WHILE Syria has been largely quiet in the recent past, save for a few violent episodes between the rebels and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, a new front is about to be opened as Turkey prepares to launch an operation in northern Syria to establish a ‘safe zone’. This throws up serious questions about the violation of Syrian sovereignty by a foreign power; the planned Turkish incursion also risks bringing Ankara’s forces face to face with the SDF, a Syrian Kurdish militia backed by the US, which the Turks consider an extension of their nemesis, the PKK. And if the rhetoric coming from Turkey as well as the Kurds is anything to go by, this engagement will hardly be a peaceful affair Moreover, the Kurds’ American allies have backed off and have apparently given Ankara the green light to move into Syrian territory, a decision the SDF has said is a “stab in the back”. As usual, President Donald Trump has sent mixed messages, agreeing to pull back American forces (against the advice of some of his own officials), but also threatening to “obliterate” the Turkish economy if Ankara takes any “off limits” action. What constitutes ‘off limits’ is anyone’s guess. Considering the bad blood between Turkey and the Kurds, a violent encounter cannot be ruled out, while Mr Assad’s principal foreign friends — Russia and Iran — have also questioned the planned incursion. To top it all, the lack of a coherent US policy has muddied things, creating the groundwork for further chaos in Syria.
Unfortunately, the Syrian civil war has been greatly exacerbated by foreign intervention. Those supporting the opposition — the US, Europe, Turkey and the Gulf Arabs — pumped in much treasure and manpower to try and dislodge Mr Assad, while Moscow and Tehran did their best to prop up their ally in Damascus. The result has been a battered country, with hundreds of thousands killed and millions displaced. Additionally, the ungoverned spaces in Syria helped give birth to some of the most dreaded terrorist groups of modern times, such as IS and Al Nusra. Instead of turning Syria into a geopolitical chessboard, foreign forces must work to bring Damascus and the opposition together for a settlement. The UN has planned the formation of a Syrian constitutional committee; all efforts should be made to support this endeavour, and fresh military adventures in the country should be avoided.
Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2019