Douglas Alexander: We must plan a bloodless, post-Assad future
As the Syrian regime’s grip on power weakens, work should start now to bring about a sustainable end to violence, writes Douglas Alexander
As the bullets fly and the shells fall, a post-Assad Syria must feel like no more than a distant hope for the people of Aleppo. But although his exit is necessary for peace, it is no guarantee of an end to the violence.
That is why the international community must today begin the work of planning for tomorrow – otherwise we risk the end of the battle in Aleppo marking simply the start of yet another war.
The dynamics on the ground in Syria are shifting fast.
In recent weeks, the pillars of the Syrian regime have been rocked to their foundations.
The regime still retains much of its military capability and continues to deploy it with brutal force.
But the breaching of its central stronghold of Damascus has left it more exposed than ever.
And its political core is simultaneously being hollowed out by a series of high level defections and assassinations.
Only this week the Syrian Charge d’affaires in London defected and sought asylum in the UK.
In Syria, most recent estimates suggest that this month alone defections from the army have reached over a hundred soldiers per week, and has now gone beyond conscripts and mid-level officers, to generals and colonels.
Recent defections are particularly significant because they comprised some of the few token Sunni generals in the upper echelons of the military.
And as the country continues to fracture, a majority Sunni army commanded by almost exclusively Alawaite generals will be ever more vulnerable to disintegration on ethnic lines.
While Assad’s stranglehold appears to be weakening, the Syrian opposition forces have shown strength and resilience in the face of sustained and brutal attack.
They are now not only proving able to hold their own, but they have also shown they can take the fight to Damascus and to the very heart of the regime.
Assad’s narrowing base of support, although for now still strong enough to sustain him, means there is today a real possibility of sudden and unpredictable collapse in Syria.
That is why it is crucial that as well as maintaining diplomatic pressure for an immediate end to the conflict, the international community must now focus on planning for all the risks confronting a post-Assad Syria.
There are practical steps that must now be taken to ensure that when at last the violence stops, the conditions for stabilisation are in place.
Firstly, the international community must invest today in seeking to unite and strengthen the leadership of the opposition forces so that they are prepared for the perilous task of governing a fractured nation.
One option would be to seek to broker agreement around a single representative working on behalf of the currently divided Syrian opposition to encourage co-operation in advance of any possible political transition process.
The recent meeting in Qatar of the competing opposition factions was a welcome step forward.
However, the Arab League and the whole international community should not just be supporting, but leading efforts to set up this transitional leadership.
Secondly, the humanitarian and refugee crisis caused by 18 months of conflict needs to be addressed in a co-ordinated and comprehensive manner.
The UN is already doing vital work in neighbouring Turkey and Jordan, but the scale of fighting suggests the challenges will only grow in the weeks ahead.
Thirdly, if there is to be a hope of political reconciliation after the bloodshed ends, the people in post-Assad Syria must see justice being done.
That is why it is vital that the international community continues to disseminate credible information about the regime’s atrocities and the identities of those responsible.
We should now be taking the specific steps necessary for bringing the architects of Syria’s well-documented massacres to face international justice.
Through documenting, recording and publishing the facts, the international community can ensure that when the time comes, the guilty are found and convicted.
Fourthly, now is the time to begin convening allies and partners to co-ordinate the steps set out above and agree a united and joined up approach to post-conflict planning.
One option would be to convene an EU-Arab League conference now to prepare for post conflict scenarios and ensure that the international community gets ahead of the curve, not behind it.
However, talk of building the peace must not obscure from us the dangers of continuing conflict and we must continue to do all we can to bring the violence to an end.
The longer the violence continues, the greater the risk of a rise in jihadism on the one hand, and of sectarianism on the other, making a sustainable resolution to the conflict even harder to achieve.
That is why, fifthly, the difficult work must continue to persuade Russia and China to change course and support a UN Resolution enforcing sanctions on Syria and signing up to a global arms embargo.
Their decision to veto the latest UN Security Council Resolution didn’t just put them on the wrong side of Arab opinion, it put them on the wrong side of history.
History is today being written in blood on the streets of Damascus, Aleppo and Hama.
But the bloodshed will not stop with the fall of Assad unless the international community starts to work now to secure a stable post-Assad future for Syria.
• Douglas Alexander MP is shadow foreign secretary
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West