Oman attracts lesser international attention compared to its larger and more affluent neighbours; but it is one of the most important countries in India’s extended neighbourhood owning to its strategic location at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. The country, which remained mired in internal disturbances and lack of economic development for a long time, has made significant turnarounds under the leadership of Sultan Qaboos. The Sultan has helmed the country since 1970. Economic progress through channelizing the oil wealth for welfare of the people has brought prosperity. Under Sultan Qaboos, Oman has maintained a balanced relations with its neighbours allowing it to play an important regional role in the fractured Gulf region. Oman’s role in diffusing regional tensions and providing back channel diplomacy to resolve contentious issues underlines its importance.
India recognizes the significance of Oman and has established strong bilateral relations with the country in the last few decades. The bilateral relations encompass political, diplomatic, commercial and strategic ties with Oman emerging as one of the priority countries in India’s political and diplomatic outreach to the Gulf under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In June 2014, Omani Minister for Foreign Affairs, Yusuf bin Alawi became the first foreign dignitary to call on Prime Minister after he took office. The then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Oman in February 2015 and it was followed by the visit of the then Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to Muscat in May 2016.
In February 2018, Prime Minister Modi visited Oman to further bilateral ties. He met with Sultan Qaboos. The two leaders discussed various important bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest. Improving commercial relations through trade and investments and strengthening of security ties to counter mutual threats from terrorism and extremism emerged as the most important issues during the meeting. India and Oman also agreed to work together in the area of maritime security and the two sides agreed to sign an addendum to the bilateral MoU on defence to allow Indian Navy to use the dry dock at the strategically locate Duqm Port for maintenance of its Naval ships patrolling in the Indian Ocean.
The External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar visited Oman earlier this week, amidst the growing strategic ties between the two countries.During the visit, in addition to other leaders, he met his Omani counterpart Yusuf bin Alawi and discussed important issues of mutual interest. The two sides also signed an agreement for cooperation in the field Maritime Transport. The External Affairs Minister also interacted with the Indian community in Muscat.At nearly 780,000, Indians constitute one of the largest expatriate communities in the country and have contributed significantly in the economic development of Oman.
India is an important commercial partner of Oman. The bilateral trade between the two countries reached US$ 5 billion in 2018-19. India is one of the primary importers of energy and fertilizers from Oman.
India sees Oman as an important strategic partner in the Gulf and according to the Ministry of External Affairs, the visit by Dr. Jaishankar, “provided an opportunity for India to hold in-depth discussions with the Omani political leadership on a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues and help to advance India’s growing engagement with Oman and the region.” The high level visit further expands India’s diplomatic and political outreach with Oman and “is in pursuit of India’s objective of enhanced engagement with the Gulf region, which is in India’s extended neighbourhood.”
The visit by the Indian External Affairs Minister underlines the significance India attaches to strengthening of ties with Oman and New Delhi’s growing political and diplomatic outreach to the Gulf.
Script: Dr. Mohd. Muddassir Quamar, Strategic Analyst On West Asia