Impending Crises In Oman : The Way Forward

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Port Sultan Qaboos

Background:

Oman is one of the more traditional countries in the Gulf region and was, until the 1970s, one of the most isolated. Portugal and Britain vied for influence in this land, strategically placed at the mouth of the Gulf at the south-east corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Even though the 1862 Anglo-French agreement declared the independence of the Sultanate, Oman was practically a protectorate of the British till 1951 when it was granted independence. But independence only came with a new treaty of friendship, commerce, and navigation with the United Kingdom.

Oman’s Maritime Outlook-At a Glance

The Arab country, like its Arab neighbors, comprises of a monarchy which is reigning since 1744 – the House of Al Said. Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said has been Oman’s sultan, prime minister and foreign minister since he seized power from his father, Said Bin Taimur, in 1970. Sultan Qaboos deposed his ailing father in a British-supported bloodless coup d’état. Ever since his ascendance to the throne of Oman, Sultan Qaboos has been successful in transforming Oman into a developed, politically stable and literate nation in the neighborhood.

Situated at a peculiar strategic location, this Arab nation consists of 2.9 million inhabitants with an $80 billion GDP. Encompassing an area of 309,500 sq. km, it is considered a stable entity in the fractured Middle East and has largely been untouched by the arch of instability which has engulfed many nations in its neighborhood.

When Sultan Qaboos assumed power, the situation of development in Oman was dilapidated. It was one of the most underdeveloped country in the region with 66% of the adult population was illiterate, it only had three schools child mortality rate was very high. Fortune and the Sultan’s wisdom coincided with the discovery of oil in the 1970s, allowing the Sultan to radically transform Oman as its GDP grew from $256 million in 1970 to more than $80 billion today. Contemporarily, Oman has 1,230 schools and adult illiteracy has dropped to 5.2%. Oman is also home to 59 hospitals and life expectancy rate has grown to 76 years.

Today Oman is considered one of the most modern state and a crucial political player in international relations. This transformation which sometimes termed as ‘The Oman Renaissance’ catapulted Oman into crafting a foreign policy based on a delicate balancing between global players and regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Historical Relations with Pakistan:

Oman is the nearest Arab country to Pakistan, because of this they both share a maritime boundary with each other. It is estimated that 30% of Omanis are of Baloch origin from Pakistan’s Balochistan province, having settled in Oman over a hundred years ago. Pakistan shares cordial relations with Oman in defense and economic fields. Pakistan and Oman have shared defense procurement, joint exercises, training and exchange of defense delegations.

In the late 1970s, Oman was ravaged by a rebellion in the southern part of the country. That rebellion was neutralized by The Southern Regiment of Omani Army. It is pertinent to mention that this regiment was specially raised from the Balochistan province of Pakistan. This regiment is solely comprised of ethnic Baloch and they were successful in all operations in Oman. This whole defense cooperation has been done under the banner of Pak-Oman Joint Programmer Review Group (JPRG) which was formed in 1985. This group still exists and its primary task is to coordinate regularly between Pakistan and Oman.

Apart from that Pakistan and Oman shared commercial activities and handsome volume of trade. Oman and Pakistan cooperate economically, with bilateral trade of $788 million as of 2015. The Pakistan-Oman Joint Investment Company promotes trade between Oman and Pakistan. The relationship has been strengthened by a large number of Pakistanis living in Oman.

Maritime Agreements with Pakistan:

In the contemporary era, states are again going back on naval powers and rejuvenating sea trade routes for robust economies. The whole strategic security environment is being transformed by tectonic shifts in global maritime routes. Pakistan and Oman are sharing the direct maritime boundary and the two countries have signed the “Maritime Boundaries Agreement” back in 2000 under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982. Oman maritime boundary is just 202 nautical miles away from Pakistan. Pakistan has already achieved the 1st phase of China Pakistan Economic Corridor whereas Gwadar is now partially functional.

Meanwhile, Oman’s deep-water port at Salalah is already increasing its trade volume. According to statistical data, from 2015 till date there has been an addition of 29% trade on Oman’s deep-water port. The harmonization of Gwadar port and Salalah port and increasing economic vitality is providing excessive opportunities for both states. Both countries are planning for trans-regional connectivity via these maritime routes. This trans-regional connectivity will vociferously generate economic momentum, harmonization of interests, development and prosperity for various regions. Furthermore, for Pakistan, there is another vital interest in Oman – the Omani super-port project at Duqm, which is nearing completion with a Chinese $10billion assistance. This whole project will transform the maritime geopolitics of the Arabian Sea. In near future, Pakistan and China are close to deriving new maritime policies, so this super-port will be of immense importance.

Omani-Indo Maritime Relations:

On the contrary Oman is also a strategic ally of India, though Delhi is not supporting the multibillion-dollar project of Duqm. For India, Oman is a key stake holder in the Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea and Strait of Hormuz. In the whole MENA region, India’s naval presence is secured by the umbrella of Oman. Formal strategic partnership between India and Oman aimed at safeguarding the waterways separating the two countries, began in the 1990s. Indians form the largest expatriate group in Oman, bilateral trade between Oman and India has risen to $6.7 billion in 2018. Under Modi’s ambitious regional connectivity, Indian company South Asia Gas Enterprise Pvt Ltd (SAGE) has proposed the laying of a 1,300-km pipeline from Iran to Oman and then to Porbandar in Gujarat, bypassing the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Pakistan. This $5billion project is yet to be finalized, but it poses a threat of Indian encirclement of Pakistan.

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