Syria: all sides need to forget about pride and point scoring

The conflict in Syria seems to have gone on for eternity now. Though it has been just over two years since the violence started, constant depressing media coverage and the agonising monthly announcements by the United Nations of the number of the dead, has created the sad feeling that this conflict will go on for a very long time. Indeed compared to other “Arab Spring” revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya which seem to happen in a blink of an eye (though occasional violence still remains), the Syrian conflict is unprecedentedly long. The reasons for this are well known. The rebels on the one side are continuously supported financially and perhaps through military means by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the majority of the Western countries. President Assad on the other hand has Russia on his side (who have admitted to supplying weapons to Assad, to counter those supplied to the rebels), and China who are more than happy, rightly or wrongly, to prevent any resolutions at the United Nations that would lead to Western intervention in Syria.

There will be a chance to end all the bloodshed, or at least temporally to have a ceasefire agreement, in June, at the peace conference, which will be taking place in Geneva where all sides are looking to attend. Even the Syrian government have promised Russia, that “in principle” they will participate in the summit. However in order for the summit to achieve any positive results, both sides will have to make concessions, and more importantly, will need to put the fate of the Syrian people before any pride and point scoring. This in itself will be extremely challenging, as the rebels do not look like buckling down to the idea of Assad playing a part in any possible future elections. The West seems to back the rebels in this respect, suggesting that Assad has to step down regardless of what the Syrian people want. Russia disagrees with this perspective. Given the fact that all sides use the rhetoric of “letting the Syrian people decide their own future”, it seems that Russia is right to persist on the possibility of Assad playing some sort of a role in future election/government. The rebels and their supporters must accept the fact that the Syrian people have not officially rejected Assad, therefore the only way he should step down is if the Syrian people make it clear that this is their wish, through a legitimate vote. If the rebels and their Western allies are so certain that the Syrian people no longer support Assad, than they should have nothing to worry about if that decision came to a public vote.

The Assad regime also has to swallow the pride and sit down at the table with the opposition. Assad frequently said that he is not prepared to negotiate with terrorists. Whist it is clear that some factions of the opposition do consist of radical extremists and Al Qaeda, there are other opposition members who genuinely want to see a different destiny in Syria, a more liberal and democratic country, the one that does not involve Assad. The current President has to accept that he does not have full support from the Syrian people, and it is therefore vital to sit down with the opposition and discuss what can be done to ensure that the Syrian people make their choice.

The influential backers of the Assad regime (Russia) and the supporters of the opposition (UK, USA, France) must not get involved in the negotiations if they occur. Since both have their own agenda on the future of Syria, their involvement would simply distort the true purpose of negotiations- to create at least a brief peaceful environment where the Syrian people can decide what kind of future they want. Russia wants Assad to stay since he is a long-time ally in the region. The Western nations on the other hand want change due to the fact that Assad has good relations with Iran and Hezbollah and additionally dislikes Israel. However, both sides also have to admit the fact that Syria is a sovereign nation and therefore any meddling from both of them will not lead to desired results.

Ultimately, in order for peace to occur in Syria, a lot of countries involved in this conflict will have to forget about their own interests and do what is best for the Syrian people, rather than geopolitical successes. Unfortunately it is difficult to envisage a situation where all sides will take this necessary step, however, for the sake of preventing more bloodshed and destruction, it is imperative that they do so.

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Categories: International politics

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