This may not be well known but India’s defence and security relationship with the Persian Gulf state of Oman dates back to the 1970s. It predates similar ties with any other Arab or Gulf state but the two countries will have a lot more than history on their agenda as Oman’s Defence Minister Badr bin Saud bin Harib al Busaidi, began a three-day visit to Delhi today.
SNI has learnt that formalising the agreement signed earlier this year on the use of Duqm port by the Indian Navy is one priority. Duqm, on Oman’s south-east coast bordering the Arabian Sea, will help the Indian Navy keep an eye on Chinese activities further south, in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa where Beijing has a base.
Duqm will be used for logistics and other support (refuelling, routine maintenance) and its dry dock will ensure there’s no need for Indian naval vessels to go all the way home for repair purposes. It will boost the navy’s ability to sustain long-term operations in the western Indian Ocean.
India already has port facilities in Salalah and Muscat. Read together, the import is plain: India will be able to monitor Chinese air and naval operations from the eastern shores of Africa to the western shores of Pakistan, where Gwadar is emerging as a major Chinese military base.
An added incentive is proximity to the Gulf of Oman and Chabahar port in Iran, where India has made considerable investments to ensure access to Afghanistan and beyond to the energy rich Central Asian states.
The incentive for Oman: Expanded training for its officers in India’s military institutions and stepped up joint naval exercises that will hone the skills and tactics of its navy at a time when turbulence in the region has serious security implications.
On Oman’s southern border is Yemen where a civil war has been raging; to the west and the north lie Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both of which are involved in the Yemen war. Oman has stayed neutral in the conflict, an action which has not gone down well in Jeddah. Oman’s close ties with Iran are another source of irritation to the Saudis. Add to that, Oman is a major supplier of essential goods to Qatar, which has been under a trade ban by the Saudis.
None of this is to suggest that Oman is under any military threat from its neighbours. But Oman is small in geography and therefore sees value in building partnerships at a time of political and strategic flux.