India–Syria relations

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Indo-Syrian relations
Map indicating locations of India and Syria

India

Syria

Bilateral relations between the India and Syria are historic where the two have ancient civilizational ties. Both countries were on the silk route through which civilizational exchanges took place for centuries.

The Syrian Orthodox Christian Church, originating in Syria, was the first Christian church in India.

History[edit]

The urge to pursue relations with the Muslim world in general, and the Arab world in particular, was strengthened in light of the partition of India on religious grounds. Religious partitions aside. the same perspective brought support for the Palestinian cause. Additionally, India pursued a pro-Arab policy regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict in order to counteract Pakistani influence in the region as well as to secure access to Middle East petroleum resources.[1]

A common nationalisn and secular orientation, membership of NAM and similar perceptions on many issues further strengthened a bond between the two states. India supported "Syria’s legitimate right to regain the occupied Golan Heights." In turn, this was reciprocated with Syrian recognition that Kashmir is a bilateral issue as well as general support of India’s concerns and even candidature at various international forums.[2]

Developing relations[edit]

Beyond commercial ties, India and Syria also have educational exchanges. In addition to a large Syrian student population in India, each year five scholarships under the CEP programme are offered to Syrian students for pursuing higher studies in India, as well as 14 scholarships to Syrian scholars under the General Cultural Scholarship Scheme (GCSS). Syria also offers five scholarships to Indian students for studying Arabic language and literature.[2] The two countries have also signed agreements to cooperate in scientific and technical education.[3]

Indian Former President Pratibha Patil also called on the two states to strengthen relations with increasing trade and encouraging people-to-people contacts. While hosting Syrian president Syrian President Bashar al-Assad she said that "Our civilisational and historical links are well known and well documented. We look forward to intensifying our relations with Syria as we believe that our historical links are just as important to our peoples as our common endeavours in the path of modernization."[4] al-Assad reciprocated in calling on India to take a more active role in the Middle East peace process as it is one of the few states that has credibility on all sides. The Syrian Foreign Minister also made a similar comment saying, "India must play its role in the international arena. The situation in the Middle East directly influences India. It is in India's interest to see a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. India needs to invest in its relations with the US to convince the US administration that stability in the Middle East is in the interests of the US and Israel. India should also persuade other Non-Aligned Movement countries to back the peace process in the Middle East and the establishment of a Palestinian state. India can do a lot in this field. As long as India continues its independent foreign policy, relations between India and Syria will grow to mutual advantage."[5]

Patil said on a visit to Syria called on Israel to return the Golan Heights: ""India has consistently supported all just Arab causes. I would also like to reiterate our strong support for Syria's legitimate right to the Golan Heights and for its very early and full return to Syria." Syrian President Bashar al-Assad held a press conferenced with Patil where he lambasted Israel for obstructing peace and said: "We expressed our hope that Syrian-Indian relations together with international efforts will help put an end to the sufferings of the Palestinian people, blockaded by an apartheid wall."[6][7]

Commerce[edit]

The Indian Foreign Ministry describes the two countries' economic relations as having "bright prospects and harbour great potential."[8]

Trade data
Year Exports Imports
1995-96 US$30million US$8.29million
1996-97 US$48million US$21million
1997-98 US$53million US$7.3million
1998-99 US$60.76million US$17.89million
1999-00 US$65.67million US$11.82million
2000-01 US$72.91million US$6.5million
2001-02 US$95.94million US$7.23million
2002-03 US$122.02million US$8.9million

Indian exports to Syria consisted primarily of man-made fabrics and yarns (21%), machinery and transport equipment (20%), pharmaceuticals & chemicals (8%), manufacture of metals (6%), jute and jute products (4%). Its imports consisted of rock phosphates, pulses, spices, raw cotton and raw wooll however, more scope was seen for increasing exports of traditional items like jute/jute products, non-basmati rice, tea, coffee, and other agricultural goods.[9]

In the first decade of the 21st century, India and Syria also announced areas of mutual benefit to focus more attention on: rock phosphates and fertilisers, cement, the power sector, information technology, education and agro-industries were such areas.[10] India additionally expressed interest in expanding its industrial engagements in the form of investments and joint ventures.[11] In 2009, Indian Petroleum Minister Murli Deora and Syrian Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources Sufian Al Alaw signed an agreement at the Petrotech India 2009 conference paving the way for ONGC Videsh, the foreign arm of the upstream Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, to explore for oil and natural gas in Syria.[12] Until then most Indian investment in Syria had been on a small scale. In 2006, Syria received investments from India worth $84 million out a total of $800 million. India was, therefore, the third highest investor (behind Iran's lead) in the country and ahead of Germany's with $24 million (while the EU as a whole put in $155 million).[13] At the time, the trade balance was in favour of India, though it was speculated that this could change with the new oil and gas contracts.

