Syrian quagmire

January 19, 2014 - 6:43:14 am
The main Syrian political opposition group in exile, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), has agreed to attend internationally sponsored peace talks beginning in Switzerland next week. The Geneva Two talks with representatives from President Bashar Al Assad’s government are scheduled to start in Montreux on Wednesday and are called as the most serious international effort yet to end the near three-year conflict. 

It’s disappointing that a peace conference on Syria is happening after such a long time with so little hope -- never before the confidence has been so low about a peace effort on Syria. Even its participants are not optimistic and are not sure what outcome will emerge. The reason: so complicated and disastrous is the situation in the country that the number of stakeholders has multiplied, positions have hardened, goalposts have shifted and in such a situation, a peace conference can only scratch the surface.

Though the SNC has agreed to participate, the group has little influence on the ground in Syria. Its presence has been overshadowed by Islamist groups and Al Qaeda-linked groups, which are fighting among each other dominance. The rebels fighting on the ground will not agree to anything less than the ouster of President Bashar Al Assad, but Assad himself will not agree anything if that involves relinquishing power. And both sides are in a position to stick to their stances – rebels are failing to make progress on the ground, even losing some of the hard-fought territory, and the government forces are able to make advances. The Syrian regime’s backers – Russia and Iran -- are steadfast in their support for the regime.

There are conflicting signals about the purpose of the conference. US Secretary of State John Kerry is insisting that what is called Geneva 2 is about establishing a process essential to the formation of a transition government body to replace the regime of Bashar Assad, who, according to him, would be excluded from the transition. It’s likely that Kerry must have made the statement to prevent the talks from collapsing and give confidence to the rebels. The objective he is targeting is difficult to achieve at this moment, which has been made clear by the Damascus regime. Syrian officials have pledged to attend the Geneva talks, which could be after persuasion from Russia and Iran, but they have disputed the invitation letter’s focus on setting up a transitional authority. According to them, the priority is to continue to fight terrorism, a phrase they have used to describe and tarnish Syrians’ genuine fight for freedom. 

What is needed to find a solution to the Syrian crisis is a consensus among the international community – mainly Arabs and the West – about a possible solution. With opinion divided on every front, a status quo seems the only solution.