While we often hear rhetorics about ‘no military solution’ to the Syrian conflict, and despite the fact that ISIS has been almost completely routed from the country, a viable political solution, one that may restore Syria to its pre-war status, continues to seem improbable in the foreseeable future because of opposition from the anti-Syrian forces that include both state and non-state actors. The almost 6 years long war has brought many changes not only within Syria, but also in the whole region. With Russia and forces allied with it, which served as primary ground assets against ISIS, firmly present on the ground in Syria, and with Israel and Saudi Arabia as firmly opposing Iranian role in the post-war Syria, the question of a viable political solution becomes an extremely complicated one—something that explains why a political solution couldn’t be found in the past 6 years. Certainly it also begs the question of how and in what manner will all of these rival states’ interestsbe accommodated—and that too not at the expense of Syrian territorial integrity.
There are already varied perspectives to the post-war situation of the country, and the way these perspectives are being actively developed defy even the feasibility of political dialogueamong the otherwise competing states. Therefore, despite the US’ apparent commitment to peace and dialogue, the fact remains that Russia, alongwith its allies, continues to be seen as an antagonist in the US’ official and un-official corporate funded policy making circles and institutes.
According to this perspective, whatever Russia and its allies do in Syria must only be opposed and equally actively projected as ‘bad’, even if it happens to be a step towards dialogue and reconciliation. This is precisely how, for instance, Russia’s attempt to convene a peace conference in Sochi has precisely been perceived and projected.
For example, while the conference aims at engaging Syrians into a reconciliation and reconstruction process, the US based corporate funded Carnegie institute sees it as a Russian attempt at “undermining” the UN-sponsored Geneva process. This projection stays in focus despite the fact that Russia is supporting the Geneva process, and that there is nothing in the process that says that no parallel attempts at bringing peace to the war-torn country can be undertaken.
But the Russia-led peace process remains a show of ‘antagonism’ for the US and its allies and Carnegie sees it as an attempt at “bolstering Assad’s stand and legitimacy by giving the impression that he’s negotiating with his real opposition, whereas most groups willing to be represented in Sochi are part of a tolerated or “domesticated” opposition.”
Very much in line with this line of thinking is the view that the US-funded Syrian groups have expressed. In a statement, the Syrian coalition of opposition forces said that calling this conference represents an attempt to depart from all relevant UN Security Council resolutions and violates the text spirit of the Geneva Communiqué of 2012.Adding further nuisance to it, they implicitly stated that any process, achieved in the name of “political transition”, that doesn’t lead to Assad’s exit from Syriastands to be rejected in entirely. ‘Political solution should serve as the cornerstone of the formation of a Transitional Governing Body (TGB) with full executive powers and whose primary task is to create an appropriate and neutral environment for the success of the transitional phase’, the press release said further.
While the coalition has refused to participate in the conference, it is clear that if there is any force opposing a unified and peaceful Syria it is the US-funded groups, acting as the US mouthpiece. Contrary to their hopes, the Sochi conference’s agenda is not the constitution of a transitional government, but the Russian constitutional draft. Accordingly, no mention of Assad’s departure has been made in all literature and documents produced ahead of the Sochi conference, explaining why the US-backed groups are opposed and are too focused on establishing a transitional government to see the viability of a realistic power sharing formula and preserve Syria’s unity.
Russia’s attempts at creating a unified Syria, especially the one that is carefully and securely balanced internally among the various unequal stakeholders, presents a logical progression of things in the Syrian saga. As such, now that the Assad regime and its allies have secured basic victory in the Syrian war, the Russians are keen to translate that battlefield dominance into a political settlement that legitimizes Bashar al-Assad’s rule in exchange for concessions to the opposition.
Therefore, if there is anything ‘wrong’ with this attempt at peace and reconciliation, it is not that the Russians are undermining the UN, but that the Russia is going ahead to create a unified Syria and thus beat the whole US-Saudia-Israel Syrian project that had aimed at bringing a regime change to Syria and use it as a transit land for extending their own dominance in the region, undermine Iran and encircle Russia.
The peace process through Astana and now through Sochi therefore mark reconciliation and progress than war and destruction or regime change. Through this process, the Russians hope to hope to include new territory in the de-conflict zones agreement, south of Damascus, bringing them to a total of five.The date for the Russian conference was scheduled for October 29 but it was postponed so as not to overlap with Astana VII. It has now been fixed for November 18 and its name was changed from “Congress of the Syrian Peoples” to a “National Dialogue Conference.”
And, while the US-backed main forces have rejected participation, Kurdish groups, which are allied both with the US and Russia, are expected to participate. Commander of the SDF-aligned People’s Protection Units (YPG) Sipan Hamo recently made a high-profile visit to Moscow in their attempt to cozy up with Russia. More than any other player in the Syrian battlefield, the SDF’s presence is vital as they control oil-rich cities east of the Euphrates River.
The US and its allied groups can now either continue to oppose dialogue and prefer an Assad-minus Syria or they can set their pro-Syria priorities right and work towards reconciliation if peace is their priority at all.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.