Moving to expand its footprint in the Indian Ocean region and counter Chinese influence, New Delhi is reinvigorating ties with Oman where it has secured access to the key port of Duqm for military use and logistical support.
The government 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. Al Zaabi, Secretary General of Ministry of Defence of the Sultanate of Oman, is the executive head of the Omani defence establishment as the Minister’s charge is held by Deputy Prime Minister Sayyid Shihab.
Zaabi will be in New Delhi to co-chair the Joint Military Cooperation Committee (JMMC) with Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar. The JMCC, the highest forum of engagement between India and Oman in the field of defence, evaluates and provides guidance to the overall framework of defence exchanges between the two sides. It is expected to meet annually, but could not be organised after 2018 when the meeting of the 9th JMCC was held in Oman. Coming as it does after a hiatus of three years, the 10th JMCC is expected to comprehensively evaluate the ongoing defence exchanges and provide a roadmap for further strengthening defence ties in the coming years. India secured access to Duqm as part of its maritime strategy to counter Chinese influence and activities in the region. This was one of the key takeaways of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Oman in February 2018. Work is on to operationalise the access through a pact.
On the sidelines of the JMCC, Zaabi is expected to call on Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and will also be briefed on the Indian defence production industry for possible procurement and joint production.
His visit will be followed by a series of defence engagements in February that will include back-to-back visits to India by the Chief of the Royal Navy of Oman (RNO), and the Chief of the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO), staff talks between Indian Navy and CRNO, and a bilateral Air Force exercise in Jodhpur.
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. Oman also provides critical operational support to Indian naval deployments in the Arabian sea for anti-piracy missions.