India can propose solution for Syria

Saudi Arabia can also assist India in its quest for oil and gas to fuel consumption and development.

India and South Africa, two key countries which retain embassies in Damascus and can speak to both sides directly, could promote a political solution in Syria if they assert themselves. This is the opinion of Louay Hussein, leader of the domestic opposition group, ‘Building the Syrian State.’

Unfortunately, however, Hussein says that India has adopted a “passive, silent policy on the Syrian crisis over the past three or four months.”
Last Friday India sat on the fence by abstaining rather than voting against a UN General Assembly resolution put forward by Saudi Arabia. At the insistence of several non-aligned countries paragraphs  calling for the removal of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the imposition of sanctions were removed. Nevertheless, India abstained because it objected to a reference to an Arab League call for Assad to stand down.

The vote was 133 in favour, 12 against and 31 abstentions. “At the beginning (of Syria’s crisis),  India was very supportive of the regime, then it changed...Indian policy is not strategic, but focusing on short-term interests,” stated Hussein, who spent seven years as a political prisoner and now calls for a negotiated settlement to the Syrian conflict.
“For several months, everything that is happening in Syria is due to an external power struggle,” Hussein asserted.  This power struggle involves the US-led western and Arab Gulf powers, on one hand, and Russia, China, Iran and Iraq on the other.

Proxy war

Even UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who has been sharply critical of the Syrian government, says that the conflict here is a ‘proxy war’ between government forces fighting on behalf of eastern backers and rebels acting as surrogates of the west and its Arab allies.

India has abandoned its traditional friendship with Syria because New Delhi has adopted a policy based on short-term economic and political self-interest rather than principle or long-term self-interest.

While New Delhi and Damascus had a long history of good relations and shared a commitment to non-alignment during the old US-Soviet cold war, India has no major economic interests in Syria. However, India has six million citizens employed in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates. India also depends on trade and Saudi-Gulf investment. Saudi Arabia can also assist India in its quest for oil and gas to fuel consumption and economic development.

The 2010 visit of Saudi King Abdullah to India marked a change in relations between India and the Kingdom, a staunch supporter of Pakistan, always a major factor in New Delhi's calculations. Riyadh has since indicated that it will no longer harbour Muslim militants (jihadis) involved in terrorism in India. In a significant gesture to New Delhi, Riyadh deported to India Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, accused of involvement in the Pakistan-mounted terrorist attack in Mumbai that killed 166 people in 2008.

Following its rapprochement with Washington, New Delhi does not want to displease the US which, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, has become an aggressive global hegemon.

Since India is angling for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, friendly relations with the west are essential even though the existing five permanent members of the Council — the US, Britain, France, Russia and China - have not agreed on expansion. This means that India is banking on a fantasy on this issue.

Most Syrians want the conflict in their country to end although anti-regime regional and international powers regard Syria as a stage on which they can play deadly, destructive war games.

On the regional level, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the west seek to weaken the Iranian regime by depriving Tehran of its ally Syria. Saudi Arabia is also determined to establish a Sunni fundamentalist regime in Syria that will help contain the pro-Iranian Shia fundamentalist government in Baghdad -- which the US put into power after toppling Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

On the international plane, the US and its allies want Russia and China to abandon the Syrian regime. This is unlikely.  If it falls, Moscow and Beijing will cease to exert influence in this strategic region.

Syrians caught up in the ongoing conflict are paying a high price in blood and treasure while West Asia could suffer long-term destabilisation if the secular government collapses and Syria is taken over by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, the most organised and influential of the opposition groups.

Rebel forces in Syria have been joined by radical fundamentalists from the Saudi sponsored ‘international jihadi brigades’ which have deployed in Chechenya, the Balkans, China, Pakistan/Afghanistan and elsewhere. These brigades include hardened fighters who are prepared to fight and die anywhere they believe ‘Islam is in danger.’ India is one such place. Therefore, it is in India’s long-term interest to prevent jihadis from gaining a new territorial base in Syria.

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