In a delicate balancing act, India’s President Pranab Mukherjee is set to embark on a three-nation tour, including Israel, Palestine and Jordan, which will underscore New Delhi’s enduring commitment to the Arab world without compromising on its growing strategic and economic ties with Israel.
Mr Mukherjee will commence his six-day visit to West Asia, starting from October 10 with Jordan being his first stop. He will then visit Palestine, followed by Israel.
The presidential visit to Jordan will be watched closely in the Arab world as Mukherjee becomes the first Indian President to visit the Arab country in 65 years. Mr Mukherjee’s meeting with King Abdullah will focus on enhancing economic and security partnership against the backdrop of growing extremism in the region. In this respect, President Mukherjee’s visit to Jordan will build on King Abdullah’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the 70th UN General Assembly session in New York last month. During the meeting, India and Jordan held discussions on the growing rise of radicalism and extremism in the region. They also discussed the rise of extremist groups like the Islamic State (IS) in the region. India emphasised on the need to have an anti-terrorism treaty like the proposed Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) and stressed that it was time for the world to adopt this convention.
India has been pitching for the finalisation of an anti-terrorism treaty globally to ban terrorists and make it binding for countries to deny funds and a safe haven to them. Mr Mukherjee is expected to take up the issue of enhancing security cooperation between the two countries. The two sides will explore possibilities of opening new synergies in different areas of mutual interest, including counterterrorism, defence, information technology and energy, said Anil Wadhwa, secretary (east) in India’s ministry of external affairs ahead of the visit.
“This visit would provide an opportunity to review, revive and reinvigorate our longstanding relations with Jordan at the highest level and would give impetus to our relations both in the political and economic domains. Also, the visit would give an opportunity to know Jordan’s stand on various regional issues of our interest,” he said.
The two sides will be looking to scale up economic partnership. Bilateral trade has grown steadily between India and Jordan, which stood at USD 1.89 billion in 2014 as against USD 1.61 billion in 2013. India is the fourth largest trading partner of Jordan. The economic reforms undertaken by both countries have opened up possibilities of boosting bilateral trade and Indian investments in information technology, telecommunication, pharmaceuticals, leather, automotive sector, construction, renewable energy, power, and railways and transport.
Upscaling the supply of phosphoric acid, rock phosphate and Diammonium phosphate from Jordan will figure prominently in discussions. The two sides will be looking to forge joint ventures in this area. The joint venture project, the Jordan-India Fertiliser Company (JIFCO), with an investment of USD 860 million between the Indian Farmers Fertilisers Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) and the Jordan Phosphate Mines Company (JPMC) has been producing phosphoric acid for export to India.
Mr Mukherjee’s visit to Palestine on October 12-13 should allay sceptics who have been questioning India’s commitment to the Palestinian cause in wake of New Delhi’s burgeoning relations with Tel Aviv. During his meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas, the president is expected to reinforce this message and reiterate India’s support for the capacity building initiatives of Palestine.
“India has traditionally supported a negotiated solution resulting in a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognised borders side by side at peace with Israel as endorsed in the Quartet Roadmap and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions,” said Mr Wadhwa ahead of the visit.
India cosponsored the UNGA Resolution in November 2012 that upgraded the status of Palestine to a non-member observer state. New Delhi also supported the recent resolution in UNGA a few weeks back regarding raising the flags of non-member observer states at the UN.
Mr Abbas had met Mr Modi on the sidelines of the 70th UN General Assembly session in New York. During the meeting, India and Palestine discussed the growing rise of extremism in the region and discussed ways to tackle the growing threats like IS. International terrorism in general, specially the IS, was the major area of focus during the talks between the two leaders.
There has been a growing concern in some sections in India that the Modi government is tilting towards Israel and not committed to the Palestinian cause. The government maintains that it is as committed to the Palestinian cause as much as it is to improving relations with Israel. Increase in defence trade with Israel has led to many critics questioning India’s commitment to the Palestinian cause, but to the credit of the Indian government it has continued supporting the Palestine cause while enhancing cooperation with Israel in many areas.
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