Oman- India relations
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
Relations, in brief
The Sultanate of Oman, a maritime neighbor of India, is a strategic partner and an important interlocutor at regional level in AGCC, Arab League and IORA contexts. Oman also accords a high priority to its ties with India. The two countries are linked by geography, history and culture. Both countries enjoy warm and cordial relations, which can be ascribed to historical maritime trade linkages, intimacy of the royal family with India and the seminal role of the Indian expatriate community in development of Oman, which is acknowledged by the Omani Government.
Political relations, 1985-2016
Visits at the highest level have been exchanged frequently between India and Oman. President Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma (1996) and Vice-President Shri Krishna Kant (1999) visited Oman. Four Prime Ministers have visited the Sultanate: Shri Rajiv Gandhi (1985), Shri P. V. Narasimha Rao (1993), Shri. Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998) and Dr. Manmohan Singh (2008). His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said visited India in 1997. His Majesty has an open invitation to visit India, including to receive the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding. His Highness Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, Deputy Prime Minister for the Council of Ministers, visited India in December 2007.
Ministerial level visits have taken place regularly. H.E. Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs visited India in February 2014 and again on June 03 to greet the new Indian leadership after the general elections making Oman the first nation to have sent a high-level dignitary after assumption of the power by the new Government. Minister of State for External Affairs visited Oman from May 3-5, 2014 for bilateral engagement. H.E. Dr. Ali bin Masoud Al Sunaidy, Minister of Commerce & Industry visited India during October 2014 for the Joint Commission Meeting.
Minister of External Affairs & Overseas Indian Affairs, Smt. Sushma Swaraj paid her first official bilateral visit to Oman from 17-18 February 2015 at the invitation of Omani Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs. Defence Minister Shri. Manohar Parrikar visited Oman in May 2016 and four MoUs were signed. Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri M.J. Akbar, visited Oman from 13-15 December 2016 to participate in the 5th India-Arab Partnership Conference. He called on Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Minister for Royal Affairs and Minister for Commerce & Industry.
Indian Air Force Chief visited Muscat in August 2015 and Commander of Royal Navy of Oman visited India in September 2015. INS Tarangini, Indian Navy’s sailing ship, visited Muscat in May 2015. Four key ships of Western Fleet of Indian Navy, INS Deepak, Delhi, Tabar and Trishul made a joint call at Muscat Port in September 2015. Indian Coast Guard Ship ‘Sankalp’ visited Muscat port on a four-day goodwill visit from 9-13 February 2016. Three ships of Western Fleet were in Muscat from 21-24 May 2016. INS Tabar and INS Sumedha undertook OTR in August and November 2016 respectively. 8th meeting of India-Oman Joint Military Cooperation was held in Muscat on 9 February 2016. Defence Secretary Shri G. Mohan Kumar led the Indian delegation while Omani side was led by Secretary General, Omani Ministry of Defence. Two RNO Vessels of Omani Navy participated at the International Fleet Review in Visakahapatnam. India-Oman Air Force Staff Talks were held on 2-3 August 2016. Commander of Royal Army of Oman visited India in October 2016 and met RM and Chiefs of three Services. A five-member Omani delegation from Sultan’s Armed forces visited Indian. An NDC delegation Oman on 21-25 August visited Oman. Jaguar spares, which has been offered gratis by Government of Oman, were dispatched to India by three C17 sorties.
2015 marked the 60thanniversary of India-Oman Diplomatic Relations. A series of events were organized throughout the year to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee which concluded with the joint voyage of INS Tarangini and Shabab Oman from Muscat to Kochi in Dec. 2015. The two ships traced the ancient spice trade routes through the Indian Ocean between India and Oman. A joint stamp was released to commemorate the 60th anniversary of India-Oman diplomatic relations in April 2016.
Existing bilateral agreements include MoUs on Combating Crime, Cooperation in Agriculture, Civil Aviation, Cooperation between the State Audit Institution of Oman and the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, Avoidance of Double Taxation, Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection, Treaty of Extradition, MoU on Manpower, MoU on Joint Investment Fund and MoU on Cultural Cooperation, Agreement on Legal and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters and MoU on Standards and Measures.
India and Oman signed an MOU on 6 December 2016 increasing the capacity entitlements of the designated airlines from existing 21,147 seats to 27,405 seats per week in each direction with effect from the IATA Summer 2017 schedule, during the ICAO Air Services Negotiations Event (ICAN 2016). The Indian side handed over the draft of an updated Air Services Agreement for the consideration of Oman side.
The historical bilateral ties were upgraded to a strategic partnership during the visit of then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to Muscat in 2008. The Higher Committee on Economic Cooperation led by Adviser to His Majesty for Economic Planning & Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission of India identified 9 areas of cooperation: agriculture, healthcare, infrastructure, tourism, chemicals & fertilizers, education, oil & gas, power and mining. The 4th Round of India-Oman Strategic Dialogue was held in in Delhi on 2-3 November 2016.
