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Syrian conundrum: Beyond the pale of big powers

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Syria_1 The recent attack on US consulate at Benghazi which resulted in death of four US personnel including the ambassador Christopher Stevens has begun a new phase of retaliatory politics in the Middle East. The destruction at the Islamic Centre of Sheikh Abdussalam Al-Asmar in Zliten, the Mosque of Sidi Sha’ab in Tripoli, and at the Shrine of Sidi Ahmed Zaroug in Misrata has also unleashed a new trend of vengeance. The entire region has become hostile and the entire world seems to be divided into two halves. The uncalculated unilateral interventions have grossly failed to bring about normalcy in the region. The tensions between different ethnic groups have been escalated. 

The western nations under the ambit of NATO have subsequently involved into various African and Arab countries and have tried to induct democracy in a society which has long followed a political system of autocracy with limited  rights and freedom. These political powers have failed to understand the power equations in these countries. After the removing of traditional autocrat rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, a power vacuum has been created in these countries.

The recent issues involved in Syria could have serious repercussions for the entire peace of the world. The NATO powers headed by USA believe that the Bashar al-Assad’s government has lost the confidence of the people and his regime is committing atrocities against the rebels. The US based Global Security website says there are four suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria producing the nerve agents VX, sarin and tabun. On the other hand, Russia, China believes that the NATO powers are trying to intervene in the internal affairs of Syria by dislodging the legitimate government. Russia and China have vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions backed by Western and Arab states. Ever since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, but especially after the 2004 “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine, Russia is out and out against US unilateral interventionism. US and its allies are accusing Russia about its involved interests in Syria. They have said that Russia wants to sell arms to Bashar al-Assad’s government and maintain its naval facility at the Syrian port of Tartus. In Tartus, Syria hosts the sole remaining Russian naval base on the Mediterranean. But at a deeper analysis, it could be said that Syria is the last reminiscence of Soviet hegemony in the region.

Russia has also argued that the Arab revolutions have completely destabilized the region and cleared the road to power for the Islamic radicalism. Russians have long suffered from terrorism and extremism at the hands of Islamists in the northern Caucasus. Rebel forces in Syria have been joined by radical fundamentalists from the Saudi sponsored ‘international jihadi brigades’ which have deployed in Chechenya, the Balkans, China, Pakistan/Afghanistan and elsewhere. To Russia, Assad is fighting, as a secular leader, with an uprising of Islamist barbarians. Besides that the active support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey’s Islamist government for rebels in Syria only heightens suspicions in Russia about the Islamist nature of the current opposition in Syria and rebels throughout the Middle East. The external interference is hindering efforts for Syrians themselves to resolve the problem. Russia and China base their diplomatic cooperation on the need to strictly adhere to the norms of international law and the principles contained in the U.N. Charter and not to allow their violation.

It should be noted that with sudden political changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya the anti social elements spur up creating an environment of anarchy and turmoil. Similar situation is prevalent in Iraq where road side bombings, assassinations, wide spread extortions and killings are common despite the US forces being stationed to keep a balance and order. One can take a lesson from Yemen where democracy was introduced but was a disastrous failure which led to the eviction of the first leader of unified Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh, presently the constitution is being rewritten and elections are due for 2014. A similar kind of scenario is getting build up in Syria where various factions have come up under the covert support of western nations to overthrow the rule of basher al-Assad. Even in Egypt, the political transition took massive sacrifice and pains from the common people and only then a democratic government is installed; but still the ethnic violence have started to disturb the law and order of the country. Iran, on the other hand, has supported Assad in his 18-month-long bid to hold onto power against armed Syrian rebels, accusing regional powers including Turkey and Qatar and the West of fomenting unrest in Syria because of its opposition to Israel.

In fact, Syria is strategically located in the vortex of the geopolitics of West Asia – Israel, Iraq, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran. The big powers are neither champion of human rights nor liberalism. They should remember that it is matter of human life. Every nation has its own specificities. The ethnic composition, historical affiliations and equations, cultural tolerance, political culture, state of relative deprivation, people’s state of mind and level of faculty, their likings and disliking are all different. Therefore, only through confidence-building measures (CMBs), a better understanding of those specificities could be developed and sustained. I have always wondered about the process and the purpose of the confidence building measures but now I have started to realise constant interaction and exchange of intentions of involved parties with each other could be regarded as the basic process of CMBs. If the respective motives and intentions are not properly communicated then mistrust and mutual suspicion crops in and jeopardises the bilateral and multi-lateral relations.
The lack of clairvoyance and absence of specific roadmap and above all predominance of narcist intention of the super powers has always forced the world to pay in terms of human and material loss. The action and inaction of these so-called big powers never try to understand the peculiarities of those nations where in the intervention is being made in the name of weapons of mass destruction, humanitarian aid, global peace, restoring democratic system. These interventions only manage to fulfil certain parochial interests of the so-called big power but in this process, the basic edifice and established system of that country tends to debilitate and the historical formations are dismantled.

To understand why these nations cannot be enforced to practice and sustain democracy one needs to do a pluralistic study of various attributes including history, society, religion, ethnicity etc. A Country such as Iraq has a predominant population of Shias which constitute about 65 per cent  of population and are also heading the government are always at loggerheads with the Sunni population comprising 35 per cent of population . Moreover Iraq is a nation which is bordered by Sunni majority nations on one side and a Shia nation (Iran) on one side, due to historical and religious implications none see each other eye to eye. Hence providing democracy to such a divided nation is deleterious and detrimental to the health of its society, a strong dictatorial leader like Saddam Hussein had the abilities to keep them together and intact.

Similarly in Syria western nations are trying to replicate Iraq by creating distrust among the society. This is a very unproductive policy as enforcing something without understanding the context is like lightning a fire. A thorough study of all dimensions should be done before taking any decisions while judging all the implications. It has been reported that more than 55 per cent of the Syrian still supports Assad because they believe that after him Syria would be plunged into political chaos and civil war. After Assad Syria would be a host of worrisome scenarios, including a bloody cycle of revenge and power grabs by the country’s patchwork of factions. They include the Sunni-led rebels and Assad’s minority Alawite community, “the followers of Ali”, an offshoot of Shiite Islam and part of its close bonds with Shiite power Iran. They constitute around 15 per cent of the total population. Both the minority Druze and Alawites had their own geographical territories.  Shabbiha, named after the Arabic word shabah, meaning ghost, are formed mostly from members of Alawite sect are playing an instrumental role in the war against rebels. The minorities in Syria fear ethnic cleansing after the exit of Assad.

Looking at the present situation every nation should be respected for its sovereignty and western nations should pursue an intervention policy through the United Nations in a peaceful and just manner, this will further legitimize the position of United Nations in the eyes of such nations who have long argued that UN is instrumental under the whims of western countries.

Since India is part of the United Nations Security Council ( UNSC ) it should be its duty and obligation to not to follow the policy of the NATO countries while promoting the principles of Non alignment moment (NAM) which respects the non-interference and peaceful coexistence. India must abstain from voting for sanctions against countries such as Syria and Iran; she should stand by its BRICS partners who are against such a policy pursuit. The BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have called for an immediate ceasefire in Syria and start of a process of political reconciliation as they expressed concern over the worsening security and humanitarian situation in the country.
It is also a high time when India should abandon being an outright advocate of democracy and try to understand the context and situation that democracy cannot always be the option.