Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Wikileaks and the Middle East

Assange: I've got the names of Arab officials spying on their own countries for the CIA
The Internets are buzzing about an interview Julian Assange gave to Al Jazeera's Arabic channel Wednesday, in which the WikiLeaks frontman reportedly threatened to release cables showing that various Arab officials were working with the CIA.
He vowed to do so "if I am killed or detained for a long time."
“These officials are spies for the U.S. in their countries,” Assange said, according to Qatar's Peninsula newspaper. More:
The interviewer, Ahmed Mansour, said at the start of the interview which was a continuation of last week’s interface, that Assange had even shown him the files that contained the names of some top Arab officials with alleged links with the CIA. [...]
Some Arab countries even have torture houses where Washington regularly sends ‘suspects’ for ‘interrogation and torture’, he said.
He then complained, "Washington is also projecting me as a terrorist and wants to convince the world that I am another Osama bin Laden."
Observers have long speculated about the massive "insurance" file that WikiLeaks posted on the Pirate Bay, which has by now been downloaded by thousand of people all over the world. Opening the file requires an encryption key that presumably would be released upon Assange's incarceration or untimely death. I guess it's the motherlode.
I have my doubts about these new claims, though. The CIA vigorously protects the identities of its sources, and would have no reason to let any old schmo at a U.S. embassy know their names. It is also highly doubtful that the cables would talk about "torture houses" -- the United States has always denied that it (knowingly) outsources rough treatment to foreign governments. Not everyone believes this, mind you, but I'd be surprised if any embassy cables said otherwise.
Maybe Assange and Mansour are confusing ordinary visits of Arab officials to U.S. diplomats with "spying," but it's hard to say for sure without seeing the cables themselves.

Assange: Many Arab Officials Work With CIA

Less than 2,000 of the purported 250,000 diplomatic cables in WikiLeaks possession have been made public. There has been plenty of speculation as to what's left, since the revelations thus far have been a broad mix of both gossipy and inflammatory information.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Al Jazeera network Wednesday that some of things he is holding back could be downright explosive, reports the Emptywheel website. Assange said:
"Top officials in several Arab countries have close links with the CIA, and many officials keep visiting US embassies in their respective countries voluntarily to establish links with this key US intelligence agency. These officials are spies for the U.S. in their countries."
The Qatar-based Peninsula newspaper reports that Assange also said the CIA-Arab officials link went deeper than just information-sharing.
Some Arab countries even have torture houses where Washington regularly sends "suspects" for "interrogation and torture," he said.
Assange hinted in the interview that he is letting the link between the CIA and Arab officials be known without naming any specific names in case his upcoming trial in Britain does not go his way, or, worse, should he be assassinated.
"If I am forced we could go to the extreme and expose each and every file that we have access to," Assange said, adding that there were 2,000 websites that were ready to publish the remaining files that are in possession of WikiLeaks after "he has been done away with."

"Oh Dear!" Thats the reaction I would expect in arab capitals over the coming days. Without a hint of doubt if Assange releases these documents, this is going to be explosive in this region and more disastrous for US policy in the Middle East. It will also be seen as proving what the islamic extremists/leftists say about Arab leaders: "They are nothing but puppets". Some GCC leaders will have their fingers and every part of their bodies crossed hoping that Assange doesn't release documents about leaders providing info to the CIA.

The US & GCC

This is certainly is not the first time explosive details regarding the GCC (or other allies) has been leaked to the press. One particular incident was the leak that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was given shelter in Qatar post 9/11 and was supported by a senior Qatari government Minister. See link for reference. 

I am sure many of you would have heard about the statements about personalities of certain senior leaders in the GCC. Suffice to say, these leaders will not be impressed. The leaders in the Gulf are extremely protocol concious, therefore these leaks will be seen as an insult and will in all probably create an air of animosity towards the US for a long period to come.

GCC views on regional countries

GCC leaders described Iraqi PM Nouri Al Maliki as an Iranian stooge, this will obviously impact relations with Iraq as the Maliki government is re-elected. Aside from security issues, this comes at a time when OPEC leaders need the cooperation of Iraq as it continues to grow its oil reserves and exports. The Kurdistan region of Iraq is expected to hold some of the world's largest oil reserves and it is particularly important for OPEC that Iraq will cooperate over the coming years. 

