Editor’s note: Salman Shaikh is the director of the Brookings Doha Center. He previously served as special assistant to the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Salman Shaikh.
By Salman Shaikh, Special to CNN
Will Kofi Annan’s latest proposal for a political transition end the conflict in Syria? The short answer is no, not in its current form.
Syria is now, in the words of Bashar al-Assad, in a “state of war” as fighting intensifies between government forces and opposition fighters. While the diplomats have talked and talked, Syria has entered the point of no return. The effects are plain for all to see: a regime increasingly unrestrained in waging war on its own people; a militarized opposition that is more effective and less controllable; and a region, as the downing of the Turkish military plane illustrated, that is more unpredictable and combustible. It is under these conditions that Annan jettisoned Plan A, which sought to end the violence by placing unarmed U.N. observers in a war zone under the dual authority of the Syrian government and the U.N. Security Council. He now seeks to unite key international players such as Russia, the United States, China and the European Union by proposing Plan B: a Syrian national unity Cabinet that would include government and opposition members and exclude those who would undermine it. (Which is the closest Annan can get, without really saying it, that al-Assad would be excluded in the future government.)
But there is little hope among Syria’s opposition that this will work.
Leaders in the Free Syrian Army have dismissed Annan’s efforts outright as a colossal waste of time, while key figures in the Syrian National Council and other opposition groups remain highly skeptical. They are asking basic unanswered questions: What regime figures would be included in the proposed unity government? What guarantees are there that al-Assad and his family would be excluded? In conversations with those opposition figures, not one person has indicated they would be willing to join such a government. Many, however, have indicated their willingness to join such a government after al-Assad and those orchestrating the killings have been deposed.
Another unanswered question remains the position of Russia and whether it has finally turned against al-Assad. Some believe it might be doing so, especially by showing initial support for Annan’s unity government. But in recent U.S.-Russia meetings, the gap between the two countries has remained wide as Vladimir Putin flatly refuses to discuss a post-Assad scenario as a starting point for a political transition. Russia still believes a political solution can only be achieved through a Syrian-led dialogue between the regime and the opposition. By contrast, the U.S. has given its support to Annan’s idea as long as, in the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “it starts from the basic premise that Assad and his regime must give way to a new democratic Syria.”
There has been much speculation on Russia’s motivation for standing by the al-Assad regime, but the simple fact is that it is not budging — at least not yet.
With the first direct route apparently closed, there is perhaps a second that could tip the balance or at least get Moscow to engage on a post-Assad political transition in Syria.
A much less discussed aspect of the diplomatic impasse has been the ongoing difficulty of forging a credible Syrian opposition platform that binds Syria’s diverse communities and different opposition movements.
The major opposition blocs will be attending an Arab League-sponsored conference in Cairo on Monday and Tuesday to discuss a transition plan for what they consider to be al-Assad’s inevitable ouster. While there are low expectations of the meeting and the fractured Syrian opposition itself, the goal — attempting to unite — should be strongly encouraged.
In many ways, such a platform has been developing despite the continuing dysfunction and shortcomings of the Syrian National Council, which is seen as the leading opposition bloc. The Council has recently been joined by other opposition figures and groups, such as a fledgling National Bloc, in the effort against al-Assad. And the realization that the Council cannot hold sway over all of Syria’s opposition groups — and is unlikely to influence external actors such as Russia — has led to new efforts in Istanbul, Sofia and Cairo to forge a common national platform united around a common national vision.
The last few months have seen how representatives from Syria’s tribes; some of its minorities, including the leaderships of the Kurds and the Druze; the business elite; and recently exiled religious figures have sought to forge such a common national vision for a future of Syria without al-Assad. These groups have aimed to engage with the Syrian National Council and other established opposition groupings, but not to join them. All remain deeply suspicious of the control that Turkey and the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood have exerted on the opposition movement through the Council, which is based in Turkey. Instead, this diverse group has seen itself as a bridge to uniting Syrians against the al-Assad regime and articulating a vision of a modern, democratic and independent Syrian state after the regime has gone.
The international community and international mediators would do well to remember that it is these efforts to forge national unity that can best lead to a political solution in Syria. Aiming to forge a unity government with a regime that continues to bludgeon its people into submission and will not negotiate in good faith is the wrong approach.
With the situation on the ground spiraling out of control, there is no more time to waste. Faced with a genuine opposition platform and its vision for an independent, democratic Syria, Russia might also be forced to think again. Let us hope so. Only then could a successful Plan B and a political solution take hold.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Salman Shaikh.
soundoff (64 Responses)
Russia can't deal with Chechnia and other "homegrown" extremists. Russia lost to Afganistan. And now russians are like they can do it all. Come on, be real=Russia is not a power that can deal with Middle East and it is not welcomed.Can't even imagine syrians fighting shoulder to shoulder with the russians against it's neighbors. Syrians do not speak russian and russians does not speak syrian. Russians speak "want to expand my claws".
