Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, August 17th, 2017

Astana Talks – Grist for the Mill

It is feared that the Syrian peace talks will come to a stalemate and civilian casualties will continue. It is estimated that more than 310,000 people have been killed in Syria since 2011. Syrians suffered severely under the deadly wars and had one of the largest numbers of refugees around the world. They bore the brunt of militancy carried out by the self-styled Islamic State (IS) group. Streams of blood were shed and scores of women and girls were dishonored, mainly by the IS fighters. The unmitigated insurgency brought nothing for Syrians other than loss and destructions. It was believed that negotiation would put an end to the violence and bloodshed. Subsequently, delegations representing a group of the freedom-fighters attended peace talks in Astana, the Kazakh capital.

The UN-hosted negotiations on the conflict planned for February 8 in Geneva have been, reportedly, postponed until the end of that month. However, the UN said it could not confirm the delay of the next round of talks between the Syrian government and the opposition. Representatives from armed opposition groups and Damascus were expected to hold their first face-to-face talks in Astana. But the rebels refused, citing truce violations, and mediators were forced to shuttle between the two sides. Key players Russia, Turkey and Iran backed the talks and the main result was an agreement by the three sides to try to shore up a shaky ceasefire on the ground in the war-torn country.

The delegations of Iran, Russia and Turkey, along with UN Security Council, made a joint statement in Moscow, on December 20, 2016. The statement said, “There is no military solution to the Syrian conflict and that it can only be solved through a political process based on the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution 2254 in its entirety”. It further added that they “will seek, through concrete steps and using their influence over the parties, consolidation of the ceasefire regime established pursuant to the arrangements signed on December 29, 2016 and supported by the UN Security Council resolution 2336 (2016), contribution to minimizing violations, reducing violence, building confidence….”

However, the delegations attended the talks did not represent all freedom-fighters. Perhaps one of the biggest examples of the disconnect between Syrians inside Syria and Syrians sitting at the negotiating table in Astana this week is seen in a video produced by Shaam News Network, in which several residents of the besieged al-Waar district in northern Homs, when asked about the negotiations, responded, “What talks?”

Regarding the talks held in Astana, Osama Abu Zeid, who is the legal adviser to the Free Syrian Army and was an instrumental member of the negotiations committee during the pre-talks in Ankara and the actual talks in Astana, justified the committee’s decision in a series of tweets, stressing that the only issues they discussed during the talks were the conditions of the ceasefire, complete cessation of hostilities, saving besieged areas, release of detainees and resuming service of the Ain el-Fijah spring.

It is most likely that there is not a unanimous agreement over negotiation and some opposition groups may not be aware of it and not willing to attend it. In such a case, the preconditions, in case of being accepted by Assad’s regime, will be violated by the discontented groups. After all, the strong presence of the IS group is highly challenging and their terrorist actions will linger for years. In addition, the Syrians interviewed about the Astana talks who state two main reasons negotiations will continue to fail, no matter who is brokering them and no matter what implementation mechanisms are used: a lack of inner unity of purpose among the opposition and the absence of an external, international will to remove the regime and return Syria to its citizens.

Since the Syria’s conflict has been highly complicated for the presence of different groups, the unrest seems to increase civilian casualties and destroy the country. In other words, getting freedom would be a pyrrhic victory for Syrian nation and it is better to bring an end to violence instantaneously. In a nutshell, it would be naïve of the Syrians to continue fighting, in which they pay large sacrifices without a palpable result. If the same trend continues, the tragic stories will repeat itself and the lives of many others will be lost.

The two warring sides will have to narrow the room for militancy through reinforcing ceasefire. Life and honor have been too cheap in that country. The flagrant violation of human rights and dignity is really outrageous. Moreover, it should be noted that the IS militants seek to implement their project there which is stoking sectarian violence and changing the unrest into an ideological war. In such a case, Syrian nations will be divided into many groups which would be an irreparable loss to that country. It is further believed that the main purpose of the war, which was protecting the rights and liberty of the nation, has been forgotten. The war for peace has been changed into war for war by the IS fighters. The surge of emotions for revenge will never lead to peace, the negotiating parties will have to consider both sides of the coin and make a wise decision to end the turbulence.