Secretary Dr Sahil Kumar told me that since March 2020 Qatar’s foreign direct investment in India has increased fivefold.

Going back to the Forum, it was a study in flawless logistics. The speakers were excellent. Many delegates told me that they missed the Q & A. The organisers might like to take note of the importance of Q & A for future editions of this outstanding forum.

K.P. Fabi an was India’s Ambassador to Qatar from 1992 to 1997.