India has been quick to respond to the devastating 7.5 earthquake that shook Turkiye and Syria on Monday. It was among the first countries, along with Germany, Italy, Israel, and Iraq to rush emergency medical aid, as well as rescue teams to the region.
Code named 'Operation Dost', India sent out 250 personnel, specialized equipment, medicines, dry rations, and provisions to set up a 30-bed self- sustained field hospital of the Indian army to Turkiye. 99 specially trained personnel from the army will operate the field hospital complete with operation theatre, ventilators, and x-ray facilities.
Rescue teams with sniffer dogs, special equipment for detection and machinery to help in search and rescue operations were also part of the first C-17 IAF aircraft that took off for Turkiye. Altogether 135 tons of material have been airlifted on five C-17 planes. The areas worst affected in Turkiye have more than four million Syrian refugees who had fled to safety following the civil war that began in 2011.
Syria, the other country that has been severely affected has also received around six tons of emergency relief assistance with a C130J aircraft landing in Damascus the capital city. There are no medical or rescue teams on the ground possibly because of the peculiar situation in a nation ravaged by civil war. Indian aid has gone to Damascus where President Bashar Al Assad is in control.
The other areas affected are held by anti-Asad rebels, that are regularly under attack by Asad and Russian forces. In normal circumstances, Türkiye has consistently supported the rebels would have rushed aid, but at the moment of national crisis the government will naturally concentrate all efforts on its own people. Western countries are in no mood to send aid to Damascus where the Sunni Arab nations, as well as the US and Europe, are against President Assad.
Instead, European nations are sending material to the White Helmets, a volunteer organisation that operates in parts of opposition-controlled Syria and in Turkey.
Syria has been under western sanctions since the civil war and it would be interesting to see how many western nations are willing to forget their strategic interests and their animosity for President Bashar al-Asad to help those in desperate need. Iran and Russia, the two staunch allies of Syria are certain to help. Thanks to political and strategic considerations while the world is pouring in aid to Turkey, not many countries have rushed to help Syria. So far, besides India, Jordan, Iran and Iraq have sent medicines and equipment. New Zealand has pledged $632,000 to the Turkish Crescent ( Red Cross) and another $316,000 to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. China has pledged $200,000 to both the Turkish and Syrian Red Cross.
Al Jazeera, quoted Obaida Rannoush, a medical volunteer from Syria, who lashed out against global apathy for sending aid to Syria, the focus of the international community is on Turkey. Syria’s rescue operations have been hampered by lack of equipment to rescue people crushed under the rubble.
Syria is in the doghouse so far as the US and western nations are concerned. The Sunni Arab countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt were responsible in the first place in fueling the civil war and arming and funding the Sunni groups against President Asad belonging to the Alawite community, in a country where the majority are Sunnis. The Alawites are a mere ten percent of the population but have ruled Syria thanks with an iron fist thanks to President Asad and his father before him. The situation has eased somewhat in the last one year or so with Bashar Al Assad traveling in March 2022 to UAE and repairing ties. This was his first visit in 13-years to an Arab country. The US criticized the UAE for helping Asad come out of international isolation. The long suffering citizens of Syria reduced to penury thanks to decades of fighting, are now faced with a catastrophic earthquake.
US President Joe Biden was on the phone to President Erdogan soon after the earthquake. In a statement released soon afterwards he said : “My Administration has been working closely with our NATO Ally Turkiye, and I authorized an immediate U.S. response. At my direction, senior American officials reached out immediately to their Turkish counterparts to coordinate any and all needed assistance.” On Syria his message was short : `` U.S.-supported humanitarian partners are also responding to the destruction in Syria.” What this means is not immediately clear, but it is obvious that Washington’s focus is on Turkiye rather than Syria supported by both implacable enemies Russia and Iran.Like Europe, the US is possibly sending aid to the White Helmets.
Sadly, there is politics even in response to a deadly disaster. Countries look to their strategic and political interests in calculating how fast and how much humanitarian aid should flow. ``Unfortunately, response to a humanitarian catastrophe is not hundred percent altruistic,’’ said ambassador K.P Fabian. India has done well to reach help to both affected nations. New Delhi has gone ahead with humanitarian aid, despite the fact that Turkiye had been critical of the Modi government’s action in removing Kashmir’s special status.
In a statement, the MEA outlined India’s position on reaching out to Turkiye and Syria. ``India stands committed to extending all possible support to those affected by this devastating earthquake. Operation Dost is India’s latest expression of being a first responder, a net security provider, and a country whose Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) response is quick and available to countries not only in the neighbouring region but also beyond.’’
Despite such lofty announcements, India did not extend a helping hand to Pakistan during last year’s devastating floods. Every country plays its cards keeping in mind political and strategic considerations.