No ‘Humanitarian Pause’

Syria is ‘‘hell on earth’’. So said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres the other day. He was explaining the present Syrian situation after renewed bombing by the Assad regime. Antonio Guterres asked global leaders, rather ‘Players’, to step up humanitarian efforts otherwise it would be too late to avoid the human catastrophe in Syria. Syrians now have the worst of everything. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a daily ‘humanitarian pause’ in fighting in Eastern Ghouta enclave which is supposed to be a stronghold of ‘Free Syria’ rebels. But nobody is listening. At least Putin’s client Assad shows no inclination to obey his master’s order. Ghouta came under intense bombing by the Syrian government forces with Russian backing for over a week, leading to more than 540 deaths, all civilians and massive destruction of houses and infrastructural facilities. For UN Secretary General it is the most difficult job to resolve the Syrian crisis though he had relative success during his first year in office in clinching a peace deal in Gambia. After all Syria is not Gambia. Nor is it a simple two-party matter to be negotiated between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides under the UN auspices. Guterres’s appeal to world leaders makes little sense to people like Trump, threatening most of the values enshrined in the UN charter.

The UN Secretary General can hardly change the course of history by himself. He is the symbol of the United Nations and a spokesman for the interests of the world’s people. The Secretary General can bring to the attention of the Security Council matters that he thinks might endanger international peace and security. He can also hold meeting with world leaders and attend sessions of United Nations bodies. He is also expected to use the so-called ‘‘good offices’’ to prevent disputes from arising or escalating. However, he cannot impose his will on governments. He is a ‘‘toothless’’ tiger.

Guterres demanded the immediate implementation of 30-day ceasefire in Syria as the Assad administration continued its deadly bombardment of the rebel held Eastern Ghouta. And the Security Council adopted a resolution calling for the truce. But what is the utility of Security Council Resolutions if they remain unimplemented.

Moscow, however, dismissed the allegation of chemical attack by the Assad government forces as baseless. The Russians look too innocuous to defend their case. Addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN Human Rights chief Ra’ad Al Hussein said that Syria—and other conflict zones—had ‘‘become some of the most prolific slaughter-houses of humans in recent times’’. More than 340,000 people have been killed across Syria since its civil war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests. As per the ‘Syria Civil Defence’ about 393,000 civilians are trapped in the recent flare-up.

Truce or no truce, seven years of failure to stop the war means seven years of unremitting frightful mass killing. There is every reason to believe that a power-sharing interim arrangement between Assad and Syrian Rebels is next to impossible. The crux of the problem lies elsewhere. It is upto Trump and Putin to vote any peace resolution. It is up to them to maintain peace and stability, as well as adopting a workable solution to the Syrian crisis. In other words an immediate end to the bombing and sieges of Free Syrians in East Ghouta, Idlib and other opposition-occupied areas is not in sight. The Vladimir Putin-led negotiations at Sochi to entrench Bashar al-Assad’s rule failed to evoke positive international response. Syrians living abroad, particularly in America, rejected it as farce. A whole host of spectres is haunting Syria. Reaction feeds upon reaction.

Taking advantage of escalated Syrian bombing Turkey sent special forces into the Syrian territory of Afrin to revamp its operation against a Kurdish militia. The Syrian puzzle is becoming more complex with too many anti-Assad stake-holders, all owing allegiance to the Uncle Sam, working at cross purposes. Turkey on January 20 started a military offensive supporting Syrian rebels against the US-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in the western enclave of Afrin. Ankara actually views the YPG as a ‘‘terrorist’’ Syrian extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has been fighting the Turkish authorities for long demanding among other things right to self-determination.

People around the world still know very little about how the Kurdish people are being persecuted for decades in a number of countries, mainly Iraq, Iran and Turkey. They are denied basic civil rights. They are barred from speaking their own mother tongue. The armed campaign by the Kurdish insurgents for a homeland of the their own is a prolonged one—it’s a long story. Theirs is perhaps the oldest protracted people’s war in the region for a statehood which is being refused for no valid reasons, to a legitimate people. Even when communists and socialists were active in Iraq, Iran and Turkey, they didn’t support the Kurdish people’s right to self-determination. Even today the clandestine Marxist organisations operating in Turkey and elsewhere do not bother about the plight of Kurdish people and their nationality question. Ironically, the Kurdish semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq is a by-product of American invasion of Iraq.

The hard reality is that nowhere in the world communists support the issue of right to self-determination of ethnic minorities and small nationalities any more. In India, not a single communist outfit—revisionist, euro-centric or otherwise, supports the demand of self-determination of ethnic communities. Even if they do, they do it casually, knowing full well that they would never fight for it. Even they are averse to the idea of some kind of autonomous set-up with special powers. So Kashmir and North East remain boiling points.

As for the Kurdish issue, autocrats and elected democrats are on the same wave length when it is the question of denying legitimate rights to the Kurdish people. The Kurds are fiercely independence-minded like the Afghans. They have been fighting for decades to establish their case and only recently, they are getting some international attention, thanks to Iraq war. Peace initiatives are discussed in air-conditioned chamber of UN. Not many people are taking to the streets to resolutely say ‘no’ to war. Sporadic protest as it happened recently in Pakistan’s Lahore where students of Punjab University made huge rallies against ‘brutality in Syria’ is no serious message to the merchants of death. No, not even sporadic protest against medieval barbarism is happening in India. Anti-war movement is the need of the hour to stop genocide in Syria.

Vol. 50, No.36, Mar 11 - 17, 2018