In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Syria lays bare India’s foreign policy

Posted by seumasach on August 10, 2011


Indian Punchline

9th August, 2011


In a high-profile month of August, occupying the presidency of the United Nations Security Council could have embellished India’s claim to permanent membership of the club. But it is not going to happen that way, but instead it may turn out to be a test of the resilience of India’s ‘non-alignment’ in a multi-polar world. India’s tight-rope walk on Syria moves on to a delicate trapeze act this week when the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon presents his report on Syria and the 15 members begin to deliberate what to do with it.

Quite a bit of evidence is available already that an orchestrated move is underway engineered by the United States to get the UN SC adopt a resolution on Syria. Look at the sequence in the run-up to Ban’s report which is expected to be presented on Thursday. Last Friday, for the first time Turkey hinted that it might intervene in Syria. On Saturday, Ban spoke to Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad and demanded an immediate end to violence and sounding critical of the Syrian regime. (No need to bet what Ben’s report is going to contain.) On Sunday, for the first time, Arab League (where Saudis call the shots) raised its voice and suggested a foreign minister-level meet on Syria. On Monday, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador in Damascus and this was followed by similar moves by Kuwait and Bahrain. (Qatar did the same earlier.) Ahmed al-Tayeb, head of al-Azhar, the pinnacle of Sunni establishment, immediately followed the Saudi king and issued a critical statement on Syria on Monday. On Tuesday, Turkish FM Ahmet Davutoglu is visiting Damascus to deliver an ultimatum.

Things are moving with clockwork precision. What emerges is that like over Libya, western powers and NATO can now claim an ‘Arab consensus’ in favour of intervention in Syria. The speech by Saudi King Abdullah on Syria will stand out in international politics and the politics of the Middle East as one of the most cynical acts of modern times. What motivates the Persian Gulf autocrats to turn up as the voice of freedom, democracy and human rights? It’s politics, Stupid. The Saudis are consumed by the blinding hatred of the rise of Iran in the region. Brian Whitaker of the Guardian has anexcellent article on the complicated Saudi mind and the great paradoxes that Abdullah represents in the Arab Spring. Equally ironic is the role of Bahrain. Kuwait is terrified of the Shi’ite crescent, too.

What fascinates is Egypt’s deafening silence. And Iraq’s support of Assad regime. Egypt, Syria and Iraq represent the mind, heart and soul of the Arab world. Currently, one of Iran’s most influential politicians — Alae’ddin Broujerdi, chairman of the Majlis foreign and security affairs commission — is visiting Cairo. This is the first high-level visit by an Iranian official to post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt and is indicative of the shift in the balance of power in the region.

India’s predicament is going to be acute. The plain truth is that geopolitics lie at the core of the Syrian crisis. Turkey has territorial ambitions over its former colony. It also has dreams of reclaiming the Ottoman legacy in the region. The NATO wants to arrive in the heart of the Muslim Middle East, which would be a huge leap out of Europe in its journey to become the premier global security organisation. For the US and Israel, the regime change in Damascus means the weakening of Hamas and it also opens the way to isolate Iran and Hezbollah, which in turn enables Israel to regain its regional dominance. The Sunni-Shi’ite schism provides the ideal backdrop for the US to retain its regional dominance over the strategically important Arab world — ‘divide-and-rule’. The Persian Gulf autocrats are hoping that Syria would divert attention away for a long while from their own rotting parishes.

All-in-all, the decision India takes at any UN Security Council process can only be viewed as ‘ideological’ insofar as it will be about: a) India’s strategic partnership with US and the need to harmonise with US regional policies; b) India’s dependence on the Jewish lobby in the US and the military ties with Israel; and, c) India’s time-tested friendship with the Syrian regime. If India votes with a US-Israeli-Saudi-Turkish move against the Syrian regime, will it bring India closer to UN Security Council membership? No way. Does India have stakes in the Sunni-Shi’ite schism that is going to tear apart the Muslim world? Certainly not. Does India have partisan interests in the Saudi-Iranian rivalry? Unlikely — even making allowance for the Saudi/Wahhabi/petrodollar clout over the ruling Congress Party in India’s domestic politics.

Finally, what happens if there is a regime change in Syria? Will it be any better than the chaos that unfolded in Iraq or Libya? Does India have any clear-cut  vision to offer for a post-Assad Syria? Not even a brave heart in South Block will claim it has one. The strong likelihood is the emergence of the Islamist forces in yet another part of the Middle Eastern landscape. In sum, India’s stance on Syria in the UN is going to be something to write home about. It will lay bare the beating heart of India’s foreign policy establishment.


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