Ties with Oman on ambitious path, says India’s foreign minister

The bilateral relations between Oman and India have reached new heights and the momentum is set to lead to big achievements. Both the countries have signed a number of agreements in different fields of growth. The main focus today is on implementing these agreements, said Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s Minister of External Affairs. “Whether it is training, exchanges or travel or high level visits, it is on the rise. We are still looking at new areas like technology and its application,” the minister told the Observer in an exclusive interview during his visit to Oman last week.

During Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Sultanate in February 2018, Oman and India had signed bilateral agreements in several fields mainly security, defence, space, energy, health, tourism, education etc. “Signing of an agreement is just a beginning. We do not look at it just as an agreement, it is like a small piece in a mosaic, and the overall picture is that of strategic partnership and of a very trusted relationship between the two countries,” he said. According to him, each of these different aspects adds a little more texture or content to this relationship.

“We are guided actually in our efforts by what His Majesty Sultan Qaboos told Prime Minister Modi that sky is the limit when it comes to our cooperation. But, at the same time, we should also aim for the sky, and for this we need steps that will make them go up. This really is what the agreements are all about,” he said. All in all, the visit of the Prime Minister and the discussion he had with His Majesty will set us on an ambitious path, he said, adding, “in a way we are neighbours across the waters, our relationship is absolutely cordial and very smooth”.

India and Oman share a very high degree of trust, a lot of experience and very few problems. “There is no obstacle for us to do something, where relationship is gauged, it depends on us. Nobody is pushing us back, and our relationship is growing through the government and a lot of it is growing through the people. None is pushing us back,” Dr Jaishankar said. Oman has kept its relationship with everyone strong while India also maintained it strong. He said that the foreign policy goals and vision of both the countries are very similar and they are supported by each other.

“We certainly like to work with Oman in this regard,” the minister affirmed. However, he said, “When we look at the world, particularly the region, with its challenges, tensions, frictions and sanctions, to my mind what is most positive is that both India and Oman share a desire to work positively and constructively, with everyone. Even though there are different sides or players.”

On the economic side, India has always been a steady partner in Oman’s growth story and has been able to increase the bilateral trade even when the trade situation was not that good at times. “Today, Indians are investing in different cities of Oman. Big names have made major investments in the Sultanate. We have the numbers, we have the quality, good reputation which keeps it going,” he said. Dr Jaishankar said that India is still looking at new areas like technology and discussions are progressing. By and large the Indian government owns many companies but overall today we encourage the private sector, which is very active in India, to expand their business to other countries.

“We have some operations not only in areas like big constructions and railways, but also in other areas in the private sector where the Indian private sector is very active.” With regard to the Indians in the Sultanate, he said, “They are very much an asset. This is our own bilateral relationship. We have almost 800,000 Indians living here. I thank the Omani government for treating them very well.”

From a narrow Indian perspective, this region has been very good. Between 8 and 9 million Indians live and work in the Gulf region. Out of India’s 20 top trading partners, eight are in the Gulf. In terms of energy supplies, roughly about 60 to 65 per cent come from the Gulf, while about 65 per cent remittances come from the Gulf. “The Gulf is one of our key partners. From an Indian perspective, if I say it is a big economic centre, where annually about $100 to $200 billion worth of economic transactions take place. I cannot overstate the importance of the Gulf countries. They are very positive with us, so are we with them,” he said.

So far as Iran is concerned, the minister said that he visited Tehran prior to his Oman visit and had a meeting, primarily on joint commission. “We discussed the state of the work. The focus was on bilateral relations. The big picture is difficult, frictional, but I think countries of the region and beyond want to see more stability, prosperity, calmness and all want to get along well,” he said.