IF the Turkish incursion into northern Syria launched last week is not contained soon, it may well evolve into a fully fledged new war drawing combatants from across the region. Ankara launched what it calls Operation Peace Spring with multiple objectives, primarily to create a ‘safe zone’ inside Syria to which it can repatriate millions of Syrian refugees currently in Turkey, as well as combating the semi-autonomous Syrian Kurds it looks upon as ‘terrorists’. However, far from creating an atmosphere of peace, the offensive is likely to fan the flames of war, while violating the territory of a sovereign state. Both sides — the Turks and the Syrian Kurds — have accused each other of targeting civilians, while there has been fierce fighting in the region concerned. Ostensibly, it was a green light from Washington that allowed Ankara to make the move; in the process America’s Kurdish allies were left by the wayside to fend for themselves and ward off the Turkish military. Moreover, the Turkish offensive was launched without the approval of Damascus, which throws up questions about its legitimacy in terms of international law.

Before this latest flare-up, all indications were that the situation in Syria was returning to normalcy, with a UN-backed committee consisting of the Syrian government and opposition factions planning to hammer out a new constitution. However, with the latest developments, the viability of this process is thrown into doubt. And perhaps the most dangerous fallout of chaos in northern Syria remains the fact that thousands of IS prisoners — militants and their families — guarded by the Kurds may escape from internment centres. Already a few IS prisoners have reportedly made a jailbreak. It should be remembered that the IS threat was neutralised after a major international effort; if an irresponsible military operation allows the fighters of the ‘caliphate’ to regroup, the security of the entire region will be compromised. There is still time for Ankara to pull back from the brink; its legitimate concerns — refugees, terrorism, etc — must be discussed within the framework of international law, and with the Syrian state on board. A cavalier military incursion is likely to create more problems than it solves. As for the Kurds and others in the region who depend on an American security umbrella, this should serve as a cautionary lesson. Where the Trump White House is concerned, policy can change within minutes and be announced via Twitter, in complete disregard of saner counsel.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2019

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