Kashmir is India’s internal issue, says Syria

New Delhi and Damascus are on the "same page" on international issues, observes Dr. Riad Abbas, Syria's Ambassador to India.

August 22, 2016 10:09 pm | Updated August 23, 2016 03:24 pm IST

Syrian Ambassador to India Dr. Riad Abbas

Syrian Ambassador to India Dr. Riad Abbas

India and Syria are on the “same page” on international issues, says Syria's Ambassador to India Dr. Riad Abbas, a day after Minister of State for External Affairs, MJ Akbar visited Damascus and met Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. He spoke to The Hindu ’s Suhasini Haidar and Kallol Bhattacharjee

Minister >MJ Akbar has made the first visit by Indian minister to Syria since the conflict began. Please tell us about what he and President Assad discussed and the outcomes.

There is a historical relationship between India and Syria since their independence. This visit came during a changed international situation. The world has converted its position, from saying that we have to change the Assad government to now saying they have to deal with it. Many governments have gone from supporting the terrorists and their allies to now supporting the Syrian government and its allies. Instead of speaking about the pretext of freedom and democracy in Syria they have now recognised the violence as terrorism. Mr. Akbar’s visit at this time is fruitful for both India and Syria. Both countries are suffering from terrorism and cross border terrorism. From the beginning of our crisis the Syrian government has warned about this. If you support governments like Saudi Arabia and Turkey that have encouraged this terrorism, you will only help it to spread everywhere. What we had warned about, unfortunately that has now happened. It happens in the US, in Europe and other parts of the world.

As you can see those who supported (the rebels) who called themselves Friends of Syria have all shifted, and from about 120 countries who were part of that group, now there are just 3 or 4, because they discovered the truth and the situation on the ground. India was one of the wise countries that knew the truth from the very beginning and we highly appreciate India’s support. That’s why it was a successful visit. They spoke about bilateral relations and the international situation as well, and their point of view was exactly the same. India and Syria are on the same page on international issues.

You said the world has changed its position on the rebels. But there is still concern over the aerial bombardment of civilian areas, recently seen when a little boy was rescued from the rubble in Alleppo after strikes by the Syrian government forces. Why is that still necessary, when the international community is not opposing the Syrian forces in their action, why do you still need aerial bombardment that kills civilians?

Since the international community now knows the truth, they are no longer opposing Syrian forces. The correct situation is that, all these places that are being bombed by the civilian government contain terrorist groups. They have captured some civilians as human shields. In this area of Alleppo that is bombed by our forces there are more than 50,000 terrorists. 30,000 of them are foreign mercenaries. Every government has a right to protect its people and territories from their attacks. We have to fight them. Even international agencies say more than 3,00,000 terrorists have entered Syria. We have helped 1,00,000 on their way to hell, and will continue to facilitate the way of thousands more. We hope the international community understands that we are fighting them on behalf of the whole world.

Given the ISIS attacks in Turkey has there been a decrease in the number of fighters coming in over the Turkish border?

Till now there has been no change in Turkey’s policy towards Syria. But we hope it will change due to the situation they are facing now because of this policy, including the recent bombing.

The >Turkish Foreign Minister was in Delhi last week. As India engages this part of West Asia more, does it have a role and trying to bring the countries in conflict closer together.

India is a great nation and place where real democracy survives. Western democracy is all about colonising the world. India instead spreads peace in the world under the principles of Mahatma Gandhi. We hope and expect India will play an important role on the international stage to spread peace in the Middle East, because it has very good relations with all states here, mainly because India doesn’t interfere with other country’s internal affairs.

There has been some criticism of >PM Modi’s statements on Balochistan in Pakistan, however….

This is a free and democratic country, and PM Modi too is entitled to express himself. He said that he received letters from people in Balochistan, so where is the problem?

You speak of India’s popularity in this region, but we have also seen the members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that they are all members of, criticising India on recent violence in Kashmir….

First of all, we have to ask, what has the OIC really achieved for the Islamic community? They make speeches, but there is no concrete action. The OIC is controlled by Saudi Arabia and everyone follows them blindly.

On the Kashmir issue, Syria has differed from the OIC countries, because Syria is a secular state. We think the solution for Kashmir should be found according to the Syria agreement by bilateral talks between India and Pakistan. What is happening in Kashmir is an internal issue for India. Anyone who raises a weapon against the government, we call them terrorists, and the government must take action against them. It is India’s right to save the life of its people in Indian territories.

You said that India and Syria have problems because of cross-border terrorism. Could you explain that and how they discussed cooperating on this issue?

As I said we have had more than 100,000 terrorists who cross the border from Turkey into Syria. And see what is happening in Kashmir. What is the the aim of all these terrorists? Are they coming to spread democracy in Syria. Or are they coming to spread peace in Kashmir. And who is behind both of them? Now in this regard, definitely Syria has more experience and we have security consultations as we have the same issues with terrorism. Mr. Akbar said he admires the Syrian experience on facing this terrorism. We have regular information exchanges, and discuss experiences. It is because of our close cooperation that we released four Indians imprisoned in Syria. But we do want to warn India, that they must beware of states that support terror. Terrorism doesn’t come from secular countries, it comes from extremist religious countries. When our Grand Mufti visited India he went to the Akshardham, no one stopped him, but in some extremist countries, they will not allow non-Muslims to visit. In Syria we have a tolerant Islam, and we are a secular country, and anyone can visit. This is the way to fight extremism. And this is what brings our countries closer.

Another issue President Assad and Mr. Akbar discussed was the reconstruction process in Syria. Please tell us what we can expect in this area.

The Syrian government has given priority to friendly countries like India, all the BRICS states and Iran to come to Syria for reconstruction projects. I have been trying to convince infrastructure businesses here to come and take part in these projects. And I am happy to say that next month I will be taking a delegation to Syria to take a tour of the area and discuss possible projects with them.

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