Skewed resolution

Print edition : March 09, 2012

President Bashar al-Assad (left) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov upon the latter's arrival at the presidential palace in Damascus for talks on February 7.-HO/SANA/AFP President Bashar al-Assad (left) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov upon the latter's arrival at the presidential palace in Damascus for talks on February 7.

Russia and China veto a resolution in the Security Council for a forced regime change in Syria.

THE veto exercised by Russia and China on February 4 in the United Nations Security Council on a resolution calling for the resignation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has put paid to the prospects of an open foreign military intervention in Syria. With the encouragement of the Western powers, a host of nations led by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been supplying money, training and heavy weapons to rebels fighting against the Syrian state, who are confined to the city of Homs. As in the case of Libya, Western capitals are using the Arab League to institute a regime change in Damascus.

The Arab League's resolution presented to the Security Council was ostensibly to bring a peaceful end to the violence that has gripped Syria since March last year. But it was, in fact, a blueprint for regime change as it demanded the resignation of Bashar al-Assad and the holding of multiparty elections. The resolution stated that the Security Council would review Syria's implementation of the key clauses within 15 days of it being passed. It also said that in case of Syria's non-compliance, further measures would be adopted in consultation with the Arab League.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while pronouncing from the rooftops that Assad has to go, kept on insisting that there were no plans to pursue any kind of military intervention. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who played a big role in unleashing the dogs of war on Libya, said that the talk of foreign intervention in Syria is a myth. British Foreign Secretary William Hague also said that the resolution did not envisage the use of military force, but he went on to add that other measures will be considered if there was no immediate end to the violence in Syria. Surprisingly, India sided with the resolution sponsored by the Arab League.

India's stand

India and Syria have had a strong bilateral relationship for the past four decades. But recent instances have shown that when it comes to crunch situations, India sides with the West. It happened earlier in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the resolutions censuring Iran. Again, India abstained from voting in the Security Council when a resolution on Libya was adopted.

Indian officials said that abstention was not an option this time. According to them, India had worked overtime to include clauses in the resolution that the will of the Syrian people would be the decisive factor and not outside military intervention. They said that the Arab League's stand on Syria was an important factor that had led to India voting for the resolution.

South Asian diplomats in Damascus told this correspondent late last year that Assad was popular among ordinary Syrians and would get around 60 per cent of the votes if the opposition agreed to the holding of fair and free elections. Recent reports in the Western media have admitted that Assad continues to have the support of the minority groups and the secular members of the majority Sunni community.

Libya-like intervention'

According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the passing of a Security Council resolution on Syria would inevitably lead to another Libya-like military intervention. He pointed out that the call in the resolution to withdraw all Syrian military and armed forces from cities and towns and return them to their original home barracks was an ultimatum no sovereign government could accept. Moreover, in the case of Syria, the insurrection was being aided and abetted by the West. He said there was no justification for raining bombs on Syria just because the opposition there was refusing to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the government.

Li Baodong, China's Ambassador to the U.N., told the Security Council that his country was opposed to pushing for forced regime change in Syria as it violates the U.N. Charter and the basic norms guiding the practice of international relations.

Washington and its allies had worked overtime to convince Russia and China to go along with the Arab League resolution. Behind the scenes, assurances were given that their interests in Syria would not be affected by the regime change. Syrian opposition leaders were dispatched to meet Russian diplomats to assure them that Russian interests would be preserved in a post-Assad era.

Syria has been a long-standing ally of Russia. Much of the weaponry for the Syrian security forces is provided by Russia. Recently, it sold 36 Yak fighter jets to Syria. Moscow has also deployed Russian warships in the Syrian port of Tartus, where it has basing rights. China also sells military equipment to Syria.

Both Moscow and Beijing are well aware that the regime change envisaged by the West in Syria is part of a grand strategy to weaken the resistance to U.S. hegemony in the region. If Assad falls, the Lebanese resistance movement the Hizbollah will be the next in Washington's cross hairs. After that it will be the turn of Iran. War clouds are already hovering over Iran, with the U.S. military significantly bolstering its presence in the Persian Gulf.

West's criticism

After the resolution failed at the Security Council, Western leaders were sharply critical of Russia and China. Hillary Clinton said that Russia and China bore the responsibility for the horrors that are occurring on the ground in Syria.

SYRIAN REBELS FIGHTING the government forces in the Rastan area in Homs province on January 31.-AP

Significantly, the U.S. has wielded the most number of vetoes in the Security Council, most of them on behalf of its closest ally in the region, Israel. The massacres of Palestinians and Lebanese by Israeli forces through the years have gone uncensored and unpunished with the connivance of Washington. As for the U.S. itself, it has been responsible for the worst instances of human rights violations. The massacre of civilians in Fallujah, Iraq, is only a recent illustration.

