Indian Decade

Behind India’s Syria Diplomacy

India’s decision to abstain from a UN Security Council vote on sanctions against Syria was classic self-interest.

In a transparent attempt to win friends and influence people in the Islamic world, India joined Brazil, South Africa and Lebanon in abstaining from voting on a UN Security Council resolution threatening sanctions against Syria. The resolution, drafted after a month of hectic international diplomacy, eventually collapsed after permanent Security Council members Russia and China vetoed it.

India’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Hardeep Puri, gave the reasons for the Indian decision in a speech yesterday at the Security Council. Puri said India has been engaging Syria in a collaborative and constructive dialogue, adding that Delhi had urged Damascus to exercise restraint, abjure violence and pay heed to the aspirations of its people.

India has urged the international community to give the Syrian government some time and space to implement its ‘far-reaching reform measures.’ At the same time, India has also appealed to opposition forces in Syrian to abandon their armed insurrection and negotiate with the government.

India has categorically told the UN Security Council that it doesn’t want to muddy the Syrian waters further by leaving the threat of sanctions and regime change hanging like the Sword of Damocles over the Assad administration. The key paragraph in Puri’s speech stated: ‘The resolution under the Council’s consideration does not accommodate our concern about the threat of sanctions. It does not condemn the violence perpetrated by the Syrian opposition. Nor does it place any responsibility on the opposition to abjure violence and engage with the Syrian authorities for redressal of their grievances through a peaceful political process. We have, therefore, abstained on the resolution.’

However, it’s significant that India abstained rather than voted against the resolution. Why did it do so? Almost certainly because India started its two-year term as a non-permanent member of the Security Council at the start of this year, and so doesn’t want to annoy the United States with a ‘nay’ when abstaining is just as good a working option. After all, foreign policy is ultimately about countries protecting their own national interests.

But aside from trying to protect its interests in the Islamic World, India will also likely have had the Libya issue at the forefront of its mind. Some of the diplomacy over holding Muammar Gaddafi to account sounds remarkably similar to what is being tried with Syria. But that soon degenerated into a NATO-led military operation eyeing regime change.

Despite the combined power of US and European forces, Gaddafi clung on to power for months, further denting the United States’ image and confidence. By abstaining in this week’s vote, India has managed to avoid inserting itself into what is developing into some very messy diplomacy.