‘Syria’s stability is in India`s interest’

The uprising that began in Syria a year ago seems far from over.

The uprising that began in Syria a year ago seems far from over. President Bashar al-Assad also doesn’t appear to be regaining full control of the country anytime soon.

In this volatile scenario, the most important question is: Will the West intervene in Syria? Will Assad meet the fate of several of his other Middle East counterparts? Or, is Syria headed towards a civil war?

Professor PR Kumaraswamy seeks to answer such questions, in an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com.

Professor PR Kumaraswamy teaches contemporary Middle East at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Kamna: Will Bashar al-Assad be able to stay in power till 2013?

Prof Kumaraswamy: Most unlikely, given the escalation of violence and growing international isolation, especially from within the region.

Kamna: Even if Bashar al-Assad steps down, who is capable enough to take over the country which is almost in ruins?

Prof Kumaraswamy: First Vice-President and former foreign minister Farouk al-Sharaa is touted as a possible candidate. He is from within the rank and file of the party and a loyalist and hence can be more acceptable. Him being a Christian might satisfy other minority groups. The opposition could accept him because he was not from the military. But such an arrangement will have to be a temporary measure before someone is formally elected.

Kamna: What are the chances of military intervention by the West in Syria? And how do you read the US indication of arming the Syrian opposition forces?

Prof Kumaraswamy: There are limited chances for a direct military intervention by the West. Such a move would plunge the country into a civil war worse than Iraq. Libya-type aerial bombing may also be costly as Syria is more diverse and hence greater chances of sectarian feud. Some in the West advocate supplying arms to opposition groups but this will most likely not be the mainstream policy in the West. After Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, the West will be cautious of such a course of action.

Kamna: There are now fears of a civil war in Syria. How best to address the crisis in Syria?

Prof Kumaraswamy: That largely depends upon the regime, especially President Assad. Will he consider Syrian interests before his own? Despite his desire to stay on, president (Hosni) Mubarak resigned largely to avoid bloodshed in Egypt. Assad has not taken that path yet. Regime survival appears more important than long-term stability of Syria. Time for reforms as means of winning over popular support is gone. It is up to Assad to reach out to the Syrians by appointing a popular figure as the interim leader. Without that Syria will definitely plunge into a civil war.

Kamna: How do you rate India’s response to the Syrian conflict? Should New Delhi exert pressure on the Syrian regime?

Prof Kumaraswamy: Stability and territorial integrity of Syria is in India`s interest and prime concern. Unstable Syria will lead to a number of regional tensions, conflicts and uncertainty. Towards this end, India has been extremely accommodative of the concerns of the regime and did not hesitate to highlight the violent and non-peaceful means adopted by the Syrian opposition. At the same time, there are limits beyond which India was not ready to endorse the insensitiveness of the Syrian regime. Its promises of reforms were not backed by concrete actions. Hence, it joined other members of the Arab League and voted against Syria at the UN. Its ability to influence events within Syria are limited. If it was asked to play a role, the traditional goodwill that India enjoys in the region and in Syria would prove to be an asset. That is, only if such a request came from Syrian leaders and groups and not from the West.