Kofi Annan is a fool to believe his gibberish. the Arab League doesn't give a darn about Syria, so why should we get involved in a civil war? Sen. McCains plan to militarily help the Syrian opposition is a huge mistake. don't Americans realise yet that we, the infidel, will be considered 'the enemy' by all parties in Syria and the middle east if we start to bomb them, a Muslim country. there is nothing we can do, directly. let those silly tribal affairs play by themselves. and many innocents will die, I know, but there is no good thing to come of this if we get involved.
What will it take??
How about every ship and service member and piece of equipment from the US military to get out of every region they are in, and come home.
How about they AWOL, or mutiny or whatever, and do this?
What do you think that would do to world leaders, tptb, etc. ways of thinking??
Blessed Be to all
This is nonsense. The battle lines are already drawn. Annan isn't going to leave power willingly and Hillary isn't going to accept anything less. Talk means nothing right now. Let them fight it out until one side prevails.
Nothing will keep Syria out of an expanding civil war – another crazy/religious country gets violent? This is surprising? It's going to happen to every single one of the middle eastern countries in the next 100 years. I wish they'd get it over with and at least attempt to join the new ways of thinking.
Syria is not our problem. It was at different times part of the Turkish and French Empires. Not the U S Empire.I live in urban USA ( Phila) and we are not safe in walking the streets of U S Cities at night. More people have been murdered this year in the good old USA than in Syria. Thats a fact.I don't usually quote those wicked books of scripture, however the bible says : what does it profit a man to gain whole world if he suffers the loss of his own soul?
The Arab League is the one that should be taking care of this issue. After all, it's Arab killing Arab in Syria. You hardly even hear mention of them related to this conflict. A bunch of spineless oil monarchs that kiss up to the US for $$$ while pretending to hate them at the same time. That's why the middle east gets no respect from the rest of the world. They blame the west for their problems, but they're the ones killing each other like they have been for the last thousand years. I hope I'm alive to see the day when the oil fields in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the armpit of civilization dry up. On that day, the world will officially stop caring about how many people are pointlessly killed in the name of Allah.
I give this conflict ninety days before all heck breaks lose in terms of a regional confrontation and a wider war.Thre are already signs that Lebanon is becoming unhinged because of this and Turkey has a formidable fighting force that just might be used to help oust the murderer who rules from Damacus, Assad.
Isn't Kofi Annan retired already? Why the heck is he involved? Not that I am against him. By the way, what does this Ban Ki-Moon guy do? Isn't he the new UN secretary? I have never seen such a UN Secretary before. He is just a disgrace. Ban Ki-Moon is not even around. It seems like he doesn't know how to engage...
We're observing that both Assad regime and opposition are arming themselves. This is U.N message to the whole world. This is making Bush people look good because now the world knows the whole world U.N is a joke.
Tell us some more!
Peace is what the wolrd needs! How can you have peace if you arm protestors?? The Free Syrian Army is a joke! They are CIA, AL Qaeda and a bunch of poor people who are given $100 and a gun to kill people so they can meet their virgins in the next life. These people have no regard for freedom or for humanity. They want this suppsed
"freedom" but they are the ones bombing the country, killing innocent women and children and then shouting Allah ou Akbar (God is Great!).......what is so great about bombing buildings? They are a bunch of rebels using the disguise of peace to terrorize the country. I've visited Syria 4 times and I never heard the term Allah ou Akbar! These mental nut job AL Qaeda terrorists left Libya, Qatar, Iraq and every other hell hole to destroy Syria. I hope to look down on them from heaven and see them in hell with their so called Virgins (the devil in disguise) that they were promised! What the UN should do is go house to house and unarm every individual and save this country from turning into IRAQ or LIBYA. Unless that is what ISRAEL wants.....a neighbor that can unleash terrorists and Islamic militancy at a moments notice. Then and only then will Israel get the green light to attack, because they were instigated by their peaceful, free Syrian Army, jihadist neighbors!!!
Syria isn't waging war on it's own people.
It is waging war on the CIA.
When Mr Shaikh states that the "militarized opposition" is "uncontrollable", this just means they are not controlled by anyone inside of Syria. They are controlled by somebody, but that somebody is at the CIA building in Virginia. That person should be arrested for murder.
The only way the National Unity Cabinet will work is if it has the approval of Mr al-Assad possibly retaining him as President.
I don't hear anything about candidates they prefer in the next election.
downing of an Iranian passenger place by USS Vincennes over Persian Gulf and awarding of that warship commander by US officials is a shameful blot on history of mankind.http://irna.ir/News/General/MP,-US-downing-of-Iranian-passenger-plane-blot-on-mankind%E2%80%99s-history/80211530
I rave, I rage, I take my pills and I feel good.
This thing and ki moon are quite ineffective !
"this thing" what thing?
This is a blogg, not a place for pontification.
my 3-year old wants to know why he's holding the mouse to his ear.
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