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Gandhi Peace Prize 2019 for late Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman – India Oman Relations

Gandhi Peace Prize 2019 for late Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman – India Oman Relations

Relevance:

  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & Rest of the World || West Asia

Why in the news?

The Gandhi Peace Prize for the year 2019 was conferred on late Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman. This is a significant step which would further improve the India-Oman bilateral relationship.

India-Oman relations: Historical perspective

  • India and Oman have a history of mutual bilateral relationship for several millennia. Archaeological excavations in Oman have also unearthed evidence to show the existence of Indo-Oman trade during the Classical Age dated to Circa. 3rd Century BCE
  • In medieval and modern times, Oman had links with the Indian states in Gujarat and along the Malabar Coast.
  • The Mysore province ruler Tipu Sultan had sent a diplomatic delegation to Oman during his reign in the 18th century.
  • After the independence of India, the Indian Government had received requests on behalf of the people of Oman, for help against the interference in Oman’s internal affairs by British armed forces in 1956–57.
  • The Government of India had shown compassionate concern over this news of the military action in Oman. Indian government had also expressed to the United Kingdom Government their concern and conveyed to them public feelings in India in regard to this military action.
  • The diplomatic relations between both the countries were formally established in 1955 and the relationship was later elevated to ‘Strategic partnership’ in 2008. Oman has, since then, been a key pillar of India’s West Asia Policy.

Significance of Oman for India in the middle-east region:

  • Oman’s economy: Oman’s Sea ports and Industrial hubs established along its 1700 kilometres of its sea coast facing the Indian Ocean makes it one of the most ideal areas for Indian l businesses to make a strong base.
    • Also, all Gulf countries including Oman are diversifying their economies from existing Oil based to technologically advanced, creating massive opportunities for investment, bilateral trade and employment opportunities for Indians.
  • Lobbying within the Gulf countries: Oman is an important regional player, Despite being part of the GCC it has for long maintained an independent foreign policy and has been able to successfully project itself as a mediator in regional disputes. India can leverage its strong relationship with Oman to lobby within the Gulf countries for Indian interests including the issue of Kashmir and Pakistan.
  • Security and defence interests: The west Indian Ocean is the piracy infested area For Indian Navy to operate successfully in the region for its anti-piracy missions, the support from Oman is required.
  • Countering Chinese Influence: At a time when China is aggressively expanding its reach in Africa and the Indian Ocean, India also needs reliable trusted and natural partners to counter the Chinese influence in the region.
  • Indian diaspora: The Indian diaspora living in Oman is one of the largest in all Gulf countries. They send a considerable amount of remittances back home to India.

Defence Cooperation between India and Oman:

  • India-Oman Defence cooperation has emerged as a key pillar of the strategic partnership between the two countries. In-fact, Oman was the first Gulf nation to have formalised defence relations with India.
  • There has been regular high level visits between the Ministries of Defence.
  • The Ministries of Defence of both countries review their relations annually under the aegis of Joint Military Cooperation Committee (JMCC) meeting.
  • India and Oman conduct regular biennial bilateral exercises between all three services. Eg: Army exercise ‘Al-Najah’; Air Force exercise ‘Eastern Bridge’; And bilateral naval exercise ‘Naseem al Bahr’
  • Since 2008, Oman has been extending its support to Indian Navy’s anti- piracy missions and Indian Naval Ships are regularly welcomed by Oman for OverSeas Deployments.
  • India has a listening post at Ras al Hadd and birthing rights for the Indian Navy at Muscat naval base
  • Indian Air Force and Indian Navy aircraft regularly utilize Omani Airports and Air bases for refuelling and operational turnaround.
  • Oman has approached India in order to fence along the Oman-Yemen border in order to protect the nation from growing unrest in Yemen
  • India has secured access to the facilities at Duqm for the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy. Duqm had previously served as a port for the INS Mumbai.

Economic and Commercial relations:

  • India accords a high priority to expanding its economic and commercial ties with Oman.
  • For Oman, India was the 3rd largest (after UAE and China) source for its imports and 3rd largest market (after UAE and Saudi Arabia) for its non-oil exports in 2018.
  • Institutional mechanisms like Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) and Joint Business Council (JBC) oversee economic cooperation between India and Oman.
  • Bilateral trade and investment between India and Oman remain robust and buoyant. Bilateral trade rose by 67 per cent to reach US$ 6.7 billion in 2017-18 from US$ 4 billion in 2016-17.
  • Under the Indian Technical & Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme, Omani Officials have been availing training in many premier institutes of India.
  • Major items of India’s exports to Oman include mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation; boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances, etc.
  • Main items of India’s imports from Oman include fertilizers; mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation; bituminous substances etc.
  • There are over 3200 Indian enterprises and establishments in Oman.
  • Oman-India Joint Investment Fund (OIJIF) is a 50-50 Joint Venture between State Bank of India and State General Reserve Fund (SGRF) of Oman, the main sovereign wealth fund of Oman.
  • It was set up in July 2010 as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to invest in India.
  • India has also been considering the construction of a 1,100-km-long underwater natural gas pipeline from Oman. Called the South Asia Gas Enterprise (SAGE), it will act as an alternative to the Iran–Pakistan–India pipeline.

Expatriate Community:

  • Indian expatriate community in Oman is sensing annually remit $900 million to India.
  • India is a major destination for Omani students pursuing higher studies and in recent years there have been increasing numbers of medical tourists coming into the country from Oman.
  • Oman has also been trying to promote itself as a tourist destination in India.

Cultural Cooperation:

  • India and Oman have close cultural relations.
  • Omanis are familiar with Indian culture on account of millennia old people-to-people exchange, presence of a large Indian community in Oman and geographical proximity.
  • The first ever ‘Festival of India in Oman’, organised by the Embassy with support of the Ministry of Culture of India during November 2016-March 2017.
  • There are about 8,00,000 Indians in Oman, of which about 6,66,000 are workers and professionals.
  • The number of participants in celebration of International Day of Yoga has increased from around 3,000 persons in 2016 to 4000 in 2017 and 6000 in 2019.
  • The Basic Law of Oman recognises the right to different forms of worship. The Hindu merchant community has two temples, including one over a century old, and their own cremation grounds.

Challenges:

  • Slow progress on key infrastructure projects: Oman is frustrated over slow progress on Iran-Oman-India pipeline. The project sought to bring Iranian natural gas to India via Oman.
  • Competition between India and China: Chinese company Ningxia China-Arab Wanfang has signed a project to develop a $10.7 billion industrial city near the port of Duqm. India needs to engage with Oman and take initiatives to utilise opportunities arising out of the Duqm Port industrial city.
  • Need for diversification of bilateral relationship: Current Indo-Omani ties are dominated by defence relations. India needs to broaden areas of cooperation with this crucial Gulf state, which has enormous business opportunities in shipping, transport, infrastructure building, mining, logistics and tourism.

Way forward:

  • Both countries have emerged as trusted partners for each other. The partnership has been mutually beneficial for each other insofar.
  • However, given the vulnerability of the region and several other challenges such as rising religious intolerance in India, the changing nature of economy of Gulf countries, etc. the relationship remains fragile.
  • Both the nations need to come together more strongly and develop elaborate mechanisms to look after the bilateral issues that may jeopardise the bilateral relations.

Model Mains Question:

  1. In the backdrop of evolving strong bilateral relationship between India and Oman, discuss the significance of Oman for the success of India’s West Asia Policy.