Iran and Qatar have become quite close recently despite the nuclear issue, they recently witnessed numerous agreements relating to defence and others. However the realities are that they are both competing to get as much Natural Gas out of the ground since they both share the worlds largest gas field (this war is being fought by seeing who can get the bigger number of rigs on their side). In the past Iranians have entered qatari waters in order to damage/vandalise Qatari offshore platforms. In response to this a Qatari Special Forces team were trained and set up for fast response.They are placed on constant alert for IRGC vessels entering Qatari waters.

Despite the positivity in public, the Qatari's described the relationship with Iran as "they lie to us and we lie to them". The Qatari military CoS Major Gen. Hamad Al Attiyah described the relationship as “neighbours not friends”.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called President Asif Ali Zardari the greatest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress and is further quoted as saying “when the head is rotten, it affects the whole body.”. KSA's relationship with Pakistan is unlikely to be affected because Pakistan knows that it requires Saudi financing and support in order to prevent bankruptcy (the nations very survival is at stake). Understandably, Zardari had no choice but to shrug off these statements in public.

Probably the only person to come out of these exposes better is the Sultan of Oman HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Read Muscat Confidential's post on this subject for further info.

There is much more that I left unsaid on this topic but I'm sure more comments will be made as wikileaks releases further diplomatic cables.

Have a Great New Year ALL!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Update: Dubai Police Chiefs Comments

Update: Expatriates are the future threat of the entire Gulf: HE Dahi Khalfan Tamim Wednesday, 29 December 2010 20:44

Excerpts from the interview of Dahi Khalfan Tamim in a Qatar Television show titled ‘Laqum Al Qarar’ (The Decision is Yours). The interview was conducted in Arabic and this is the English translation.

