Heated exchanges Marred Geneva-2 Opening!
Perhaps the biggest endeavour yet to end the bloodshed in Syria was marked by heated exchanges between the Syrian warring factions and global powers, over the fate of President Basher al-Assad of Syria, in the broad-based Geneva-2 United Nations peace conference which opened at Montreux in Switzerland on January 22. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon asked for differences between the belligerent factions to be set aside but that proved to be of no avail. “After nearly three painful years of conflict and suffering in Syria, today is a day of hope….You have an enormous opportunity and responsibility to render a service to the people of Syria,” Mr Ban said in the conference.
Despite best diplomatic efforts of the United Nations, Russia and the US, the chances of any major breakthrough in the conference looks rather dim due to hard postures adopted by both, the Syrian President Basher Al-Assad as well as by several opposition groups collected under the umbrella organisation, the Syrian National Coalition. Branding the opposition as “traitors” and foreign agents, the Syrian officials in the conference reiterated the President Assad’s stand of not stepping down from power but the belligerent opposition groups firmly insisted that their participation in the conference (Geneva-2) presupposes the removal of President Assad and his consequent trial. While “Assad will not go,” repeated the Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi on the side-lines of the conference, the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem wasted no time in attacking the broadside at the opposition during his opening speech: “They [the opposition] claim to represent the Syrian people. If you want to speak in the name of the Syrian people, you should not be traitors to the Syrian people, agents in the pay of enemies of the Syrian people.”
Prior to the conference, the talks between Mr Assad and a visiting Russian parliamentary delegation had focussed the spotlight on the battle of wills between the Syrian government and the West’s backed opposition which appeared unrelenting on its stand seeking “regime change” in Syria. President Assad further emphasised that the issue of regime change was not under discussion. Instead, he expressed his clear desire to participate in ensuing elections as a likely result of the talks under Geneva-2 framework. “Only the Syrian people can decide who should take part in elections,” he asserted before the delegation. Obviously, President Assad’s intent to deepen his political footing contrasts sharply with the aspirations of the opposition Syrian National Coalition which had declared its readiness to take part in the Geneva-2 as the coalition’s leader Mr Ahmad Jarba said that the umbrella organisation is ‘participating with the sole aim of removing President Assad from power and his trial alongside all the criminals of his regime.’ He further asked the Syrian regime to immediately sign a deal reached at the previous peace conference in Geneva in 2012 setting out “the transfer of powers from Assad, including for the army and security, to a transition government.” Leading a series of sharp US accusations against the Syrian regime, the American Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that President Assad cannot be the part of any transitional government.
Thus meeting for the first time since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011, the two sides could not be further apart in this conference. Indeed, the perceptions of the Syrian government and the opposition groups on the country’s future could not be far more divergent than the present one which remains very complicated due to external power’s, particularly the US, Russia and the European powers, continuing support to the different belligerent groups operating in Syria in order to preserve and maintain their respective sphere of influence in Syria as well as in entire Middle East & West Asia for their economic and strategic interests. In fact, their (outside powers) unjust policies have been going on in many countries of the West Asian and Gulf region since long, only to arouse regional tensions and mutual acrimony among the member countries of region.
Against this backdrop, the real success of the Geneva-2 appears in bringing together, for the first time, the two stakeholders of the vexed Syrian issue to the peace talks which is a mark of some progress and could be an important first step towards final resolution of the crisis. Further to promote this process, the outside powers, instead of supporting different belligerent factions in Syria with a view to extract maximum mileage, must adopt a neutral stand in the current situation right now so that the people of Syria may themselves decide the fate of President Assad’s regime and also their own future. Because earlier settlements imposed by these outside powers have mostly failed as may be seen in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere in the world.
Dr. Sudhanshu Tripathi
Associate Professor, Political Science,
M. D. P. G. College, PRATAPGARH (UP)