Saturday, 22 September 2012

Afghan ills in the Syrian revolution

By Jamal Khashoggi
The author is a leading Saudi media figure who served as media aide to Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud while he was ambassador to the United Kingdom and to the United States. He was named by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud to head his upcoming AlArab TV news channel. Khashoggi wrote this think piece in Arabic for today’s edition of pan-Arab al-Hayat.

By Syrian artist Wissam Al Jazairy
Gloom regarding the Syria crisis is justified. Preparing for the worse is also warranted.
When international troubleshooter for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi chooses to forsake his main peacemaking task to visit refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, it means he has no idea what to do.
He wants to seem active until God wills the predestined.
Likewise, when Saudi Arabia stays away from the foreign ministers’ meeting of the regional quartet (composed of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran) that was proposed by Egypt to solve the Syria crisis, it means the kingdom has lost hope.
If the quartet’s objective is to change Iran’s stance, chances of this happening are nil.
Iran is in Bashar’s boat, even at the price of sinking with him.
If the quartet’s purpose is to find a solution to the Syria crisis, how can Iran deliver a humdinger that escaped the 100-nation Friends of Syria, the Arab League and the United Nations?
The mere existence of this quartet is cause for pessimism.
The Egyptians and Turks now know the quartet is doomed, not because Saudi Arabia opted out but because of Iran’s shenanigans.
For instance, the commander-in-chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said members of his elite force are in Syria to provide non-military assistance. He also said Iran won’t intervene militarily in Syria to help the regime.
An official Iranian spokesperson later denied the remarks, saying Tehran would not allow the so-called “axis of resistance” – of which Syria is an essential pillar – to fall.
Basically, you don’t know what the Iranians are denying or confirming.
They insolently announced in Cairo a Syria ceasefire. They made it conditional on cutting off assistance to the opposition and launching a dialogue leading to “reform and consolidation of democracy” in Syria.
So long as we are unto a long-lasting battle, it is worthwhile to draw some parallels between the situation in Syria and the Afghan jihad.
The situation in Syria and the Afghan jihad are becoming ever more comparable by the day.
The Syrians hate such a comparison for obvious reasons.
They dread the “Afghanization” of their country and their struggle.
Counting the 10 years of Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupation, another two years of fighting against the Kabul government left in place by the Soviets and the subsequent years of civil war until this day, you arrive at a total of 33 years of hardships.
The Syrian revolution is only one-and-a-half years old and there seems little hope of it ending soon.
Conflicts among militias can last years. We had a precedent in Lebanon.
We see the Free Syrian Army gaining control of the Salahuddin neighborhood in Aleppo, then losing it, then recapturing it.
That’s how militia wars go.
At the same time, the weight of militia numbers alarms backers, making them deny the militias indispensable weapons.  
For instance, the militias need man-portable air-defense systems or MANPADS to challenge the regime’s air power, which is killing far more civilians than rebels.
U.S. fears of weapons falling into the wrong hands, for instance, hampered delivery to the rebels of some 100 MANPADS contributed by Gulf countries.
The Americans want to see specific controls in place before the weapons get forwarded to the insurgents.
But putting such controls in place is impossible in a country where security has totally collapsed, which is the trademark of all armed revolutions.
Strategists turn naïve or dreamers on occasion. They overlook the merit of past experience. A look at their old files would show the Afghan jihad tribulations that are now manifest in Syria:
### Every attempt to unify the rebels will give rise to a new organization. Some members of the old Free Syrian Army would refuse to integrate with the new Syrian National Army, consequently undermining both organizations and their respective brigades. International backers would then be at a loss as to which of the two is a safe bet.
### Unlike the French, the Syrians can’t agree on a Charles de Gaulle. They are more like the Afghans if not worse. They all think they are leaders.
### Information from inside Syria is consistently contradictor and mostly exaggerated, especially on matters of money and the apportionment of arms.
### A media savvy group is not necessarily the more active on the ground. A group with more video footage on You Tube does not mean it is the strongest.
### Middlemen claiming to know the playing field well do know their contacts thoroughly. But they are totally ignorant of the rest. As a result, they would channel assistance to their contacts, bypassing those they don’t know. The donor country using the middleman is immediately accused of bias and of dividing rebel ranks, if not of conspiring against the revolution.
### The revolution is for honorable men and women and freedom lovers. But it is also an arena for opportunists, dealers, turncoats and even criminals.
### The idea of unifying rebel ranks inside Syria, though overly utopian, should be pursued, since opening a door halfway is better than keeping it shut. At a minimum, coordination would suffice and is achievable thanks to the (non-lethal) equipment (such as encrypted radios and satellite imagery) provided by the Americans and the French. The difficulty in unifying the rebels lies in their variegated provenance. Army defectors come from diverse units at various times. Civilians come from all walks of life and include students, laborers and farmers. Some are religious, others not. Some are politicized, others are not interested in politics, their sole aim being to get rid of the regime. It will always be difficult to group everyone under a single command and control center.
### Don’t believe whoever says the Muslim Brotherhood is the largest faction inside Syria. Don’t believe either whoever says the opposite. The Brotherhood’s political weight can only be known after free and transparent elections are held in Syria. But no state should withhold assistance to the Syrian revolution pending an answer to this $64,000 question.
### “One Address” (with which to coordinate with the Syrian revolution) won’t attract cash and assistance to all sides. Previous experience shows that creation of “One Address” is impossible.
The Syrian revolution has succeeded so far in shutting out al-Qaeda. Even the hard line Salafist groups funded by non-government Gulfites refused to be lured into expressing empathy for al-Qaeda.
At the same time, prolongation of the crisis is exasperating Syrians, as evidenced by their pelting of Brahimi’s motorcade with stones during his visit to a Syrian refugee camp.
After mulling over the regime’s brutality and the free world’s indifference, the Syrian people have come to equate diplomacy with procrastination.
The Syrian people are increasingly convinced that the world has let them down.
Their anger and the aforementioned Afghan ills could open the door to the sort of extremism that outside intelligence and military agencies are trying to forestall.
But their quest has made them reluctant to take action and supply weapons that would settle the battle. In a way, they are shunning something they created by their own hesitation and deferment.