United Nations envoy Kofi Annan’s ceasefire deadline has come and gone, but the fighting in Syria has only slowed down. Bashar al-Assad’s government resumed its shelling of Homs almost at once and is now allegedly using attack helicopters, as well.
“What cease-fire?” the Wall Street Journal quotes an activist saying. “There's an explosion every five to six minutes.”
Diplomacy won’t end the conflict, but Kofi Annan has no other tools in his box. As the old saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
The regime and the opposition are locked in a death struggle. If Assad loses, he’ll be driven into exile or lynched like Qaddafi. His minority Alawite sect may suffer brutal reprisals for the crimes of his government, not only the current mass murder, but also the decades of totalitarian rule that preceded it. If the opposition loses, its supporters and fighters will be shot, forced into exile, buried in prison, or tortured to death.
When two people are locked in a death struggle, there are generally only three ways it can end. One can kill the other. A third party can kill one or the other. Or a third party can use physical force to stop both from fighting.
Long-term ceasefires can work sometimes, however. Israel and Hezbollah agreed to one in 2006 despite the fact that none of the outstanding issues have been resolved. This was only possible, though, because Israel and Hezbollah have their own territories. They can both stay in their corners and sharpen their knives for the next round. Assad and the opposition are fighting for the same ground. The Free Syrian Army has nowhere it can retreat to without being destroyed.
Syrian opposition members have an alternative plan now that the UN’s is failing. And they understand perfectly well what I just said.
The plan has six points, like Annan’s, although theirs are more serious: arm the local resistance; establish a safe haven and provide aerial support to the local resistance; increase diplomatic pressures; encourage defections by top officials by providing a series of conditional amnesties with specific start and end dates; identify countries that can provide future peacekeepers to be immediately sent to liberated territories to ensure stabilization and prevent potential retributions; and support ongoing efforts by opposition groups in regard to transition planning and capacity building for the transition period.
The conflict might not even stop if Assad falls tomorrow. I recently had coffee with a Syrian Kurd in Tunis who said his community, which makes up roughly ten percent of the country, is no longer even thinking about Bashar al-Assad. They’re all but certain he’s doomed. Instead, he said, they’re preparing themselves for the next stage of the war.