The United States and Russia are backing a cessation of hostilities agreement in war-torn Syria which has been accepted by most of the parties involved in the conflict. This is the second ceasefire plan recently which calls on the warring parties to stop fighting but specifically excludes the Islamic State and the Al Qaeda franchise Al Nusra Front.
There are many expectations from this agreement as Russia and America have agreed to act as direct guarantors and monitors of the cessation of hostilities. The agreement states those who violate the ceasefire will be reported via hotline to a special task force co-chaired by America and Russia, which will then have the power to determine that a group can no longer be deemed party to the agreement, and so once again opens said party to military attack.
This assurance from two global superpowers has raised the hope for success of this agreement between the warring parties and the Syrian government. Moreover, this agreement endorsed by both the U.S. and Russia states that.
All opposition groups signing up to the ceasefire will not only cease to use weapons or to gain territory, but also allow, “rapid, safe, and unhindered” access to humanitarian convoys in areas under their control. If this is implemented well on the ground, it will act as the major relief and lifeline for Syrian civilians trapped in the besieged areas.
If well-monitored and adhered to, this agreement will not only lead to a decline in violence, but also support a political transition to a government that is responsive to the desires of the Syrian people.
Yet questions have still been raised on this agreement. Some Syrian opposition forces said the exclusion from the agreement of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front was problematic because it could be used as a pretext for attacks on rebel groups and civilians in opposition-held areas. It was pointed out that al-Nusra is not only present in Idlib, but also in Aleppo, in Damascus, and in the South in association with moderate rebel forces.
To avoid these kind of attacks from the Syrian government, the moderate opposition should completely alienate themselves from Nusra Front. The Syrian moderate opposition has to understand that being a partner with Nusra Front, even on limited fronts, will harm their credibility and image. Therefore, this is the best time to abandon Nusra.
The Syrian conflict is on the verge of resembling a mini-World War III. Since World War I, never have as many actors with rival agendas and operations been involved in a conflict as they are in that of Syria. If this conflict is not contained and resolved soon, it carries the potential to result in direct military clashes, either by accident or by design, between some of the main regional and international actors, with horrendous global ramifications.
Moreover, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently said it would be hard to hold the country together if the fighting did not stop.
So every party involved in the conflict has to understand that there is no military solution and only one thing can work: talks and negotiations. The first thing which is required for any meaningful dialogue which can lead to any kind of political solution is cessation of fighting on the ground.
This cessation of hostilities will also closely affect Syria’s neighbors, most notably Turkey. The Kurdistan Worker’s Party armed wing YPG has announced that it will abide by the cessation of hostilities. Turkey, as a member of the International Syria Support Group, is also expected to buy into and abide by the cessation of hostilities. This agreement can also bring about a drop of violence between Turkey and Syrian Kurds, groups that have recently experienced conflict after Turkey’s airstrikes on YPG.
Another element to take into consideration is that a key part of the agreement is full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which states “including the readiness to participate in the UN-facilitated political negotiation process”. The resolution calls for the government and the opposition to start formal negotiations on a political transition aimed at establishing “a credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance”. This agreement is the first step in the direction of formal peace talks.
Members of the 17-nation group backing Syria’s peace process are to meet in Geneva Friday to work out further details of the agreement, which is then expected to be endorsed by the UN Security Council. There are hopes a successful ceasefire will lead to the resumption of peace talks that collapsed in Geneva earlier this month.
Immediately following the formal ceasefire, the United Nations will convene all of the Syrian factions that accepted the plan to begin negotiating on the future of a unified Syrian state. Then a comprehensive political framework can be worked out. One that includes a reform of Syrian institutions, the formation of a new government, the identification of “terrorist groups” and a plan for elections.
At this point, almost any peace plan would be better than the current war. Every proposal is not without its challenges, downsides or risks. But it would be far better than the status quo and more practical than any of the other alternatives. This agreement paved the way for a more durable ceasefire and resumption of peace talks which can lead to a better future for Syria and its people.