GENEVA, Switzerland- After years of fighting and months of delay, a second meeting for peace in the Syrian war has been scheduled for Jan. 22. Dubbed Geneva 2, the conference has been organized by the United Nations with heavy support from US and Russia. With the outcome of Geneva 1 largely fruitless and both sides showing little predilection to compromise on key issues, most are dubious of the potential efficacy of the second go-around.
The largest resolution obtained from Geneva 1, though at first vetoed by Russia and China, was the mandate for Syria to transition to a democratic government, beginning with Assad stepping down from power. This would coincide with the release of political prisoners and disarmament on both sides. Though very significant to Syrian civilians, the least demanding aspect of the resolution was to allow unrestricted humanitarian aid. None of these demands have been met, and there appears to be no intent to implement this peaceful transition.
Rebel forces have stated they will not attend peace talks unless these very same terms are reached but recently announced they are sending delegates to Geneva 2. The power of these delegates will certainly be hamstrung as rebel forces plan to continue fighting during talks. Far more limiting is that the Syrian National Council, whose delegates will represent rebel forces, doesn’t truly represent all the rebels.
Recently, a coalition of Islamic rebels formed a group called The Islamic Front, representing an estimated 45,000 combatants. Their stated aim is to establish an Islamic state in Syria, bringing with them their own political leadership. While the Syrian National Coalition refers to themselves as Muslim, their moderate leadership opposes the implementation of puritanical law and, quite clearly, want secular democracy. Add to this mix extremist al-Qaida forces, who no one wants to claim and cannot be controlled, and it becomes quite unclear whether any compromises made by the rebels can be enforced.
Assad’s regime, viewed as illegitimate by the UN and Western governments, has pledged to send delegates as well. Publicly, though, Assad has reiterated that he will not relinquish power, this being the most crucial element for any transition to take place. Further, aside from the chemical attacks carried out in August, the Syrian government has committed many other human rights violations like torturing prisoners, raping civilians, blocking access to aid, shelling villages and murdering the peaceful protesters that incited the war. Trusting such a regime to follow through with any promises made could be quite difficult for both rebel forces and arbitrators.
Though it is unlikely a peaceful end to the war will be reached in talks this January, a ceasefire could very well be agreed to. Iran and Turkey, who actively support the rebels, are pressing for a ceasefire and Lebanon (home to Hezbollah, Assad’s biggest supporter), Jordan, and Iraq are looking for relief from the conflict. External pressure on both sides will be key to forging peace in the region.
– Tyson Watkins
Sources: BBC: Geneva Peace Talks set for January, Reuters, The New York Times, BBC: Rebel Groups form Islamic Front, The Washington Post: Largest Rebel Groups form Islamic Alliance, The Washington Post: Seven Syrian Islamist Groups, BBC: Opposition Chief to attend Geneva talks, Yahoo News, United Nations, The China Post
Photo: Telegraph UK