Syrian conflict arose as a part of Arab Spring in 2011, with rebel groups rising to dethrone the regime of Bashar al-Assad, who has been the President since 2000. The conflict is into its sixth year now, and an end might be in sight.
India’s outlook on the Syrian conflict is shaped by several factors, and is as follows:
- India sees Syria, along with Iran is an important partner in West Asia. India’s dependence on oil and gas, and the exploration projects signed (and abandoned due to war) by ONGC Videsh Ltd in Deir Ezzor province shape India’s stance as that of wanting peace and stability in the region. Business delegation organized by ASSOCHAM visited Syria in 2014, at the height of the conflict.
- India has remained tactically neutral in the war so far. It abstained from a UNSC vote calling for immediate ceasefire of the conflict since it didn’t want to embroil itself in what is increasingly being seen as a proxy war between US and Russia in the region. US and Saudi Arabia support the rebel groups such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and support Assad’s removal, whereas Russia and Iran support Assad and favour quelling the uprising.
- Syrian government supports India’s stand on Kashmir, and the activities to flush out militants from its soil. Since Syrian government maintains that it is also fighting terrorists (rebel fighters) on its soil, India supports the claim of Syrian government. India has always remained in favour of Syria maintaining its territorial integrity, instead of being balkanized into territories held by various rebel groups.
- As Russia-Turkey ceasefire took place and the war nears an end, India has agreed to renew existing projects such as Tishreen Power plant and Hama steel plant. However, it has not made any commitment regarding new projects for reconstruction, even though Syria is looking at BRICS for investments to reconstruct Syria.
- Delhi and Damascus have seen continuous diplomatic visits throughout the conflict, and the talks have been encouraging. Delhi does not support the rebels because they are offshoots of the same terrorist organizations that are fomenting unrest in Kashmir and spreading terrorism in South Asia. Moreover, victory to rebels might lead to similar uprisings in neighbouring countries, spreading instability. This would be detrimental to India’s interests.
- India is also concerned about how the political vacuum, should Assad fall, would play out. Syrian government has shown success in battling the expansion of radical groups such as Islamic State (IS). India thus supports the fight against IS by any means possible.
- However, India has not been proactive enough to censure the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, or to push for a non-military solution. Delhi participated in the Geneva-II conferences and stressed upon a non-military solution, but it has not been vocal enough about the same. It did, however, provide $4 million in aid through Kuwait Conferences.
Thus, India’s outlook on the Syrian conflict, though largely neutral, is seeing a shift towards the Assad regime. Damascus also applauds Delhi’s present stand and the positive outlook towards it. It is hoped that with a speedy end to the conflict, the region will see stability and Delhi will play a major role in the region as it projects itself as a global power.