Only one word can aptly summarise the goings on in Syria—disgusting. The United Nations estimates that at least ten thousand persons—mostly civilians— may have died in the bloody civil unrest that has been taking place for more than a year. Other independent estimates are that the body count could be anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 and this will include civilians, Syrian armed forces and rebel fighters. It is believed that more than one million people have been internally displaced, not to speak of the thousands who have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. And with the full fledged assault on Aleppo under way, there is no telling what is going to unfold.
At this point of time there is no use fancying on where President Bashir al Assad and his family may or may not be. The truth of the matter is that the Syrian armed forces and the government backed thugs are having a free for all in a part of a world where the international community as a whole has a vital stake. President Assad maintains that internationally backed terrorists and criminals are trying to undermine the regime that has held on to power for decades by only ruthless use of force.
Almost the entire attention recently has been on Russia and China who blocked the United Nations Security Council Resolution threatening Damascus with sanctions. And the United States is now threatening that rising civilian casualties could prompt military intervention. How exactly Washington is going to pull this off remains to be seen given its own military budgetary cuts and fumbled foreign policy misadventures. But the fact that Washington is even considering “something” has on the face of it got to do with the escalating humanitarian crisis.
But the Obama administration has a lot to answer for in accusing Moscow and Beijing of being on the wrong side of this Syrian crisis. There are those in the United States who are maintaining that Russia is on the side of President Assad only to protect its strategic interests and keeping its arms bazaar open. That this is patently double faced can be seen in the fact that the Obama administration while openly embracing the so-called Arab Spring, was flaunting its wares to the government of Bahrain that was crushing the opposition. Add to this the fact that the pro-U.S. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was openly assisting the crackdown in Bahrain. In referring to a foreign leader President Lyndon Johnson once remarked, “We know he is a SOB; but he is our SOB”. Times have not exactly changed, it would seem.
The major powers have all blood in their hands, not just Russia and China. Of course the onus would seem to be more on Moscow and Beijing for openly taking sides with a regime that has lost all touch with reality. To Russia, Syria is about its last “outpost” in the Middle East. But Moscow would do well to remember that when all chips are down and Assad leaves the scene, its interests would have been greatly harmed.
To China it is a different ball game. On the one hand it is an issue of opposing the Western stance primarily on the freedom and democratic fronts that it has very little use for given its own track record in dealing with its people. And on the other hand, it would also be in protecting its interests, economic and strategic. Syria has virtually very little to contribute by way of exports to China which is lopsidedly in favour of the East Asian giant. And Beijing is said to have a hand in the development of Syrian missile systems.
Where does that leave a country like India which has long established relations with the Middle East and with Syria? New Delhi was right when it went along with the West on two United Nations Security Council Resolutions, although not completely agreeing with the Western position on the political process. India, it has been maintained, has followed a so called “even handed” approach and has backed UN Resolutions 2042, 2043 and 2059. But the real issue is if India needs to step up the ante.
As a global player with varied responsibilities, New Delhi cannot latch on to this “even handed” approach just to stay in the good books of all major powers. The bottom line is that India is the largest democracy in the world and justifiably proud of freedoms. The time has come for India to fully disown the Assad regime for the crimes against humanity it has committed. Not taking the opportunity will only put us in the league of losers– New Delhi cannot be accused of siding with genocide and war crimes, even remotely.
(The writer, Dr.Sridhar Krishnaswami, Formerly with The Hindu in Chennai, Singapore and Washington and with The Press Trust of India in Washington, is presently Head, School of Media Studies of the Faculty of Science and Humanities, SRM University, Chennai and can be reached at email@example.com)