Assad’s gambit

November 09, 2013 01:01 am | Updated November 16, 2021 11:06 pm IST

The destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons production and mixing equipment may have been completed ahead of schedule but its problems remain far from resolved. The U.S.-Russia deal struck in Geneva earlier this year — paving the way for international inspection of Syria’s toxic munitions — has delivered its first tangible result. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has kept alive the spirit of the Geneva communiqué, and with it the chances of international mediation. However, the principal actors in Syria’s conflict seem to remain unconvinced of the need for dialogue. In extending his cooperation to the OPCW – which has until June 2014 to oversee the elimination of Syria’s chemical stockpile – President Bashar al-Assad has signalled his indispensability to a diplomatic settlement. Mr. Assad has underlined that not only is he in control but he is also willing to make tactical concessions. The odds are now stacked heavily against the Syrian rebels. After the United States shelved its plan to intervene militarily, opposition groups have had to reconcile themselves to the option of sharing power with Damascus. That al-Qaeda and other terror outfits have infiltrated the rebels’ ranks has also substantially diminished the support they initially received from the West. Not surprisingly, many of the rebel factions have expressed their reluctance to participate in the “Geneva 2” diplomatic conference scheduled for later this year. Mr. Assad, on the other hand, has made the Syrian government’s participation contingent on his being allowed to complete a full term in office.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Syria continues unabated. Refugee influx into neighbouring countries like Lebanon and Turkey has reached massive proportions. The World Health Organisation recently confirmed an outbreak of polio in the country with aid groups finding it difficult to deliver food and medicines in war-affected districts. A ceasefire between the government and the rebels has simply not materialised. The Syrian conflict continues to be manipulated by regional actors. Amidst opposition to Iran’s participation in the conference, U.N. and Arab League Envoy for Syria Lakdhar Brahimi has rightly suggested that Tehran’s presence is “natural and necessary.” It seems probable Syria will soon be free from the scourge of Weapons of Mass Destruction. But the OPCW’s commendable work is only a means to an end – if within the next few months, the international community is not able to bring the country’s warring parties before the negotiating table, the chances of a political solution will diminish considerably. This can only happen if external actors stop aiding the militarisation of this conflict.

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