Today, Israel and India have good relations. Those relations are largely the result of converging interests: both countries are fighting enemies allied with radical Islam, both have had major wars against Muslim neighbors, and both are developing democracies that wrested their independence from the same colonial master. In addition, a symbiotic relationship has developed — India’s free markets and manifold needs are attractive to Israeli companies looking to do business abroad, and India has turned to Israel to supply many of the technologies it needs to feed its enormous population.
Things between the two countries weren’t always so smooth, though. Although never an anti-Semitic society, it took India many years to overcome its aversion to the State of Israel, with diplomatic relations established barely two decades ago But that decision has paid off for New Delhi: Trade between the two countries amounts to $5.5 billion a year (excluding defense purchases), and even more important, Israel has given much to India in the areas of technology, medicine, and agriculture. Just a few weeks ago, for example, hundreds of Indian farmers converged on Tel Aviv to learn more about advanced Israeli agricultural technology at the Agritech exhibition.
India’s burgeoning tech relationship with Israel hasn’t gone unnoticed; and perhaps surprisingly, one country that has noticed and may be seeking to duplicate it is Pakistan.
Over the past decade, Israel’s relationship with Asia as a whole has undergone a quiet revolution. As Asia has grown in prominence, Israel has increased trade with nearly every country in the region. A recent report said that between October 2011 and January 2012, 21% of Israeli exports went to Asian countries, compared to 20% of exports that went to the US. That’s the first time Israeli exports eastward outpaced those to the US, and as Asian countries industrialize and expand their economies, that trend is likely to strengthen.
Israel now has a healthy economic relationship with both of Asia’s giants, China and India. As China has begun loosening state control over some aspects of the economy, Israeli companies have found some good opportunities there. Despite China’s liberalization, the government is still heavily involved in many aspects of infrastructure, agriculture, and heavy industry, and Beijing, realizing how China can benefit from Israel’s advanced technology, has embraced Israeli high-tech with a passion, partnering with Israeli companies in a wide range of projects, such as the billion shekel water technology project Israel is working on in China.
India, on the other hand, has long been a democracy, and Indian farmers and businesspeople have been free to do business with Israeli companies, at least since diplomatic relations were established. In the past, though, there was a certain reluctance among Indians to embrace Israel, perhaps due to India’s strong economic ties to Arab countries, which, until not too long ago, enforced a boycott of Israel that forbade any of their trading partners from doing business with Israeli companies. The fact that India has a large, and sometimes restive, Muslim minority also tempered enthusiasm for developing relations with the Jewish state.
India, though, has also begun to embrace Israeli technology in everything from agriculture to defense systems to IT to diamonds, even as diplomatic relations with Jerusalem are sometimes still a bit stiff. Indian delegations are now prominent at almost every international technology show held in Israel.
This week, for the third year in a row, Israeli and Indian tech executives will gather at the Israel-India Technology Forum, to identify new technologies that would be appropriate for the Indian market. Among those attending will be representatives of some of India’s biggest companies, such as Infosys, the huge consulting company with annual revenues of some $7 billion. The program will include speeches by Knesset members and Israeli tech executives, and tours of Israeli start-ups.
The project was initiated and organized by the Israeli Embassy in India, and Orna Sagiv, Israel’s consul-general in Mumbai, said that “there is a lot of appreciation in India for Israel’s advanced technologies and innovation. Many Indian executives have expressed interest in advanced Israeli technologies in the fields of IT, such as the Internet, information security, cloud computing, computerized solutions for organizations and cellular telephone applications, as well as expanding cooperation with Israeli companies.”
That statement could just as easily apply to a host of fields, including agricultural technologies, water and environment technologies, medical technologies, and so on. It’s that appreciation — the realization that Israeli technology can help India’s nearly one billion people live better lives — that has helped Indian businesspeople and government officials leave behind their former hesitancy to do business with Israel.
The cost/benefit analysis that made India overcome its historic Israel-phobia is now being applied, at least to some extent, by Pakistan. In recent months, numerous articles and statements by Pakistani commentators and intelligentsia – and even political leaders — have appeared on mainstream Pakistani news sites calling for the country to follow India’s example.
Pakistanis advocating better relations say that Israel can help Pakistan not only with agriculture, computer sciences, electronics, genetics, medicine, solar energy, and more, but also with its international relations. “The Jewish lobby all around the world can help Pakistan raise its image as a friendly nation,” said one advocate of opening ties with Israel.
Indeed, part of the motivation seems to be jealousy, or at least a desire to duplicate India’s economic advancement. “It’s time to face it,” says the founder of a Pakistani policy think tank. “We need a better Pakistan in the coming world. We need strong friends. India is getting it all, whether it’s the USA, Israel, Russia and even our good old friend China. It’s time for us to broaden our thoughts and look out for what is in the best interest of Pakistan.”