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For India-Oman Relations, Three Major Moments Stand Out From the Sultan's Visit

In a region rife with every kind of strife, Oman has been a beacon of light with its pluralism and peace.

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Sultan Haitham bin Tarik of Oman just concluded a highly successful visit to India from 15-17 December 2023. Accompanied by a high-level delegation of senior ministers and officials, this was the Sultan’s first visit to India and the first by any Omani Sultan in 26 years.

He held both one-on-one and delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Modi after being accorded a ceremonial welcome at the presidential palace.

Three major moments stand out from his visit.

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The India-Oman Joint Vision

The first is the adoption of the “India-Oman Joint Vision: A Partnership for Future” by the Sultan and the Prime Minister. It is a roadmap for bilateral engagement in the future, based on Oman Vision 2040 (a blueprint for development) and India’s vision of "Amrit Kaal" in 2047.

This vision document, as foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra explained at a briefing, "focuses on building partnership between India and Oman" in a host of areas: maritime cooperation and connectivity; energy security and green energy; digital payments; health, tourism, and hospitality-related partnership; disaster management; agriculture and food security; and finally, cricket.

The document, capturing as it does a gamut of cooperation, encapsulates the vision that both leaders have for bilateral partnership which has grown in leaps and bounds over the years. Just how important relations with Oman are can be gauged from the fact it was the first Gulf country that India signed a strategic partnership with in the year 2008.

Not only do bilateral ties go back hundreds of years, with hundreds of Indian families domiciled there for more than a century with naturalised Omani citizenship, but more than seven lakh Indians currently live and work in Oman today. The oldest Hindu temple in the Gulf region is to be found in Oman. As the PM Modi said in his address, “Our proximity is not just geographical and indeed reflects in our thousands of years old trade and cultural links. This also reflects in the way, we always give first priority to each other..."

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Significant Agreements With Respect to Economic Cooperation

A natural corollary of this engagement has been an uptick in bilateral trade, which has more than doubled from $5.4 billion in 2020-21 to $12.39 billion in 2022-23, made more significant by the fact that these are post-COVID figures.

A slew of agreements were signed during the Sultan's visit, including one between India’s Financial Intelligence Unit and Oman’s National Center for Financial Information to enhance collaboration in exchanging intelligence related to money laundering, associated predicate offenses, and the financing of terrorism.

The most significant, however, was that the Oman Investment Authority expanded its collaboration with the State Bank of India by launching the third Omani-Indian Joint Fund amounting to $300 million.

This fund is expected to direct investments into rapidly growing sectors in India, including technology, health, and pharmacy. It also testifies to the success of the first two funds amounting to $100 million and $230 million respectively. The possibility of conducting trade in Indian rupees is also in an "exploratory stage" and will be immensely beneficial to India if it fructifies.

The third major moment was the commitment by both sides to accelerate the process of clinching a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which when implemented, would, according to the report India-OMAN CEPA: Gateway to Middle Eastern Markets and Beyond, prepared by the Global Trade Reproach Initiative (GTRI), boost over 83.5 per cent of Indian goods worth $3.7 billion such as gasoline, iron and steel, electronics, and machinery in Oman, where they currently face a five per cent import duty. The CEPA would go a long way in not just strengthening the lost economic cooperation but also in greatly consolidating the bilateral partnership between both countries.

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Oman is Important for India in More Ways Than One

In a region rife with every kind of strife, Oman has been a beacon of light with its pluralism and peace. Its quiet and low-profile individuality has, for decades, distinguished it from other nations in the region. The country’s geographical location makes it a natural bridge between the Arab world and Iran. Oman is isolated from much of the Arabian peninsula by a formidable mountain range, while Iran is just across the narrow Strait of Hormuz.

Oman thus serves as a bridge between the Shia and the Sunni world. Perhaps that is why Oman has distinguished itself with its independent foreign policy and its role as an intermediary. While its role in facilitating US-Iran talks that led to the nuclear deal stands out the most, it has numerous other feats to its credit – thanks to the sagacious decisions of its late visionary Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said.

The late Sultan Qaboos can be credited with conceptualising a Gulf security alliance that later found expression in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). It was under him that bilateral relations with India were elevated to strategic ones. His successor, Sultan Haitham bin Tarik, is continuing the tradition, being the architect of Oman Vision 2040. The Sultan’s visit comes at a critical time when the Gaza war continues between Israel and Hamas, and the Iran-backed Yemenite Houthis targeting shipping through the Red Sea.

Oman is part of India's extended neighborhood and its closest defence partner in the Gulf. Tri-service military exercises are conducted by both countries regularly. Omani military personnel are trained in India, and since 2018, Oman has given India access to its port, Port Duqm, for military and logistical use. This is significant not only given the current escalation in the region but also with China's forays in the Indian Ocean.

In a press statement, Oman's Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Hamad Al Busaidi said that the Sultan's visit to India represents a joint commitment to strengthen cooperation that stems from the long-standing foundations of friendship, cultural and economic exchange, and continuous interaction between the two friendly populations.

The minister called the visit "a major milestone that builds on historical relations and paves the way for a new, positive stage in developing bilateral ties."

For India, this can only be good tidings.

(Aditi Bhaduri is a journalist and political analyst. She tweets @aditijan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Oman 

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