By Saeed Naqvi
14 Oct, 2012
In shaping the new equilibrium in the world New Delhi does have a leadership position in groupings like the non-aligned.
Supposing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, seated across the table with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, were to say: "By yourself you have no clout in Syria. It is time therefore that you become part of the solution by falling in line with us and help stop the murderous regime."
What would be Krishna's response to this imaginary statement? Well, imaginary the statement may be, but with moderated tonal quality it may yet reflect sentiments the Indian side has heard from their US counterparts in recent exchanges on West Asia. Do Indians listen in silence to this case for the prosecution? Or do they dwell on the case for the defence? Being reminded that India has no hand to play must hurt.
What exactly is the situation inside Syria? When I was there, which is several months ago, the world media had conceded outright victory to the Syrian opposition and safe havens were being considered for Assad and his family. The Assads are still around, although speculation is rife of him being considered for "targeted killing" as distinct from "political assassination". Wondrous play on words!
There is a difficulty analysing a dynamic story like Syria where so much technical, military, human resource has been injected from outside. We may have forgotten, but once we described this as cross-border terrorism. The facts on Syria this reporter internalised in August 2011 can be only partly relevant a year after the first external probes began to find local hospitality. And then external and internal amalgamated into scores of opposition groups.
Contrary to conventional wisdom a year ago, Assad could not fall because he controls (loosely now) a Ba'ath power structure not dissimilar to the one Saddam Hussein supervised in Baghdad. It took occupation, half a million Iraqi lives, thousands of US and British soldiers dead: only then was the US able to leave Iraq the wreck that it is today.
Election season or no election season, the US establishment, focused on West Asia, is pushing ahead regardless, holding the hands of France, Saudis, Qatar, Turkey, orchestrating the eventual fall of the Syrian regime.
In high stake poker there is always a little bit of bluff and bluster. There may be some here too, particularly to play on Russian nerves. As a scholar told me in Moscow recently: "Putin will not let down Assad, but fewer are the chances of his letting down Russia."
The Saudi interests are clear: a fear of encirclement by Shia populations. But surely Saudi Wahhabis will remain a minority even in an augmented Sunni ocean, the kind of Sunnism that obtains in the region stretching from Morocco right up to the borders of Saudi Arabia.
The lightning shift in Turkish policy in the region has astonished observers. Well known journalist Mehmet Birand told me last year. "We were a docile ally of the US in the past and now a dissident country in the Western Alliance." No longer can he say that. Tayyip Erdogan won three straight elections, incrementally increasing his vote from 36% to 42% and in 2011 to 49%. His declared ambition was to have "zero problems with all our neighbours". With neighbouring Greece on its knees, Turkey's rise seemed unprecedented.
Why has Erdogan staked so much on the Syrian expedition? Gas finds in the Eastern Mediterranean?
Whatever the combination of motives, the gamble for Turkey is a huge one.
Iran, of course, must continue to live dangerously between negotiation on the nuclear issue and the risk of being attacked. "Attack Iran" lobby has not weakened in Israel or the US.
In all of this, where does India stand? In the fictitious script Hillary Clinton says India has no clout in the region. Possibly true. But how did Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi have influence in the area. It will be argued that that was during the Cold War, when India led the non-aligned, which became redundant in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet collapse.
But with Western decline, a new world order may well be taking shape. In shaping the new equilibrium New Delhi does have a leadership position in groupings like the non aligned, which will meet in Cairo in coming years. Only by reinventing its leadership role in such groupings will New Delhi insulate itself from the ignominy of being told that in so and so part of the world India does not matter.