How do you see the hosting of the World Cup 2022 and what will its impact be on the Gulf? Will migrant workers in Qatar be affected and Gulf citizens in general?
First of all I would like to extend my best wishes and blessings to His Highness Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, on the occasion of National Day, as I would like to pay tribute to the hospitality received by Qatar, which placed the country in the global rank. Qatar’s name is on everyone’s tongue and I do not think that any country will enjoy such reputation that was enjoyed by the State of Qatar and its rulers.
Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup 2022 will have a positive impact in the entire Gulf region, because we have witnessed in the past Qatar’s professionalism in organization of events who had won admiration from the entire world, let alone the output of such hosting.
What is your take on expats and their impact on the Islamic identity in the region?
Speaking from the security point of view, I personally sense the seriousness of expats but I would like to clarify I won’t know anything about the impact. And I wouldn’t like to comment on it since the topic remains sensitive.
Going by the economic aspect, in the Gulf country an expat comes here on labour or a worker’s visa, but later he starts his own business by either buying a small shop or venturing into other trade slowly turning a rich man.
Local citizens though are the actual owners are not trying to expand their business who rely on the expats, which is a sad thing.
Can the Gulf citizen compete in this field economically? What is the impact of foreign workers on the Islamic identity and national identity?
Frankly speaking, expatriates are doing well in the Gulf despite the fact there is language barrier here. Expats are found in every nook and streets of the Gulf, and if they can prosper here then why not its citizens.
What if any day their government insisted on giving expats Gulf nationality?
If this kind of thing arises, then we would send in their government’s nationality request to the United Nations which will be backed by the organizing bodies involved and interested in human rights. If we refuse then we will be accused of racism and will be boycotted economically and commercially, even diplomatically. If we accepted it then no fingers of accusation will be raised.
There is a study that the Gulf is planning cancellation of sponsorship. What will be its impact and result?
Yes, that's just a study, but so far it has not been considered and we do not know whether it will be approved or not, as the matter is still under discussion level. But let me state here the matter is of security. Earlier, there used to be faces known to us, but now there are plenty of unknown faces around us. For example, when we used to go to the mosques, we would find our near and dear ones with whom we used to share our feelings but now if you enter a mosque you will find all new faces from other countries. This will definitely pose a danger sign in the near future.
Do you think that the Arab identity is in danger?
Yes, the foreigner presents his idea, culture and identity on the Gulf society. I will not hide from you a secret as a security man that there are criminal customs and cases that were never found or heard about in our Gulf society, for example - issues of paints and the third sex. These customs and beliefs brought to our communities with the number of increasing expats. It may be a normal habit and acceptable in their community, but it has undoubtedly formed a thorny issue in our Gulf society.
By this do you mean that an Indian will some day be the president of the UAE?
Why specifically Emirates and not Qatar, or Kuwait or any Gulf state? Gulf is one and what is applied to a state is not unlikely to happen to another. It can’t be ruled out that after 70 years you will see in Arabian Gulf an Indian president from, like what happened
to the United States of America where a Kenyan Barack Obama took over as President. So when it can happen in the United States why not in the Arabian Gulf.
Do you mean the collapse of descendent of crown princes in the Gulf?
Yes, if this massive presence in and the fear of globalization which do not count remained in the Gulf States, we will find ourselves that there will be international laws of settlement
and claims to grant nationality to expatriates who have lived in the land of GCC for this or that period. The Gulf citizens in our society constitute a proportion of 15 to 20 per cent while the percentage of residing foreign workers is 80 to 90 per cent. Here in front of international law and claims to nationalization and citizenship for expatriates we will find ourself very embarrassed  and there will be no alternative to obedience of the majority. Don’t be surprised, I am talking with a long-term strategic point of view.
We have to recognize one fact, specifically going by the past years and experiences which shows us the imposition of resettlement on some countries of the international community that led to victory for majority. It is sure that the United Nations will not list our demands at a time when the report of the governments of expats claim for the right to self-determination will reach to grant their people the nationality in the Gulf - as it happened in Singapore!!
What is the action plan for the GCC?
Now the GCC states can set up a Gulf Consortium and not a Gulf Council modelled on the European Union.
What is the difference between the Gulf Consortium and the European Union?
The difference is very clear, as is the case of the European Union. The land of the Gulf and Gulf citizens will be on equal terms for the rights and duties. Yes, every member of the Gulf Consortium will decide its internal issues, but it will remain a United Gulf on the Gulf ground.
I am talking about national identity and strengthen the identity of the Gulf, because each of us look at his country with a narrow perspective and does not see from the perspective of a Gulf region as a whole, which will end up on we will suffering from the fear of complex population structure in the Gulf.
For example you in Qatar will have more than one million workers for the preparations to host the 2022 World Cup. Do you see the scene and the picture from now on? The only Gulf country which is excluded from that is Sultanate of Oman. The volume of worker in Qatar would reach one million six hundred thousand (1,600,000) at least, and this means that the percentage of Qataris will be less than 10 per cent.
The expats are the major problem and we must develop strategies to address them, and one way to address the real problem is United Gulf.
Another thing here is the language barier. Most of the Gulf citizens are forced to learn expats’ language which is an insult to our citizens. What is your take on this? Will there be a solution to this?
You have every right because the whole Gulf uses foreign workers and the most of them are from Asia and those workers came to our society with the habit and values that do not suit us perfectly. The abnormal phenomena in our society and the values that don’t suit our values should be noticed. All these cultural habits except language are found to be floating on the surface of Gulf community. The variables with the society are not with the cultural identity only but also with the national identity.
The problem is not in them but it is in us because we don’t create solutions. Why we blame expats and don’t blame our policies and the planners of the recruitment policies? The official dress for workers has now become extinct and Kuwait is the biggest example. And it is not Kuwait alone but the entire Gulf society is suffering from the decline of identity of national uniform. On the professional level the state facilitates the licensing and recruitment of workers who carry with them their culture, identity and beliefs and undoubtedly spread the same in our society. If we look from the perspective of regulation of such employment and not allowing it to rise, the ruler as an individual and society as a whole are a group of citizens and some of them work in different ministries of the state and that they must stand to stop.
Do you mean that the concerned authorities failed to deliver the result and therefore this problem accumulated? Have the ministers failed?
I didn’t mean the ministers and didn’t accuse them of failure. This is only an example of what must be done and the example of the failure of our youth and our citizens and the fault is not in expats, but it is in us. I exclude Sultanate of Oman from all of this because it is the only Gulf state that has adopted the policy of reduction of expats.
