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Digvijay Singh asked: What are the implications of the Syrian civil war on the Middle East and particularly for India?

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  • Gulshan Dietl replies: The Syrian Civil War can be traced back to the Arab Spring that has led to popular uprisings in most of the Arab countries. What began as protests in March 2011 has now become an armed rebellion. About 100,000 people are estimated to have died in the conflagration; half of them civilians. Four million people are internally displaced and a million and a half have sought refuge in neighbouring states, mainly Turkey and Jordan.

    The civil war has not remained confined to Syria alone. The entire region has been actively involved in varying degrees. There have been military encounters on the Syrian borders with Israel, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. The presence of Kurds and Palestinians inside the country has had obvious linkages to the Kurds and Palestinians outside.

    Turkey has given asylum to roughly 400,000 Syrians, provided the rebels among them with weapons and a safe zone to launch offensive operations against the Syrian Government. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have poured in financial, humanitarian and military assistance. In recent months, a second front has been opened in Jordan. The Syrian armed groups can now take the southern route which is closer to the Syrian capital Damascus. In this turbulence, foreign fighters have entered in a big way. Some five thousand foreign fighters are said to have come from countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tunisia, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Tajikistan, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Australia, Britain, Spain, Denmark, the United States, and so on. Some analysts have called the situation in Syria a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The facts on the ground are much more complicated involving many state and non-state actors.

    Beyond the West Asian region, the Russians and Chinese have been supporting the Syrian regime whereas the West has been with the rebels. In February last year, a group of 11 states – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates - formed the “Friends of Syria” with an explicit aim of regime change in Syria. In June this year, they resolved to provide all necessary material and equipment to the opposition. Thus, the Syrian civil war has grave implication at the regional and global levels.

    India has deep concerns about the worsening situation in Syria itself, its spill over effect in the neighbourhood and the consequent instability in the wider West Asian region. India has already assured the UN that it has no plans to pull out its 190 strong troops monitoring demilitarised zone between Syria and the Golan Heights. If the conflict spills over, India would be directly affected in several ways. Some nine million Indians working in the Gulf States would be in harm’s way and many may need to be evacuated from the zones of active conflict. Their remittances would be severely curtailed in the circumstances. The sectarian aspects of the conflict may also find an unhealthy resonance in our country.