There is nothing Bashar al-Assad’s regime loves more than a process, and the international community has just delivered one that could maintain the status quo inside Syria indefinitely. It is undoubtedly better to talk than to fight, but nothing about the Geneva II talks between the Syrian regime and the opposition portends an outcome that would relieve the suffering of the Syrian people, or begin to end the war.
Had Geneva truly been an attempt to resolve the Syrian stalemate, influential nations would have insisted on the regime’s adherence to the basicrecommendations of the Geneva I talks in 2012, including the provision of humanitarian aid, the release of prisoners of conscience, and the cessation of Assad’s relentless air strikes on civilians. These have continued to be a basic demand of the Syrian opposition; but since Geneva I Assad has increased his assault and even imposed new draconian blockades on the most helpless of people in vast areas of Syria’s major cities, including the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk. In greater Damascus, Homs and Aleppo, people are starving to death as the world watches.
Assad believes he has time on his side. With the political, financial and military backing of powerful global actors such as Russia and Iran, and with the reluctance of the US and its allies to engage in more than vapid condemnations or declarations of intent, he can continue to terrorise most of the population into submission. Simultaneously, the regime can allow itself to be engaged in an endless process – or so it hopes.
For its part, the opposition Syrian National Coalition came to Geneva under duress, after warnings that even the meagre non-lethal aid provided by western countries would dry up if it refused to participate in what most Syrians opposed to Assad believe is an elaborate charade. Expectations were not really low: they were non-existent.
Nevertheless, the diplomatic process has delivered some surprises. For one, the Syrian regime’s delegation exasperated even its Russian backer with belligerent statements and a disrespectful flouting of the meeting’s protocol; the abusive and obnoxious speech by the Syrian foreign minister, Walid Muallem, was in particular received very poorly. In contrast, the president of the national coalition, Ahmad Jarba, was rational and constructive, impressing even the most sceptical of watchers.
While Assad’s delegation launched into absurd tirades, hysterical interviews and petty time-wasting tactics during various encounters with the media, the coalition’s outreach was disciplined and open-minded.Most importantly, for the international community and Syrians of all persuasions, the meeting proved a few points. First, by agreeing to the process, the Assad regime has recognised that there is a formal, organised opposition, and that the uprising is not the global conspiracy or the terrorist invasion it has always claimed.
Second, by discussing issues such as prisoner exchanges, the regime has recognised that this opposition is the only political entity capable of co-ordinating with the Free Syrian Army, and that the foreign Islamist factions inSyria, therefore, have no relation with either the opposition or the Free Syrian Army.
On these fronts, the Syrian regime’s propaganda has been exposed, and the national coalition has managed to call the regime’s bluff, demonstrating more political maturity than many expected. Even those anti-Assad activists who are notoriously critical of the formal opposition have been generally supportive of its delegation to Switzerland.
But if this toothless process goes on for months, if not years, the regime will continue to pound the country. Meanwhile, the rebels will continue to fight back not only against Assad’s forces, but against Isis (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) brigades as well, which have been left to roam unhindered, and even encouraged, by Assad.
Regardless of the propaganda, the fact remains that the vast majority of rebels took up arms against Assad to join defecting soldiers who refused to turn their weapons on the population. Once Assad is gone, there is no reason to believe that these soldiers will not go back to being regular soldiers, and that civilians will not go back to rebuilding their lives, with the help of the increasingly confident civil society organisations that continue to carve a socioeconomic and political role in the midst of all this destruction.
The worst thing the international community could do is push talks for the sake of talks, to wash its hands of the problem that is Syria. Leaving the catastrophe to sort itself out in Geneva’s corridors while continuing to refuse more direct engagement merely empowers Assad in the long run, and pushes his opponents further into a zero-sum calculation. Geneva would then be doing more harm than good to Syria, leaving Assad and his followers with the delusions that he is invincible and an irreplaceable partner in Syria.
With the immensity and the monstrosity of the crimes he has committed against the entire nation, including the minorities he purports to protect, it beggars belief that anyone could push for a solution that would keep Assad in power, even partly, even temporarily.
It is up to the international community to ensure that Geneva doesn’t remain a mere process if it is serious, as most Syrians are, about ending the war.
Source: The guardian