Gauhar Zahid Malik
There are a few countries of the world that have achieved sustained growth, realized developmental goals at fast pace, maintained their neutrality and stability in the face of hostile factors and environment and made a mark on regional and global geo-political and geo-strategic landscape. Oman can proudly count itself among those as it has achieved all round progress, excelled in different fields, carved out a place for itself in the comity of nations due to pragmatic foreign policy and strictly followed the policy of non-alignment under the dynamic and visionary leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who is hugely popular among his people as he has worked hard with devotion to turn the otherwise small country into a state to be reckoned with during his 48 year tenure, which is considered to be “Golden Era” by the people of Oman.
This is sum total of my recent visit to Oman. The visit provided me an opportunity for comprehensive interaction with senior team members of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, who assisted their leader in translating his vision for Oman into a reality. These included Abdul Aziz bin Mohammed Al Rowas, Adviser to His Majesty the Sultan for Culture Affairs and Dr. Abdulmonam Mansoor Al-Hasani, Minister of Information. Both of them are seen as seasoned, active and vibrant figures of the Council of Ministers of His Majesty and their contribution in the fields of culture and information is visible to every visitor to the Sultanate. I also had informative and productive meetings with media personalities and institutions, leaders of public opinion and people representing different walks of life. All those whom I met expressed their satisfaction over the way the Sultanate has been governed and governed successfully by their beloved leader. They pointed out that Sultan Qaboos brought security, peace and prosperity to them because of his people-friendly policies and programmes. Apart from the objective of long term security, Sultan Qaboos also succeeded in realization of other objectives he set for himself including creation of GCC in 1981 and 1993 signing of last of the border treaties with Oman’s neighbours and negotiations with a number of countries to seek diverse forms of aid needed to tap Oman’s domestic assets and upgrade Omani living conditions. He has also opened paths to citizen participation in government, most notably by establishing the Majlis Al-Shura (State Consultative Council) in 1991.
Meeting with Pakistan’s Ambassador to Oman Mr. Ali Javed was also informative in the sense that it gave an insight on how his staff and himself were working to bring the two countries more closer in various fields. One of the yardsticks of how an envoy is successful in a foreign country is the level of satisfaction that his fellow expatriates have in him and his approach. At about 300,000, the Sultanate has the fifth largest Pakistani expatriate population worldwide, which demonstrates the successful relationship between the two countries. All those Overseas Pakistanis we met, were appreciative of the role and contribution of Pakistan Embassy in resolving their problems and addressing issues concerning their welfare and rights. These Pakistanis are not only earning handsome foreign exchange for their homeland but also contributing to the socio-economic development of Sultanate. Due to their centuries old relations with the sub-continent, people of Oman are very friendly with Pakistan and presence of a large number of Pakistanis on their soil serves as a bridge in promoting better understanding.
Oman is a small state but it is because of the vision and foresight of its leadership that the country has earned a place of respect in regional and global affairs. This is because of proper and wise exploitation of potential and strength of the country by Sultan Qaboos and his team members, who are convinced that peaceful negotiations are essential to the overall, long-term goals of Omani security and prosperity. The region where Oman is situated is frequented by sectarian tension and troubles but the Sultanate has successfully kept itself away from such tricky situations and instead maintained respectable neutrality and as a consequence it enjoys friendly relations with all its neighbours. Despite being a member of the GCC, Oman, like Pakistan, did not take sides in Iran-Iraq war, hosted Yemen peace talks and also facilitated dialogue between Iran and the West. The Sultanate has a policy of non-intervention, and in turn expects its own sovereignty to be respected and this policy and approach has paid back in a number of ways, boosting prospects for stability, growth and prosperity of the country itself.
As for bilateral relations between Pakistan and Oman, these are characterized by friendliness, cooperation and common perception over regional and international issues. Oman is the nearest Arab country to Pakistan. 30% of Omanis are of Balochi origin from Pakistan’s Balochistan province, having settled in Oman over a hundred years ago. Interaction with Omani leadership showed that the Sultanate was, as before, keen to promote ties with Pakistan in diverse fields including economy, trade, manpower, food and agriculture. They also emphasized the need for greater collaboration between the private sector of the two countries and possibility of joint ventures in agriculture and food processing.
Pakistan and Oman also have an ongoing defence cooperation and the latest visit of Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to Muscat in March, 2018 gave an impetus to mutual collaboration in the field. The visit assumed significance as it took place at a time when the region was witnessing geo-strategic changes and new alignments were emerging. Pakistan has been offering training facilities for armed forces personnel of Oman and Islamabad also gifted Mashhak aircraft to the brotherly country for training purposes. The two countries also have shared objectives in the domain of maritime security and the need for closer cooperation is all the more necessary as Pakistan is developing Gwadar port that is set to become the hub of regional trade. The enhanced trading activity would obviously require intensified cooperation between the naval forces of the two countries to safeguard trade routes as well as their maritime interests.
Sky is the limit as far as strengthening of bilateral relations is concerned as Oman is a gateway for Pakistan to enter the Gulf Region, Africa and Far East while Pakistan is a gateway for Oman to get better access to Asia. The Sultanate of Oman has planned a big railway project which is one of the strategic projects and its implementation will contribute not only to the better development of Oman, but will also link Oman with Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
Businessmen of Oman also pointed out that their country can collaborate meaningfully with Pakistan in exploration of oil and gas and launching of joint ventures in Special Economic Zones, being established under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The will and commitment is there on the part of Sultanate to forge ties with Pakistan and it is for the Government and the private sector to do necessary planning, interact frequently at different levels and take prompt initiatives to realize potential for mutual cooperation in different fields.