Oman Sultan may be Republic Day chief guest - The New Indian Express

Oman Sultan may be Republic Day chief guest

Published: 01st November 2012 10:46 AM

Last Updated: 01st November 2012 10:46 AM

India is likely to see the Sultan of Oman as chief guest at next year’s Republic Day celebrations. If it happens, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said would be the second Arab leader to have this honour.

The Saudi King was the chief guest at Republic Day celebrations in 2006 -- the first time an Arab leader was invited to see the grand parade on Rajpath.

The last three years were reserved for countries from East Asia -- South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand.

Sources said invitation has been sent to the 71-year-old, leading the Sultanate for the last 42 years.

“It seems we have the most friendly relation with Oman among the Arab states,” said a senior Indian official.

Located right on the strategic waters of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman, the Sultanate has a key security role in the volatile region, providing base for anti-piracy operations in waters around the Indian Ocean.

During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Muscat in November 2008, the relations were transformed into a strategic partnership, again a pioneering move in the Gulf region.

The royal family has very close ties with India. The grandfather of the current Sultan had abdicated powers to his son in 1932 and died in 1965 in Mumbai, where he lived for over 30 years till his death. The current ruler had done part of his schooling in Pune and his father had studied in Mayo College, Ajmer.

The defence ties also got better in the recent years with India holding its maiden joint military exercise with Oman -- a first with a Gulf state -- in 2009. Since then, the air forces of both countries have been conducting a series of joint exercises.

Also, air forces of both the countries operate the British-built Jaguar fighter jets and Oman has been seeking India’s help in upgrading the aircraft. Likewise, Indian naval ships have been using Oman’s Salalah Port as a base for its anti-piracy operations. Recently, INS Viraat went for its first overseas deployment to Oman after a refit.

Oman played a very critical role in  making the Indian Navy’s initiative -- Indian Ocean Naval Symposium -- a great success in 2008, though Pakistan tried to scuttle the move.

On the economic front, India has been exploring the viability of building an undersea pipeline from Oman to get gas from major natural gas suppliers such as the UAE and Qatar.

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