Syria’s future leadership must be decided by own population

By Nile Bowie Source:Global Times Published: 2014-1-28 19:03:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The first face-to-face meeting between the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) in Switzerland, began Friday with scathing exchanges between the two delegations.

Engineering a solution to the three-year conflict in Syria will remain an uphill battle, but diplomats and international delegations in attendance will have a greater chance at de-escalating fighting on the ground if political biases are put aside.

Syrian authorities have offered to put in place mechanisms for a cease-fire in Aleppo, in addition to prisoner exchanges and opportunities to make available humanitarian assistance to civilian areas under siege.

If a settlement can be reached on these matters, it is a step closer to the cessation of violence in Syria.

However, the Geneva talks are also being used as a platform for the US and its allies to move closer two their ostensible policy aim of removing President Bashar al-Assad from office.

Participants at the Geneva dialogue have an opportunity to curb hostilities and establish a framework for meeting the humanitarian needs of the civilian population. This should not be squandered by attempts by interested parties to shape a new political order for their own interests.

In his opening address at the Geneva talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry insinuated that Syria faced disintegration if Assad remained in power.

The Syrian province of Raqqa is a microcosm showcasing the kind of social order that would permeate in Syria if the regime was forcibly changed. Raqqa is completely under the control of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a radical Islamist organization that actively opposes the fledgling and divided SNC, and has imposed puritanical interpretations of sharia law on residents.

The international community may not condone groups such as ISIL, but the reality is that the "moderate" groups represent a few drops in an ocean of militias dominated by radical Islamists who will dominate any post-regime change landscape.

For these reasons, opposition groups that are interested in ending the Syrian conflict should put aside their political differences, and align themselves with the legitimate Syrian government and armed forces to flush out radical elements.

It is no secret that most of the countries attending the Geneva talks want to see an end to Assad and his government. The timing of recent reports published in the run-up to the Geneva talks is no coincidence.

The Syrian government is being accused by anonymous sources of covertly supporting Al Qaeda to spoil the image of the rebellion. Another report, allegedly financed by the government of Qatar, purports to show images depicting tortured and eviscerated bodies allegedly photographed in government prisons by a defector from the Syrian military.

Considering the timing of these "smoking gun" publications, they appear to strengthen public discourse toward assertions that Assad must step down, preventing any deal at the Geneva conference that might leave him in place.

One should remember the August 21 chemical weapons attack that the highest political representatives of the US accused the Syrian government of being responsible for.

UN investigator Carla Del Ponte's findings suggested that rebel militias had the capacity to produce sarin nerve gas, while a recent study by professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that the Syrian government could not possibly have been responsible for the chemical attack based on the intelligence made available by US representatives.

The positions of the US Department of State or the diplomatic representatives of any other country should not shape Syria's political future; Syria's own population must choose their leadership at the ballot box in free and fair elections.

Future polls in Syria cannot be free and fair if the candidate most likely to win a mandate - Bashar al-Assad - is excluded from campaigning. External forces must refrain from attempting to influence the internal affairs of the Syrian state.

The author is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today.

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