THE haunting, heartbreaking video of Omran, posted by the Aleppo Media Centre, has been making rounds on social media. The clip shows a civil defence worker carrying a little boy to an ambulance. His shirt is covered in dust, the left side of his face is bloody. He is silent despite the discord around him. He wipes his hand over his wounded face, looks at the blood, and wipes it off on the chair. He stares and the world stares right back.
The past several years have seen a flood of horrific photos from the war in Syria: starving children, wounded civilians, mourning crowds, devastated cities, the many dead. But this tiny moment in Aleppo has resonated in a new way. To a fortunate many, war is an abstraction and the suffering it brings, though easy to understand, is hard to truly imagine. On the flip side, the story of Omran shows what it looks like to be lucky in Syria. This is nothing new for Syrians; resolution after resolution and statement after statement has brought no light to end this years old conflict. Even though the United Nations admits that starvation is, mostly, “systematically” deployed by government forces against civilians; but actions do not follow words. Only void stomachs, underweight children, and empty food convoys are what Syrians have to look forward to.
Could this have been avoided in the first place? French philosopher and media personality, Bernard-Henri Levy seems to think so. He is of opinion that had world intervened from day one all present bloodshed could have been avoided. There are two ways to end a war- militarily or through diplomacy. Former should only be enforced when all other options have been tried and exhausted because even though arming people on ground is a solution, but one which holds dire consequences.
The principal external stakeholders —Iran and Russia in the Assad regime’s camp, the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the side of the opposition should recognise that their adversaries are not going to signal the white flag any time soon and so they should begin the arduous task of outlining an ultimate geopolitical resolution to end this war. Given the extent of their influence on the ground, both Iran and Russia need to be made part of these discussions as well.
The conflict’s Syrian sponsors are too petulant and invested in the status quo to shift towards a political resolution. Their respective supporters are better positioned to change tangent since they share a strategic interest in ending a war that is only endorsing and deepening radicalisation on both sides of the region’s already deep political and sectarian divides. It is high time that these state backers should set aside their wishful thinking and aim for a sustainable political resolution. Moreover, to dampen threats of home-grown jihadism and desperate immigration and not stir community divisions, European govts should apply a one foreign policy lever.
The aim is to find a sustainable resolution that incorporates preservation and reform of state institutions; guarantees security for all communities; empowers locals to play a lead role in their own protection; and delineates responsibilities through constitutional provisions. If each country collectively focuses on improving coordination with each other, they should be able to pressure Syrian and also be able to offer incentives for pragmatic political engagement and respect for local civil society. They should also simultaneously punish indiscriminate tactics, criminal behaviour and the widespread sectarian rhetoric.
Priorities should include pressuring Damascus to allow humanitarian access to assaulted areas. Furthermore, administrative hurdles obstructing aid delivery elsewhere need to be removed. There is also a need for creative approaches to end the massive education crisis, with more than two million Syrian children out of school; increase funds to address shortfalls in UN refugee-support programs; and increase development aid to neighbouring countries which are bearing the burdens of the refugee crisis. There are no more excuses left. War has to be halted and violence needs to stop.
Once the conflict’s endgame outline is clear, the hard work of building the security and constitutional framework of the new Syria can begin. How many mass graves need to be dug before the international community is sufficiently jolted out of their stupor.
— The writer is Research Fellow, Institute of Strategic Studies, a think-bank based in Islamabad.