Many Indian companies have also for important contracts from Syria. KEC (I) Ltd. completed a contract of around US$48 million for building electricity transmission towers/network for the Jordan-Syria sector. BEML is a regular supplier of earthmoving equipment to Syria and concluded an order of around US$6million. IRCON got an order of around US$9 million for electric sub-stations. ABB (India) won a contract of around $51.5 million to supply 9 power sub-stations. The ONGC Videsh-led consortium was awarded an exploration contract (block 24, which is potentially rich in oil). The Indian Electrical & Electronics Manufacturers’ Association also for US$40 million worth of contracts.[2]

Cultural relations[edit]

The first Christian presence in India was that of the Syrian Orthodox Church. The ancient Syriac language was also brought to Kerala by St. Thomas in the 1st century A.D.[2] Even today the language continues to be taught in colleges and universities in Kerala.[2]

Bilateral visits[edit]

On July 14, 1957, Indian first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited Damascus on his way to the United States. During the visit, a main street (where Umayyad Square is currently located) was named in his honour in order to "immortalise Syrian-Indian relations."[14]

The Indian Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting, Arun Jaitley, visited Syria in January 2000. A senior Minister, Murali Manohar Joshi participated in the funeral ceremonies of the former President Hafez Al-Assad in June 2000. The Minister of State for Science and Technology, B.S. Rawat visited Syria in November 2000. Jaswant Singh also visited Syria in January/February 2001 and Yashwant Sinha visited Syria in August 2003. Syrian Deputy PM & Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Shara visited India in August 2002.

Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee traveled with a delegation including his Minister of External Affairs, National Security Advisor and senior officials for a 3-day official visit to Syria, which was the first visit of an Indian prime minister after 15 years. On the trip Vajpayee and Assad jointly inaugurated the Syrian National Biotechnology Centre, that was established with Indian assistance, where Vajpayee announced a special grant of US$1 million for the centre. The two countried also decided to set up a Joint Hydrocarbon Committee. Vajpayee also announced a credit line of US$ 25million for the development of bilateral trade. For their part, Syria also supported a resolution of India-Pakistan issues bilaterally through dialogue based on the Simla Agreement (1972) and the Lahore Declaration (1999), while Vajpayee reiterated India's "principled support for the Palestinian and Syrian causes and for the legitimate rights and aspirations in the framework of the UNSC Resolutions as well as the 'land for peace' principle."[2]

More recently, the Syrian foreign minister visited India and was followed a year later by President al-Assad. After Al-Assad's became president in July 2000, his first ministerial delegation that went abroad was to India, led by the then Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs and included the Ministers of Planning, Industry, Science & Technology and Higher Education.

Bilateral visits[8]
Title Name Nationality Year Reason
President Shukri al-Quwatli Syrian 1957 State visit
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru Indian 14 July 1957 State visit
President Hafez Al Assad Syrian 1978 & 1983 State visit
Vice President Zuhier Masharqa Syrian 1991
Foreign Minister Farouk Al- Shara Syrian 1998
Law Minister Arun Jaitley Indian January 2000
Human Resources Development Minister Murali Manohar Joshi Indian June 2000 Funeral of Hafez Al Assad
Deputy Prime Minister Khalid Raad Syrian July 2000
Deputy Prime Minister & Foreign Minister Farouk Al- Shara Syrian August 2002
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee Indian November 2003 State
Deputy Foreign Minister Farukh Taha Syrian April 2006
Industry Minister Fouad Issa al-Jonni Syrian January 2007 CII Business Partnership Summit, Bangalore
Minister of Petroleum Murli Deora Indian April 2007 with MDs of major Public Sector Undertakings in the oil and gas sector on an exploratory bilateral visit (also first visit by a Cabinet Minister of an Indian economic ministry)
Foreign Minister Walid Al Mouallem Syrian August 2007
Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari Syrian January 2008 Ministerial and business delegation, including Ministers of Electricity, Higher Education and Planning to attend the 1st session of the Syria-India Joint Commission and the CII

Partnership Summit, Gurgaon. Also visited the Auto Show (Delhi) unveiling the Tata Nano, the Delhi Metro, BHEL (Hardwar), Pune (to visit Tata Motors), IT and Biotechnology and other companies in Hyderabad, industrial and financial institutions in Mumbai.

President Bashar Al Assad Syrian June 2008 State visit
Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmed Arnous Syrian February 2010 accompanied by the General Manager of the Syrian Investment Agency, Ahmad Abdul

Aziz, visited Delhi to attend the 2nd Indo-Arab Investment Project Conclave organised by CII.

Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma Indian June 2010 co-Chair the 2nd Session of the India-Syria Joint Commission

Consular exchanges[edit]

V.P. Haran, the Joint Secretary at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, was appointed as the Ambassador of India to the Syrian Arab Republic on September 10, 2008.[15]

References[edit]

External links[edit]