In the past couple of months, the Syrian government has made several gestures to show the international community that it was serious about ending the bloody cycle of violence in the country. The Arab League was allowed to send in its monitoring mission despite misgivings about its motives. The head of the Arab League's mission, Mohammad al-Dabi, a former intelligence chief of Sudan, while addressing a press conference in Cairo in the third week of January, even criticised the foreign media for exaggerating the violence in Syria, stressing that the situation inside the country had improved since the monitoring mission began its work in December. He also said that the Syrian government cooperated fully with the mission.

But Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are backing the opposition Islamist-dominated Syrian National Council and the Free Syria Army, are fixated on a regime change in Damascus. The Arab League monitoring mission's report said the government alone was not responsible for the continuing bloodshed. Unhappy with the report, Saudi Arabia, the main financier of the mission, withdrew its observers. The mission was forced to cease its work and withdraw from Syria. On February 12, the Arab League forced al-Dabi to resign as head of the monitoring mission.

After that the Arab League requested Damascus for the observer's mission to be allowed in once again. This time the Syrian government refused permission as the Arab League in its meeting in Cairo on February 12 had also called for a joint peacekeeping force of the U.N. and Arab League states to Syria.

The Arab League monitoring commission's report categorically stated that there was no organised, lethal attack by the Syrian government against peaceful protesters. Instead, the report stated that armed gangs were responsible for carrying out terror attacks against civilians, leading to thousands of deaths, including over a thousand Syrian troops. The report gave specific instances of bombing of civilian buses and trains and the sabotaging of gas pipelines. The five-member ministerial committee of the Arab League approved the report, with only Qatar voting against it.

Qatar has now assumed the chairmanship of the Arab League though it was the turn of the Palestinian Authority (P.A.). The P.A. vacated the post in favour of Qatar. Qatar has since announced $400 million in aid to the cash-strapped P.A. The Emir of Qatar had issued an appeal for open military intervention in Syria saying that his country was willing to deploy troops there. Qatar, along with France and Britain, was among the first countries to send special forces clandestinely to Libya when the counter-revolution against Colonel Muammar Qaddafi began early last year.

New Delhi, too, ignored the Arab League monitoring mission's report and preferred to cast its lot with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which dominates decision-making in the Arab League, and the West on the issue of regime change in Syria.

It has been evident for some months that sections of the Syrian opposition are aligned with terror groups. The suicide bombings in Damascus followed by the attacks in the hitherto peaceful Aleppo, Syria's second biggest city, are indications that the opposition is in cahoots with jehadist elements. Twenty-five people were killed in Aleppo and nearly 50 in the twin suicide bombings in Damascus in early January. In mid-February, a senior Syrian army officer, who was in charge of the military hospital in the capital, was killed by armed gunmen as he was leaving for work from his home.

Al Qaeda has claimed credit for the three big terror attacks in Damascus and Aleppo. In a video recording released in the second week of February, its chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called on Muslims in the region to join the uprising against the pernicious, cancerous regime in Syria. But the Western media still give credence to allegations that all terror attacks are the handiwork of the government.

A report from Tripoli quoted the Libyan Foreign Minister as saying that the interim government would not stop Libyans from joining the fight against the Syrian government. The interim government in Libya installed under the supervision of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has already recognised the Syrian National Council and has formally handed over the Syrian Embassy in Tripoli to the rebel group.

The Libyan Islamist leader Abdulhakim Belhadj, who now occupies a top position in the government, met with leaders of the Syrian Free Army in Istanbul recently. According to reports, Libyans were among the first foreign fighters to reach Syria and fight alongside the Syrian rebels in hotspots such as Homs and Hama. There are also unconfirmed reports about Qatari and British Special Forces helping the Free Syrian Army. Washington has called for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to assist the anti-government rebels in Syria.

The Syrian government on its part seems determined to flush out the rebels from their remaining strongholds. Bashar Jaffari, the Syrian envoy to the U.N., while presenting his country's case to the world during the debate on the Security Council resolution, said that the government had no other alternative but to respond to the calls of citizens to save them from the criminal terrorist groups and to restore public order throughout Syria. He also pointed out that the Syrian government had conceded almost all of the major demands of the opposition soon after the violent protests started in March last year. The state of emergency has been lifted and the Syrian State Security Court has been abolished. A legislative decree, which allowed the staging of peaceful protests, was passed. Importantly, a national committee was formed to draft a new Constitution and hold general elections.

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