NEW DELHI: With the war in Syria ebbing, India has stepped up efforts to play a role in the reconstruction of the strife-ridden country.
“India and Syria resolved to work together in the reconstruction process. India has already taken up the construction of the Tishreen Power Plant under an Indian line of credit," the Indian foreign ministry said after a delegation of officials including T.S. Tirumurti, secretary-economic relations, and B. Bala Bhaskar, joint secretary in-charge of Syria, visited Damascus last month and met senior leaders and government officials.
India’s public sector company, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited had signed a contract in October 2009 for installing two 200 megawatts (MW) power plants but the work was suspended because of the war in Syria.
Indian companies had last year also handed over a steel plant they had refurbished in Hama, scaling up the plant’s annual capacity from 70,000 million tonnes to 300,000 million tonnes.
“India will also upgrade the India-Syria Centre for Excellence in Information Technology. Closer collaboration in a range of other areas is also envisaged, including in energy particularly solar power," the foreign ministry said, referring to the project in Damascus, set up with financial assistance from India. The centre was inaugurated in December 2010 but has been in disuse because of the strife in the country.
Given the scale of devastation in the country caused by eight years of conflict, “the demands for reconstruction and rebuilding are huge", said a person familiar with the matter. Punitive Western sanctions have also resulted in severe shortages in gas, fuel, and electricity. The Syrian authorities have clearly indicated that “only a handful of countries that have been supportive of Syria" would be given preference as the country looks to take on the mammoth task of reconstruction, said the person mentioned above. The countries that have backed President Bashar al-Assad include, apart from India, Iran, China, and Russia.
“India on its part has consistently held the position that it does not support regime change, it stands for the sovereignty and integrity of Syria," said the person.
The Indian delegation, which met Syrian prime minister Imad Khamis, deputy prime minister and foreign minister Waleed Moallem, head of the planning commission for international cooperation Imad Sabouni, minister of electricity Zouher Kharboutli and petroleum and mineral resources minister Ali Ghanim, once again conveyed India’s position to the Syrian leadership, the foreign ministry.
India’s decision to take an independent position on Syria was deeply appreciated by the Syrian leadership, said the person mentioned above.
The unrest in Syria began in 2011 as part of the pro-democracy Arab Spring uprisings that brought down governments in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. The unrest, which started as anti-government protests, soon transformed into an armed insurgency. By 2012, a number of opposition groups had formed rebel brigades, many of which were armed and supported by foreign countries, that seized key cities in the north, including parts of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. By 2014, however, the contours of the war had changed with the emergence of the Islamic State terrorists as a major force in Syria. In 2016, Syrian government forces began retaking major chunks of territory tilting the balance in the war.