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Old Monday, May 04, 2020
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Default Please check "Future of Syrian Conundrum"

Future of Syrian Conundrum

The war in Syria has entered tenth year, yet normalcy is nowhere in the sight. This conflict, which began after the spell of Arab Spring, has descended the middle eastern country into the perpetual chaos having different shades of civil war, sectarianism, IS terrorism, geo-political proxy war, and at times direct confrontation between different states. In this long crisis, the foremost affectees are the harmless people of Syria in general but the children in particular. Despite these long ten years of fierce battle, Syria remains politically polarised, socially divisive and its future remains as uncertain as it was years ago.

As the Arab Spring swept across the middle east and the North African Arab States, the long-suppressed people of Syria courageously came into the streets of capital Damascus to topple the Assad government. Ironically, reluctant Assad resorted to ruthless force against the peaceful protestors resultantly Syria descended into chaos. This scenario gave rise to civil war. Many top military officials defected from the Syrian regime and joined forces with the civilian protestors and formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in order to remove al-Assad. Owing to the continued use of violent tactics by Assad to silence protestors mostly Sunni, the radical organisations poured in Syria and formed Jabat-ul-Nusra, which is the Al-Qaeda offshoot in Syria. In response, Shia organisations such as Hezbollah came to rescue the Alawite regime. By then, the civil war has morphed into the sectarian war.

When the states intervened in the above jigsaw, it became even more complex. Saudi, Qatar and Turkey supported Sunni rebel groups, on the other side Iran and Hezbollah-backed Shia militias contested to counter Sunni rebel groups. In addition, Obama administration approved CIA-backed training programme to support anti-Assad rebel groups. When the Assad regime attacked civilian population with the chemical weapons, the western countries launched airstrikes to weaken the beleaguered Assad. Many times, it was reported, he was ready to give up, however his Russian and Iranian allies bolstered him and thus he stayed. In the meanwhile, Islamic State emerged on the Syrian landscape that turned the tide in President Assad’s favour.

The ferocity of ISIL and its occupation of vast territories in Iraq and Syria brought the nefarious terror outfit to the spotlight. Elimination of ISIL mattered more for the

world than the Assad regime. After the capture of historical city Palmyra, by September 2015, Russia militarily intervened to help the embattled Syrian government against the militant Islamic State. Thus, Assad got a breathing space and launched campaign against ISIL with the help of Russia and Iran on the one hand and on the other Kurds recaptured territories from ISIL one after the other. Here it can be assumed that provided the militant Islamic State has not emerged on the scene, al-Assad might have been toppled as he was on the verge of collapse by then.

Anti-ISIL campaign by Kurds, and the regime forces supported by Iran and Syria helped in recapturing the lost territories from the terrorists. However, the Russian forces under the garb of eliminating the Islamic State also attacked the rebels. Hence, President Assad regained control over the vast territories and now controls almost 70 per cent of Syria. Currently, autonomous region in northeast Syria is controlled by Kurds that they call as the “Rojava” and north-western Idlib province is the last bastion that the Syrian government is trying to regain control which created a direct confrontation between Turkey and Syria.

Idlib is controlled by rebel forces backed by Turkey and in addition, millions of Syrian refugees are settled there. In last few months, Syria backed by Russian airpower attacked Idlib to regain its control killing hundreds and forced millions of refugees to flee to Turkish border. This compelled Turkey to respond militarily to the Assad forces. Nonetheless, President Putin and Erdogan reached a ceasefire agreement and further military confrontation was averted at least for the time being.

The Turkish direct military intervention has many objectives. First, to support its proxies based in Idlib. Second, to avert the refugee influx towards Turkey as the country is already hosting 3.5 million Syrian refugees. Third, to keep a check on the YPG (Young Protection Unit) as they may extend support to hostile insurgent PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party). Four, to restrict movement of refugee amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, for security reasons, Turkey proposed a 32 kilometre “Safe Zone” inside Syrian territory adjacent to Turkish border. Turkey subtly demanded Safe Zone for resettling Syrian refugees residing in Turkey within that safe zone. However, primary motive of Turkey is to neutralise the threat

emanating from Kurds based in Syria and especially to avert the confluence of PKK and YPG.

In above backdrop, the complexity of Syrian crisis is far from over. It faces multiple challenges which need to be tackled after the COVID-19 is controlled. Firstly, as President Assad has consolidated power, he must be pressurised by the international community to reach a new social contract which shall be accommodative and democratic in sprit, and in case he violated that contract, he should face the consequences. Secondly, the Kurdish autonomous Rojava should be recognised within Syrian as it was their long-established demand and it will also help in pacifying the situation, however, they have to reach an agreement with Turkey that they will not be providing any support to anti-Turkish activities, and in case they violated that agreement, Turkey shall have legitimate right to defend itself against any threat emanating from Kurds. Thirdly, International community in coordination with the Syrian regime should take all possible steps for the resettlement and rehabilitation of Syrian refugees along with the establishment of oversight mechanism under the P5+2 (Turkey and Germany) arrangement. Fourthly, Syria and Israel should negotiate the issue of Golan Heights in a peaceful manner.

Syrian civilians have paid a heavy price during these terrible ten years. It is the worst humanitarian crisis, according to the UNHCR, out of 22 million pre-war Syrian population, 5.6 million are refugees in the neighbouring states and 6.6 million are internally displaced. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says over half a million Syrians have been killed in this power struggle. Since president Assad has consolidated the control, it is imperative that the international community should work with the regime for the rehabilitation of Syria and its internally displaced person, and refugees in order to prevent further polarisation and humanitarian catastrophe along with addressing the legitimate interests of Turkey. It is time for the stakeholders that all possible efforts are dedicated for the preservation of human rights of Syrian civilians at this crucial juncture.
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