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India’s role in rebuilding Syria: A beacon of hope post-war

The conflict between the USA and the USSR, during the era of the Cold War, had far-reaching consequences that extended beyond their borders, with Syria being one of the nations caught in the crossfire. Over the past decade, Syrians have endured the complexities of political manoeuvring amidst a backdrop of socio-political and humanitarian challenges. Additionally, the civil war in Syria transformed the country into a haven for terrorism. In the aftermath of this long and devastating war, the global community has mobilised to support Syria's efforts in rebuilding and reconstruction. In this endeavour, India has emerged as a significant player, offering a distinctive combination of diplomatic expertise and development assistance. With a history of engaging with Syria since 2011, India's contributions have been instrumental in addressing the multifaceted dimensions of the crisis and aiding in the rebirth of Syria.



India has always enjoyed a positive relationship with the regime, both historically and currently. Syria has praised India’s “balanced” approach to the problem and requested the BRICS to participate more actively and constructively in finding a solution. India actively seeks to participate in the international negotiations in order to forge agreement with the world community, even if it is not in India’s current best interest to be directly involved in any way.


Starting in 2011, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Fayssal Mekdad visited India to express gratitude for its support during the unrest, India has consistently shown its commitment to Syria's stability. In the same year, the India-Syria Business Association (ISBA) delegation embarked on a visit to Syria to explore business and investment opportunities in various sectors. This delegation was a significant initiative aimed at bolstering economic ties between India and Syria. The visit witnessed the participation of Indian businessmen from diverse industries such as pharmaceuticals, textiles, engineering, and IT. India, as a testament to its commitment, inked three pivotal agreements with Syria during the visit. The first was a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish a joint Business Council between India and Syria. The second notable agreement was the Protocol on Trade and Investment Cooperation, signed between the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Syrian Chambers of Commerce. Recognising the significance of the agricultural sector, India and Syria signed an agreement on cooperation in the field of Agriculture. as a stepping stone towards strengthening economic ties between India and Syria. The agreements signed during this visit underscored India's unwavering support for Syria's development and rebuilding efforts. They showcased India's belief in the existence of promising business and investment opportunities in Syria. In 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with Syrian Prime Minister Wael Al Halki, expressing concern over the ongoing violence and offering support for a Syrian-led political process. Indian delegations, both as part of the IBSA initiative and through bilateral visits, engaged with Syrian leadership to discuss ways to strengthen relations and find solutions to the crisis. Notably, high-level meetings between Indian and Syrian officials took place in 2016 and 2017, addressing issues such as bilateral cooperation, political solutions, and the fight against terrorism. These interactions highlight India's continued commitment to contribute to Syria's recovery and reconstruction efforts.


In the past, India took part in the UN-sponsored Geneva II conference in 2014, where the country’s opposition to a military solution was emphasised by Salman Khurshid, the then-minister of external affairs. Through the Kuwait International Conferences, India had also pledged $4 million in humanitarian help. India’s commitment to peace and stability in the region is the reason for its participation in the reconstruction project. The Indian government has given the war-torn areas humanitarian relief, including medical care, food supplies, and shelter. India has also contributed expertise in a number of fields, including infrastructure development, healthcare, education, and agriculture.


Through bilateral and multilateral avenues, India has been providing humanitarian, technical, and development support to Syria. The latest in a series of initiatives to assist the war-torn nation, where violence and economic collapse over the past decade have left the majority of the population in poverty, India gave 2,000 tonnes of rice to Syria to boost food security. Syrian Minister of Local Administration and Head of the Local Administration Ministry, Hussain Makhlouf received the first shipment of 1,000 tons of rice from Indian Ambassador Hifzur Rahman at the Latakia port in 2019.


Additionally, even throughout the COVID outbreak, India provided medical supplies to Syria. This included essentials such as personal protective equipment (PPE), testing kits, masks, and other medical equipment. India continued to send monthly supplies of food and medicine and other essential items to vulnerable populations affected by the crisis. Speaking at a UNSC session on Syria’s political and humanitarian circumstances, Ms. Ruchira Kamboj said these things. As a part of the Covid-19 aid, India donated 10 tonnes of medications to Syria in July of 2021.


A camp to fit “Jaipur foot” prosthetic limbs was held in Damascus in January 2020 and helped more than 500 Syrian citizens. It was organised by the external affairs ministry in collaboration with Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti. This initiative aimed to provide prosthetic limbs to those who had lost their limbs due to conflict, injuries, or other circumstances in Syria. The camp involved a team of Indian doctors and experts who worked with local authorities and organisations to identify and assess individuals who needed prosthetic limbs. The fitted prosthetics helped improve the mobility and quality of life for the beneficiaries.


The Indian government has also focussed on the education sector of Syria and aims at making the youth educated as well as mindful enough to solve the issues. For this, one thousand Syrian students received scholarships from India to attend undergraduate, graduate, and even PhD programs in Indian universities. The initiative to offer scholarships to Syrian students is motivated by a desire to see success stories from the African continent, where several current or former presidents, prime ministers, and vice presidents have attended educational or training institutions in India, replicated there in the near future. Even the Syrian ambassador to India, Riad Abbas said, “Through this means India is assisting Syria by rebuilding the brain”, “the brain of our people to plant education, science, and peace”.


Apart from the social, political and economic drain, the civil war prevented developmental progress on a significant dam that India had helped build. Syria received a line of credit (LoC) for $240 million to partially finance (52%) the $400 million Tishreen Thermal Power Plant Extension project. The project was put on hold by India’s BHEL when the crisis started, which had several corresponding problems, including demurrage fees on the imported equipment and accumulated interest on unpaid bills. During a series of negotiations between officials from the two sides, all of these difficulties were amicably resolved, and India granted Syria’s request to restructure the Line of Control. Syria has been given lines of credit (LOC) from India worth USD 280 million. This support is given so that Syria can construct a steel plant and a power plant. The extension work at BHEL is anticipated to pick up. In October 2021, a Next-Generation Centre for Information Technology was established in Damascus.


India has assumed a multifaceted role in the process of reconstructing Syria following the catastrophic events that have transpired. This role has been manifested in various domains, including economic, developmental, social, and political, through the provision of humanitarian aid and diplomatic measures aimed at restoring peace and stability in the region. While the Western world views Syria as a deeply troubled nation, India perceives Damascus as a formidable country with a potent military that has successfully repelled the Islamic State militia, which once posed a significant threat to the country's existence. Consequently, India's efforts are geared towards supporting Syria and reclaiming its former position.



(Aiman Masoodi is currently pursuing her master’s from Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace & Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. She can be reached at masoodiaiman200@gmail.com).

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