The war parallels of Syria and Bosnia

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi
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The Bosnian war lasted for four cruel years of killing, bombing, massacres, systematic rape of women, destruction of historic cities, genocide, and forced migrations.

The similarities with the war in Syria are quite clear. Throughout this time, the boring and procrastinating diplomatic process that aims at reaching a peaceful resolution had never stopped for a moment.

Jamal Khashoggi

The similarities with the war in Syria are quite clear. Throughout this time, the boring and procrastinating diplomatic process that aims at reaching a peaceful resolution had never stopped for a moment. Meetings were held by Americans and Europeans on one hand and by Russians who supported the Serbian side and justified its actions (history repeats itself in Syria) on the other hand. In the meantime and through secret channels, Saudis, Turks, Malaysians, and the Sudanese, even Iranians, were sending weapons to their brethren in Bosnia.


Every day there was a new story in the media: the famous Sarajevo market massacre, the siege of Mostar and the destruction of its famous bridge, a meeting in Washington or Vienna, threats to refer Serbian leaderships to the International Criminal Court, an arms embargo on all parties, Arab fighters talk columnists in European newspapers into warning from the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic state in the heart of Europe, Neo-Nazis from Germany and Sweden join the Croatians in their war against Muslims in the beginning of the conflict then later admit they took part in massacres (compare to the role of Hezbollah and Shiite fundamentalists in supporting the Syrian regime).

Weaker parties

At times, there was hope that the crises could be resolved and this usually followed a meeting between the foreign ministers of the then nascent Russian Federation and the United States. But soon these hopes would dissipate. All Europeans showed they cared and even sent peace-keeping forces, but they avoided a confrontation with Serbia even as massive massacres took place under their noses. The Muslims of Bosnia were the weaker party, so Croatians, who actually hate Serbs, entered an alliance against them in order to annex parts of their land to their emerging state. But the perseverance of Muslims earned them the respect of the Western world which would have accepted the division of Bosnia between Serbs and Croats had its people not displayed such determination despite the fact that they almost stood no chance. This is the same world that had been willing to welcome back Bashar al-Assad had he defeated his people in the summer of 2011.

Now there seems to be a decisive moment in the horizon of the conflict. The two superpowers agreed on the necessity to reach a peaceful resolution, so they started putting pressure on the regime to form a negotiating team that the opposition would accept. Then they would force the opposition to accept it. Who is willing to bet that such an attempt might succeed? Let us assume that the Syrian opposition is not divided or that it reluctantly agreed to delegate its leader Moaz al-Khatib, whose popularity keeps increasing because of his honesty and readiness to lead, to head its team in Moscow-based negotiations in order to treat Russia’s rampant inferiority complexes. He would sit in front of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and advisor to the Syrian president Bothaina Shaaban, while another two have to be present to represent the octopus-like security apparatus in Syria and both have to be Alawites. Khatib, on the other hand, will be accompanied by leaders of the Free Syrian Army from inside as well as representatives of minorities like Alawites and Christians who are already part of the coalition. The Muslim Brotherhood will not insist on being represented, for their bet is on the domestic level and on the future. To demonstrate the seriousness of the International Committee, American and Russian foreign ministers would have to sit at the head of the table and between them the secretary general of the Arab League and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

Capable of surviving without violence?

The first item would of course be a ceasefire. The opposition would agree, but members of the regime’s delegation would start arguing as if they were in a TV interview. One of them would say that the state is the legitimate party responsible for the security of its people and that they would agree to a ceasefire, but would reserve the right to respond in case state establishments or citizens are subjected to attacks by “armed gangs.” At that moment, U.S. Secretary of State would yell that it is the Syrian regime that kills and that the delegation is there as a party to the conflict not as representatives of the state. He would add that the implementation of the ceasefire would be monitored by a team on the ground and through satellites to determine which party violates it. Kerry would have agreed about that with his Russian counterpart prior to the meeting so that they do not argue on camera. There is no point in a ceasefire agreement without a U.N. sponsored mechanism to monitor it and punish its violators. This should include air strikes and Scud attacks before alley wars that are hard to control.

The regime’s delegation knows that agreeing on a ceasefire warranted through a Security Council resolution constitutes the end of the regime because at this point they would have to move to the second item on the agenda: the procedures of transferring power to a transitional government. The regime lives on violence and will never survive without it and it is aware of that.

A peaceful resolution will benefit the opposition, not the regime. The moment tanks and missiles stop their attacks and snipers halt their activities in revolutionary cities, another popular uprising will erupt even in areas that are still under the control of the regime. The Arab Spring will even reach Damascus which now seems loyal to the regime. We saw these revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen. They are popular revolutions that have no leaders. Revolutionaries can head to security headquarters and burn them down or to the presidential place where they stage a sit-in and yell at the president, if he is still there and unable to see the entire picture, “Go away! Go away!”

Regional despair

Can the sectarian Syrian army that has no scruples about killing suddenly turn after a peace agreement into the Egyptian army whose officers embraced children and allowed protestors to take pictures while mounting their tanks? I doubt it. I doubt that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would agree to a ceasefire resolution through the Security Council and the ceasefire would never be effective without international guarantees under the seventh article.

Therefore, the war will go on and it is now spilling outside Syria to Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey. Last week, Turkey carried out a special operation inside Syrian to track down a Syrian intelligence official who detonated a booby-trapped car at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing inside Turkish territories. Jordan’s secret involvement is increasing every day. The slow advance toward towards Damascus will continue and the regime and the opposition will alternate control over the Bab Amro neighborhood in Homs. Countries in the region will keep providing the opposition with weapons and Western powers will join in order to create a balance between the regime and the opposition as British Foreign Secretary William Hague argued. Shiite adventurers will keep flocking to Syria from Iraq and so will fighters from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah to endow the conflict with a sectarian dimension. The same applies to Saudi, Chechen, Turkish, Egyptian, and Libyan adventurers some of whom go in defense of freedom and others in search for the lost Islamic state.

Or maybe there will come a moment similar to that when a brave American president like Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of Serbian bases on August 30, 1995 and two weeks later, Serbs surrendered and abandoned their arrogance and intransigence. Maybe then Bashar al-Assad (excuse me, I meant Slobodan Milošević) would head one month after to Dayton in the United States to sign an agreement that puts an end to a war that could have been stopped four years earlier before the destruction of Bosnian historic cities, the killing of 200,000 citizens, and the rape of 50,000 women.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on March 16, 2013.

Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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