The Endgame in Syria
The nightmare for Assad regime in Syria is that it is about to witness a repeat of Libyan uprising that toppled and finally gave Kaddafi his quietus. Western powers especially United States are not willing to let this opportunity die down. So they have made up their mind---- there is only way and that is to get rid of a power that has for so long played against the tide. The only question is how andwhen to bring about this eventuality. Why there is tempest in a teapot over Syria or does it really matter? In 1956 the Syrian government signed pact with Soviet Union, giving it foothold in the Middle East in exchange of military equipment. It was the year when Egypt had to fight with France, UK and Israel over the control of Suez Canal. Baghdad Pact countries Iraq and Turkey were uneasy with this development, as they had sided with Western powers. The influence of Soviet Union greatly increased during the rule of incumbent President's father Hafez-al-assad after he took power in 1971. It was the same year when Syria and Soviet Union reached an agreement regarding the use of a naval facility in Tartus on the Mediterranean coast of Syria. Russia continued to hold this facility after 1991, when Soviet Union disintegrated and Russian power declined. The naval logistics support base in Syria is now part of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. So important is this base for the strategic interests of Russia that it forgave US $ 9.6 billion of debt that Syria owed to Russia at that time. Russian and Chinese have vetoed Security Council resolutions backing an Arab League plan for Syrian President Basher-alAssad to step down. The fall of Assad regime will affect Russian interests adversely in the region as theywould lose their only ally in this volatile but important region of the world. Furthermore switching side at thismoment is not going to change the future of relations between Moscow and howsoever occupies Tishreen Palace in Damascus. So Russians have some important stakes in the continuity of the present regime. They have to ensure that future setup in Syria might not be antithetical to their interests in the region.
Interestingly during mandate period (between twoworldwars) French mandate authorities encouragedalwaites to take the reins of power. Alwaites are only 12% of Syrian population but make up the bulk of members of armed forces and government functionaries. Alwaites are traditionally considered to be a heretic sect within wider Shia community, which in itself is a minority faction of Muslim creed. Essentially Syrian Sunni population is being ruled by more united, educated and powerful Alwaites community. This is why their strength is directly linked with that of regime they represent. The conflict in Syria is increasingly tuning into Civil war with sectarian tinge. This will also explain why other Arab countries especially Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf Sheikhdoms want an end of a regime they no longer tolerate. One of the reasons of continued violence in Syria by both government troops and so-called rebels is strategic interest, regional and global powers have in the future of power dynamics inside Syria. It is impossible to think of rebel armed struggle of this scale against established armed forces of Syria, without active support of those who have overt and covert interests in providing strengths to rebels. It is also ironical that many are busy giving justification to terrorist activities of the rebels in Syria whereas at other places like Afghanistan they are simply labeled as outlaws. Syria's fall would accomplish a double blow to antiAmerican forces in the region. It would deny Iran in extending its influence in Levant through Assad regime. Iraq, after the departure of American troops late last year, is considered to be tilting towards Iran. The arc of association (if not alliance) of these three countries, Iran, Iraq and Syria would be taken as dreadful development. The past experience of so-called Arab Spring is that Syrian regime has only one option before it--- to continue fighting till the end. Had saner voices prevailed inside the regime, there was possibility of a political solution to the conflict. But after ruling for more than four decades, it was a far cry. Regime forces squelched the populace further and tightened its grip on every aspect of the country and society. Reaction from public pressed by decades of economic suppression, political deprivation and brutal oppression, was only a matter of time. The signs are that this conflict would be lengthier, costlier and bloodier than ever before. The difference of interests between Assad regime and opposition on the one hand and international backers of the regime and its foes on the other is toomuch to be bridged in the prevailing circumstances. *Thewriterismphilstudentindepartmentofinternational Relations,nationaldefenceuniversity,islamabad.