Why Involve Assad
(or “Why Assad Must Be Involved”)
Gabriel C Banda
WHETHER one likes him or not, the roles, with actions and reactions, of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad have great effect on present and future situations of Syria, the Middle East region, and the whole world.
I believe that the Syria war is such that neither the Assad administration nor the rebels, in their various formations, should expect to have a military victory and rule stably over the whole society. Defeat of other forces will not lead to acceptance of the conqueror as ruler.
Not all conquest is victory. Those opposed to the victor will not necessarily accept the rule of that victor. For no military victory can ensure acceptance and long support for the rule of the victor. No conqueror can rule for long without consent of others.
While key issues are unsettled, situations of parties may change and armed conflict may again rise, even in another generation.
The Assad and rebel forces both have significant local and external influence and support. The conflict is more than just about Bashar al-Assad and rebel commanders, but includes the various entities supporting the various parties to the conflict. Some influential supporters are offshore.
Whether they like each other or not, for long term stable agreement, the Geneva talks for Syria’s peace require the active involvement or presence of all key local and external parties in the conflict.
Key issue has been what role President Assad should play in a future Syria. Rebels and backers like governments of USA, Britain, and France have insisted that Bashar al-Assad should not be part of the next governance. The insistence of non-involvement of Assad creates seeds of later difficulties in concluding the talks and can complicate actual post- agreement governance and stability.
Assad’s current presidential term is scheduled to expire in 2014. I believe there are many reasons why Assad and his team should be allowed, if they wish, to participate in governance systems, processes, and practices that may come out of Geneva agreements. The population must be allowed to choose who they want to represent them.
A governance system must involve all members and representatives of a society. It must be inclusive and should not exclude and relegate to the margins some members of society.
Worldwide, issues like colour, religion and sect, language, ethnicity and cultures, location, origin, being male or female, health and disease, living with disability, and other factors are used to exclude or include some. But the excluded eventually want to assert their universal right to life and participation.
The talks on Syria’s future must not be about defeat and surrender but the building of paths and walks to peace. The great Truth and Reconciliation process of South Africa still allowed some who had been associated with the apartheid regime free to stand for elections.
Worldwide, members of societies must freely choose representatives. The constitution, governance systems, processes, and practices must be designed to lead to good and fair governance. Rulers must be committed and accountable to a just society that respects the humanity of all individuals arising from various backgrounds.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and even Egypt provide us with active examples of the effects of political exclusion of those coming from groups considered subdued by force.
A constant mistake in these conflict theatres was the exclusion of rulers and leaders who had significant support, local and external. This placed heavy weaknesses and gaps in transitions.
Vanquished or killed, there were no rulers and representatives available to negotiate agreement and future constitutions, systems, processes, and practices. A key weaknesses has been the belief and practice of hitting the shepherd and hoping the sheep will scatter.
Actually, killing rulers and symbols of groups has worsened situations. Supporters may be more resolved to fight when the leader they respect is humiliated or killed. Killing or excluding leaders also creates deep gaps.
In Iraq and Libya, the killing of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi in armed regime changes meant there was no ruler or leader available to negotiate with opponents and urge their own supporters to lay down weapons.
After Iraq’s regime change by invasion and occupation, the organised exclusion of Baath Party members from involvement in politics and governance contributed to the violence and war that continues over ten years after Saddam Hussein’s rule.
In Egypt, Mubarak had offered not to participate in elections scheduled September 2011 but be involved in transition processes. But the regime changers insisted on pushing him aside and on his non-involvement in the transition process. There had been a window of a few months, as time was approaching for Mubarak’s term to end, to have had government and opposition work out governance issues.
Egypt’s result was that although Mubarak was removed, there was no smooth transition. The Constitution, systems, processes, and governance practices were not agreed upon as Mubarak was pushed aside. Some results of Egypt’s poor transition are the current political difficulties in Egypt.
In Syria, even if it means offering to talk to very tough militants, including members of the determined al-Nusra group feared by some, parties involved in conflict must still offer discussion. The Syria government and rebels should not make conditions that exclude significant opponents they do not like.
All in Syria’s conflict, from President Assad to the rebels in various formations, must be involved in designing the way ahead.
The United Nations can rise above the tensions of the local and external warriors and help the parties to design some stable path towards ceasefire and peace. To work, Syria’s new governance must be actively inclusive of all members of society.
Without practices of deep prejudice, hatred, and exclusion, it is possible to talk and make advances benefitting all.
Geneva can be great opportunity. The United Nations and others supporting Good Will and Peace can help Syria’s government and opposition to put into place a governance system that enables inclusion, participation, and enjoyment of rights of all sections of the society.
Based in Lusaka, Zambia, the author is involved in writing and the arts, social development, and peace issues. He holds an MA in Peace Studies, University of Bradford.