“We are dying and starving. But where is the world? Where is the UN? All it does is issue blank statements.”
-Ahmed Khansour, Activist, Eastern Ghouta, commenting on the suffering in Syria
February 18,2018, marked another low in the Syrian civil war, that seems distant from being over. After the fall of ISIS in Syria, many analysts were quick to jump to conclusions, such as proclaiming the end of an era of violence in Syria. Many believed that the end of caliphate in Syria heralded a new era of peace. But as of today, violence in Syria, in fact in the whole region(middle-east), continues unabated. Thousands of people have lost their lives even after the decline of ISIS. In the latest, on February 18, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces bombarded Eastern Ghouta with heavy artillery and air strikes, mercilessly killing innocent people, including hundreds of women and children. Apart from a “temporary” outpour of grief on various social media platforms, the world continues to remain insensitive to the sufferings of common people in Syria. What place does Syria occupy in the current scenario, and what does the future hold for Syria are the questions which must be discussed and this is precisely what this article seeks to do.
Status quo: A playing ground for external powers
The worst part of the “internal” conflict in Syria is that it has become a playing field for major external powers. The region, which is extremely volatile, is also strategically important for many regional and extra-regional powers. The civil war between the rebels who want an end to Bashar’s rule, and the Syrian forces backing the latter, has become increasingly complicated due to the same. Not one but multiple powers want to influence the outcome in their own favour, thereby intensifying the conflict, bringing immense pain and suffering to common people. Broadly, there are the following key outside players – Russia and Iran which back Assad, America which earlier had the desire to oust Assad and is now supporting the rebel Kurds in the border areas to establish its autonomous border zone ; Turkey, which is repelling the Kurds, and Israel which is fearful of the growing influence of Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah in the region.
Russian president Vladimir Putin wants Russia to play a greater role in world politics. With this aim of ‘restoring’ Russia’s position as major world power he had ventured into the conflicts in the Middle-east. To a large extent, he has been successful in Syria, because Assad had been able to defeat the ISIS in Syria with the help of Russian backing. However, the problem for Russia is that it cannot end its engagement at moment. This is because it was not the ISIS alone that presented a threat to Assad’s regime, rather the long term threat to the latter was and continues to be, the rebels within in his own country. To counter ISIS, a terrorist organization, was one thing, but to garner support for fighting rebels in another country is quite another. Russia in many ways is now trapped in the Syrian imbroglio because it can neither exit nor play an overt role in Syrian civil war.
Assad on the other hand, is viewing this as an opportune moment to consolidate his position by deploying a chilling tactic of military aggression to weaken the rebels. With the aim of tightening his grip on the country, he has now unleashed full force towards the most populous part of Syria -western Syria. Heavy casualties are the obvious consequence. The recent attack on Ghouta is one example of this. Another great power, America, since the beginning has remained confused regarding what it wants to achieve in the region. Earlier, it was trapped in pursuing mutually incongruent goals – on the one hand it wanted the end of Assad’s regime while on the other it also had the moral obligation to fight against the ISIS. Now, under Trump, it has suddenly decided to pull itself out from the region, leaving the future uncertain and bleak.
The way forward: A bleak reality
In the current scenario, the Syrian conflict has indeed become a very intractable issue. In what direction the outcomes would shift will depend largely on how politics among external powers shape out. The concern, however, is that with the increasing risk of new clashes between the external players, the common masses will continue to suffer. Each nation is bent on securing its own interests in the region, giving very less thought to the sufferings inflicted on the ground. Even if Assad becomes successful in crushing the rebels now, the cycle of repression and torture that he is using as the means will only guarantee more bloodshed in the long run. The need of the hour is to stop looking at the conflict through a narrow prism of national interest and view it as a humanitarian issue. However, as history is replete with examples, this seldom happens in world politics. Hence, the one thing that is guaranteed is this- the world truly doesn’t and wouldn’t care about Syria.
– Contributed by Suryansh
Picture Credits: cnn.com