Annual India-Oman Strategic Consultative Group (IOSCG) Meetings at the Secretary- level were started in 2003 to provide a forum for open and frank exchange of views on bilateral, regional and international issues. The 10th IOSCG was held on 3 December 2014 in New Delhi.
Economic & Commercial Relations, 2013-14
Bilateral trade with Oman have steadily grown and was US$ 5.77 bn during the financial year 2013-14. However, trade declined in 2014-15 by 28% to 4.l3 bn owing to various factors but mainly due to falling global oil prices. In 2015-16, Oman’s exports to India declined by 4.52% while India’s exports to Oman registered a decline of around 8%.
Major items of Indian exports are mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation, textiles and garments, machinery and equipment, electrical and electronic items, chemicals, iron and steel products in addition to traditional items like tea, coffee, spices, rice and meat products and seafood. Among the Indian imports are urea, LNG, crude oil (through spot purchase), polypropylene, lubricating oil, dates and chromite ore. An India-GCC framework agreement on trade is in place and negotiations are on for finalization of FTA with the GCC.
The vibrant Indian Community is keeping its cultural heritage and traditions alive in Oman. Indian Social Club, with its 19 Wings and 2 Branches in Salalah and Sohar, regularly organizes cultural events in various parts of the Sultanate of Oman.
In June 2013, and March 2014, delegations from the National Records and Archives Authority of Oman visited the National Archives of India (NAI), New Delhi to view and reproduce documents dating back to 18th century pertaining to Oman and to participate in the Foundation day of NAI.
The Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM), for the first time during its season 2012-13, scheduled a total of eight performances by different Indian troupes including Pandit Jasraj, Zakir Hussain, and L. Subramanian. Dancers, artistes and craftsmen from India participated in Muscat Festival 2014. In September 2014, an ICCR sponsored Sufi troupe led by Sonam Kalra gave performances in Muscat, Salalah and Sohar. In January 2015, two ICCR sponsored dance groups, Gujarati Folk Dance Group and a 15-member Bhangra & Gidda Group visited Muscat to participate in the Muscat Festival 2015 and perform at the Republic Day 2015 reception as part of celebrations of Diamond Jubilee of India-Oman diplomatic relations. Muscat Festival was concluded with the performance by Legendry playback singer Asha Bhosle with the Royal
Orchestra of Oman in February 2015. An exhibition of Indian textiles ‘Vastram’ was held in October 2015 and an ICCR sponsored Rajasthani Folk group performed in Muscat, Salalah, Sohar and Sur in November 2015. The Second International Yoga Day was celebrated in June 2016 where over 3000 people performed the Common Yoga Protocol under one roof for the first time in Oman. An ICCR-sponsored six-member Baul Cultural Troupe visited Oman in September. The first ever Festival of India is being organized, with the support of Ministry of Culture, in Oman. The Festival was inaugurated on 15 November 2016 by Foreign Minister of Oman with the performance of Hritaal Dance Group in Muscat. On 21 November, as part of the Festival of India, an Islamic Calligraphy Exhibition was opened. The Festival I is spread over November 2016 to March 2017 and comprises Folk Dance, Instrumental Music, Food Festival Fashion Show.
Indian Community in Oman
A large, diverse, accomplished and highly regarded expatriate Indian community in Oman is spread over the entire spectrum of professions such as doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, teachers, lecturers, nurses, managers, etc. A large number of Indian doctors work in Oman in Government hospitals and in clinics in the private sector. There are also some Indian academics in the Sultan Qaboos University's various departments and faculties.
Outstanding contributions of Indians and People of Indian Origin in Oman to the strengthening of our bilateral relations have been recognized by the Government of India through Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awards.
There are 19 Indian schools offering CBSE syllabus catering to the educational needs of more than 42,000 Indian children. The Board of Directors is the governing body of Indian Schools in Oman and includes an Embassy representative.
An India-Oman Joint Working Group was set up as per the MoU on Manpower signed in 2008. So far it has held five meetings, the fifth meeting was held in 26-27July 2016 in New Delhi. Several labour related issues like standardized model employment contract, payment of salary through banks, retention of passport by employers, exchange of information with regard to illegal recruitment and human trafficking, etc. were discussed in these meetings.
India gains access to Oman's Duqm port
Duqm adds an important node to a growing network of facilities in the Indian Ocean held by actors with interests in preserving the status quo.
As a result of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent trip to Oman — part of a broader Middle Eastern tour — New Delhi and Muscat finalized an agreement that will see India gain access to the strategically located port of Duqm, on Oman’s southern coast. The port sits on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean and also provides easy access onward into the Red Sea through the Gulf of Aden.
