India, Oman ties and why its top defence official’s Delhi visit important

Contact Counsellor

India, Oman ties and why its top defence official’s Delhi visit important

  • India is laying out the red carpet for Oman’s top defence official Mohammed Nasser Al Zaabi, who will be in India from January 30 to February 4 on an official visit.
  • Zaabi will be in Delhi to co-chair the Joint Military Cooperation Committee (JMCC) with Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar.
  • The JMCC is the highest forum of engagement between India and Oman in the field of defence that evaluates and provides guidance to the overall framework of defence exchanges between the two sides.

Historical ties

  • Oman, for many years, was ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said (died in January ‘2020 at the age of 79), who was a friend of India.
  • Gandhi Peace Prize 2019 was conferred on late HM Sultan Qaboos in March 2021, in recognition of his leadership in strengthening the ties between India & Oman and his efforts to promote peace in the Gulf region.

Economic and Commercial Relations

  • India is one of Oman's most important trading partners.
  • In 2018, India was Oman's third largest source of imports (after the UAE and China) and third largest market (after the UAE and Saudi Arabia) for non-oil exports.
  • Mineral fuels, mineral oils, and products of their distillation; boilers, machinery, and mechanical appliances; goods of iron or steel; electrical machinery and equipment, textiles and garments, chemicals, tea, coffee, and spices are among India's major exports to Oman.
  • Fertilizers, mineral fuels, mineral oils, and products of their distillation, as well as bituminous substances, are among India's main imports from Oman.

Cultural Cooperation

Oman and India share close cultural ties. The lively Indian expatriate community in Oman organizes cultural shows on a regular basis and attracts Indian artists and singers.

Indian community in Oman

  • There are about 6.2 lakh Indians in Oman, of which about 4.8 lakh are workers and professionals.
  • There are Indian families living in Oman for more than 150-200 years.
  • Thousands of Indians are working as doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, teachers, lecturers, nurses, managers among other professionals.

Apart from the welfare of the Indian community, what’s the strategic imperative?

  • In a strategic move to expand its footprint in the Indian Ocean region, India has secured access to the key Port of Duqm in Oman for military use and logistical support.
  • This is part of India’s maritime strategy to counter Chinese influence and activities in the region.
  • In February ‘2018, an annexure to the Memorandum of Understanding on Military Cooperation was signed between the two countries.
  • Sources said following this pact, the services of Duqm port and dry dock will be available for maintenance of Indian military vessels.

Significance of the Duqm port

  • The Port of Duqm is situated on the southeastern seaboard of Oman, overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
  • It is strategically located, in close proximity to the Chabahar port in Iran.
  • With the Assumption Island being developed in Seychelles and Agalega in Mauritius, Duqm fits into India’s proactive maritime security roadmap.
  • Duqm has seen a rise in Indian activities. In recent years, India had deployed an attack submarine to this port in the western Arabian Sea.
  • India gets access to strategic Oman port for military use, reconnaissance aircraft.

What other activities is India doing at the Duqm port?

  • The Port of Duqm also has a special economic zone, where about $1.8 billion investments are being made by some Indian companies.
  • The Adani group had signed an MoU with Duqm port authorities in recent years.
  • In the context of strategic oil reserves near Duqm, India had extended an invitation to Oman to participate in building strategic oil reserves in India.

Oman’s importance from a defence and strategic point of view

  • Oman is India’s closest defence partner in the Gulf region and an important anchor for India’s defence and strategic interests.
  • Defence cooperation has emerged as a key pillar for the robust India-Oman strategic partnership.
  • Defence exchanges are guided by a Framework MOU which was recently renewed in 2021.
  • Oman is the only country in the Gulf region with which all three services of the Indian armed forces conduct regular bilateral exercises and staff talks, enabling close cooperation and trust at the professional level.
  • Oman also provides critical operational support to Indian naval deployments in the Arabian sea for anti-piracy missions.
  • Bilateral training cooperation between the two sides is also robust with Omani forces regularly subscribing to training courses in India both at professional as well as higher command level.
  • Indian armed forces also subscribe to the Staff and Command courses conducted at NDC, Oman.
  • Oman also actively participates in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS).