That the story of the Syrian conflict is clouded by a fog of misperception is today almost a commonplace. The recent visit of a strong Indian delegation to Syria headed by the Indian Foreign Minister shows one other way in which this is true.
The way the Syrian conflict is regularly represented in the West is of a Syrian government that has lost the support of the ‘international community’ save for its allies Russia, Iran and China.
This has never been true. The structure of the UN Security Council means that the US can normally rely on a majority there, and within the Arab world the Gulf Arab states led by the two Wahhabi monarchies Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been been able to rally the Arab League against Syria. However in the world as a whole the conflict is perceived very differently, not as some sort of Manichean struggle between good and evil, but rather as a geopolitical conflict and as part of a broader struggle against Jihadi terrorism.
The Indian government has been as outspoken a supporter of the Syrian government as the Chinese and Russian governments have been. More so in some ways since like China but unlike Russia India is not involved in the diplomacy of the Syrian conflict and does not therefore have to take even a theoretical position that President Assad’s future should be eventually decided by the Syrian people.
As the very cordial meeting between Indian Foreign Minister Mubashir Javed Akbar and Syrian President Assad which took place in Damascus on 20th August 2016 shows, the Indian government instead openly and straightforwardly supports the government of President Assad.
India has many reasons for supporting Syria and the government of President Assad. As Assad is reported to have said during his meeting with Mubashir Javed Akbar, relations between the countries are longstanding and they are accustomed to thinking of each other as friends.
More importantly, India is as hostile to the “regime change” doctrines that have been coming out of the West as Russia and China are, and as indeed most of the world is. Last but not least, India has its own problem of Jihadi terrorism and is naturally sympathetic to a country like Syria which finds itself waging a bitter war against the two most powerful Jihadi organisations in the world: Daesh and Al-Qaeda (in the form of its regional branch Jabhat Al-Nusra).
India’s support for Syria obviously cannot compare with that of countries like Russia or Iran. India neither needs nor is able to intervene in Syria in the way that those two powers are. Instead it makes sense for India to sit back and let the Russians and the Iranians do the heavy lifting in Syria whilst quietly reaping the benefits and giving diplomatic support.
That is neither cynical nor improper but is merely good policy and – despite a recent ramping up of Chinese support for Syria – it is essentially what the Chinese have also been doing.
The point however is that the Western narrative of a Syrian government discredited by its war crimes that is isolated internationally is simply untrue. On the contrary all three of the great Eurasian powers – China, Russia and India – in their different ways support it.