I like to pay tribute to the youth of Oman, who entered the work market in jobs in which rest of the Gulf states still continue to use the foreign workers. A Omani citizen works at a vegetable shop and even in a grocery store and also as a taxi driver. The Omani citizen accepted the ordinary work in order not to recruit the labour that share with them their abilities, affect their identity and bring the alien cultures and customs in the Omani society as it happened in the rest of the GCC states. The youth in the Gulf refuses and resents the ordinary work despite being not qualified and doesn’t like to replace a foreigner in the work. Therefore, we find them complaining of unemployment. Isn’t a strange matter? But they blame the policy of the state and the expats who does what is supposed to be done by a citizen of the state.
Is the population of the citizens the reason of these migrant workers?
Yes, this may be one of the points and not the base. If you look around you at the buildings and the competition in the construction despite the less number of citizens, then who will live in those buildings? The irreversibility line is not an easy matter and a strategy must be made to get us out of that dilemma legally and away from the reports and decisions of the organizations of human rights and the United Nations and other bodies.
The unemployment, bachelorhood and the cost of living are increasing. A section of young men have missed the chance of marriage and the other section is not able to give birth. What is the solution?
I think in the beginning the marriage funds must be activated to encourage young people to tie the knot. A plan must be developed to increase the reproduction and stimulate families by developing a strategy for the allowances for each child and thus the number of households to be increased by increasing the reproduction. Otherwise we will go eroded as the people of Gulf.
Do you recognize the 66 initiatives that you put forward?
Neither I put forward any initiative nor did I declare any. I do not know from where a journalist who published this topic came to know. I read the topic in the newspapers like you did. I had presented a strategy to solve the population problem 15 years ago. A committee was formed and I put forward the initiative and presented it to all the rulers of the UAE, but things were not applied on the ground and just kept as an initiative. We have to deal with the demographics first even until we in the coming 20 years go up to 50 per cent of citizens among the 50 per cent of foreigners. There is no complete solution because the population of foreign workers is more than the indigenous population of the Gulf 100 times.
Is the incident of Al Mabhouh not an indication that the citizen of Gulf is not safe in his homeland? The insecure feeling of Gulf citizens negatively affects the psyche? Especially the help that the accused got to kill him was provided by the residents.
The residents who helped the accused in killing Al Mabhouh were not from the UAE and they are not residing on its land but they are residents of other states. The political security is provided to 150 to 200 nationalities. We are in turmoil and it is certain that it will affect us negatively on the psyche of the citizen who entered a mosque and looked around and didn’t find any acquaintance.
There is a policy adopted by the Security that watches the Gulf citizen round the clock which also has a negative effect.
The Security does not monitor the Gulf citizen and there is no loss of privacy. There is no surveillance of any citizen or resident unless we see the phenomena which require to be followed up. The follow-up and surveillance takes place after getting permission from the Attorney General. The surveillance is not arbitrary, nor does it watch any person except the suspects. Do not forget that 90 per cent are foreigners, who leave a negative impact on the political situation as expats help the United Nations to make reports that always blame the Gulf society.
Within the legislation how we see the citizens from the law’s point of view?
In the beginning they were our guests. Today the problem is that there are contracts binding on the sponsor with charters and international standards and the sponsor is blamed if any defect is found. The citizen who sponsors the workers is responsible and has all the commitments from A to Z before the law and authorities.
Sometimes job contracts are exaggerated in order to avoid the complaint from UN and international organizations and fearing international blame on us if any government submitted a report on its nationals working in the Gulf to any of those international organizations. We must, therefore, take into account those points in the legislation and the law.
Do you expect guest workers will decrease in the region?
How it will come down as everywhere in the shops, markets, constructions, contracting, vehicle workshops and municipality there are foreigners.
The Red Indians was a title applied to Indians in America. Will there be a day the proverb “brown people from Gulf” will be applied to us?
It is very difficult to rule out that phenomenon if such situation continued to increase. In the next 50 years foreign workers will have a huge impact on our Gulf identity and there is the fear that we find ourselves in front of law that binds us with the naturalization and the citizenship.
Intervention from Kuwait – Mahmoud Rabee: What is your role to find out solutions away from the repercussions of the past, I mean what is the solution in the future?
If I had to take the decision then I would have done the same immediately by reducing and rationing these guest workers to the Gulf. But this decision is governed by other things on the political and international level as well as our citizens also failed to solve that problem.
Intervention from Bahrain – The studies have confirmed that the Gulf States are the most attractive regions of the world for Asian labourers. What would you say?
Yes, the Asian are tempted by the Gulf States because of the poverty of those countries, while we are an attractive region for them to live on our land. There are many reasons that lead the Asian people to approach us including the banking sectors. Competitions, awards in millions declared by the banks, draws that are made on cars, bank certificates, a life of plenty in Gulf that encourage the Asian community to come and stable in the Gulf ... Imagine that Asian labour remittances from the Gulf amounts to 413 billion annually.
If you were not an army man, what you would have wished to be?
I wish I was a merchant.
Do the expats pose a threat in the Gulf?
Yes they do pose a threat. Our government wants them to be here get married and produce children. Our government wants them to be here and take care of us our children.
A female citizen from the University of Sharjah intervened
The late father Sheikh Zayed - and his proverb: making of the mankind - and the work in accordance with the proverb over the eras - we in the Gulf face lack of numbers and lack of experience and lack of skills.
We must get qualified and qualify the Gulf youth so that he can replace the foreigner. In the past, a man in the Gulf used to work for his country and now we find the citizen seeing it with a self perspective. He is reluctant to marry in order to complete his education abroad, and everyone wants to work as a manager and do not accept the job accepted by the foreigners. Before blaming the officials we should blame the youth of the Gulf who sees the common work and job (as failure in front of his friends). The citizens are the reason.
An interposition from Doctor Hassan, Engineer,  Vice-Chairman of the Standing Committee of the population of Qatar
Thus we see the increasing impact of the growing labour on food security, political security and all the economic aspects. The qualitative composition is adversely affects without a doubt and poses a threat economically. Here, you must think of the development of local talent until they go along the development process and replace the foreign workers creating a work force in our land. That 76 per cent of the Qatari society are male. Why then their competence not developed and the best elements are not extracted to replace expatriate workers? Arabic language will decline in our societies in the generations to come. The reason is that there is a lack of cultural identity under a harmonious combination that lives in the Qatari community except the deviations of the crimes, behavioural abnormalities and poor services and all that affects the political security.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dubai Police Chief Lt Gen Khalifan's comments in the press

