TURKEY’S recent incursion into Syrian territory is likely to further complicate matters in the Arab country even if Ankara has legitimate security concerns about Kurdish militias active across its southern border. Turkey launched the military offensive on Saturday, targeting the predominantly Kurdish YPG militia present in northern Syria; the incursion has involved air strikes as well as ground troops. Ankara is wary of armed Kurdish groups gaining ground in regions close to its own Kurdish population, fearing that such groups may lend support to separatist Kurds within Turkey. It has in fact accused the YPG of having links with the PKK, the Kurdish guerilla group with which the Turkish state has fought a nearly four-decade war. The incursion may have been sparked by recent comments from American officials (the US backs the YPG) of the creation of a ‘border security force’ made up of Syrian Kurdish fighters to keep a check on the militant Islamic State group. Turkey is naturally loath to see Kurdish fighters across the border gain permanent territory. However, Ankara’s own plans of creating a buffer zone several kilometres within Syria is also questionable, primarily because it violates the territory of a sovereign country. The Syrian government has criticised the Turkish incursion, mainly because a large number of Syrian rebels are reportedly part of the Turkish force.
Whether it is the American plan of creating a ‘border force’, or Turkey’s buffer zone idea, any venture that further muddies the already turbid waters of Syria should be avoided. Extremist groups such as IS are on the back foot in Syria, thanks to the Russian-Iranian support lent to Damascus, as well as US-led coalition efforts, of which the Syrian Kurds have been a major component. Considering that levels of violence are down, it would be folly to open up more fronts in the Syrian theatre. Instead, all stakeholders must focus their efforts on making negotiations succeed, whether it is the UN-led effort in Geneva, or the combined Russian, Iranian and Turkish effort in Astana. Any move that could further disturb the fragile situation within Syria must be eschewed. Moreover, the territorial integrity of Syria must be respected. All stakeholders — whether it is the rulers in Damascus or the Syrian opposition, or their external backers — must work towards a united Syria where the rights of all ethnic groups, religious communities and sects are respected and guaranteed.
Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2018