When Pt Jawaharlal Nehru visited Syria in 1957 and again in 1960 he was welcomed in Damascus by people who were chanting slogans of “Welcome to the hero of world peace” and “Long live the leader of Asia”.
Indian foreign policy under Nehru was based on morality and was insistent on taking a stand against the world’s most powerful. This was the reason why under Nehru India followed the policy of Non- Alignment during the cold war era and decided not to side with either the US or the USSR.
The world was taken aback by the heinous chemical attacks in Syria and as sympathies flowed from every corner of the world towards the affected people, so did criticism for the Syrian dictator. India kept quiet.
6th April 2017 became the unfortunate date to observe the death of dozens of people in Syria, who fell prey to chemical attacks, conducted by the very own leader of the country, Bashar al-Assad. The entire world fell into a frenzy following the attack.
Most world leaders denounced the attack and called for strict action to be taken against the Assad government. US president Donald Trump, who had earlier vowed not to intervene in Syrian affairs was cajoled out of his unwillingness by his security advisors, which resulted in the USA firing 59 tomahawk missiles at Syrian army bases. India has kept quite throughout.
UK, Germany, France along with the UN condemned the attack. China appealed for an investigation and even Pakistan called the use of chemical weapons ‘barbaric’. India has been suspiciously quiet.
While Assad went to war with his own citizens in 2013, India moved from warmth to positive support for him. High-profile visits were exchanged last year and the two governments seem to have made common cause on one issue in particular: how to contain growing allegations about their human rights record and focus international attention solely on terrorism.
India has long warded off international censure for human rights violations in Kashmir. With protests breaking out in the Valley last year, it came under fire again from the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation. India counted on Assad as an ally in this diplomatic war and when the United Nations voted last year on a ceasefire in Syria, it abstained.
India also has economic stakes in Syria. Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited signed contracts in 2009, while the Oil and Natural Gas Cooperation-Videsh, only left Syrian oilfields last year. Meanwhile, Assad has enlisted Indian financial support in rebuilding the country.
Balance of Power
Out of the complexity of the Syrian civil, there is only one thing which is certain. It has become a proxy war between US and Russia. The US had kept its focus on ISIS for a long time but during the second term of the Obama administration, it also got embroiled in the civil war when it formally started training the rebel forces to oust the Assad government.
Russia, on the other hand, has considered Syria as an important ally due to its strategic location, which gives Russia a shot at dominating America’s favorite diplomatic spot: the Middle East.
India has in a very shrewd fashion been able to extend alliances with both Russia and the USA. Prime Minister Modi has time and again been reported to be on good terms with the former US Barak Obama and also with the Russian premier Putin.
To take sides in a proxy war in Syria would mean taking sides for India, which it cannot afford to do. With Russia’s likeliness for China and USA’s growing need to counter China’s growth, the situation has become even more delicate. US views India as a winning chip to establish a strong footing in Asia while trying to contain China’s exponential growth and military might. India considers Russia on the other hand to be an important ally, both militarily and in shared values.
What does it say about India in the international community?
Indian minister for external affairs, Sushma Swaraj and the Prime Minister Modi have been outspoken about tragic international events in the past. From bombings in Nice, France to recent Westminster attacks, Indian politicians have never failed to express their views on such occasions.
India’s mum on this issue clearly seems to be because of its vested interests in both countries. The question now is, should a country like India which aims to be a super power by 2050, be passive on an issue as profound as this?
It seems as if India is still not in a comfortable position in the international community to be able to take a strong opinion against powers as huge as USA and Russia. While China and Japan have been openly critical about the attacks India has chosen not to aggrieve either parties in Syria.
India can clearly be seen putting pragmatic foreign interests ahead of moral values. This is a clear departure from Nehruvian values in Indian foreign policy and to an extent, is a chicken move.
“India will not tolerate any act of violence against any innocent nor any state which sponsors such terrorism”
-Indian PM, Mr Narendra Modi
India’s leader Mr Narendra Modi has given a facelift to the India style of diplomacy. Since the time he assumed office he has handled international relation differently, much like in the style of former PM and veteran politician Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Mr Modi’s popularity in the international arena should have been reason enough for him to condemn the attacks in Syria. The way India has responded to the entire Syrian crisis, it doesn’t resound its vision of itself, 30 years hence.
India is not only a competent country but also has a value system deeply sympathetic towards any kind of wrongdoing. For a nation like India which has for years carried the bastion of being moral leader for the world, it is unhealthy to delve into safe-diplomatic-politics at the cost of moral depreciation.