‘Violence has become a norm in Syria’
On October 29 last year it was said in this column, “There are no signs that Bashar al Assad will leave office on his own will soon. And also there are no signs of the any Western country, like in the case of Libya, taking the lead in organizing attacks on Syrian military. Therefore, the situation would remain tense and occasionally violent with no quick solution in sight in the immediate future.”
There is no dramatic change on the Syrian front since then. President Bashar al Assad is still holding on to power firmly with violencebecoming the norm. More than 7,000 people have been killed, with 60 alone in Homs earlier this week. Al Assad appears in no mood to yield to the pressures, both internal and external. He does wish to hang on to power as long as possible but it seems that the struggle to oust him is entering a crucial phase.
While the Arab and European ‘Friends of Syria’ meet this weekend with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joining them to chalk out the future plans for Damascus, there are reports that Russia is getting ready to counter ‘foreign interferences’ in that beleaguered Arab country.
However much one would like to see the Arab Spring as a local phenomenon aimed against oppressive regimes the relentless NATO bombing of Libya and brutal elimination of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the subsequent rush of the Western powers to grab the best possible commercial and political deals there have all now made the uprisings suspect. Whose game it is, the people across the world have begun to ask.
After lying low for about a decade, Russia has decided to up its stakes in the Arab world. The loss of Libya has hurt Russia deeply. It may not like the same thing to happen with Syria, its last Arab ally. Hence, the visit of the Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Foreign Intelligence Service Director Mikhail Fradkov to Damascus on February 7. Later Russia and China have vetoed two Arab League sponsored resolutions in UN Security Council to end the crisis in Syria. Syria’s debts to Russia in 1991 were around $13 billion. In 2005 Russia wrote off the debts. Syria is said to have made some promises of future deals with Russia. However, the annual trade between the two countries has not gone beyond $ 1 billion until recently.
With the talks of arming the opposition in Syria growing among the Arab and Western diplomatic circles, the scenario could become murkier. The opposition about whom the top US military brass is not fully familiar with does not seem to be in a position to sustain, leave alone delivering unnerving blows, to the Syrian military attacks. It is suffering heavy casualties. There are also questions in regard to what happens if the opposition fails even after receiving the material support? Would the ‘Friends of Syria’ like to ask the Western world to intervene militarily? Also, arming of the opposition would lead to further militarization of Syria which may have dangerous effects now and later in the region.
Taking advantage of the unpredictable situation in Syria, Russia appears to be toughening its stand. It already has China and Iran on its side. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is trying to expand his support base in the Arab world by calling the heads of state on phone and exhorting them to appreciate his country’s stand. In his calls the President is said to have, emphasised that “foreign interference, attempts to assess the legitimacy of the leadership of a state from the outside run counter to the norms of international law and are fraught with the threat of regional and global destabilization.”
With the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear installations inching towards reality yet another dimension has got added to situation in Syria. In case of any attack, some of the Arab and Western nations would automatically get sucked into the crisis. In a scenario like that Bashar al Assad would love to open its front with Israel. That, in turn, would give him a new lease of life at home.
The solution of the uprising in Syria lies in political dialogue. Bashar al Assad should be encouraged by his Arab allies to hold negotiations with the Opposition and give assurance of peaceful transfer of power to a democratically chosen set of people. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar could play a crucial role. If the situation in Syria is not handled delicately with foresight, the crisis has the potential to put the entire region into flames.
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