Strange parallel

The regional states, which fuel civil war in Syria, are playing a dangerous game by collaborating with the west’s geopolitical agenda.

The world community erred in anticipating a ‘Libya-like’ western intervention in Syria. Rather, the beast slouching towards Damascus bears uncanny resemblance to the one that crossed the Khyber Pass circa 1980.

Syria lies in the vortex of the geopolitics of West Asia – Israel’s regional dominance, control of Iraq’s oil, Hezbollah and Hamas, Iran’s rise and so on. The name of the game over Syria is ‘regime change.’ Period. There is a congruence of interests among the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in ousting the leadership of Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus. Thus, the western and Turkish intelligence have recruited Syrian rebels and defectors and trained them to undertake subversive activities inside Syria and destablise the regime. 

The US created the political space for the rebels to operate by ensuring that Kofi Annan’s mission never got traction. Turkey provides the sanctuary for the Syrian rebels to operate from while Saudi Arabia and Qatar have funded the enterprise. A cycle of violence has ensued leading to civil war conditions in Syria.

The US’ strategy in the Afghan ‘jihad’ was strikingly similar – CIA’s role in Peshawar, the US’ ploys blocking the PDPA regime’s outreaches on reform and national reconciliation; the stonewalling of UN’s mediatory mission; the funding of the ‘jihad’ by the Arab sheikhs; Pakistan’s stellar role as the staging ground for Afghan ‘Mujahideen’, etc. If the US exploited Zia ul-Haq’s dream to gain ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, it today plays on the present Turkish leadership’s ‘neo-Ottoman’ vanities.

The saddest part is that the interventionist powers are blithely accentuating sectarian fault lines to calibrate future developments. Salafism has surged to the fore. Once the genie of sectarianism and ethnicity is let out of the bottle, no part of West Asia can escape its deleterious impact – starting with Turkey in the west to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the east.

 The restive Kurds and Alawites account for over 40 per cent of Turkey’s population. Shia empowerment is already a big issue in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, etc. Suffice to say, the regional states, which fuel civil war in Syria, are playing a dangerous game by collaborating with the west’s geopolitical agenda. Pakistan’s tragic experience should have alerted them to the blowback that is inevitable.

From the Indian viewpoint, the most dangerous aspect is the US’ use of militant Islamists as the instruments of geopolitics. “What is important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War? Nonsense!” This was how the then former US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski justified the deployment of Islamist foot soldiers (later known as ‘Arab fighters’ or the al-Qaeda) to spearhead the ‘Afghan jihad’.

Prime objective 

Once again, the Islamist fighters are being brought in from outside to provide a ‘steel frame’ for the Syrian opposition. To be sure, these holy warriors will eventually try to seize the agenda, as they did in Afghanistan. In all this, it is the weakening of the Syrian state that is the prime objective of the US (since that would presumably tilt regional balance of power in Israel’s favour) – not ‘nation-building’. The deluge of Islamist militancy that is sure to follow or the fragmentation of yet another plural society – as in after Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan – do not deter the US.  

Delhi needs to anticipate the negative fallouts of the Syrian crisis on the region where six million Indians live and work and contribute to the Indian economy, which is a major trading partner and a meaningful interlocutor in energy security. India is a stakeholder.

 As events begin unfolding and a protracted civil war looms ahead in Syria, profound issues arise, which impact the international system. The pursuit of geopolitical objectives through military intervention, violation of national sovereignty, fragmentation of plural societies, use of radical Islamists as instruments of regional policy – all these go against India’s cardinal beliefs and core interests.

What emerges is that beneath the rhetoric of the Arab Spring – ‘right side of history’, etc. – a restructuring of West Asia’s political order is being attempted so that western hegemony in the region continues in newer forms. This is an abhorrent geopolitical agenda that is out of sync with the spirit of our times, and it negates the very idea of a democratic world order that India espouses.

Everything taken into account, therefore, India’s abstention during the recent vote in the United Nations General Assembly on Syria was the right approach. Looking ahead, what can India do? A peaceful, orderly transition in Syria through political dialogue is extremely crucial for overall regional stability.

 It is also in India’s own interests. Clearly, the international community has the responsibility to resolve the crisis in Syria and India is right in underscoring that Annan’s six-point peace plan still provides a good basis. The main obstacle today is the foreign intervention by a few countries chasing the chimera that the Syrian regime will cave in. Whereas, continued external intervention can only aggravate the Syrian situation and lead to a protracted regional crisis in India’s ‘extended neighbourhood’.

There is no alternative to the regional countries and international community working together. India can assist in bridging the hiatus that today exists. Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s forthcoming visit to Tehran and the NAM summit provide an appropriate setting for creative Indian diplomacy.

(The writer is a former ambassador) 

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