The Dubai police chief had recently made comments regarding expat workers. You can find the first article from Gulf News describing his statements on Qatar TV.

Dubai Police chief calls on them to stop relying on expat workers

* By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief

Manama: Dubai's Police Chief supported a claim that if the population of expatriate workers continued to rise in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states at the current pace, Gulf citizens would soon be marginalised.

"The possibility of GCC nationals turning into a minority in their own countries cannot be ruled out if a law is, for instance, promulgated and enforced to naturalise expatriates," Lieutenant Colonel Dahi Khalfan Tamim said.

He was reacting to questions from the audience at a popular monthly call-in programme on Qatar Television Laqum Al Qarar (It Is Your Decision).

The audience comprised mostly young people from across the Gulf, Qatari daily The Peninsula reported yesterday.

The discussion addressed the issue if the rising numbers of foreign workers posed a serious threat to the GCC identity and culture, and if so, what steps the governments in the region could take to reduce the danger.

If the GCC governments do not take bold steps to check the inflow of foreign workforce, a day could come when locals would be marginalised in their own countries and become like Red Indians in the United States, Lt Gen Dahi said.

Unending chain

Citing examples, he said Malayalees (people from the south Indian state of Kerala) and Iranians who came to the Gulf and ran small neighbourhood stores eventually became millionaires.

"Why can't we run these stores which, after all, we legally own? But we do not want to do such work," he said. An Indian driver is hired by a Gulf family and then he manages to bring a relative even if there is no job for him. The relative hunts for a job and lands one. This is an unending chain," Dahi said. Ministers should bring to the notice of the GCC Rulers the rising threat the heavy influx of foreign workers poses to GCC identity and culture," he said.

However, when asked if the problem could be tackled to some extent if more workers were brought in from Arab countries, Lt Gen Dahi said: "I do agree that they [Arab expatriates] are better than non-Arabs."

Here is an interview in Khaleej Times giving Lt Gen Dahi Khalifan a chance to clarify his comments.

Amira Agarib

27 December 2010, 6:32 AM
Dubai Police Chief Lt General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim recommended a quota system for all nationalities in the UAE to keep the expat population in the country in check.
He made the comment while reaffirming his remarks made to a television channel on Saturday that expats are a threat to the national identity of Emiratis as well as GCC nationals.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, the Commander-in-Chief of the Dubai Police said the Emirati society, which has traditionally been open to other cultures, has the right to preserve its national identity.
The outspoken police chief warned that expatriates may endanger the identity of the UAE nationals in a way that they could influence the culture and the language of the local children, noting that expatriates have brought with them many things that are today misunderstood to be the traditional elements of Emirati culture.
“Today Emiratis are very concerned about their national identity, as the number of foreigners is rising rapidly and nationals are now a minority in their own country. To keep the balance, I recommended a quota system that would ensure that the number of other nationalities should not be more than UAE nationals and Arabs.”
Warning against the mass influx of foreigners to the country, he said only those people who are needed for the jobs should be allowed in the country.
Pointing out the rules of many other countries that discourage import of foreign workforce, he said: “If we go to any of other country to reside, it is considered offensive; they do not allow us easily to reside, work or invest. Each country has its own rules and conditions and we have to do the same to preserve our national identity.
However, he reassured that the country has no hostilities towards foreigners. “But we are concerned about losing our identity, heritage and language. The new generation of Emiratis feel increasingly isolated and expatriates could not observe Emirati culture and adapt to it.”
Dhahi had made the comments on Qatar TV on Saturday, likening the case of GCC nationals to that of Red Indians in the US.

