25/10/2019 : The Hindu Editorials Notes  : Mains Sure Shot 

Question – Explain the Syrian politics and the complex power game.( 250 words)

Context – The decision to form a “safe zone” by Turkey and Russia.


Explaining the Syarian politics:

  • The Syrian civil war has drawn in multiple foreign powers since it began in 2011.

The chronology:

  • In 2011, the Arab Spring (what is Arab Spring we have discussed in our previous article related to Yemen) was at its full swing. A series of anti-government protests spread across the Islamic World.
  • The Syrian crisis was one among them.
  • It began with the arrests of a handful of children in 2011. Since then, it has exploded into the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.
  • A group of children in Daraa, southern Syria, were arrested and allegedly tortured for scrawling graffiti on a school reading “the people want to topple the regime.”
  • As a result in March 2011, Syrians protested in cities across the country, demanding the government enact reforms and release political protesters. Government forces fired on the demonstrations, killing dozens.
  • As the bloodshed got worse, the opposition got organised. A group of Syrian military officers defect and formed  the Free Syrian Army. 
  • In a video posted on YouTube, they say thousands of soldiers have left their posts instead of firing on protesters, and they promise to wage guerrilla war against regime forces. Three months later, a handful of political opposition groups established the Syrian National Council, aimed at toppling President Bashar al-Assad.
  • Around August 2011, the U.S. and European leaders called for Assad to step down, saying Syria’s future “must be determined by its own people.” But in October, Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution supported by the United States that would call for an immediate halt to violence and immediate sanctions.
  • In the meanwhile the influence of Islamist groups grew in rebel ranks who wanted to topple Assad.
  • Between December 2011 to February 2012, Suicide bombers killed 44 people in Damascus in blasts that bear the “blueprints of al Qaeda,”
  • In February the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, praised Syrians for waging “jihad”. The message came as thousands of rebels join more extreme groups now operating in the country, including Jabhat al-Nusra, a group with close links to al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq.
  • Next, the U.N. tried to intervene.
  • In April 2012, former United Nations chief Kofi Annan tried to establish a ceasefire calling for a halt to violence and the implementation of a political process to end the crisis, but the plan never got off the ground.
  • Several people start fleeing the country.
  • Since June to July 2012, a top U.N. human rights official accused Syria of engaging in crimes against humanity.
  • In the meanwhile, in August 2011, former President Obama said that President Assad will be crossing a “red line” if he uses chemical weapons against his own people in Syria. Syria has one of the largest and most advanced chemical warfare programs in the Arab world, according to experts.
  • In two years by February 2013, 60,000 people were dead and the U.S. said it will send aid to rebels. But it promised to send food and medical supplies but not weapons — to Syrian rebels. It’s the first such move since the conflict began two years before, in an effort to hem (prevent) in the radical Islamist groups vying for influence in Syria.
  • More than 60,000 people are now dead and nearly a million have fled the country.
  • Then there was the emergence of ISIS in Syria.
  • The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) announced its arrival in northern Syria by seizing the city of Raqqa. The group began in 2004 as al Qaeda in Iraq before rebranding as ISIS two years later. The aim of ISIS — led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — is to impose its strict Islamist ideology on Syrians in the areas it controls.
  • By May 2013, the E.U. too started sending its arms to Syria. The EU lifted the arms embargo on Syria, clearing the way for European nations to join Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries that have provided weapons or training to rebel groups in Syria. 
  • Russia, meanwhile, took the other side and was shipping arms to the Syrian regime and fighters from Hezbollah– the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group — poured into the country to prop up the regime in Syria, a key ally.
  • In august 2013, Syria crossed Obama’s “Red Line” and the U.S. started preparing for an attack on Syria. Because in August 2013, hundreds of people are killed in a suspected chemical weapons attack in rebel-held areas on the outskirts of Damascus. Obama asked Congress to authorize military action against Syria.
  • In the turn of events in September 2013, when the U.S. was preparing for airstrikes in Syria, then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that if Syria would give up all its weapons to the international community within a week, then the U.S. could think of withholding the strikes.
  • Russia here stepped in and said that it would put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, a plan that staves off U.S. military action in the country for the time being.
  • Then in February 2014, a second round of peace talks were held between the Syrian government, the opposition and an array of world powers but it ended without a solution.. At least 140,000 Syrians are now dead, opposition groups say, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced.
  • Next the ISIS declared an independent State in Iraq and Syria. It announced the establishment of a Caliphate (Islamic state) stretching from western Syria to eastern Iraq. The group rebrands itself Islamic State and says Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the leader of this new state. The declaration comes after ISIS seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-biggest city.
  • In August 2014, ISIS released a video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley in Raqqa, Syria. Foley is the first of several Western journalists and aid workers to be murdered by the group over the next few months, including Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Hennings and Peter Abdul-Rahman Kassig.
  • So in September 2014, American jets began bombing ISIS targets in Syria, including the group’s stronghold in Raqqa. The foreign partners participating in the strikes are Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Then in September 2015, after weeks of bulking up its military presence in Syria, Russia launched airstrikes on rebel targets in the country for the first time. Russia’s intervention proved decisive in swinging momentum in the conflict the Syrian regime’s way.
  • In November 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 warplane over Syria, saying it had violated Turkish airspace. The incident triggered a war of words and escalating tensions between the two powers, who backed opposite sides in the Syrian conflict.
  • In December 2015, The number of migrants who have entered Europe by sea and land in 2015 passed 1 million, the International Organization for Migration says, with about half of them Syrians fleeing the conflict.
  • In february 2016, more than $ 10 billion was pledged for Syria by international donors at a conference in London. But the goodwill is overshadowed a brutal Syrian government offensive, backed by Russian air power, on the northern city of Aleppo, which Turkey says has sent a fresh wave of refugees fleeing toward its border.
  • Finally in February 2016, Diplomats from more than a dozen countries, including the United States and Russia, agreed in Munich, Germany, to a “cessation of hostilities” — a temporary halt in fighting that commonly happened at the start of a peace process — and to the delivery of aid.
  • At present, the U.S. has pulled out of northern Syria and this has left the Kurds who had allied with the U.S. to fight ISIS, at the mercy of Turkey. (Turkey has rivalry with Kurds. The Kurds were friends with the U.S. but the U.S. has pulled out of northern Syria leaving the Kurds alone. Russia and the Syrian President are also anti-Kurds because they had allied with the U.S.).
  • Now the game seems to be moving towards peace with Turkey and Russia deciding to create a “safe zone” (a zone that will be 400-km long and 30-km wide across the Turkish border, stretching from Manbij in northwestern Syria to its north eastern corner on the Iraqi border. They plan to keep the Kurds or the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) out of this zone) where they want to resettle some 3.5 million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey in this region (safe zone).
  • And the Kurds seem to be the losers in the whole game now Because for over four years they have been on the front line of the war against the Islamic State and defeated the terrorist group and established semi-autonomous administration in areas liberated from IS.

Way forward:

  • Any peace process should ensure that they do not create another rival in this already complicated scene. The kurds for example must be taken into confidence that their fighting wont go unrewarded.

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