Relief for Syria?
Syria is in the midst of what is possibly the most brutal civil war in recent times, with global powers jockeying for greater geostrategic positions. The humanitarian crisis that has stemmed from the conflict has been nothing short of calamitous, with aid agencies suffering from serious cuts in funding. On the basis of these facts, it is to the relief for the Syrian people that United States Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, announced the delivery of desperately needed aid over the next few days to besieged Syrian cities, followed by a “cessation of hostilities” within a week on the way to a more formal cease-fire. Since the start of the conflict, more than 4.4 million Syrian have fled the country. “We have agreed to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities in one week’s time,” Kerry said early Friday morning. “The real test is whether all the parties honor those commitments,” he added. This guise of cooperation has arrived after weeks of trading accusations over the accelerated Russian air campaign that has given new support to the government of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. In geostrategic terms, these announcements simply mean that Russia has won and the USA, NATO and their Saudi and Qatari allies have failed to bring about a regime change. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad lives on for another day. Now the battle against the ISIS should be waged with single-minded determination. However, there is a lack of clarity on whether the Riyadh-backed Syrian opposition, which has been at the receiving end of Russian air strikes, truly represents the balance of forces fighting within rebel-held territory. Suffice to say, if there is a significant disconnect between the two, these talks will neither bring the desired result nor a ceasefire. However, the efforts to include a myriad of rebel forces in the talks will come at a significant logistical cost. Neither the key players—the Assad regime and the Riyadh-backed opposition—nor their regional and international sponsors have agreed on the list of terrorist groups to be excluded from the nationwide ceasefire. There is a largely clear consensus on the fact that the ceasefire will not apply to the Islamic State, al-Nusra front (Jabhat al-Nusra), and some other militant groups. But without arriving at a consensus on that list, the agreement will breakdown. Despite all official efforts towards arriving at a consensus over Syria, certain irreconcilable differences remain.