What an ironic paradox that Sultan Qaboos of Oman died at a time the Middle East he had tried all his life to keep calm and peaceful was beset with yet another round of profound turbulence. He breathed his last on Friday, two days after the Iranian air defence force ‘unintentionally’ shot down a Ukrainian airliner killing all 176 on board. The incident was the follow-up of Iranian missile attacks on the bases housing US troops in Iraq in the wake of assassination of Quds force commander Qassem Soleimani. For Sultan Qaboos the rapidly escalating US-Iran confrontation must have been a shock of his life – as it was he who had helped Iran agree to denuclearize as desired by the world powers. His policy of neutrality and non-interference had earned Oman the status of a “Switzerland of the Middle East”. He maintained healthy relations with the United States and regional powers on both sides of the Gulf. A graduate of Sandhurst Royal Military Academy he ruled the sultanate of Oman softly and constructively, the kind of governance that saved his country from the violent buffets of the Arab Spring and regional proxy wars. He ruled Oman, which was once the region’s most powerful and wealthy empire stretched as far as Zanzibar in south and Gwadar in north. As a ruler, Sultan Qaboos modernised Oman, and no less significantly also turned it into a broker for regional peace and co-existence. In 1997, Sultan Qaboos granted women the right to be elected to the country’s consultative body, the Shura Council and in 2003 he extended voting rights to everyone over 21. The sultan also commissioned an opera house for Muscat, the popularity of which is testament to his support for fine arts. He did not take sides in the Gulf dispute with Qatar and had refused his land to the pro-Iran Houthi militia in Yemen. That it took the sultanate only three days to select his cousin Haitham bin Tariq al-Said as the new sultan since there was no crown prince is a fact that speaks volumes for political stability he bequeathed to his nation.
The ceremony to condole the demise of Sultan Qaboos held on Sunday at Muscat was attended by kings, presidents and prime ministers of countries from across the globe. Oman is the nearest Arab country to Pakistan, as the two share maritime boundary with each other. About 30 percent Omanis are of Balochi descent from Pakistan’s Balochistan province. The Gwadar seaport, which has now acquired unprecedented strategic importance, was formerly part of Oman, but was sold to Pakistan in 1958. Oman had also cooperated in extending Pakistan’s territorial waters from 240,000 sq km to an additional 50,000 sq km. About 300,000 Pakistanis reside in Oman, many of them in important professional positions. The Pak Oman Investment Company is a specialized financial institution formed as joint venture between the two governments with equal share in total equity of Rs 6.15 billion. There is lot of commonality of strategic interest between the two countries – both are on the same page as far as peace in the Middle East is concerned. It is heartening to note that foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has conveyed prime minister Imran Khan’s invitation to Oman’s new sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said during his visit to Muscat yesterday.