Thursday, February 9, 2012

Instability in Syria: West Asia Crisis Continues

Russia won a promise from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on February 7 to bring an end to bloodshed in Syria, but Western and Arab nations acted to isolate Assad further after activists and rebels said his forces killed over 100 in the city of Homs. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, representing a rare ally on a trip to the Syrian capital – Damascus –other states are shunning, said Russia now wanted to resolve Syria's crisis in line with an Arab plan. Moscow and Beijing vetoed in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
The Russian mediation failed to slow a rush by countries that denounced the Russian-Chinese veto three days ago to corner Syria diplomatically and cripple Assad with sanctions in hopes of toppling him and encouraging reforms to avert chaos in a region straddling major fault lines of Middle East conflict.
Earlier on February 5, Russia and China joined forces in a double veto to knock down a Western-Arab UNSC Resolution backing an Arab League plan for President Al-Assad to step aside. The other 13 council members voted in favor of the resolution, which would have said that the council "fully supports" the Arab League plan aimed at ending 11 months of bloodshed as Syria has sought to crush an anti-Assad uprising.
Both Moscow and Beijing do not agree with the Arab League’s approach, which was supported by the US and its West European allies. The opponents of the resolution wanted a consensus to be arrived at before taking it to the Security Council which was not possible. The two Asian giants fear that once they approve of the UN intervention to resolve the crisis in Syria, a sovereign nation, tomorrow the method can be used against them also. But they are not justified in going against the will of the Syrian masses. As the world has seen, dictators like Al-Assad have no regard for people’s aspirations for democracy. They can kill any number of people to perpetuate their autocratic rule. What happened in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen is before all of us to see.
At present, Russia and China both believe they were deceived into abstaining rather than using their veto. Although Moscow has sought to distance itself from the brutalities of the Assad regime, which is now using heavy weapons against protesters, the February 4 veto is a shot in the arm for Damascus. But the US approach, which has included strident calls for President Assad to go, does not open a path for an urgent political solution to the violence either. One of the problems is that the opposition to the regime is severely fragmented.
In November 2011, the Arab League has suspended Syria until President Al-Assad implements an Arab deal to end violence against protesters, and called for sanctions and transition talks with the opposition. The League has long been seen by tens of millions of people throughout West Asia and North Africa as toothless and a puppet of the despots, dictators, and absolute monarchs who comprise the majority of its governments. This time 18 of the 22 members voted for the proposal at an emergency meeting in Cairo, with three — Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon — voting against and Iraq abstaining.
Killings of Innocent People
Syrian forces unleashed a barrage of mortars and artillery on the battered city of Homs, sending terrified residents fleeing into basements and killing more than 300 people in what appeared to be the bloodiest episode in the nearly 11-month-old uprising. However, the Syrian Government denied the assault. It said the reports were part of a “hysterical campaign” of incitement by armed groups against Syria.
There were signs that the bombardment in Homs, Syria's third largest city, was in response to moves by army defectors to solidify their control in several neighborhoods. There were reports that defectors set up new checkpoints in several areas, and two activists from Homs said defectors attacked a military checkpoint in the Khaldiyeh District and captured 17 soldiers. The activists spoke on condition of anonymity to protect themselves from retaliation.
Ongoing Protests
Undoubtedly, the worst news of all is that this probably means that Syria is heading down into the same kind of hell that Lebanon went through in its fifteen-year civil war (1975-90).
The Syrian protests began as a brave attempt to emulate the non-violent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The Assad regime would kill people, of course, but if the protesters stood fast and refused to kill back, ultimately the regime’s support would just drain away. Non-violence was doubly important in the Syrian case, because if it were a violent revolution various minorities would feel gravely threatened.
However, the non-violent strategy has foundered on the rock of Syria’s sectarian and ethnic divisions. Sunni deserters from the Army started fighting back, and all the other communities took fright. Now it’s a civil war in which the regime has the heavy weapons but the Sunni Arabs have the numbers.
India’s Decision
By going along with the vetoed UNSC Resolution on Syria, India primarily expressed its disappointment with the continued prevarication by the Assad government in implementing the political package of reforms it promised late last year and over several incidents of armed assault on peaceful protesting congregations since discontent engulfed the country in 2011.
Hardeep Puri, India's permanent representative in the United Nations, read with his explanation of vote, showed that New Delhi was upset at the winding up of the Arab League's observer mission in Syria but it differed widely from the Arab League's prescriptions, reflected in the draft resolution. Unlike the Arab League and the draft resolution, India did not ask for multiparty elections in a time frame or the freedom of movement sought all over the country for a wide range of actors from AL observers to the international media and humanitarian organizations.
India has demonstrated its capacity to take a clear stand on any regional or global issue. It is not a question of going along with the US and the rest of the West. India has to play its own independent role to protect its interests in West Asia.
Need of the Hour
Syria is just as complex a society as Lebanon, although we can still hope that the war does not go on as long. And it’s entirely possible that the Assad regime, whose senior ranks are mostly drawn from the Alawite minority (only 10 percent of the population), has deliberately chosen civil war. Better that than surrender power and expose the Alawites to the vengeance they fear from all those whom they have ruled for the past 40 years.
The Western countries have only themselves to blame for alienating what could have been powerful and influential allies in this terrible and protracted crisis. Russia's unwillingness to go along with a US-led process stems, in large measure, from its anger at western conduct over Libya. The UNSC Resolution of March 2011 imposed only a no-fly zone but served, in reality, as a cover for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)'s aim of violent regime change in Syria.
The Syrian National Council (SNC) is at odds with both the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the National Coordination Committee (NCC). Moreover, with the regime in Syria drawn from the 10 per cent Alawite Shia minority, Sunni extremist groups have jumped into the fray. The P-5 and Arab League, along with India, Brazil and South Africa, must go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan of action that can end the violence and set the stage for a Syrian-led political solution.
Country’s Brief Facts
Modern Syria gained its independence from France in 1946 but has lived through periods of political instability driven by the conflicting interests of these various groups. From 1958-61 it united with Nasser's Egypt, but an army coup restored independence before the Alawite-controlled pan-Arab Baath (Renaissance) party took control in 1963. It rules to this day.
The Baath government has seen authoritarian rule at home and a strong anti-Israeli policy abroad, particularly under former President Hafez al-Assad. In 1967 Syria lost the Golan Heights to the Israelis, while civil war in neighboring Lebanon allowed it to extend its political and military influence in the region.
Syria pulled its forces out of Lebanon in 2005, having come under intense international pressure to do so after the assassination of Lebanese former premier Rafik Hariri. A UN report implicated Syrian and pro-Syria Lebanese officials in the killing.
The government has dealt harshly with domestic opposition. Tens of thousands are reported to have been killed in the crackdown on the 1982 uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama. In 2011 security forces used tanks, gunfire and mass arrests to try crush anti-government street protests inspired by the Arab Spring that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.

No comments: