By: Hasan Abidi The Syrian conflict has been nothing short of a catastrophe. With over half a million dead, countless injured and over ten million displaced both internally and externally, the war in Syria is a blot on the face of the civilized humanity. It has been estimated that one in ten Syrians has either been...
By: Hasan Abidi
The Syrian conflict has been nothing short of a catastrophe.
With over half a million dead, countless injured and over ten million displaced both internally and externally, the war in Syria is a blot on the face of the civilized humanity.
It has been estimated that one in ten Syrians has either been killed, injured or displaced since 2011.
As the conflict has now crossed the grim milestone of 5 years, the world holds its breath.
What transpired as an anti-war street protest has now morphed into a full grown monster of epic proportions. The country has descended into an ever-more-complex civil war with sectarian overtones, pitching the Sunni majority against the Shia Alawite sect.
In the early phases of the war, the influx of global support to the rebel forces, made Assad’s army vulnerable.
The Free Syrian Army was formed by the defectors from Assad’s army in July 2011.
Its civilian flavor, The Syrian National Coalition claiming to be the government-in-exile of Syria, soon followed.
US led coalition wasted no time in their endorsements labeling it the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
In January 2012, a group calling itself Jabhat al-Nusra appeared on the scene, as AL-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise.
But the final nail in the coffin appeared in April 2013, when a group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) emerged and left all in its pursuit, writing new chapters of barbarism.
The credit of bringing global attention to the Syrian conflict goes to the IS.
With countless public executions, beheading of the hostages and of course stories of mass rapes and sex slaves.
All of this forced the regime to depend heavily on all types of support from its allies, Iran and Russia.
Iran, a longtime ally with vital vested interests, has been active in Syria through its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard came in handy.
The US has been at the fore of a coalition conducting air strikes on the self-proclaimed IS.
But Russia sat on the sidelines of the Syrian war for four long years.
So what made Russia enter the Syrian quagmire? The answer to that is multi-dimensional.
After the decline of the Soviet empire, Syria stood out as the last stronghold of the Russian influence in the region. And rest assured Russia, Syria’s biggest arms supplier, won’t let it slip away easily.
The Sunni rebels had quite a bit going their way, with overt and covert patronage coming from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Jordan. Not to mention behind the scene maneuverings of western interests.
Come September 2015 and all that changed drastically. Russia’s deployment of its air force, proved to be a game changer for the Syrian government. It also put the US backed rebels on the defensive.
Although Moscow has always maintained that its air strikes are only to target the Islamic State, it has taken the liberty to target other extremist groups, at odds with the ruling regime.
Russians are providing strategic, planning and logistical support to the “other pro-Assad actors”. Russia has also played a critical role in training and re-equipping of the Syrian army.
This has emboldened the government forces and vastly improved their military health. It couldn’t have come at a better time for the regime.
It has also compelled the Western powers to deal with the Assad leadership.
But does Russia have an exit strategy?
Russia strategically aspires to strengthen Asaad’s army and prolong the warfare till the rebels have run out of steam.
This is likely to secure great leverage to the Russians in everything Syrian.
Russia has also provided Assad with the most critical diplomatic support.
All attempts by the UN to broker a sustainable peace deal has been hampered by the veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council. In the US block, there is Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the GCC nations, whereas Russia can count upon Iran and China.
Although there has been a marked reduction in hostilities due to the cessation efforts jointly brokered by US and Russia. But the violence continues.
And the most affected are the civilians trapped in the besieged towns held captive by the rebel forces. Constantly denied access to the relief efforts, Aleppo has now become a symbol of human misery across the globe.
On the chessboard of the Syrian conflict, it appears that the Team Russia has the game tilted in its favor.
However, one fact remains unchanged. The people of Syria are the only losers in this game of proxy battles and hidden vested interests.
It’s the call of the day that the international community takes urgent steps to ensure a permanent political solution, finally ending the conflict in Syria and reviving hopes of a nation to again live a life of peace.
Sooner than later!
(The writer is a freelance columnist, social worker, poet and political analyst)