Tuesday, December 22, 2015


With all the bickering that goes on within the “hallowed chambers” of the UN Security Council; and the deep-seated animosity that exists between certain permanent members, it is indeed a rare feat when any sort of consensus can be reached on certain highly sensitive issues- especially those that bear strategic importance for certain permanent member states. The issue of the war in Syria has been one of such thorny issues; but just last week, in New York, the UNSC members “unanimously approved a resolution endorsing a peace process for Syria which includes a cease fire, and talks between the Damascus government and the opposition”. Now, before I go into the downsides and the negatives of this agreement, as well as its inherent “vagueness” which will most likely lead to roadblocks and challenges ahead, it is of the utmost importance that I reiterate how laudable it is that some sort of agreement has even been reached within the UNSC. Differences in political and even military positions between permanent member states mean that the diplomats must have had to make compromises to achieve consensus. This is laudable- seeing that Russia was a part of this consensus. But then, despite the fact that this is a step in the right direction, important issues need to be addressed- issues that were not covered in the resolution.
Now, the draft makes no mention of the future of Bashar al-Assad. This is definitely an “Elephant in the room” because Assad has been responsible for the deaths of countless numbers of his own people. The Syrian government which he leads has been implicated in the use of chemical weapons as well as advanced conventional weaponry against its own people; under the guise of eradicating terrorists. In war there will always be casualties; but Assad has overseen the systematic slaughter of the people he is supposedly oath-bound to protect. He and his family have shown the greatest arrogance in the face of human suffering, and have lost the goodwill of majority of the people, and the right to be called their leader. So why is he still being allowed to stay on? Why is the issue of his political future conspicuously absent from the draft? Again, we go back to the political differences and issues of strategic importance to the UNSC permanent member states. I do not wish to address again, the issue of how Obama’s overly cautious (albeit cowardly) stance led to the continued defiance of Assad, and the emergence of Russia as somewhat of the “superpower” in all of this. I think I have over-flogged the issue (even though I would still speak on it if compelled to) and the records speak for themselves! So let’s speak about Russia for a bit. Russia and Syria share a relationship which goes back to the days of Hafez al-Assad (Bashar’s late father). At this point I would not say that Putin sees himself as a loyal friend of Bashar al-Assad, but more as the leader of a country that is concerned about reviving old-glory and maintaining all strategic positions that give it some sort of authority and importance in the global community. Russia is not about to give up its naval bases in Syria (Tartus and Latakia), which gives it influence in the Mediterranean Sea region, and access to warmer waters. So even if Assad is eventually deemed to be too cancerous to be kept on, any replacement- emphasis on the word “any”- would have to be deemed to be loyal to the Russian regime, if Moscow is going to give its “stamp of approval”. And seeing as Obama has given the bulk of authority as regards Syria to President Putin, his opinion will undoubtedly be of vital importance…except a significant shift occurs. Putin has stated that any future decisions concerning the government of Syria will have to be made by the Syrian citizens; but he fools no one. Who is to say that Assad would not put himself on any future ballot? And even if he doesn’t, another Kremlin stooge would most likely be infused into the race. What this then portends for the people of Syria, only time will reveal. But from the present vantage point, it’s not looking too good.
Then we come to the issue of the cease-fire itself. The parties to this agreement and future discussions, are the Assad government and opposition forces (i.e. the moderate rebels whose positions Russia has bombed continually, to preserve Assad). Certainly, there shouldn’t be any major problem getting the Syrian National Army and other moderate rebel factions to the negotiating table. But are they the major problem spot in Syria? The answer is no. ISIS- and other terrorist groups such as the Al-Nusra front- is the major problem right now in Syria. ISIS is not a rational organization that plays by the rule of law; so even if a cease-fire deal is reached, it certainly does not include a pact of peace by ISIS. So therefore, the war is by no means over. If a cease-fire is reached, then I imagine that a political agreement between the opposition and the government to oversee the joint military campaign against ISIS will also have to be reached. Will that even be possible? With the issue now between Russia and Turkey, can the Turkish-allied Turkmen rebels also reach an agreement with the Russian-backed Assad government? What about the Kurds, who want their own autonomy in Iraq and Syria…will they also be in agreement with the Assad regime? What will the terms of agreement even look like for the parties involved, and their respective allies/backers? Okay let’s try and be optimistic and say that by some strange spell of luck, an agreement that is acceptable (or at least somewhat acceptable) to the parties involved, emerges…does that still eliminate the threat of ISIS? No. So it’s not “problem completely solved”. ISIS controls large swaths of territory within Syria. It controls even more territory than the Assad regime itself. It controls not just territory, but people and vast resources…and it strengthens its controls through fear. I guess the best hope is that any future agreement will lead to a more concerted and intense military campaign against ISIS; employing the combined manpower, intelligence and resources of the agreed parties, within Syria. Also, the influence of the leaders of the respective parties can be brought to bear upon the Sunni tribesmen leaders, to try and bring about a shift in loyalty away from ISIS, towards the agreed parties. Again, modalities will have to be worked out in everyone’s favor. In any case, it is worth trying.
At the end of the day, no one knows what the future holds for Syria. I doubt that when the dust settles, it would still be one coherent territory…one unified people. Will the name “Syrian Arab Republic” with its previous meaning (before 2011) still exist? I’m not so sure. But regardless, for now, any step that may bring some sort of respite to the long-suffering Syrian people, and lead to the defeat of ISIS, is one worth taking. The future (after ISIS), would take care of itself!

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