Geneva talks: Light in Syria’s dark tunnel?
Increased ceasefire violations have not disrupted the peace process until now...
A new round of Geneva talks started on Wednesday, with the general environment more or less positive. Increased ceasefire violations have not disrupted the peace process until now - hopefully, neither will the provocative offensives of Jabhat al-Nusra and rebel groups linked to it. However there are deep concerns over the rumors that Damascus is preparing for the offensive on the rebel stronghold of Aleppo.
Ahead of the talks, UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and his Iranian counterpart to ensure the successful continuation of the peace process. The envoy has described the talks starting today as “crucially important,” focusing on a political transition.
The Syrian government has said it is ready to negotiate without preconditions. This is a significant breakthrough although if parliamentary elections doesn’t go alongside negotiations, it will arouse bewilderment. These elections are not recognized by the international community, and will obviously be meaningless if a deal is indeed reached in Geneva.
The opposition and government in Syria should decide who will work on a post-war constitution, and how a system of checks and balances will function to avoid a repetition of mistakesMaria Dubovikova
Much hopes and expectations are pinned on the new round of negotiations which hopefully will focus on political transition and a stable political process in Syria. Wednesday evening Steffan de Mistura announced that Amman, Damascus, Moscow, Tehran have indicated support for talks aimed at political transition in Syria.
However, it should be admitted that even managing to get the opposing sides to talk directly would already be a great achievement. To expect negotiators to lead to a breakthrough is to ignore the extreme complexity of the issues they are obliged to tackle. Devil is in the detail and the process of political transition is all about details.
The biggest problem, and a matter of extreme sensitivity, is the fate of President Bashar al-Assad. The overwhelming majority of opposition activists and supporters will not accept him staying in power. However, stepping down without a popular vote is unacceptable to Damascus, though it has started to show some flexibility.
Another problem that will have to be tackled is the legal basis of the transition, which concerns the constitution. The opposition and government in Syria should decide who will work on a post-war constitution, and how a system of checks and balances will function to avoid a repetition of mistakes.
They should decide what kind of document will regulate the transition process. Which bodies will have executive and legislative powers, and how will they be formed? Even at a glance, the possibilities and variants are enormous, and choosing which ones will be difficult given the extent of distrust between the opposing sides.
Transitional justice is another issue of vital importance, especially for the opposition, which would apparently not accept a new Syria without punishment for those guilty of war crimes. This is dramatically complicated by the issue of Syrians who support Islamist groups.
How will they be dealt with, and how can their presence be squared with the desire to build a democratic, non-sectarian country? Islamists’ exclusion from the political process will lead to their marginalization, thus jeopardizing the foundations of the new Syria from the start. The issues of Kurds and Kurdish militias, and inclusive citizenship for all minorities, are also tough. How will their rights be guaranteed and protected, and through what mechanisms?
Overcoming mutual distrust is crucial to solving these matters, but common rejection of Syria’s federalization provides hope that the opposing sides will find a way to work together to preserve the future of a united country.
Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme