India and the ‘Friends of Syria’

Saudi Arabia’s al-Arabiya channel broke the story first, which was imaginatively fleshed out by the Israeli site Debkafile subsequently. Namely, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal walked out of the ‘Friends of Syria’ [FOS] meet in Tunis last week.

The Saudi channel reported that Faisal felt frustrated with the FOS’ lack of grit to push for regime change in Syria. Whereas, Debka thought Faisal’s walkout was an outburst of annoyance with the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the ambivalences in American policies toward the situation around Syria and Iran.

However, both al-Arabiya and Debka left unattended one sub-plot. What happened to the Indian official who was present at the FOS gathering? When Faisal stormed out, did he follow the Saudi Prince or did he stick to Clinton?

We may not get a straight answer. But the questions are nonetheless valid. India didn’t belong to the ‘FOS’ grouping . Nor could India have fancied that it had a role to play within the FOS forum.

Many a veteran in the FOI [‘Friends of India’] is sure to be surprised. The prominent ‘India hand’ in Moscow, Professor Andrei Volodin has been quoted today by the Hindu newspaper as saying, “India’s stand on Syria came as a surprise to the Kremlin.”

Volodin estimates that it was a “short-sighted” policy for New Delhi to hitch its wagons to the FOS, blithely assuming it to be on the “right side of history”. He underscored that the naivety in the Indian stance on Syria is symptomatic of a much larger malaise of the recent decline in the level of strategic thinking within the Indian foreign policy establishment.

Frankly, there is a deep-rooted problem.

The Indian foreign-policy establishment continues to subscribe to its “unipolar predicament” in the post-Cold War era. Despite the eruption of the financial crisis, the Indian mindset is unable to adjust to the geopolitical reality that the United States is in decline.

Again, Indian elites cannot yet comprehend Russia’s resurgence and what it means for world politics in the coming decade. Meanwhile, vested interests have developed, thanks to the aggressive push by the American arms manufacturing companies to hog the great Indian arms bazaar. (By the way, a key objective of the recent visit by the Defence Minister A.K.Antony to Riyadh was to encourage Saudi funding for India’s plans to develop a modern armament industry with cutting-edge technology.)

Suffice to say, it was probably inconsequential for Delhi that the FOS meet in Tunis ended up in disarray. India’s core intent was to be seen at the FOS forum and hover within the eyesight of Faisal and Clinton. The big question is whether they noticed the Indian official’s presence in the conference hall.

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