No Alternative for Resolution 2254 in Syria
No Alternative for Resolution 2254 in Syria
There is an increased feeling, including amongst Syrians, that the international community has conceded that a political settlement in Syria is frozen in its tracks. That such a settlement will only be possible when: the US and Russia agree on how to cooperate in the region, the US and Iran reach a modus vivendi, the Arabs decide to take a collective initiative, until Turkey and the Arab countries reach an understanding on how to balance their respective interests. If that is the case, then we may have to wait for quite some time. But there may still be a way to move ahead on Syria. Borrowing an expression from American football, call it a “ Hail Mary pass”. The international community, particularly the key players involved in Syria, should reverse the argument and, consider the idea that agreeing on Syria may contribute to resolving some of the above problems, particularly those that relate to region but also between the US and Iran. The way is to make a determined effort to actively and speedily engage in the creative implementation of UNSCR 2254 on Syria.
History has a checkered past when it comes to the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions. Some resolutions have been implemented and even those not necessarily in the sequence envisaged in the resolution or within the foreseen timeframe. While others have not been implemented at all. In the Middle East the implementation record is the worst amongst all regions. This largely explains why Arabs have been despondent about the Security Council.
In which category resolution 2254 will fall remains to be seen. But there is still hope that it can be implemented. Maybe not in the sequence contained by the resolution, and certainly not in the timeframe envisaged in the resolution. But all is not lost. The core objective can be met: The Syrian people can still realize their aspirations in deciding their future through free and fair elections administered under the supervision of the United Nations.
Resolution 2254 contains the framework for a political settlement in Syria: a ceasefire in parallel with negotiations, producing new governance, then a new constitution, and finally elections. The political process would unfold in an environment where hostilities come to an end but terrorism is effectively addressed, humanitarian assistance is delivered to all who are in need, detainees and abductees are released and, reconstruction starts and refugees are able to return.
Fighting has quieted down in most parts of Syria. Arrangements need to be worked out in Idlib and northeast Syria to bring about a nationwide ceasefire. But that may not be necessary. The resolution speaks of negotiations in parallel with ceasefire efforts.
On the critical issue of governance, I have always maintained that the most logical formula has always been power-sharing between the government and the opposition. Regrettably, this has never been seriously explored by the Syrian parties. The opposition never really entertained anything but a transitional governing body that would, in essence, remove the government. The government’s concept of power-sharing did not go far enough. There is still a chance that the Constitutional Committee may come up with an acceptable formula.
Now that there are no more besieged areas and those that are hard to reach are areas beyond government control in border areas. They are caught in the tug of war between those who insist on cross- border access and the government that insists that assistance should be channeled through Damascus. This also can be worked out within a comprehensive package of measures to jump-start the implementation of resolution 2254.
]With regard to confidence-building measures, much more needs to be done. The Astana process produced paltry progress on the matter of the release of detainees held by the government and abductees held by the opposition. Only a few dozens have been released from both sides.
To effectively address terrorism, its root causes have to be dealt with. This is a long and complicated process. What should be of immediate concern to the international community, is to put an end to external support of terrorists inside Syria. In this regard, UNSCRs 2170 and 2178 of August and September 2014 respectively need to be scrupulously implemented. This can start in Idlib.
The process of constitutional reform has started with the establishment of the CC, which now has an agreed agenda. Given that presidential elections are foreseen for 2021, the CC needs to conclude its work in time for these elections to take place. The understanding should be that elections, both presidential and parliamentary, take place concurrently after the constitutional reform process is concluded at an agreed date to allow for elections to take place in 2021.
While there has been uneven implementation of resolution 2254, where there has been no movement whatsoever is the matter of elections. According to the resolution, elections are to take place on the basis of a new constitution and are to be administered under the supervision of the UN and where all Syrians eligible to vote, including the diaspora would participate. Whereas the resolution speaks of a new constitution, the terms of reference of the CC leaves open the door to either an amended or a new constitution.
Elections administered under the supervision of the UN, requires much preparation and that needs time. First, there needs to be agreement on what “ elections administered under the supervision of the UN” precisely means in the Syrian case. The UN has no single template. There are however standards to which the UN adheres. The government and the UN need to agree to a formula.
Also, the issue of the diaspora should be resolved. There are millions of Syrians living abroad, the vast majority of which not by choice. How they will be registered and where they would vote is also a critical matter. The government will no doubt insist that the process of registration be its responsibility, but may accept UN involvement. But more importantly that they have to vote on sovereign Syrian soil, i .e. inside Syria in areas under government control, or at Syrian embassies abroad. Most of these refugees would probably object. A compromise needs to be worked out to ensure that they exercise their free will, but also respects Syria’s sovereignty. The UN should engage the government immediately on this matter.
Another critical step to ensure that elections are free and fair is the credibility of the voter rosters. Compiling such lists, especially in view of the developments in Syria since 2011, require much time and therefore needs to start without delay.
To move things forward we need progress in the CC and starting preparations for elections.
This is only possible if the government has an incentive to shift to a higher gear its cooperation with the UN. Reconstruction assistance may provide the required incentive. This is all the more urgent given the rapidly deteriorating economy.
So here comes the idea of a package which would include the following elements: the constitutional reform process must conclude by a given date to allow for elections to take place in 2021, the release of detainees and abductees, tangible movement on the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions on combating terrorism, the return of refugees, expeditious engagement on the preparation for elections and last but not least an agreement on reconstruction. There also needs to be an arrangement that ensures humanitarian assistance is available to all Syrians in need, regardless of where they reside.
The agreement on reconstruction, as I have argued in a previous article, would be based on an incremental incentives-based approach – a progressive lifting of sanctions, gradual normalization of relations with Europe and Arab countries and, a staggered disbursement of reconstruction funds, in exchange Damascus would undertake confidence-building steps (release of detainees, easing military conscription, facilitating the return of the displaced, etc,.... ) and above all political and economic reforms that would allow for free and fair elections.
I do not see an alternative that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people but the creative implementation of resolution 2254. The UN Security Council and the regional states need to put their differences aside and renew their commitment to the speedy implementation of the resolution.
I realize that there are those who will argue that a policy of continued economic pressure on Damascus will open the door to political change in Syria. There is not one example where sanctions brought about the desired political change. On the contrary, they only led to the increased misery of the people that are supposed to be saved.
This is clearly an enormous challenge fraught with colossal risks. But the alternative is much worse. A broken Syria. The proud Syrian people would be destined, for years, if not decades, to live in insecurity, injustice, poverty, and misery. Instead of having a positive impact on the future of the region, Syria would be a continuous source of instability.
The government and the international community need to make the choice.