Syria: ceasefire, or cease trying?

Author:Nashashibi, Sharif Hikmat
Position:Current Affairs/SYRIA


CEASEFIRE--THE VERY WORD IMPLIES AN inherently beneficial action. However, as with so much of the conflict in Syria, the reality is more complicated. In the absence of a previously agreed diplomatic framework that would be implemented after the fighting stops, a ceasefire would not only be ineffective, but could even be counter-productive. The latest ceasefire, brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, is a prime example. It is inaccurate to describe it as having ended, because it never began, having failed to achieve a single day without violence and fatalities. Indeed, its failure was easily predictable.

With Reservations

While Bashar Assad's regime and most of the armed opposition accepted the ceasefire, they did so with conditions that pretty much ensured it would be still-born. Both sides agreed to cease fire as long as the other side did so too-fair enough. However, the regime said it reserved the right to respond to "terrorist groups trying to reinforce their positions by arming themselves and getting reinforcements," as well as neighbouring countries facilitating the smuggling of fighters across borders. The Free Syrian Army reportedly demanded the release of all detainees, the withdrawal of regime forces from Aleppo, and an end to the siege of Homs.

In reality, acceptance was purely symbolic-an attempt to show the world that they are not the obstinate party. Similarly, foreign backers of all sides have been paying lip service to the need for a cessation of hostilities, while continuing to provide material support. To add more nails to the proverbial coffin, some armed opposition groups rejected the ceasefire, saying that, based on past experience, they had no faith the regime would respect it.

Diminishing hope

That brings us to another problem with ceasefires: if the first does not work (in this case, the one organised by Brahimi's predecessor Kofi Annan), others that follow will be even less likely to succeed because of a deterioration in trust. If such internationally respected diplomatic figures as Annan and Brahimi failed so spectacularly, what hope for another attempt?

As we have seen in Syria, prior to a ceasefire, violence can actually increase as both sides try to make gains they can consolidate when the fighting stops. If a ceasefire holds, those gains will provide a stronger negotiating position. If not, they will provide a military advantage. Both sides will have used the downtime to re-arm...

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