In an Interview with Envoy Excellency H.E. Sheikh Hamed bin Saif Al-Rawahi, Ambassador of the Sultanate of Oman to India

“India and Oman have had strong trade and people-to-people ties for several millennia”

From 1973 when the first ambassador of India arrived in Muscat, what do you make of the relations between the two nations?

Oman and India 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. An Indian consulate was opened in Muscat in February 1955 which was upgraded to a consulate general in 1960 and later into a full-fledged embassy in 1971. The first ambassador of India arrived in Muscat in 1973. Oman established its embassy in New Delhi in 1972 and a consulate general in Mumbai in 1976.  There is no turning back, when it comes to further strengthening of bilateral relations between Oman and India.

Tell us something about the growing trade and people-to-people ties between India and Oman?

India and Oman have had strong trade and people-to-people ties for several millennia. Major Oman’s imports include machinery, iron and steel implements, electrical equipment, textiles, garments, chemicals, and food and beverages, among others. Oman’s exports to India mainly include fertilisers, mineral fuels, oil, aluminium, salt, plastering materials, and lime and cement from the Sultanate, besides other items. India’s exports in 2018 – 19 account for 33078 US$ million and Oman’s exports to India account for 2759 US$ million, with Total trade accounting for 5005 US$ million.

Oman is home to a large Indian expatriate community, what do you think that attracts the Indian diaspora to your country?

Oman is home to a large Indian expatriate community and for Oman, India is an important trading partner. Oman has over seven hundred thousand Indian nationals living there making them the largest expatriate community in Oman. They annually remit more than $780 million to India. The commercial engagements and historical relations have made Oman an admirable second home for more than 573,000 Indians. A large expatriate workforce serves as a bridge between India and Oman, contributing to wealth and prosperity for both countries due to Omani government’s liberal policy which grants its citizenship to foreign nationals. It is conceivably the only Arab country in Arabian Peninsula, which has taken such dynamic initiative, which has proved to be enormously beneficial to them in many respects. Any person irrespective of his religion or race, who has completed at least 20 years in Oman, and meet the citizenship requirements, which is published, are treated as eligible to apply.

Oman has been an astounding supporter of India’s bid for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. Tell us something about that?

Politically, Oman has been supportive of India’s bid for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, and other organizations as well, and viceversa.

Please highlight the major diplomatic achievement ever since you attained office?

Four memorandums of understanding (MoUs) in the domain of defence and security were signed between the countries during his visit. These included a MoU on defence cooperation, a MoU between the Coast Guards of the two countries to prevent crime at sea, a MoU on maritime issues and a protocol between their respective air forces on Flight Safety information Exchange.

The major diplomatic achievement is the prominent visit of the Honourable Prime Minister of the Republic of India, Shri Narendra Modi to Oman, which had enhanced so many areas, and also upgraded the close co-operation, which already exists since 2008 in defence.

How have the relations between India and Oman changed after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 in India?

Since 2014, Indo-Omani ties have registered significant rise under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In June 2014, Omani Foreign Minister H.E. Mr. Yusuf bin Alawi became the first foreign dignitary to visit India and congratulate the Prime Minister. From Indian side, the state visits of Indian leaders such as, external Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj (February 17-18, 2015), Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar (May 2016) and Minister of State for External Affairs M. J. Akbar played an important role in cultivating trade, economic, political and defence relations. Most importantly, the visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 12 February 2018 signified the strategic importance India accords to the Gulf nation which an integral component in its re-invented ‘Act West’ policy. The Indian Prime Minister met with His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said and both leaders focussed on strengthening academic cooperation, cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, health, tourism and signed a MoU between National Defence College Sultanate of Oman and the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

Oman has also conveyed its desire to join International Solar Alliance to India. The ISA provides a useful platform for countries with rich potential of solar energy to work together to tap their full potential. Oman has also reiterated India’s offer to share India’s experience and capabilities with Oman in development of its renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind power etc. India has reiterated invitation to “Oman to participate in building the strategic oil reserves in India.

Indian Prince Tipu Sultan sent a diplomatic delegation to Oman during his reign, while the trade between India and Oman has a history of several millennium dating to the third century BCE. What is the present trade situation between the two nations?

