By Alec Wheeler,
The Syrian peace talks held in Geneva this week may lead you to believe that peace in the troubled state is but a pipe dream.
The United Nations and neighboring countries affected by this ongoing conflict are using the talks to call for peace in Syria and for the region to return to normality. However, the Geneva peace talks have highlighted just how divided Syria is thus showcasing how difficult it will be to bring a peaceful solution to the warring factions.
Both sides, the government and the rebels, can’t stop fighting each other long enough to sit down and discuss a peaceful solution.
The Syrian Civil War has been raging since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. Whilst some countries, such as Tunisia and Libya, have seen change, Syria has been rooted in a brutal, unrelenting civil war that has claimed the lives of thousands of people.
Since 2011, when the war began, much has changed. No longer is this a war between the rebels and the government, this is a four-way battle with each side wanting victory in one form or another.
The belligerents are the government and the Syrian army, lead by ‘President’ Bashir-al-Assad, which includes factions of Hezbollah and the Iranian army, with the support of Iran, North Korea and, for a time, Russia.
The main fighting force for the last three years has been the Syrian opposition force, which have been lead by the Free Syria Army and the Syrian National Council, based in Turkey.
The other two combatants in this war are the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, supported and also a faction of al-Qaeda and finally the Kurdish Supreme Committee, which only joined the fighting in July of last year, having previously taken no part or side in the war.
With so many sides fighting for different causes, to come up with a solution that satisfies everyone is almost impossible. Yet for the last week, a peace talk in Geneva has been trying to achieve just that. Getting everyone into a room to thrash out a solution has taken a long time and that in itself should be considered an achievement. However, the talks have been rough at best and a train wreck at its worst.
For example, one of the goals for this conference is to select a new leader of Syria. The problem with that are the candidates; the two main choices are either an al-Qaeda supported leader or ‘President’ Assad. Picking Assad would undermine everything that has happened in the last three years. Meaning that everything the rebels have been fighting for is for nothing, so that option is a non-starter.
On the other hand, the United States would probably prefer to have a country led by someone who didn’t have ties to one of the most powerful terrorist cells in the world. This in itself has become a problem as the Syrian government has refused to negotiate on this term, so the conference is deadlocked until a solution can be found.
In other words, America has shot itself in the foot after years and years of propping up and supporting governments that weren’t popular to anyone but Americans and because of this, America is stuck with the impossible choice of picking the lesser of two evils.
Another main issue is the refugees created by this war. There are an estimated two million+ refugees created by this war and where shall they go? Many countries throughout the world have opened their doors and pledged funds to help in the relief effort, it just comes down to how much each country can afford to give, how many refugees can be handled and what to do about the huge refugee camps in neighboring countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The people of Syria have suffered most throughout this war and care and consideration must be applied when handling refugees.
However, the biggest roadblock to peace might not be Syria, its army or the rebels, it might be the United States itself, who have ‘secretly’ begun supplying weapons to non-Islamic militants to take up arms and continue the fight.
Now, we all know in the United States war is good for business and that America must always have its hand in the cookie jar. It seems inappropriate then for the country to not only attend the peace meeting, but to also put out its own terms for peace while continuing to try and get their way in the war. Given the trouble it took to get everyone to attend this peace conference and especially given that America has been shipping arms to the rebels, its irresponsible and shameful. The United States is not in the position to be playing games when it comes to peace and should either sit down, shut up and listen or go home and let the rest of the world sort this out.
And then there’s the blame game; which side will pay the highest price from this war and who will accept responsibility for it. Calls that war crimes have been committed with the use of nerve gas and chemical weapons are already levelled against the government. If the United States does end up backing the government, this could produce a sticky situation that they would much rather ignore. If they are brought before an international court though, things could get complicated quick given the multiple sides and supporters for each faction.
The first round of negotiations ends Feb. 10 and nobody has any hope that anything substantive will be reached by then. It’s a sad state of affairs with so many sides committed to their beliefs that peace between them may never come. So much rests on the success of these talks that it will be nigh on impossible to make everyone happy.
Given that this is the seventh attempt at a negotiation though, it seems more likely that talking will continue for a long time to come, exactly the opposite of what must happen. Already, there have been complaints that this talk will take too long and if it does, they’ll back out.
So the United Nations have a huge task on their plate, one that might not even get finished. If these talks fall through, fighting resumes and then they’ll have to start this all over again, something that the Syrian people, much less the rest of the world, wants. There are so many points to go over, so many causes and demands that are on the table that shifting though them all is impossible. The likely outcome will be a peace agreement that isn’t well thought out, doesn’t satisfy anyone and just leads to more fighting and problems than before.
The potential for greatness and a long lasting peace is somewhere here. There are outcomes that could occur here that have been a long time coming, such as the possibility of a Kurdish state, to name but one. The task of achieving peace is what matters most at the end of the day to most of the other nations and if they don’t really care about peace, then neither will the Syrian forces on both sides.
Syria may one day become a full-blown democracy, maybe even a symbol for the region in terms of diversity and standard of living. Given how things stand though, it will struggle to get there the peaceful way.