By Manish Rai* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis
NEW DELHI (IDN) – While efforts are underway to make a peace conference on Syria possible, the surrounding atmospheres are not encouraging as opposition groups in the Syrian conflict seem to still have reservations and preconditions.
The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the main opposition group in exile, threw a monkey wrench into the planned peace talks in Geneva saying that it won’t attend the Geneva II peace conference unless there’s a strict timetable for President Bashar al-Assad to leave power.
Another precondition SNC put forward is that it would also not attend the conference if Iran is invited. Lakhdar Brahimi, United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, said that Syrian National Coalition is placing preconditions for its participation which is creating problems for declaring dates for the conference. Much-delayed international peace conference on Syria was delayed as all opposition groups failed to agree on conditions.
The major Syrian opposition groups namely the National Coordination Committee, Kurdish Democratic Union, National Democratic Alliance, and Syrian People’s Democratic Coalition have shown some willingness to participate in the talks. But effective armed groups on the battlefield like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Al-Nusra Front, and Fatah al-Islam have rejected the idea of any peace conference. This raises a valid “Question Mark” on the viability of the conference as who are directly confronting the Syrian government in the battlefield are not willing to talk.
The Syrian political opposition groups are facing a dilemma that they either refuse to attend the Geneva II conference and lose the support of the international community, or agree to attend and lose Syria — that is, the armed opposition. Most of the armed groups believe that Geneva will not serve any purpose other than granting time to Assad. Some are concerned with the likelihood of the opposition sitting at the negotiation table with a weak hand, as the field conditions are turning against them. On other hand, Washington and Moscow have not agreed on how the Syrian opposition should be represented at the conference.
Meanwhile, Arabs have their own view about the most appropriate way of representing the Syrian opposition. The US firmly believes that the opposition must be represented by the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), which is considered by some to be the sole legal representative for the Syrian nation. Russia views the SNC as only part of the opposition, and thus suggests that the opposition be represented by a number of delegates, including characters living in Damascus.
Syrian opposition figure Hassan Abdul-Azeem supports the Russian suggestion. After meeting Lakhdar Brahimi, Hassan said that envoys from all the Syrian opposition groups must be represented under a “united national Syrian umbrella”, and not just under the name of the SNC.
Aside from the political opposition, the various rebel groups on ground, including the most powerful al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have stated that they are neither interested in peace talks nor recognize the coalition.
Moreover Syrian Kurd parties are also not united over there representations in Geneva II. The conference may well see more than one Kurdish delegation. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) that now controls most of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) is slated to go to Geneva as the Kurdish Supreme Council through a path opened by Russia but whether they will be the sole representative of Kurds that will be doubtful.
The entire heap of problems appears due to the Syrian opposition that disintegrates into separate groups. Each opposition group possesses its own point of view, while armed groups declare independence from the National Coalition or even hint at their alliance with al-Qaida. Some Islamist extremists even threatened that Russia and conference organizers will be their “legitimate targets” and going a step forward they have even warned any Syrians taking part in the talks would be viewed as traitors.
All this is shocking and unacceptable and those who fund and arm these opposition groups will also be responsible for the expected failure of Geneva II talks as each opposition group in Syria has its sponsor abroad. The countries which are supporting the Syrian opposition are undermining the Geneva II peace conference on the Syrian conflict as they just want their agendas to be pushed into the Syria rather than any peace and stability.
There is also a kind of blame game going on between the regional players: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Saud al-Faisal has accused Iran of military intervention in Syria and said Syria is a land occupied by Iranian forces . . . The best test for Iran to prove its goodwill would be its withdrawal from Syria along with its Lebanese Hezbollah ally.
Meanwhile the organizers of the conference are trying to have everyone on the table. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: All those with influence on the situation must certainly be invited to the conference. This includes all Syria’s neighbours as well as countries of the Persian Gulf and also not only Arab countries but also Iran. And of course the UN Security Council permanent members, and other countries, including Turkey.
So if the international community wants that peace should come to Syria and humanity should get some breathing space. Then they must convince all sides to put aside preconditions and not to be adamant saying who can and who cannot be at the table and participate in the talks with the open mind.
As in any peace negotiation, the challenge now is to help the conflicting parties formulate non-exclusionary demands which have a realistic chance of being implemented. A single conference is unlikely to achieve this (or more), but it may be a good start to begin with.
World community should understand that the troubling atmosphere engulfing the Geneva II conference on Syria will have in one way or another deep impact on the progress of peace in the whole Middle East. The conference’s failure would discredit the political solution at large and be a boon to those who advocate the military option. So for the greater good all the stakeholders should encourage this peace initiative which is very much required for the stability and peace of the region.
*Manish Rai, Editor of Viewsaround, is India-based IDN Special Correspondent for the Middle East and Af-Pak region. [IDN-InDepthNews – November 23, 2013]
Top photo: A Syrian rebel sniper in Khan al-Assal, Aleppo Governorate. Credit: Wikimedia Commons