War and peace in Syria


WEB DESK: The second round of the UN-brokered peace process in Syria opening this week in Geneva stands almost subverted already. On the eve of talks, Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem had the audacity to say that “We will not talk with anyone who wants to discuss the presidency … Bashar al-Assad is read line”.

That’s not what the main opposition, known as High Negotiations Committee (HNC), who has come for the talks, wants to hear. It would like the focus of the negotiations to be on setting up a transitional governing body with full executive powers, and that Bashar must leave at the start of transition. It doesn’t sit well with the government in Damascus, which would like the future governing set-up to be ‘at the most a national unity government, with opposition participation and a new or amended constitution’.

The US-led coalition, which is now on diplomatic retreat in Syria, thinks that but for al-Muallem’s spanner in the works the second round, expected to last 10 days, had the desired potential to trigger more intensive negotiations towards the final settlement of the civil war which has caused some 270,000 deaths and millions out of their homes. Its optimism is largely built on the ground situation where a fragile cease-fire has held for more than a fortnight, during which violence de-escalated by about 90 percent and aid and relief begun reaching the barricaded localities. The truth is that as civil war in Syria reaches its fifth anniversary the contending forces and their backers seem to have developed war fatigue. The ground situation suggests if the anti-Assad forces haven’t won the war the government of President al-Assad neither. The cession of hostilities in Syria is essentially a product of understanding between the United States and Russia.

Therefore, the second round can make progress only if these two powers move forward in tandem – and that is a possibility should the two be able to see the Syrian civil war through a common prism. In fact, the United States’ support for the opposition has undergone considerable transformation given its growing perception that continuity of war in Syria would go to the advantage of the Islamic State. Russia too remains equivocal on the presidency of Bashar, as for it the primary concern is its political and economic influence in this region, which includes pro-opposition Turkey and Saudi Arabia also.

Surprisingly, if not unreasonably, while the regional players are aligned along, “for and against” Assad lines they are seemingly oblivious to the aftermath of devastating civil war in Syria. Those who want tyrant Assad to go may like to recall the plight of Iraqis and Libyans whose tyrants have gone but what they got in return is fractured politics, broken economies and unenviable sociability. They may also like to learn some lesson from how Russia and the United States who, despite nurturing mismatching worldviews, have succeeded in clinching conditions leading to the second round of peace process.

Given extensive devastation and mayhem inflicted by the five-year civil war restarting lives by millions on return to their demolished homes and hearths would be a huge challenge. That’s where extremist and nihilist elements of Daesh brand are likely to strike roots and flourish – as happened in Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Then, there would be a few unpalatable consequences for the parties who would actively take sides in the Syrian conflict. Turkey, for example, is now beset with Syria-related violence.

Appropriately, all those – located far and near – who think they have stakes in war and peace of Syria are expected to help succeed second round in firming up some basics as agreed points for further talks. But more pointedly, as it seems to be presently the case, it is Russia which holds the key to the success. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is on spot when he says “There is one man on this planet who can end the civil war in Syria by making a phone call and that’s Putin”. Let him stop people like al-Muallem from subverting the second round of UN-brokered peace process, and he can, just by making one phone call.

Source: Business Recorder