An un­easy cease­fire

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - M A Ni­azi

THOUGH ini­tially the cease­fire in Syria is hold­ing, none of the ex­ter­nal par­ties to the con­flict seem likely to achieve its aims, and thus not only is the cease­fire un­likely to hold, but the next stage of the con­flict is likely to see Pak­istan get in­volved where it has pre­vi­ously stayed out.

The cease­fire seems to be an in­di­ca­tion that the USA has fi­nally rec­on­ciled it­self to the fact that it is not go­ing to find a re­place­ment for Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad. Rus­sia has be­come in­volved, along­side Iran, and both want Bashar to re­main in of­fice. The USA has two in­ter­ests in the re­gion: oil and Is­rael. Syria does not ex­port oil, but it has tradi- tion­ally ex­ported in­flu­ence. US sup­port for Is­rael is be­cause of the clout its sup­port­ers have in do­mes­tic US pol­i­tics (and it should not be for­got­ten that all this is hap­pen­ing in an Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year, with a 'sec­u­lar Jew' run­ning for one party's nom­i­na­tion). Though Bashar's father Hafez fought two wars against Is­rael in 1967 and 1973, he and his son have left Is­rael in oc­cu­pa­tion of the Golan Heights since 1967. Is­rael, and the USA, do not want Bashar re­placed by any­one who might dis­turb that sta­tus quo.

It might ap­pear para­dox­i­cal that Iran is also sup­port­ing Bashar in view of its stance on Is­rael, but it is ap­par­ently do­ing so be­cause of its op­po­si­tion to the Is­lamic State (IS). IS has won over ter­ri­tory from both Syria and Iraq, both ruled by Shia rulers. How­ever, while the Ira­nian regime shares not just sect but also sub-sect with the Iraqi regime, be­ing both Ithna Ashari (Twelvers), Asaad is an Alawi, and thus a Sevener. IS con­sid­ers all three regimes out­side the pale of Is­lam.

An­other stake­holder is Turkey. Syria and Iraq were both part of the Ot­toman Em­pire less than a cen­tury ago, while Iran was its great re­gional ri­val for cen­turies. An­other part of the puz­zle for Turkey has been the Kurds. Mi­nori­ties in both Syria and Turkey, where the USA wants to use Kur­dish mili­tias as 'eyes' for its bombers and ' boots on the ground' for it­self, they rep­re­sent a route for Rus­sia to get in­volved, be­cause the main fight­ing force is com­mu­nist. It was al­lied to the old USSR in the Cold War days, and it should not be for­got­ten that Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin is an old KGB man and thus heir to old for­eign con­nec­tions. The in­creased Kur­dish au­ton­omy in Iraq ap­par­ently does not satis- fy Kur­dish lead­ers, who look to their al­liance with the USA to bring gains in Syria. That desta­bilises Turkey, which has a mo­tive for re­plac­ing Bashar by some­one who can hold on there. It is not just the Kurd is­sue; It should be re­mem­bered that Turkey and Syria are im­me­di­ate neigh­bours. When Rus­sia is men­tioned, it is al­most in­evitable that the Rus­sian naval base at Latakia is men­tioned. Not only is it the only Rus­sian base in the Mediter­ranean, but it is in­ti­mately linked to the naval base at Crimea, to which it can only ob­tain pas­sage through the Dardanelle Straits- which pass through Turkey.

The US al­lies in the Gulf, Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar, are also in­vested heav­ily in Bashar's re­moval. A strong rea­son is be­ing al­lied to the USA, an­other is sec­tar­ian. The sec­tar­ian con­flict is be­cause they want to do down Iran, which Saudi Ara­bia sees as its main re­gional ri­val, while Qatar is its camp fol­lower.

How­ever, it seems that those states which want the regime re­moved share a bot­tom line with those want­ing to sup­port Bashar: they do not want him re­placed by a regime they do not con­trol, or which does not share com­mon goals with them. It seems that, un­like in Egypt, where Sisi was found to re­place Hosni Mubarak af­ter Morsi was found un­suit­able, no one has been found in Syria ac­cept­able to the Syr­ian peo­ple, not even enough to sur­vive even if im­posed. Those who want Bashar re­placed are thus driven by FOTA, or Fear Of The Al­ter­na­tive. The Al­ter­na­tive is not eas­ily dis­cernible, but it lies some­where in the con­gru­ence of the fears of the par­ties both for and against As­sad. The wishes of the Syr­ian peo­ple count, but so re­pres­sive has been the regime of the As­sads that no op­po­si­tion struc­tures have been left un­smashed. In­deed, this scorched-earth pol­icy would ex­plain the sur­vival of the regime, not just the loy­alty to it of the Alaw­ites and other mi­nor­ity groups.

It is in­ter­est­ing to note the groups which will not be in­cluded in the cease­fire. Once a cease­fire meant just that: a ceas­ing of fight­ing. Now, how­ever, it is sup­posed to be par­tial. The par­ties to the cease­fire will con­tinue to fight some par­ties, ap­par­ently those they con­sider be­yond the pale. Be­cause of the dif­fi­cul­ties im­plied, Rus­sia has ap­plied a blan­ket cease­fire. How­ever, the Jab­hat An-Nusra and IS are among the groups to which the cease­fire does not ap­ply. It is in­ter­est­ing that the ex­cluded groups are those fight­ing for the Caliphate's restora­tion. In­deed, IS claims it has al­ready re­stored the Caliphate.

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