Yesterday those on this side of the world woke up to headlines screaming of the world powers reaching a “ceasefire” deal in Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry said: “We have agreed to a nationwide cessation of hostilities to begin in a target of one weeks time.” Additionally he said: “We are doing everything in our power diplomatically to bring an end to this conflict. This is still a complicated conflict, with increasing levels of violence and increasing levels of terrorists.” The proposed nationwide ceasefire would also entail full access to those in need of humanitarian assistance including those in Madaya, Fua’ and other places around the country.
Mr. Kerry admitted that it was an ambitious proposal. Ambitious indeed. However ambition needs to meet hard facts on the ground if the Syrian people will see much needed relief.
Who Negotiated this “Deal”?
Not a single opposition group was present for these meetings. This has to tell you a lot. We have been hearing from the Russians constantly that this is a crisis that only the Syrians can decide (albeit the Syrians on Bashar Assad’s side was his meaning). Yet none of those fighting on the ground even knew about the agreement. One of Ahrar Sham’s chief negotiators, Labib Nahas, told me that he only found out about it yesterday morning around the same time everyone else heard about it. Ahrar Sham is one of the most powerful factions in Syria, there will be no ceasefire that isn’t observed by them, yet they were not party to the talks.
ISIS and Nusra Bombings will Continue
Jabha Nusra is also one of the most powerful groups in Syria today and they too were not party to the talks. Granted Nusra is not overly interested in being invited either but the important point I am highlighting is the lack of participation from the people on the ground. In addition to that, Secretary Kerry made it clear that the cessation of bombings doesn’t include ISIS or Nusra.
Let’s examine the Nusra element for a moment: Jabha Nusra has many foreign fighters in it’s ranks, however the vast majority of their membership are Syrian born and bred fighters. Nusra is entrenched in the Syrian conflict to a level that they cannot be separated by air or even easily on the ground. Most fronts against both Assad and ISIS that Nusra occupies is shared along with other groups.
Jabha Nusra, Ahrar Sham, and other groups call areas under their respective control “freed areas” and no one refers to them as “Jabah areas” or “Ahrar areas” etc. Fighters and civilians alike freely flow from area to area without having to wonder if they should say they are with this group or that group, even if they are from the Free Syrain Army. All are welcome. They will run into a problem only if they are from ISIS, the regime, or it’s allies.
So this grants Russia and others the freedom to continue bombing the opposition and simply say they were bombing Nusra. This will in no way, shape, form or fashion result in a peace agreement of any kind. Besides, western diplomats have admitted that the Russians have not agreed to stop their bombing campaign.
Are Western Powers Negotiating to Benefit Syria or…?
In 1994 the Hutu dominated Rwandan government saw to the deaths of close to 1 million Tutsis. All of this took place within a span of 3 months and under the watchful eyes of the world community. Then American Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Prudence Bushnell, was tasked by the American government to negotiate a ceasefire in the Rwandan territories. I would ask, is it reasonable that a government who has killed more than 800,000 people within 100 days is a serious peace negotiating partner? The war came to an end when then rebel commander, and current president Paul Kagame and his army fought their way to the capital Kigali and put an end to the Hutu extremists. My point is that, the Assad regime cannot govern any longer. Hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of war crimes they committed in front of the world communities eyes. What could be negotiated from one with such blood on their hands?
Is the US Negotiating in Good Faith?
The world’s eyes should also focus on another issue: If we add up all of the deaths that have been attributed to Al Qaida, (note I didn’t say proven, I only said attributed), then it doesn’t equal 4% of the 300,000 killed by Assad and his government. Yet the US led bombing campaign did not drop a single bomb on Assad’s troops. If all of Al Qaida’s purported victims totaled 10,000 people then that still would only equal 3.3% of Bashar Assad’s victims. Can we really say with a straight face that the US is negotiating in good faith on behalf of the Syrian people? Or are they using the Syrian conflict to exert pressure on their Al Qaida arch enemy?
No Fly Zone
For all of Russia’s muscle flexing I do not believe they are prepared militarily to fly their planes into the face of the world community. Russia has been effective because no one has told them with any certainty that they “can’t do this”. So, just like any self respecting bully, they continue to push the limits until they meet a resistance they are uncomfortable with. So far this hasn’t happened. In short, a no fly zone is the most reliable way to prevent indiscriminate killing of civilians. Tossing a barrel bomb from a helicopter 2 kilometers in the air and flying off carries no real accountabilility. However an invading force cannot mistake Damascus for Idlib and thereby get away with killing civilians and hide their hands.
Also, it is essential that all negotiating parties realize two things:
1. Most of the fighters in the Syrian territories are fighting for some form or another of Islamic governance. Excluding the ISIS’s interpretation of Islam, the reality is that the Syrian people are no longer fighting only for the toppling of Assad and his government. They are fighting for what they see as their desired governing system. If there is to be any peace then this point must be observed. Like it or not.
2. The fight in Syria comprises of foreigners, however the huge majority are Syrians. While observing the above mentioned point regarding Islamic governance, it needs to be looked at with a backdrop that the wants of the Syrian people cannot be overlooked or overridden simply because the international community wants something else.