Despite the Syrian ambassador’s claims, India does not have a horse in the ongoing Syrian civil war.
The Syrian ambassador to India ruffled a few feathers when he commented during an interview with The Indian Express that Indian jihadis were involved in battling al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Excerpts from the interview follow:
“Indian fighters are waging Islamic jihad, along with fighters from Chechnya, Afghanistan and other countries,” the ambassador, who was handpicked by Assad for the India job two years ago, said.
Asked who these Indian fighters were, Abbas said, “They are Islamic people, not Hindus, because Hindus don’t wage Islamic jihad… Why are you surprised?
“There are people in India who support Muslim brotherhood’s ideology… They are very dangerous,” Abbas said.
According to Abbas, the fighters traveled to Turkey from India before entering Syria. “Some of them have been killed, some have been caught alive,” he said, adding, “One of them has been shown on Syrian TV, caught with an Indian passport.” [Indian Express]
The ambassador’s claims appear incredulous considering that there has simply been no historical precedent to suggest that Indian citizens sympathize with pan-Islamist causes to the extent that they would move to foreign countries to participate in conflict. The ambassdor’s statements appear even more incredulous considering that the ongoing civil war in Syria has significantly limited his ability to communicate regularly with the embattled al-Assad regime. Given this, how exactly did the ambassador ascertain that some combatants involved in the conflict held Indian passports?
Dr. Abbas’ comments have surprised Indian officials who have said that Syria has failed to provide details of these Indian “jihadis” battling the regime in that country. One “senior official” is reported to have told the Hindustan Times:
Abbas’ statement is most irresponsible and mischievous as we have checked our records and found no Indian national involved in jihad in Syria. We are cross-checking facts before we formally take up the matter with Syrian ambassador… [Hindustan Times]
Once the Syrian ambassador’s statements hit mainstream media, he attempted damage control by claiming that he had been approached by families of persons of “Indian origin” in repatriating citizens and that some of these persons held UK passports. He then very conveniently chose to blame media propaganda for wrongly characterizing his statements.
Based on publicly-available information, we can deduce that two very separate efforts are underway to seek Indian support for either of the two belligerents in the ongoing civil war (i.e., the Syrian regime or their rebel antagonists). The British prime minister, David Cameron, in seeking support for military operations in Syria claimed in his address to the parliament that India was among those countries that pointed the “finger of blame” for the situation in Syria to al-Assad’s regime. India, rightly, pointed out to the UK that it articulated no such position to the prime minister.
The anonymous “senior official” of the government of India made absolute sense in pointing out that India was investigating the Syrian ambassador’s claims and that it would formally take up the issue with him. If India’s investigation finds that Dr. Abbas’ statements are without merit, it should publicly disavow his claims.
Let’s be clear: India’s interests in Syria are limited. We have already abandoned the oil fields in that country that we once had a stake in. Short of seeing an end to the ongoing conflict in Syria purely on humanitarian grounds, we have no horse in this race. India should be prepared to work with whoever ultimately emerges as being in charge of affairs in Syria. We will rebuild relationships if necessary, or forge new ones as warranted. The U.S. appears to be inching towards some sort of military operation while many of its allies (primarily the UK) have voted against it. It is not India’s place at this point in time to pick a side in the civil war.