Per initial reports, the contours of the Indo-Omani agreement over Duqm are generous for New Delhi. The Indian Navy will be able to use the port for logistics and support, allowing it to sustain long-term operations in the western Indian Ocean, a hotspot for piracy in the area. According to the Indian Express, a dry dock will be available to the Indian Navy at Duqm as well, allowing for maintenance without returning vessels to India-based shipyards.
Most significantly, India’s access to Duqm will shape up to be an important factor in the now long-running contest for influence in the Indian Ocean against China. Indian strategists have long concerned themselves with Beijing’s so-called “string of pearls”; the phrase, common among Indian strategic elites, borrows from a mid-2000s report by U.S. consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and refers to a network of strategically located coastal facilities.
For readers of The Diplomat, many of these names will be familiar. China’s two most prominent “pearls” are its first overseas military base in Djibouti and the port facility at Gwadar in Pakistan, the southern terminal of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Beijing has additionally made investments in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Bangladesh in a range of facilities. (Incidentally, the special economic zone at Duqm is backed by Chinese capital.)
Outside of Djibouti, China has no overt military facilities, but Indian strategists concern themselves with so-called dual-use port facilities. Geopolitically, analysts have long pointed to the ease with which China could hedge its over-reliance on sea lanes transiting the Strait of Malacca by setting up a network of accessible facilities in the Indian Ocean.
Littoral facilities like Gwadar and Kyaukpyu in Myanmar would allow for land-based transit of goods while sea-based nodes, like the Maldives and Sri Lanka-based ports, would allow proximity to East Asia-bound sea lanes. In recent years, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, and its accompanying capital outlays, have made the Indian Ocean a priority too.
India gaining access to Duqm isn’t a game-changer, but it does significantly enhance New Delhi’s geopolitical positioning. In particular, with renewed interest in the Quadrilateral Initiative and the Japanese-led “free and open Indo-Pacific” concept gaining support among like-minded democratic states in the region, the stage is being set for a sustainable security network in the Indian Ocean. Duqm — and other facilities — are just a part of this, and much of this will likely show few results for at least a couple decades.
Between India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and, to a lesser extent, Japan, there now exists a well-distributed network of sites, allowing these countries’ navies to patrol the wider Indian Ocean region. With Duqm in Oman, Chabahar in Iran, Assumption Island in the Seychelles, Agalega in Mauritius, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India will soon have access to sustain modestly expeditionary deployments for its navy.
The United States Navy, meanwhile, has a support facility at Diego Garcia, a British possession. India’s conclusion of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement with the United States in 2016 also opens up reciprocal access for both countries at each others’ facilities and at sea. Australia, finally, is planning on improving the Cocos Islands, in the southeastern Indian Ocean, to support P-8 Poseidon operations. (The western Indian Ocean is also where U.S. Pacific Command’s area of responsibility ends and U.S. Central Command takes over, bringing U.S. facilities in Djibouti and Bahrain into the picture as well.)
Add in periodic Japanese deployments to the Indian Ocean and the burgeoning “quadrilateral” appears well-positioned to maintain at least a presence in the Indian Ocean; this could manifest in increased cooperation on humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations, search and rescue, and anti-piracy at first, moving on to anti-submarine warfare and broader maritime domain awareness cooperation as the four countries continue to converge. The four navies are fast developing links and growing more used to interoperating. This trend will also continue. This year’s trilateral India-U.S.-Japan Malabar exercise is expected to also include the Australian Navy, for instance.
None of this should be overstated. Remember: the quad is far from an alliance and the grouping’s ability to effectively cooperate to counter expanding Chinese ambition in the Indian Ocean may fizzle. When viewed from the 30,000 foot level, the network of facilities available to like-minded states in the Indian Ocean, ranging from Duqm to the Cocos Islands, is promising, but making anything of this impressive geographic coverage of the world’s third’s largest ocean won’t be easy. Divergent priorities may prevail, for example.
For instance, the Indian military’s priorities have historically been based on land (for good reason), and all the interest in a “free and open” maritime commons in the Indo-Pacific may do little to fundamentally shift the needle. As India has seen first-hand too, shifting domestic politics in many Indian Ocean states may make long-term strategic planning challenging. The United States, meanwhile, has made the Indo-Pacific a priority under the Trump administration, but its fundamental orientation focuses on the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, the latter being the anteroom to the U.S. west coast. (The two together host four important U.S. treaty allies.)
Amid all this, what’s clear is that the contest for the Indian Ocean has effectively just begun and won’t necessarily be decided by real estate alone. Neither China nor its competitors in the region can grow complacent. If India and its like-minded partners in the Indo-Pacific want to ensure they’ll be able to sustain the Indian Ocean status quo several decades into the future, they’ll have to start planning and preparing now. The good news is they already have.