There are more than 2,900 Indo-Omani joint ventures in Oman. India has always been a steady partner in Oman’s growth story. Indian companies have been encouraged to participate in key sectors of Oman, including logistics, minerals and mining and manufacturing as well as in freezones and special economic zones. India has already been contributing to the human resource development of Oman through providing professional training under its Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme. From food security to renewable energy, SME development, cyber security, space applications, defence, engineering goods, Information Technology and IT Enable Services, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, education and training, there is remarkable opportunity for expanding India-Oman cooperation.

What are the major challenges and opportunities between the two nations?

“Oman remains committed to nurturing and expanding its strategic partnership with India, through enhancing the existing cooperation and identifying new areas for bilateral, regional and global collaboration with a view to meet the aspirations of the two countries. Apart from defence, energy and maritime security, the two countries has shown considerable interest in expanding bilateral ties in the new areas of cooperation such as cyber security, outer space, food security and renewable energy, which  pose as major challenges. The cooperation in the sphere of strategic reserves will help both the countries to deal with emergency fuel shortage in near future and to safeguard the energy security during the critical time. In the recent years, both countries have acknowledged the importance of improving collaboration in field of cyber security. Both the countries, Oman & India had acknowledged the common threat posed by terrorism to peace and security and agreed to continue working together bilaterally, regionally and globally to counter this menace.

India is a major destination for Omani students and medical tourists? What can be done to ensure a better partnership in the education and medical sector between the two nations?

Around thousands & thousands of medical visas issued for Omanis to India last year in 2018. The statistics were revealed in the India-Oman Business-to-Business (B2B) Meeting related to Healthcare and Medical Tourism Sector. The B2B facilitated interaction and tie-ups between representatives of approximately 48 Indian hospitals participating in ‘Oman Health Exhibition and Conference 2018’ led by FICCI,  being held from September 24-26 2018 in Oman. India is a major destination for Omani students pursuing higher studies and in recent years there have been increasing numbers of students and tourists from healthcare sector.

A ten-day drill between Indian Air Force and Royal Air Force of Oman has recently begun. What do you make of the defense ties between the two countries?

India-Oman Defence cooperation has emerged as a key pillar of the strategic partnership between the two countries. There have been regular high level visits in the recent past between the Ministries of Defence. Over the past few years, there have been visits of Defence Secretary, CNS and CAS to Oman with reciprocal visits to Indian by all three Omani Service Commanders, Secretary General of Defence, etc. Constant and continuous senior leadership engagements have facilitated greater bonds of friendship.

The Ministries of Defence of both countries review their relations annually under the aegis of Joint Military Cooperation Committee (JMCC) meeting. The last JMCC meeting took place in November 2018 in Muscat. The 3rd Army exercise ‘Al Najah’ is scheduled in March 2019 in Jabel Akdhar, Oman.

The Air Force exercise ‘Eastern Bridge’ culminated in January 2017. The Indian Air Force is participating in a 10-day bilateral exercise with its Omani counterpart at the Air Force base Masirah from Thursday, from October 17 to 26. MiG-29 will be exercising  with Royal Air Force Oman’s Eurofighter Typhoon, F-16 and Hawk.

It is for the first time that the MiG-29 fighter aircraft will be participating in an international exercise outside India.

This exercise will enhance inter-operability during mutual operations between the two air forces and provide an opportunity to learn from each other’s best practices. It will also promote professional interaction, exchange of experience and operational knowledge.  The two countries share robust defence ties. India and Oman conduct regular biennial bilateral exercises between all the three services.

The bilateral naval exercise ‘Naseem al Bahr’ has been scheduled in December 2019. Since 2008, Oman has been extending its support to Indian Navy’s antipiracy missions and Indian Naval Ships are regularly welcomed by Oman for Over Seas Deployments. A sailing vessel ‘Zeenat al Bihaar’ from the Royal Yachts participated with INS Tarangini and INS Sudarshini in the joint sailing voyage from Kochi to Muscat in November 2018, commemorating the 10th anniversary celebrations.

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