<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The terrorist attack in Dhaka last month that killed 29 people, including an Indian, the news of 20-odd missing Indians and a series of Islamic State (IS)-related arrests are making India reach out to Syria.New Delhi had so far kept a safe distance from the Syrian conflict. Both countries have now agreed to upgrade security consultations that include sharing of intelligence and screening programme for Indians travelling to Syria and its neighbourhood.Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who met minister of state for external affairs M J Akbar on Saturday, is believed to have urged India to play the role of a growing power to stabilise West Asia, rather than remaining on the fence.”There was an agreement between for further upgrading security consultations,” sources said. They did not mention what level it might reach now. During the meeting, Assad also welcomed India’s objective position on the conflict in Syria and both leaders acknowledged that terrorism was a global problem, sources said.”As a growing power, India has a role to play in meeting the challenge of terrorism,” sources quoted Assad as saying. On his part, Akbar said that the age of destruction should give way to the age of reconstruction in Syria. Assad also invited India to play an active role in the reconstruction of the Syrian economy. Both leaders agreed that, as secular nations, India and Syria believe in faith equality. Akbar is currently on a nearly week-long visit to West Asia from August 17.Strategic experts here believe that the IS may not be a serious threat at present. However, it certainly has the potential to destabilise the social fabric and rule of law in the country. “We have often been found wanting in internal security challenges. If the writing is on the wall with respect to the IS, this is one instance where we should get our act together, in order to neutralise the threat well before it gains disturbing proportions,” says Colonel Vivek Chadha, author and fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA).The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has made a host of arrests for suspected pro-IS activities. Early this year, Syrian deputy prime minister and foreign minister Walid Al Muallem, during his visit to New Delhi, had also sought India’s support and diplomatic involvement.India’s opposition to foreign intervention and support for state sovereignty (regardless of the regime) are long-held principles to make its position favourable to the Assad government. India’s interest in the stability of West Asia stems from the fact that more than 7 million Indian citizens are currently working in the region. Their safety remains a top concern, besides the country’s energy needs.India and Syria also revisited a host of long-pending developmental projects, including the $320-million Tishreen power project, overseen by Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL).The impending completion of the Hama steel plant, which is funded by an open credit line for pre-approved loans, was also discussed. India it intends to complete these projects, provided Damascus gives assurance of safety.Since 2013, Damascus had started efforts to court India for political support. “We want India and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to play an important role in the political process, convening Geneva II and finding a solution to the crisis,” stated Assad’s advisor Bouthaina Shabaan.Syria’s ambassador to India, Riad Kamel Abbas, also referred to India’s stake in the Syrian crisis: the rising influence of IS and the increasing presence of Indian jihadists in the Syrian war.Experts here believe that, so far, India has managed to balance its relations with Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. But they add that the changing circumstances will make it tougher for New Delhi to tiptoe around regional polarisations. Intensifying Saudi-Iranian rivalry, as demonstrated in Yemen, and the rising influence of IS in India pose an immediate challenge to the government in New Delhi.

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Islamic State threat: India, Syria to intensify security consultations