Comment: By James McQuillan
With negotiations comes the hope of peace and co-operation between the sides to rebuild, restore and return normalcy to where, for nearly 6 years there had been nothing but chaos. That is the optimist’s perspective.
This year proves the faults of assumed hope. As what we have seen thus far, cannot have us living under presumptions for too long. Syria’s is a ceasefire held in a precarious state of affairs, with conflict at some level.
The 2016 December agreements have led to peace negotiations between the two sides of the Civil War; a belated development which, at many other windows of opportunity, was smacked down by the various factions.
Negotiations, while stalling in their commencement, as of February 25th of this year, have begun and with them comes the chance of a resolution; some reprieve for the remaining residents of the hollowed-out ruins of Homs and Aleppo, but little chance of vindication for the hundreds of thousands displaced , or the innumerable dead and mutilated.
The bitter-sweet solution to this war of arms and ideas must be one of guaranteed stability, not of democratic overhaul, one which must see the Assad regime resuming control; it is lamentable that this conclusion must be drawn, but it is one of a realistic mind comprehending the very events that have unfolded.
The Assad regime is one that has had a long history of repression, much to the international community’s awareness. The junior Bashir Al-Assad issued a diatribe (in a welcoming speech on May 5th 2001) against the ‘Treacherous Jewish mentality’. He emptied, and then by August 2001 began to refill the jails of Damascus with ‘political prisoners’. It was an initial decade of ire set on his opponents, tempered by empty phrases of ‘democracy’ and ‘transparency’.
There’s still a war going on. The recent publications by the Institute of War have shown that, While Iraq’s military and security forces work to expunge the ISIS forces from the outskirts of Mosul, the group still possesses a commanding force within Syrian territory.
As I looked on the updates while writing, the concentration points around Palmyra, east of Dura’s, Raqqa as well as to the west of a still beleaguered Aleppo fluctuate from areas of constant attack to ISIS strongholds to reclaimed Government land.
The FSA is, according to the international community, shattered; a diminished, if not totally spent force, and wreaked by internal discord between a hard democratic core long since tarnished by the terroristic and extremist ‘Allies’ it has kept since 2011.
This includes those Jihadist groups that riveted their cause to the FSA as it became known: Al-Nusra (Arabic for Support), a splinter faction from Al-Qaeda, which had earnt its place on the US blacklist of terrorist organisations on account of its unabashed links to the Mujahideen. On top of them, comes the allied Jayesh al Islam (Army of Islam); which is the equivalent of exchanging tyranny with despotism when it comes to their ideologies disdain for Zoroastrians and other minority religious groups in Syria.
Now while this in itself does not turn favour directly over to Assad, he has the advantage. What he offers the region is the one thing the FSA could never hope to provide: a means of maintaining a sovereign state, as well as having the means to sustain and, eventually, prevail in a collaborative military effort against ISIS.
The comparative support of the Assad regime in stark contrast to the FSA is one of night and day: the fragmented FSA forces, even at their personal ‘height’, stood at a fraction of Assad’s loyalists, whose comparative force is backed by superior numbers and hardware. It has also gained greater material support of Moscow and Iran than the FSA got from the Gulf states or Western powers.
With the election of Trump, comes the chance of a more cooperative relationship with Russia. As previous attempts at a ceasefire through the UN have failed, it remains to be seen whether Trump and Putin can carve out a deal .
While the disputes were ones of sanctions, a strong centralised power within Syria appears integral to assure a bulwark against the observed potential of an ISIS counter-offensive. Additionally, Russian interventions against ISIS, according to the ISW, operate with the additional intention of upholding the Assad regime, though contested by representative nations of counter-terror taskforce spearheaded by the US. An Assad regime appears the only viable choice on account of the fragility of a militarily weakened FSA, fraught as well with internal discord between Islamists and an already diminished democratic core.
As this is written, rebel groups have focused efforts against the threat of ISIS domination in the Syrian heartlands; agreeing on a collaboration with Russia against held areas.
Despite his survival, the future looks uncertain for Bashir Al-Assad. While ISIS take residence in Syria, being assailed in Iraq, and makes forays into Afghanistan, he remains. But war, with a price so high as 470,000 dead or wounded, and over four million displaced, is not one that goes unpaid.