Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib’s call for dialogue ought to impell all parties to the conflict – both local and foreign – to assess the status quo so that a rare opportunity to end an increasingly deadly war is not squandered.
Next month the Syrian crisis enters its third year. An uprising that began peacefully to demand political and economic reforms was met with the only means the government of President Bashar Assad knows: brutal force.
What was hoped to be another chapter in the Arab Spring soon turned sour and the revolt plunged into armed confrontations that saw the country slide into a civil war.
A divided international community stood helpless to resolve the crisis and secure the demands of a large section of Syrian society for freedom and democracy. The Syrian opposition struggled to unify its ranks on the ground in Syria and to win the necessary backing from its Western supporters to get substantial military aide that would help it achieve its goals by force.
Fast forward and despite some stunning advances on the ground by the rebels, and just weeks before March 15, on the second anniversary of the crisis, the situation in Syria is dire. More that 60,000 people have been killed and many more wounded; 700,000 Syrians are now refugees outside their country, and whole cities, towns and villages are in ruins.
But perhaps more dangerously, the conflict on the ground has hit a stalemate, indicating a lengthy, even more deadly and destructive confrontation that no side appears able to win in the short and medium terms.
In this context, Khatib’s call for dialogue with the regime is to be welcomed, especially as it seemed to garner the blessing of the main international powers whose divisions have only inflamed the crisis.
It offers a new strategy to end the crisis that seems for once to have the support of the main outside players. Some say that this strategy is even the result of direct negotiations between the main backers of the two warring sides, the United States and Russia, with the direct or indirect support of Arab supporters of the opposition and Iran, Assad’s No. 1 ally.
What is now required is that the foreign players get behind this new strategy and nudge their allies toward meaningful talks. Moscow and Tehran must get Assad to realize that his regime can’t survive this revolt in its current form with so much blood on its hands. Washington, Doha and Ankara must convince the opposition that the time has come for it to show its credentials that it can come up with a working plan to rebuild a freer, more democratic Syria.
The offer for talks could be the last chance for the opposition and the regime alike to keep at least some leverage in Syrian hands over the fate of Syria. Otherwise, foreign players will eventually find a solution that only suits their interests, and the Syrian people, who have suffered a lot thus far, would emerge as the only losers.
Thus, Khatib’s move is not the end of the game. It could be the first in a sequence that would stop the bloodletting and start the process of rebuilding Syria.
But if the opposition cannot come together with clear and united aims before going into talks, then they might as well throw in the towel before they begin.
Here is an opportunity for the Syrian opposition to attempt to take some control in a situation that has so far been played out on the world stage to the detriment of the Syrian people. They are at a crossroads, and it is up to them and the regime which way this bloody conflict goes next.