Turkey knows better how many Indians have joined IS: Syrian envoy

Updated - March 28, 2016 03:49 pm IST

Published - September 06, 2015 03:31 am IST - New Delhi

Syrian Ambassador Dr. Riad Kamel Abbas

Syrian Ambassador Dr. Riad Kamel Abbas

Four years of civil war has turned Syria into a humanitarian tragedy. Tens of thousands of Syrians have lost their lives and millions have been rendered refugees. The chaos created by the war has helped the rise of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State. In an interview with The Hindu, Riad Kamel Abbas, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s envoy to India, speaks of the war, the growing Indian presence in the terror groups in Syria and the war-torn country’s future.

Two years ago, your remarks that Indian jihadists were fighting in Syria had triggered a controversy. But now, government officials say several Indians have joined the Islamic State [IS] in Syria and Iraq. How many Indians, according to your government, are estimated to have gone to Syria to join the war?

Riad Kamel Abbas: I had this information from different sources in my personal capacity. It had nothing to do with the official channel. I said about it then because I wanted India to be more cautious. It saddens me now when reports come out about increasing Indian presence in the Syrian war. Now the Indian intelligence and India’s home ministry are in touch with their counterparts in Syria. They are already coordinating to tackle this challenge. We are exchanging available information with the Indian side, and the Indian government will take care of it. We don’t know exactly how many Indians are there. Because some people are going there from India and some are going from the Gulf states who were brainwashed by certain groups. If you want exact numbers, you can check with the Turkish government. They will know it better than us. Turkey has kept its border open for militants to cross into Syria; they have set up infrastructure for the terrorists; and they are sheltering and arming them. And some Indians held while trying to enter Syria have confessed to Indian authorities that they went to the Turkish border to cross the border into Syria.

Though India has raised concerns about the humanitarian situation in Syria, it hasn't joined the 'regime change' outcry. How do you look at India's Syria policy?

We highly appreciate the Indian position. Frankly speaking, I have already said this that if everybody has done what India has done, we wouldn’t have any problem in Syria. India adheres to the UN Charter. It’s a champion of the principle that there should not be any external interference in the internal affairs of a country. And Mr. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi has made it very clear that there’s no bad terrorism and good terrorism. There’s only terrorism. We should all join hands together to fight terrorism.

Are you suggesting that India has to join the war against the IS?

It’s India’s sovereign decision to take whether they should join the fight against terrorism or not. And India should take a position on those countries supporting and sponsoring terrorism as well.

How, in your view, IS became such a powerful terror group within a few years?

Tell me who created al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and why? It’s very clear that the Americans created al Qaeda with the support of some of the Arab Gulf countries because they wanted to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. When the Americans invaded Afghanistan, they had lots of coffins going back home. After years of war, they have realised that there’s no point in using any soldier in the ground. So it’s better to support and sponsor some kind of terrorist organisation who can do the dirty job in other countries. And that’s how IS was created. The Saudis, Qataris and Turks also supported this move. The IS is very strong now. Why they are strong? Because they are getting external support. My personal view in this matter is that the Americans are not serious about fighting IS. They don’t want to defeat them, they just want to contain them. When the IS started attacking Erbil in the Iraqi Kurdistan, the Americans immediately drew a redline and they didn’t let them cross. And then IS expanded towards the Western parts of Syria.

[ Editor’s note: Iraqi Kurdistan is an ally of the U.S. America has a fully-functional consulate in Erbil ]

In the recent conflicts, the government forces in Syria seem to have suffered some setbacks. Is President Assad losing the war?

This is a war. There are battles you win and you lose. The war is not over yet. You lose some ground in certain battles to win bigger ones. There are people from around 100 countries all across the world fighting in Syria today. There are 1,50,000 mercenaries inside our country. So the Syrian government has made a strategy that that it would retain control over the most populated and strategic areas. The mercenaries control parts of Syria which are less-populated. In every war, there’s winning and losing. But in this war, we can assure you that there’s no geographical area the IS is totally in control. The Syrian government can enter any place they want to and they can finish the war once there’s an international will to support the government and fight against terrorism. The reality is that nobody is fighting the IS but the Syrian Army.

How do you look at Turkey’s recent declaration of war against IS?

It’s a game plan. And it’s for the public consumption. There are more than 10,000 Turkish nationals fighting alongside the IS in Syria. Among them are some officers of the Turkish Army. We know it and some of them are getting killed in Syria. We have evidence for Turkey’s involvement. When the IS took members of the Turkish consulate in Mosul [Iraq], all of them were released immediately. None of them were harmed. That indicates that there’s collaboration between the IS terrorist organisation and the government of [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan [Turkey’s President]. Because of the international pressure, and as Turkey’s role in helping IS is now more open, the Erdogan government is coming up with a pretext of fighting the IS. But they are actually fighting the Kurdish people.

More 2 lakh people are estimated to have been killed since the outbreak of the crisis in 2011. At least 4 million Syrians have been displaced. How do you look at this humanitarian situation?

We have noticed that the Syrian humanitarian crisis is of such a large scale. And it has attracted the attention of the international community. And India has also taken steps to help the Syrian people. We expect most of the international community to come forward and help the Syrian people in this regard. The main objective of Syria’s enemies from day one of the crisis was regime change and destabilisation of the country. That’s why we have this humanitarian situation now. We have lost several people in the war. Many people are losing their lives because they are being subjected to ethnic cleansing by terrorist groups.

What solution do you think can be found for the Syrian crisis? What’s the future of the country?

This is what our President said from the beginning of the crisis. The real solution can be found by the Syrian people themselves. They can sit down across the table to find a political solution to the crisis, and there’s no need for arms, killings and fighting. Now there’s a clear line has been drawn in Syria. On the one side, there’s the government of Syria and on the other side there are two terrorist organisations—IS and Al Nusra Front. So for the people for Syria, they have the choice of joining either with the government and find a solution or join the terrorist organisations and destroy the country. The solution is very simple. Stop arming the mercenaries, close the borders and there should be an international will to fight terrorism. Unless and until you close the border and remove the terror infrastructure, you can’t defeat them. So you must put pressure on those countries supporting and sponsoring terrorism, specially Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. These countries should immediately be stopped from funding, arming and training terrorists. Five years ago, Syria was the most stable country in the most turbulent region in the world. It had been so for decades. In Moscow, the Saudi Foreign Minister [Adel al-Jubeir] recently said President Assad is not part the solution. In some sense he’s right. President Assad is not just part of the solution. He’s the solution. There’s no solution to the current Syrian crisis without the current president and the government.

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