Recently, US Secretary of State John Kerry proposed what he called ‘Plan B’ – an alternative to be implemented if ongoing Geneva peace negotiations for possible political settlement in Syria fail.
Kerry was referring to the partition of Syria along sectarian lines. The proposal has gained currency among some political commentators of late. However, most pundits agree that ‘Plan B’ does not seem to be feasible and will be a bad template that could create chaotic scenarios in other countries embroiled in conflicts including Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
If history is any indication, during the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, the British and the French colonial powers demarcated the borders of Syria according to their interest rather than the geography and tribal considerations of local people. This has become a source of identity crisis and denial of national affiliations.
If Kerry’s ‘Plan B’ goes ahead provided the Geneva peace talks falter, another modern day Sykes-Picot agreement is in the making, this time sponsored by the US and Russia, a precedent for future conflicts.
Throughout the five years of Syrian conflict, the Assad regime did not show signs of religious tolerance and co-existence except dropping barrel and chemical bombs on civilian targets, destroying villages and towns claiming hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian lives. It is difficult to envisage reconciliation with a murderer, who shows no signs of mercy to fellow citizens.
Assad’s actions did not encourage national reconciliation. In response to his policy, desperate citizens rebelled and joined Sunni extremists which crystallised into Islamic State (IS). The brutality of the conflict and the extent of intra-religious blood-letting did not create favourable conditions for co-existence among various ethno-religious groups. They have reached a state where they cannot live side by side. But this does not mean that assigning them to different rooms will solve their problems either.
Syrians are not only killed and forced to leave their home country but also denied to decide the fate of their own country. International actors are deciding the future of Syria based on their interests. The US and Russia talk about Assad’s fate and Saudi Arabia and Iran fight over geopolitical and religious interests. Each country is promoting its own interest at the expense of Syrians.
The US-Russia peace negotiation and previous UN efforts were the only attempts made to include Syrians to talk about their future. Even in such occasions the participants do not appear to represent the Syrian people, they were only warring factions. The Kurds, Yazidis, Christians and other minorities were not represented.
Partition of Syria as proposed by Kerry may not go well with neighbouring countries as well. Turkey will strongly oppose the creation of ‘Kurdistan’ on its southern border as it encourages the Turkish Kurds to push for secession.
The ‘cessation of hostilities’ proposed by the US and Russia and which appears to be holding for now is a good mechanism of interrupting the conflict, giving a chance to political settlements and facilitating humanitarian assistance. It also helps to bring the warring factions to a negotiating table.
The way forward appears to be to push for national reconciliation, inclusive of all sects rather than partitioning. After experiencing brutal conflicts and blood-letting, reconciliation of religious groups will likely be an uphill task and time consuming.
International organisations including the UN should mediate the process. A mechanism must be devised that prevents state and non-state actors from interfering in Syrian conflict. Repeated reconciliation attempts can help Syrians heal their wounds and start living together like the old days.