King Abdullah-II has just concluded a short but substantive official visit to India. This was the monarch`s second visit to India. The first was in 2006. 12 memoranda of understanding and agreements were signed covering defence cooperation, setting up a Centre of Excellence in Jordan by CDAC, augmenting health infrastructure, customs management, supply of rock phosphates, setting up a Hindi chair at Jordan University, amongst others. A bilateral security dialogue has in fact, started in 2016. During King Abdullah`s present visit, no defence deals were struck, though exploratory dialogue took place on the Indian Advanced Light Helicopter. A highlight of the visit was the Jordanian monarch`s emphasis at a public function at New Delhi on the sublime and humanistic features of Islam, and Islamic heritage promoting understanding and moderation.
India`s relations with the Hashemite kingdom have been cordial over the years, even during the period when Yasser Arafat was alive and active as the Palestine Liberation Organisation`s undisputed leader with deep political and emotional bonds with India within the non-aligned movement and outside, and Jordan-Palestine relations were not at its best. India, though strongly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause for a separate homeland, did not face obstacles in maintaining a reasonable level of cooperative relations with Jordan. This is because, differences in Palestine-Jordan relations arose from the huge economic burden of sheltering a large number of Palestinian refugees from the West Bank consequent on Israeli forceful occupation of the territory after the 1967 War, consequent threat to demographic balance between Jordanians and Palestinian within Jordan, and King Hussain`s (present monarch`s father) attempts to forcibly suppress violent protests by the refugees in the camps. Nevertheless, there was parallelism in Jordanian and Palestinian postures towards Israel, and India was a consistent supporter of the Arabs advocating that, Israel should vacate the post-1967 occupation of Arab territory.
However, relations between New Delhi and Amman were politically oriented to the extent that, both the countries were conscious not to undermine each others fundamental security interests. The economic content of the relations, however, remained quite low. India was cognisant of the western influence on the Jordanian monarchy, Jordan`s moderating influence within the Islamic world, and also some degree of consideration within different Jordanian Governments of India`s position on Jammu & Kashmir vis-à-vis Pakistan.
The international situation and in the Middle East in particular, has changed significantly in the recent past as compared to the Cold War days or even from the late `90s and the last decade. The phenomenon of Islamic radicalism, symbolised by Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), have brought about a huge ferment in the Arab world, its periphery and even beyond. The alignment and contents of nation states in the Middle East have changed enormously, with Arab polity or rather polities, under threat. Viability or durability of some of the Arab states established post-World War-II and termination of the League of Nation`s mandate on Palestine to United Kingdom in May 1948, seems to have become doubtful. Jordan and its monarchy have however, manged to maintain a semblance of internal order, modernity and moderation in internal governance, in this turbulent milieu. Notwithstanding Palestine-Israel relations becoming more volatile, Tel-Aviv`s disinclination to accede to a two-state solution and a Palestinian homeland in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and posture on partitioning of Jerusalem hardening, Jordan has been able to maintain workable relations with Israel. Jordan has the distinction of being one of the few Arab states to recognise Israel and maintain diplomatic relations with the latter.
In this backdrop, India has an unique opportunity to upgrade its relations with Jordan, and leverage them in a manner that, the bilateral content increases, becomes diversified and yields political dividends in relation to issues critical to India. India`s partnership with Jordan could strengthen counter-terrorism efforts including the menace of export of terrorism from Pakistan to India, particularly in Jammu & Kashmir. Moreover, it may be possible to influence Amman to be supportive of India`s endeavour to reform the United Nations to the extent of expanding the Security Council with a few major countries like India included in this principal organ, more equitable sharing of the world body`s financial burden, framing of multilateral conventions against money laundering, curbing illegitimate financial flows to destabilise states, etc. Though Jordan has worked within the framework of the Organisation of Islamic States (OIC) where Pakistan has actively manoeuvred against India`s interests, it may be feasible for New Delhi to counteract stridency at times within the OIC at Pakistan`s behest on issues like condition of Muslims, their so-called persecution by majoritarian outfits in India, etc.
Though the present NDA Government seems more inclined of late, towards Israel in its strategic interest involving the developing of an architecture of defence cooperation, co-production and supplies of equipment systems including in niche technologies, it has also tried to be even-postured on the Palestine homeland and a two-state solution to the Palestine-Israeli issues.Jordan is extremely worried that, the path to resolution of these issues is becoming more complicated, particularly after Israel`s determined move to undertake more and more Jewish settlements on forcibly occupied Palestine territory and de-facto acceptance of Jerusalem including the occupied eastern part as Israel`s capital city by the present US Government. Prime Minister Modi during his visit to Palestine in February 2018has tried to balance out India-Israel strategic cooperation by reiterating support for the two-state solution. This latest stance of Government of India is expected to be viewed positively by Jordan. A solution which does not involve shrinkage of Jordan`s present extent of physically held territory, will be viewed with relief by Amman. When both US President Trump and Israeli premier Netanyahu advocate a one-state solution to the Palestine issue, there is always an underlying fear that, eventually more Palestinian exodus will take place, and more Palestinian refugees flow from Israel controlled Palestine to present-day Jordan, aggravating the latter`s demographic condition.
Economic content of the India-Jordan bilateral relations is still low. There is need to diversify. As per Government trade data, India`s exports to Jordan were Rs. 3504 crore worth only in 2016, constituting 0.1895 percent of total exports. The position of imports is not very different. Reckoning the near similar geophysical conditions in Palestine and Jordan, India could consider broadening its trade relations in a manner which encompasses both Jordan and Palestine. Building up of capacities, in ground water management and salinity control in water bodies, and start-ups, could be fruitful areas of imparting training to both Jordanians and Palestinians. The financial health of Jordan is not of a high order. Jordan`s debt last year was $ 35 billion constituting 95 % of its GDP.India could play an important role towards assisting Jordan through investment in its infrastructure building and imparting capabilities to the Jordanians to manage the capital assets built up through the investment. This will positively impact the country`s debt burden also. Such an investment effort and enhancement of capacities of management, will also promote emotional connectivity between the people of the two countries.
(The author is a retired IDAS officer of Government of India)