Bleak scenario

Talks in Geneva to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria have run aground. No one expected it to result in a breakthrough. Still, there were hopes that the Syrian government and the Opposition would make some kind of progress at the negotiation table. The only achievement was that a humanitarian truce that parties to the conflict agreed upon, brought civilians in the embattled city of Homs a measure of respite.

 Civilians in a rebel-held quarter of Homs were evacuated and food and medicines delivered to other besieged residents. However, help extended to Homs during this period was at best minimal given the enormity of the humanitarian crisis there. One-time distribution of food and medicines to a few areas in a war-ravaged region is not enough. Many were hoping that the truce agreement over Homs would prove an ice-breaker, sparking settlements on other issues as well. Sadly, this was not the case.

Participants at the talks in Geneva were preoccupied with what UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi described as their ‘pet subjects.’ While the government was willing to talk only about violence and terrorism, the opposition remained focussed on their demand for a transitional government. In the process, neither was willing to discuss other issues that could have helped build confidence. And it was here that Russia and the West failed. While the two powers did work to get the Bashar al-Assad government and the Opposition to engage in negotiations, they did not encourage them to moderate their positions and look for common ground. Not only have Russia and the West fuelled the war by providing arms and other support to the adversaries but also they have been superficial in their efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict.

Over 1,00,000 people have been killed and 9.5 million displaced since fighting erupted in Syria three years ago. The past fortnight witnessed a surge in hostilities. It is widely believed that the US government may mount pressure on Assad to step down to make way for a transitional government. It could use drone strikes to force Assad out. Removing Assad is not going to end the fighting as evident in the experience of countless countries where the US engineered regime change. The UN must persist with dialogue. The recent talks ended without an agreement on dates for another round of talks. Brahimi must get the conflict parties back to the table as soon as possible.

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