By BrigGen (ret) Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan Niazi
The Syrians are going through a unique trauma as the country’s leadership is presiding over a massacre of its own people for the last year. It is not for the sake of rendering sacrifices to achieve any grand Napoleonic design but just because an authoritarian ruler is ruthlessly determined to perpetuate his rule. The protesting ‘opposition’ demonstrated peacefully to begin with. The Syrian regime opted to wield the hammer and kill the flies, its own people, instead. Bashar al-Assad employed elite troops and mechanised division to flush out ‘foreign mercenaries’ from the ‘opposition’ resistance pockets, Homs and others, in the restive districts.
The intensity of disproportionate reprisal, to the verge of over-kill, mocked the huge reservoir of the majority’s patience that has lived under minority ‘Alawites’ yoke for over four decades. Perhaps driven by the wind of change that is gushing through Arabian Peninsula as well as North Africa, Syrians yearn for freedom from al-Assad’s repressive rule. Instead of respecting own peoples’ dream, they were showered upon with the barrages of deadly munitions that pierced through their mortal torsi. Homs has been depopulated when its 100,000 population was ‘cleansed’ to a few thousands. They were either killed or made to flee. UN workers recently found to their horror that the town is inhabitable.
The Syrian President is lucky as long as he can sustain himself. His survival prescription is simple but deadly. If tyranny does not work, more tyranny is the answer. He has rubbed the UN, Arab League, US and European Union’s protests on his toes. The ‘Alawites’ minority, desperately clings to al-Assad now because both have become a necessity to each other. He must have been proficient in calculus or circumstances have taught him to be so because he alienated the supportive minority in cunning ways to secure its unflinching loyalties, raising simultaneously the bogey of Islamists, even al-Qaeda, to snub some regional as well as extra-regional actors who stand aghast at the sight of almost blind alley they have come across.
Perceptional dichotomy among UN Security Council (UNSC) permanent members has enabled el-Assad to turn R2P, ‘Responsibility to Protect’, doctrine redundant. In 2001, ‘International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty’ recommendations led to R2P, which emerged finally as UNSC Resolution 1674. It encumbers the international community to act and prevent if any state is unable or unwilling to prevent mass atrocity crimes. Lack of consensus among P5 suggests that Syrian narrative of conflict is not only intricate; it is packed with several other corollary scenarios, which have been graded as existential threats. the international community thus has limited options against al-Assad’s obduracy. Thanks to the Middle East, precarious geo-politics and some of al-Assad’s allies support for him that nourish and sharpen his lust for power-gamut without any apparent sense of remorse. His allies, shedding occasional sympathy-tears on his massive blood letting that goes on incessantly, are finding it expedient to nurture their own ‘national interests’. ‘End justifies the means’ becomes their final refuge to lull their erring conscience. In other words, geo-political manoeuvres focused at the Middle East are pivoted upon several thousand innocent Syrians who have been victimised one way or another. The expense is great for the humanity to mourn but for the actors, perpetuating or abetting the genocide, it is Syrian’s ‘internal issue’…a tragic deduction. To the contrary, al-Assad struggles to rubbish the universal demand to step down or ensure transition of power to the people in democratic traditions.
As peace hinges unpredictably in the wake of brewing Middle East nuclear tangle, al-Assad finds the legitimacy leash longer to persist in cleansing the ‘foreign bandits’. He has successfully exploited the prevailing conflict scenario in the region, the stand off among P5 on certain issues of politico-military implications globally and Iran, Israel and Arab world regionally. His balancing acts are fantastic and his capacity to persecute his own people is unprecedented in an era when bloodshed and repression would have been ordinarily evitable curses. He has found an armour shield in the fault lines among the powers that run across the continents. Abundant scholarly brainstorming has gone in the Syrian conundrum but just one hypothesis emerges clear so far, i.e. the Syrian plight would exacerbate yet more before the evil gets off their back. Will it get off at all…is also an extremely complicated question?
The world generally is saturated by the Western media assumptions which al-Assad and his allies brand as a blatant intruders in internal matters of a sovereign state. In the global setting, one may grant such an understandable power play while the realist theorists of states wishing to decapitate the Syrian regime, would be painting legitimacy of their posture. Western as well regional media is indeed a powerful tool to shape the conflict contours that is simmering within Syria. One would not reject the Syrian regime’s claims out-rightly about the Western media perverting Syrian masses and the Russia Foreign Minister recently accusing the US to have manipulated UNSC over Libya and Syria, yet the Eastern hemisphere, China included, has not been able to bring forth a convincing logic that could afford el-Assad a cause to eliminate his own people. Certainly, visits by Russian and Iranian naval flotilla to Syrian ports were potent moves to let the world know how the allies are poised towards Syrian solidarity. Even then, the fault appears deeply embedded in the dynastic hold of the Syrian regime. The loss of mass support and desertions of Syrian soldiers including some senior brass in a country where democratic norms remain absent for decades, emerge as potent factors to disarm al-Assad of his dialectic of counter arguments. If he wants to recapture some grace, he could opt to lose like a defiant boxer who fought through all rounds but lost on points with narrow margin. Yemeni President calling ‘quits’ is a recent model, he could emulate.
However, Bashar al-Assad is adrift to the precipice, which is every despot’s destination. He pretends, not registering the end-time of Moamer al-Gaddafi whom huge stashes of gold could not buy mercy when he desperately implored to be spared of the wrath of the revengeful mob. Similarly, he would loath to see the caged Egyptian tyrant when the government prosecutor demanded death penalty for him during the trial. Taking him further back in the history, Czar Paul-I would summarily execute his soldiers for a missing button on the uniform and boast about ‘ennobling’ them when the emperor spoke to them. Once his murderers approached him, the mighty Czar attempted to sneak into a chimney to ‘ennoble’ it but was pulled back and butchered. There is a long history of tyrants that were consumed by guilt gradually but consistently. Most of them behaved like neurotics and wished for death if it did not come because conscience would sting them incessantly. Bashar al-Assad’s expression-less face, despite mass murders, bears strong indicators that he is headed for the similar end game, which is the destiny of all despots. While he may persevere in his atrocious pursuits for a while, the world knows, what ultimately lies for him in the store—of course, an agonising death if he fails to see clear writing on the wall.
BrigGen (ret) Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan Niazi has military experience of about 32 years and is from the Regiment of Artillery. Recipient of sitara-e-imtiaz (military), he served on various command, staff, instructional, administration, operational, research and evaluation appointments during his career.