 These are some interesting comments.

Now if you are an expat, one would feel that these comments are a little unfair. Expats are not coming to Dubai (or for that matter any GCC country) to seek welfare benefits (unlike in the UK or in Europe, where healthcare/education is free for all residents). Expats of Dubai pay for everything, schooling, electricity, tax (where applicable) and most importantly health, expats do not seek any benefits from the government. Expats are there to WORK, because there are jobs there that Emirati's are not as qualified to do or do not want to do. In fact, the current rules where Emirati's must be a partner in the business has made the local people lazy and happy about getting cash without having to do much work.

What about the expat who was born in one of these GCC countries? He is a foreigner in the only place he knows well, he goes "back home" to his/her native only to find people calling them foreigners there. They have no identity.

 But if you are an Emirati, you can understand Lt Gen. Khalifan's view. "Where is my culture?" "We want our people to benefit from the growth". It must be hard going to your local  grocery shop to see foreigners working there and having to communicate in a foreign language (English, Malayalam or Farsi).

The attitude of the leadership in most GCC partners, is not to provide nationality to expats in order to preserve their welfare for the local(indigenous) population. Frankly speaking this cements the power for the leaders as their subjects are happy (they have money, education, a world class healthcare system thanks to the visionary leaders). Imagine the effect it would have on the national population if all of a sudden expats were given nationality? Budgets would have to significantly increase, healthcare/education costs would shoot up. This would affect leaders positions politically as the level of service will decrease.

The Sultanate of Oman has offered a slightly different policy to other GCC nations, I believe the rules are if a expat has been resident there for over 25 years and can speak arabic (there are other additional rules here that need to be fulfilled), may naturalise. The country has also provided nationality to many expats who have contributed significantly to the development. This demonstrates fairness and vision of HM Sultan Qaboos.

What is the solution to the Dubai Police Chief's comments?

As in any other western country, seeking naturalisation in the GCC should involve adopting to the local culture. In the UK for example, a naturalisation applicant needs to show english proficiency and must sit a MCQ test on British history/culture. I think adopting something similar maybe a viable option.

Today, the global economy relies on a workforce that can move in and out of the country easily. The Conservative/Liberal Democrat government in the UK have similar problems with the number of immigrants coming to the country. They responded by having a proposal limiting the number of visas. This is NOT A viable option, simply because no MNC in the country will accept this and it is causing a storm. I can place a wager that this promise will not be filled by the current government in the UK simply because this is impossible to do in todays open global economy.

UAE & Oman rely on global trade (Think of the ports in the UAE, Salalah in Oman, HH Sheikh Mohammed's visionary airports in Dubai), it needs Indian IT professionals to come in and do their work, it needs foreign cleaners, it needs more foreign businessmen for trade in their freezones. Its this "openness" that contributes significantly to the growth of the GCC economies. Having a high expat population is a consequence to today's global economy. Closing yourself to the world will be disaster for the economies in the Gulf. Thankfully, the leaders are smart and recognise this.

My guess is that the GCC will provide naturalisation without the benefits that the local "indigenous" population receive such as subsidised healthcare/education etc at some point in the future.

PS. My message to expats is spare a thought for the locals and the leaders of the countries. My message to the "locals" is spare a thought for the expats and don't forget they are contributing to the growth of your great countries.

Thanks for Reading.

Added later:
The GCC should continue to build world class education infrastructure, provide the tools in order for their citizens (locals) to benefit and be able to play a productive part in their economies. Recently, there were complaints on quality (cheating allegations, bribes to professors in order for students to pass exams) of graduates produced at GCC universities. The government and the leadership need to pay attention to this area and ensure that QUALITY of graduates are improved.

Friday, December 24, 2010

India and the Sultanate of Oman - A timeline of relations

Burgeoning relations with our friendly neighbour Oman.

