U.N./Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is struggling to convince the fighting parties in Syria to agree to a brief ceasefire during the forthcoming Eid al-Adha. As modest as it may sound, the Syrian population deserves any lull in the ongoing devastation.
What the Syrians have been subjected to is beyond belief. Both the Syrian government and the armed opposition groups have shown utter disregard for the population as they pursue their fight to the death, though with more firepower at its disposal, the government is clearly capable of doing much more damage and destruction.
Brahimi’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, was able to convince both the Syrian government and the rebels to stop fighting indefinitely, but that truce did not hold. Arab as well as international monitors and peacekeepers were dispatched to the scene, later withdrawn without making any difference.
Assad’s acceptance of the previous truce was only tactical, as it would be again if he accepts another. One has to be naive to believe that the current Syrian regime would accept what it sees as “foreign terrorist intruders” as a recognised counterpart to the legitimate government. The standard official demand has insistently been that such armed invaders be disarmed, deprived of any foreign military or financial support and sent back to where they came from.
Ahead of Brahimi’s truce proposal are two possibilities. One is that it will be verbally accepted but barely observed, as both sides seem to be fully aware of the risk of the advantage the ceasefire may offer the opponent. Fighting will continue, with each side blaming it on the other. The other possibility is that the truce will be rejected and that will be the end of the Brahimi’s mission.
Brahimi accepted this tough assignment late last August, following the resignation of Annan whose efforts were totally unsuccessful. Brahimi, clearly aware of the hopelessness of the undertaking, agreed nonetheless to try. He did indeed warn that the success of his mission required international backing, something Annan complained he never had.
Brahimi did the usual exploration tour, visiting the concerned locations and capitals, including New York, Cairo, Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Riyadh, Doha, Beirut, Ankara, Paris, London and, of course, Damascus. He also visited Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey. Wherever he travelled he probably asked the same questions his predecessor did, and he must have received the same replies. Nothing has changed in the 20-month-long Syrian crisis. And because the ingredients remained the same, the end result of the effort remained the same too.
Neither Annan nor Brahimi should be blamed for the failure, which rather than being their own is actually that of a defective U.N. system. But they both agreed to act as inert tools in the hands of foreign players, to offer cover for a vicious international game, and for that they are strongly responsible.
With no sign on the horizon that any of those who feed the fire that is destroying Syria — its cities, its towns and villages, its culture, its monuments and antiquities, its infrastructure, its economy, its history and its society, with enormous quantities of fuel — is willing to stop, the war is likely to continue until one side destroys the other, or until every side ends up destroyed.
The price is going to be heavy, not only for Syria but also for the region, the neighbouring countries in particular. Already the trouble is spilling over the many borders and that is not limited to the Syrian refugee problem. Violence has been crossing into Lebanon in dangerous doses, and across the Turkish and Jordanian borders, though mildly so far.
Assad did warn that he would transport chaos into the entire region if cornered, and he seems to be acting accordingly if the latest assassination in Beirut proves to be a Syrian conspiracy.
The risk of spreading regional instability with so many foreign players fishing in the troubled Syrian waters will not be limited to the fighting period only. When the war concludes, only with losers and no winners, the chaos the day after is going to be greater.
It will take Syria years to recover some stability and order. We have striking examples in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and more.
Troubled countries suck in all kinds of armed bands who descend on the scene with all kinds of anarchist agendas and purposes. Once entrenched, it takes years to dislodge them. That is already happening in Syria, as some Arab countries — according to reports in the US press — supply weapons and arms to jihadist groups whose origins and intentions are barely known.
It may be impractical for the outside world to view the Syrian conflict as an internal matter, as would have been the case in the recent past. That would be unfair and insensitive towards the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people who rose peacefully to defend their rights and freedom from decades of repressive rule.
However, there is a big difference between foreign powers’ intervention intended to positively and constructively mediate fair and practical compromises, and opportunistic exploitation of peoples’ destination in blind pursuit of political and strategic interests. Syria is a major prize in a great game.
The powers that have been feeding either side with arms and international protection are in fact causing their clients more harm than good. The U.N., which also is victim of superpower rivalry and conflicting interests, has lost any usefulness, acting as a mere commentator on a major world crisis.
More than others, we in this region have been experiencing U.N. failure with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the many other wars that are some of its many outcomes. It is hard to feel anything but despair for the people in Syria. At least, let us hope that a ceasefire will provide some respite for them.
The writer is a columnist at The Jordan Times, where this article was published on Oct. 23, 2012