An UN Resolution on Syria : About Time
Lt General S A Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM (Bar), VSM (Bar), Distinguished Fellow, VIF

It is rare to see the international community coming together on any issue which threatens the collective security of the world at large. When Daesh emerged as the freshest scourge everyone knew that it was flush with funds looted from the Mosul treasury; later it would commence the functioning of the Mosul oil facility and rake in the dollars by selling the products to its enemies at half price. The world knew what was happening but it has taken 18 months and many negative events, including the Paris attacks and the entire refugee tragedy to come together to counter the financial conduits of Daesh with a first ever meeting of the Finance Ministers of countries forming part of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

The UNSC has also passed a resolution which states that within six months, a process should establish "credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance," with U.N.-supervised "free and fair elections" to be held within 18 months. It pointedly isolates the terror groups in Syria and asks for a dialogue and reconciliation only with the Syrian Opposition. This is to allow hard power to play its act through aerial bombing against terrorists even as the negotiations continue. The process borrows from the Af-Pak model with the UNSC laying down the necessity of the process being ‘Syrian led Syrian owned’ so that extraneous influences are minimized and the stakes for Syrians are protected. It expects that at some stage a cease fire would be negotiated. However, that is an obvious need without which nothing can move beyond a stage.

On the face of it this is perhaps the best which could be expected from the contentious and highly complex situation in Syria where battle lines are fuzzy and no one really knows who his enemy or set of enemies is. To bring about a selective ceasefire and then have manipulated infringements is always fraught with danger. But at least there is unanimity in approach at the UNSC. We need to await response from Saudi Arabia and Israel to ascertain their stand and their perception of an end result of a peace process. Iran’s interests are being broadly met by the Russians.

Analyzing the events it is evident that the entry of Russia into Syria and its fairly proactive military focus has changed the approach and the way the West is looking at the issue. Thus far no one was willing to push Turkey to act more responsibly and the see the larger picture. The Paris attacks by Daesh and the ongoing refugee crisis with entry of thousands of migrants into Europe have also shaken much of the West. The obsession with regime change and focus on departure of President Bashir Assad had clearly colored Western perception to such an extent that it refused to see the feasibility of rapprochement. Agreeably that is yet very far but Russian acceptance of a resolution and then a quick statement by its Foreign Minister appears to confirm that Assad’s departure is not a pre-condition. Regime change would spell virtual acceptance of defeat by the Alawite regime while on the battlefield the situation is quite the opposite with the Free Syrian Army facing desertions because of poor pay and conditions.

The West should be extremely worried with movement of refugees. Daesh wants this turbulence to spread all over the Middle East and North Africa so that displaced people migrate and create the same turbulence in Europe and elsewhere. The conditions prevailing in Syria do not permit easy human existence and the reprehensible conditions created due to Daesh presence will avoid any major humanitarian aid programs. This too is Daesh’s intent which thrives in chaos and tyranny. The UNSC probably realized that if Daesh has to be defeated then clearly there must be de-escalation in Syria which is taking away all attention. A ceasefire in place and negotiations in progress will allow the rest of the world to concentrate on the fight against Daesh.

In the prevailing situation what chance does the UNSC resolution have of successful implementation. To expect a resolution to be executed implicitly is itself flawed. The process is scheduled to commence by 01 Jan 2016. Terrorist groups in the region and in different national territories are being identified by Jordan. It will then have to be decided who is the official opposition in Syria and a ceasefire will then need to be negotiated. There are more than one resistance groups against the regime; either all have to be taken on board or some kind of minimum line for merger or understanding has to be established. Once that is in place perhaps a Ceasefire Monitoring Group will be required. The UN mission in the Golan Heights can be expanded to undertake that role for some time. If we can reach that stage without too many slippages then it is a question of keeping the momentum and isolating the terror groups. These terror groups themselves owe little allegiance to anyone but are suspected to be largely financed by Saudis. Israel and Saudi Arabia find themselves as strange bedfellows on the same side to prevent control of the area by those with allegiance to Iran. Essentially the fight is all about the control of the Levant area between Iran and the Mediterranean. That is an area which is largely under Iranian, Alawite and Hezbollah domination, making it an all Shia territory; it is also the connector between Europe and the Middle East. No one is going to yield its control easily; no one is going to give concessions to allow the other domination, control or accessibility. That is where the challenge lies even as the sectarian divide of Islam, the stake holders who support rival factions and the terror groups vie for control of a region fast becoming perhaps one of the most strategic regions of the world.

The UN and the international community cannot treat Syria as any other region where it has exercised the entire gamut of peacemaking. The presence of the terror groups in Syria, specifically Daesh, and proliferating information/communication technology make a deadly combine which will outpace all efforts with their dynamic threats. To that end the UNSC may have been correct in laying down timelines which do appear unrealistic. The process cannot afford to be become tardy and without energy. There is little room for maneuver and the US will have to act as the driver while taking along the detractors such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. In fact visible attempts of US rapprochement with Iran, in the post nuclear deal times, would give much speed to the peace process.

Lastly, there is the ever dangerous possibility that the peace process for Syria may just about lead to the world taking its eye off the activities of Daesh. The aerial campaign, the prevention of financial networks being exploited by Daesh, continuous steps to limit or completely prevent Daesh’s psychological warfare capabilities and keep the world’s other nations motivated to fight against the scourge, would be a great challenge.


Published in IBN LIVE on 21st December 2015
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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