Commentary: Jordan Matters – India and the Hashemite Kingdom
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

His Majesty King Abdullah Ibn Al Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan accompanied by Her Majesty Queen Rania will be on his second State visit to India at the end of this month, close on the heels of transit visit of PM Modi earlier this month en route to Palestine. He had visited India in 2006 when Jordan visibly veered more towards enriching and expanding bilateral ties. However, there was a lull and a hiatus in high level reciprocal visits from India which is so essential in today’s diplomatic engagement - perhaps due to our Pakistan fixation and their proximity to it.

No Indian President has visited Jordan in 65 years of establishment of diplomatic relations; the Vice President visited in 1999 for the funeral of King Hussein, and former PM Rajiv Gandhi went for a brief visit in 1988. Besides, no exclusive bilateral visit by an Indian Foreign Minister has taken place. The much-touted Joint Commission had not met for 9 years. This is what the author told former President Pranab Mukherjee when he made a courtesy call in 2014 before proceeding to Amman and when he was congratulated for being posted to “a very important and geo-strategic“ country in the region. There was no doubt about the importance of Jordan, but given the absence of high level exchanges, our intent appeared suspect. The President promised to visit Jordan and did so in October 2015 which was a landmark to brake the jinx.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met King Abdullah in New York on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly and Counter-Terrorism Summit when the two leaders developed great rapport and decided upon the core areas of collaboration to be security and intelligence cooperation, defence, trade and investment. Counter-terrorism was an obvious issue since both nations suffer from it and are at the forefront of fight against extremism and terrorism. New mechanisms, like Deputy National Security Advisor level meeting, closer intelligence exchange and cooperation in de-radicalisation, were instituted. The King invited India to be part of the Aqaba Process against terrorism and radicalisation and we have actively participated in it. Joint Commission has already met twice and it is regularly addressing the challenges and issues that may have cropped up over the years, especially those impeding trade and investment.

First bilateral agreement on trade, cooperation and friendly relations was signed between the two newly independent countries in 1947 itself. India has become the third largest trade and investment partner of Jordan and the largest market for their phosphates and potash. With an investment of US $860 million, the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) and the Jordan Phosphate Mines Company (JPMC) created a flagship joint venture Jordan India Fertiliser Company (JIFCO) in south of Jordan, for manufacturing and export of the phosphoric acid. The famous Abdoun bridge constructed by M/S Larsen & Toubro (L&T)at Amman, Rock Phosphate Terminal by the AFCONS Infrastructure Limited in Aqaba and more than 20 textile units owned by Indians in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the North stand testimony to India’s continued interest in the Jordanian opportunity. Notably, Jordan can boast of being a country with maximum Free Trade Agreements (FTA) to provide preferential access to all major markets in the world. It would be useful for India to enter into a FTA so that the “Make in India” and “Make in Jordan” projects could provide the much needed impetus to growth in trade through investment.

On the other hand, the King, at the India-Jordan Business Forum or during interaction with CEOs, will be flagging for greater Indian investments in infrastructure, energy sector especially in the renewables, automotive, information & communication technology, pharma R&D, higher educational collaboration and the opportunity in reconstruction of Iraq and Syria. From our perspective, since Jordan has one of the largest deposits of Shale, it will be desirable to initiate serious dialogue for futuristic engagements whenever it becomes technologically and financially more viable compared to hydrocarbons. This option must be on the table. We could also explore some collaboration in civil nuclear energy as Jordan is also looking to set up Russian Kudankulam type nuclear power plants. Secondly, we should have long term agreements for supply of Jordanian phosphates and other minerals to cater to our agricultural requirements. Thus Jordan can easily play a significant role in our food and energy security.

Jordan has also been very keen to attract Indian tourists as well as film industry and Indian businessmen to its historic, civilisational and religious sites. Yoga is already very popular there. During the organisation of the first International Yoga Day one was surprised to find dozens of Yoga Centres and large number of enthusiastic practitioners even during the Ramadan. It is one of the few countries in the Middle East that allows entry visa on arrival for Indians. We also reciprocated by including Jordan in the first group of countries under the e-visa programme. We only have over 10,000 Indians working in Jordan, but the King had agreed to set up a grievance redressal mechanism under a senior officer of the Royal Court. For tourism promotion, direct flights could play an important role. Royal Jordanian Airlines abruptly suspended its popular flights to India in 2014, and perhaps it can review that decision for its own benefit. Moreover, it is time that some Indian carriers should also explore operation on the lucrative route.

At the popular level, India has tremendous goodwill but perhaps Jordan’s historically closer relations with Pakistan has dented Indian enthusiasm to reinforce and expand ties in sensitive strategic areas. But that situation has changed. Though the King was in Islamabad only this month, but he cut short his stay in UAE to meet with PM Modi in transit. During the coming visit, we may witness institutionalisation of defence cooperation and signing of some agreements on media cooperation, upgrading of trade and investment targets, diplomatic visa free travel etc. The King might also visit Indian defence institutions and higher institutes of technology, apart from directly talking to the business leaders. While India provides capacity building assistance under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC), the visitors might be looking for enhanced assistance and some funds for coping up with the Syrian refugees burden. For us Jordan could be a reliable partner in counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation efforts and a preferential gateway for our trade, services and investment to the Western and Arab markets .

The Hashemite Kingdom is a fulcrum of stability and moderation in a turbulent neighbourhood which is coping up with radicalisation and returning militants after the defeat of the Islamic State (IS), excessive burden of million plus Syrian and other refugees, reducing assistance from prosperous Arab countries and declining remittances from its diaspora. However, that has not prevented them from taking a lead role in opposing President Trump’s proclamation of Jerusalem as capital of Israel that resulted in derailing of the Peace Process.

Jordan may be a small country but internationally it punches way above its weight as King Abdullah is a highly regarded moderate and modern leader, who is also the custodian of the holy mosque Al Aqsa and other religious sites in Jerusalem, and a committed protagonist for Palestine while remaining crucial to Israel’s security and its strategic ally, the US. King Abdullah highly appreciates India’s civilisational heritage, vision for development and progress, and a principled foreign policy stand, especially on Palestine issue. The two sides are on the same page on most international issues that impact our region. For peace and prosperity the twain should move along. Ahlan Your Majesty.

(The author is a former Ambassador of India to Jordan, Libya and Malta)
(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)

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