The people of India and Oman have had historical relations from well before the Indus Valley civilisation[1]. In 1766, the Omani Ruler Imam Ahmad bin Said was helped by the Mughal emperor Shah Alam in his war against pirates hampering trade between Mangalore and Oman[2]. These relations were solidified by the signing of a treaty. Till India became independent, military and economic support to the Sultanate of Oman was provided by the British from India. Oman's complete requirement of arms and ammunition as well as all military necessities were supplied from Indian Ordnance Factories, free of cost[3].

Indians (primarily of Sindhi and Gujarati origin) have resided in Oman since the 1500’s. Today, Khimji Ramdas, a famous Omani of Indian origin is the owner of one of the largest business houses in Oman and perhaps the GCC. In fact Bhairamji Khimji is the first non-muslim citizen to be honoured with the title of Sheikh. Hindu temples have been in Oman since the 1700's showing a secular, multicultural and vibrant Omani society. 

It also helps to know that many senior Omani government officials including the Sultan have visited India for education. His Majesty Taimur bin Faisal after his abdication in 1932 had lived mostly in India and is buried in Bombay (now Mumbai). His son Sultan Said bin Taimur (The current sultan’s father) had been educated in a school in Ajmer, India[4] and the current ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said has been educated for a short time in Pune, India[5]. A close advisor (Al Zawawi) to His Majesty also spent some of his schooling time in a Jesuit school in Bombay[6].

The strength of our relations today is much related to the sea trade, as Oman is the first Arabian country when sailing out of the western shores of India. 

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Muscat in 1985 for the celebrations to mark the 15th anniversary of Sultan Qaboos’s accession and initiated the process of regular high level contacts with Oman. The Omani ruler shared with Gandhi his security pre-occupations. As a result of this, Indian Medical personnel were deputed for 2 years into the Omani armed forces and later this expanded to communications and engineering units being deputed as and when needed[7]
Rajiv Gandhi meeting Sultan Qaboos in 1985. Copyrights with Indian Embassy Muscat

Prime Minister Shri PV Narasimha Rao visited Oman in June 1993. The landmark visit launched a new era in bilateral relations between the two countries, especially in the economic sphere. During the visit, a number of joint initiatives were launched and the setting up of an India-Oman Joint Commission at Ministerial level was agreed upon[8]. Senior officials in India's Foreign Ministry say that India and Oman have had a "special relationship" since Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's visit to the sultanate in 1993. It was during this visit that the agreement to cooperate in the hydrocarbon and fertilizer sectors was reached[9].  Oman is one of the few countries in the region that have made it a policy to abstain from voting whenever a vote on Kashmir is taken at international forums such as the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). In fact Oman was the only Muslim state not to fully back (by abstaining from vote) Pakistan in the 1971 war debate at the UN. 

Visit of Prime Minister Shri Narasimha Rao to Oman in June 1993 (Copyrights to Indian Embassy Muscat)

In 1998, at the backdrop of Indian nuclear tests, Vajpayee paid his first visit to Oman. (Shown in the 2 pictures below). During this visit it is said that Oman “expressed full understanding” to India’s position on nuclear weapons. 

Today, relations have expanded far beyond economic relations and the historic relations have now transformed itself into a strategic relationship. Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Oman in 2006 resulted in the creation of a joint Oman India military committee, which would ultimately pave the way for Indian military equipment to be sold to Oman. The fruits of this effort can be seen today as Oman has decided to purchase the INSAS rifle, which will become the main assault rifle of the Omani soldier[10]. Oman has also purchased 3 tugboats from India and Oman has expressed its interest for purchase of more naval vessels from India[11]

Variants of the INSAS Rifle

Omani soldiers and sailors have been training in India for many years. Up until 2008, relations were driven primarily between the navies of the 2 nations. For example When an Indian ship encountered a problem off the northern part of Yemen, its officers were flown immediately to Muscat and from there to India[12]. However defence cooperation has expanded between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO), who recently held their first ever annual air exercise code named ‘Eastern Bridge’ at Thumrait Air force base. The focus of this was anti-piracy and building relationships. One cannot also miss the fact that the terrain of Oman is highly similar to that of Balochistan province of Pakistan. Experience in Oman can prove to be invaluable. Next year, both countries will hold their biggest ever military exercise in India that will involve units from the army, navy and coast guard of both countries[13]

A RAFO Jaguar leads a pair of IAF Jaguars over Oman (Courtesy: IAF via Bharat Rakshak)

The increase in the number of defence exercises as well as the size and complexity between the two countries are due to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Oman in November 2008 to sign a defence pact[14]. Since then there has been a number of naval exercises between the 2 navies. 

