In a major diplomatic gain for India, a senior Omani diplomatic source has said that Oman is ready to serve as a connecting hub between India and Europe. He has also assured fast connectivity between Oman and Europe through the Arab and Turkish territories. Elaborating how Oman could serve as a major transport hub between India and the European Continent, the senior Omani diplomat said, “The maritime travel from India to Oman can be covered in three days and the overland transport from Oman to eastern Europe can take place in 100 hours ensuring the fastest possible delivery of goods from India to the European markets.”
The Omani diplomat has expressed Oman’s willingness to serve as a connecting hub at a time when the country is hosting India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar. India and Oman have also signed a maritime transport agreement that will firm up India’s presence on the other side of the Arabian Sea. Therefore, India has found a real opportunity in Oman to further its trade interests in Central Asia and Europe. Oman also believes that other overland corridor options are not viable for India, and this is the reason why it is eagerly pushing for emerging as a transport hub between India and Europe.
This development becomes that much more important as it comes days after the US once again exempted India from sanctions on the Chabahar port in Iran recognising how the port and a planned railway line are going to be pivotal in breaking the dependence on Pakistan for trade and other initiatives in a landlocked Afghanistan- something that is also likely to protect American interests in the war-torn Afghanistan.
India’s trade ambitions through the Chabahar port also got an impetus after Tehran and New Delhi recently agreed to accelerate the development of the Chabahar project. External Affairs Minister, Jaishankar tweeted, “Just concluded a very productive #IndiaIran Joint Commission Meeting with my co-chair FM @JZarif. Reviewed the entire gamut of our cooperation. Agreed on accelerating our Chabahar project.”
Just concluded a very productive #IndiaIran Joint Commission Meeting with my co-chair FM @JZarif. Reviewed the entire gamut of our cooperation. Agreed on accelerating our Chabahar project. pic.twitter.com/vo0YjHONpF
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) December 22, 2019
Now, with Oman offering to serve as a connecting hub between India and Europe, India may find a new opportunity to develop a major port in Oman. With a senior diplomatic source in Oman expressly showing his country’s diplomatic will to lure Indian investments, and also to facilitate India’s trade ambitions in Europe and Central Asia, India has thus gained a strategic base in Oman that will pave the way for a viable, secure land route to Europe, one that India desperately desires.
In 2018, Oman gave India access to the strategically located Duqm port on the country’s southern coast, which provides ease of access onward into the Red Sea through the Gulf of Aden. The Indian Navy stands to benefit from the port by using it for logistics and support and sustaining its long term operations in the Western Indian Ocean which is a hotspot of piracy in the region.
Having gotten an exemption from US sanctions on Chabahar and also fast-tracking it after consultations with Tehran, India will be able to transport costs and time for transport of goods by a third, once the port is developed. The Chabahar port is also crucial as it will, under the International North-South Transport Corridor, provide for an alternative route for India to access Central Asian Countries and even Moscow and Europe through the Caspian Sea slashing time and costs by about 40 per cent.
With Chabahar done, India can now look even beyond Chabahar through active engagement with Oman for the development of a port in the country, that will provide India with an even better and reliable trading route into Central Asia and Oman. It must be noted that Pakistan has denied transit access through its soil, to India for trade with Afghanistan and Iran, virtually blocking India’s land access to West Asia and Central Asia.
However, the development of the Chabahar port and a prospective port in Iran will not only advance India’s trading interests in Afghanistan and Iran but also pave the way for a viable trading route into Central Asia and Europe. With Chabahar and a prospective port in Oman, India will be able to effectively counter China’s Gwadar port in Pakistan when it comes to trading significance. It is important to mention here that last year there were unconfirmed reports suggesting that traffic from Karachi had already started getting diverted to Chabahar. If India is able to develop a new port in a country like Oman, it will further pale the Gwadar port and prove to be a major strategic victory for India in the region.