The Syrian forest fire

The Syrian forest fire

04 February 2014

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Syria — THE TALKS in Geneva that were to have provided a ray of hope for beleaguered Syrians have now proved to be bellows to a fire, driving its flames across the borders to engulf a neighbouring state.

Three separate incidents of bombing have been reported in Lebanon as a little known underground organisation, calling itself the Nusra Front, launches attacks against the Lebanese group Hezbollah to punish it for supporting the troops of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. It was on the cards that the talks would fail despite the initial breakthrough when the negotiators managed to bring both the Syrian government and the rebel forces to the dialogue table. The opposition forces, buoyed by US support, insisted on the exit of Assad, a demand that had no hope of being complied with and served only to harden the Syrian government’s stand. It is to be noted that state troops continued their indiscriminate air attacks while the talks were taking place, adding to civilian casualties. It would have been more diplomatic and humane to have agreed on some sort of ceasefire at least during the talks, which would have provided some respite to Syrians at the end of their tether and served as a confidence-building measure. Also, given Iran’s influence with the Syrian regime, it is pointless to try to keep Tehran out of the Geneva talks. Most regional players know this. It is also amply borne out by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent visit to Iran when Syria was the reported subject of his closed-door talks with the government.

The Barack Obama government’s position that it will support Syrian opposition forces to act as a bulwark against terrorist groups is not tenable. Washington should realise that by now from its botched-up experiments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ousting a regime by creating instability serves only to expand the ambit of the unrest. The longer the violence rages on in Syria the greater the danger for the entire world, not just Damascus. As James Clapper, the US director of National Intelligence, said in his annual Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, political uncertainty and violence is likely to increase in the Middle East in 2014. Clapper’s assessment is that the strife in Syria has “created opportunities for extremist groups to find ungoverned spaces from where they can try to destabilise new governments and prepare attacks against Western interests”. The US should seek to strengthen regional alliances so that the network against Al Qaeda and other terror groups is a united one. There cannot be a selective choosing of allies in the war on terror. It has to be all or none. And the Syrian dialogues will yield fruit only if they are perceived as a Syrian home-grown effort supported by neighbours.

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