The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh with the Sultan of Oman, HM Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al-Said, in Muscat on November 9, 2008. P D Photo by B M Meena (PTI)
Oman and India have shared similar views on regional political and security issues. For example both agree that they would like to see a stable Afghanistan and the leadership of both countries have expressed concern over fundamentalism in the region during Vajpayee’s visit to Oman in 1998. Defence Minister AK Anthony during a visit to Oman in May said “we have a common aim in Afghanistan and that is to ensure that it does not become a base of safe haven for terrorists again. We want a stable, moderate, unified and democratic Afghanistan”[15]. Oman has been a major NATO logistics base for Af-Pak (Afghanistan/Pakistan) operations, as cargo is airlifted to Afghanistan on a daily basis via Muscat.

Post Mumbai attacks of 2008, the Omani foreign minister was the first from any of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Countries) to visit India and had called for “Pakistan to move beyond assurances to firm action against the perpetrators of the attacks”. The foreign minister of Oman His Exellency Yusuf bin Allawi bin Abdullah also told his counterpart “there could be no excuse for not dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism across the Indian border”[16].

Subsequent investigations found that the Pakistani based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba had a cell in Muscat. This cell was involved in financing terror operations in India, in particular the Bangalore blasts in 2008. The Omani authorities had already arrested many of this cell for plotting attacks inside Oman. The Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) was able to locate one of the prime suspects of the Bangalore attacks named Sarfraz Nawaz in Muscat who was under arrest by the Royal Omani Police (ROP) for being involved with the Lashkar cell. Oman had extradited Nawaz secretly to India in order to face trial and help Indian investigators. Nawaz’s extradition proved to be a treasure of information on the lashkar’s finance network in the Middle East.  The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the ROP had also been working together on this case. The Home ministry have gone on record to say “Oman’s responses are a model for smooth trans-national cooperation that are needed to counter the threat (of terrorism)”[17].

The joint investigation found that an Omani national named Ali Abdul Aziz Al Hooti was involved in financing the Bangalore blasts but more critically he may have been deeply involved in the Mumbai attacks. Investigators found that Al Hooti (who has been sentenced for life in Oman) had visited Mumbai days before the attack took place. Police in Oman have relayed to their Indian counterparts that he remained in close contact with Lashkar commanders in Pakistan and had direct links with key suspects of the Mumbai attacks[18].  The Intelligence Bureau has contacted the Omani authorities in order to extradite Al Hooti to India, and it is said that talks are on between the governments[19]. This will be a further test to cooperation between the 2 countries.

The Future

Apart from expanding cooperation in the defence, security and economic areas, India looks to expand cooperation in peaceful civilian nuclear energy with the Sultanate of Oman. This was mentioned to Omani officials by the then Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shashi Tharoor[20]. Another area where India would like to get involved in is GCC wide construction of a rail network. We can also look forward to the signing of the Oman India Joint Investment fund which will have its headquarters in Mumbai. This fund which will have initial fund of $100million will have the option to be upgraded to $1.5 billion, which will be used to fund infrastructure projects in both countries. A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and the GCC appear to be on the cards, however these have been bogged down to differences with Saudi Arabia. 
The relationship between both countries has come along way since contacts were first made by the Indus valley civilisation. Today the strength of relationship is due to the vision of the Sultan of Oman His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and successive Indian government officials.

[4]  Peterson, John E.. Oman in the Twentieth Century. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1978
[6] Gulf States Newsletter GSN 875 – Al Zawawi Group
[7] Oman and the World, Joseph A Kechchian. – RAND Corporation

The Middle East (or West Asia in MEA parlance)

The aim of this blog is to keep upto date with West Asian current affairs (in particular the GCC) and express views on the Middle East in the eyes of India.

The blog will also cover a wide array of subjects impacting politics in the Middle East. I intend to post views on major incidents in the past such as the Israel - Hezbollah war, local politics of the UAE (as a result of the fallout from Dubai's economic collapse) and Mumbai Attacks (26/11).

The people of India and the Middle East have had historical relations for well over 2000 years. 

The strength of these relations over history has always been related to the sea trade and the geography.

India's closest ally in the Middle East has always been the Sultanate of Oman. My next post will be a walkthrough of relations between the Sultanate of Oman and the republic of India.

Dear Readers, if you have any news and views please email eye.on.middleeast "at" gmail dot com

Many Thanks.