Who is winning the Syrian War? Durdana Najam

On March 15, the Syrian War entered its eighth year. With 465,000 deaths, over a million injured and 12 million people displaced, the war is nowhere heading to an end or near- resolution. All the actors in the war are using the Syrian battle to consolidate their interests in the Middle East.

If it was not for China and Russia, Bashar ul Assad would have been ousted by now. Though both succeeded in preventing the US and its allies from changing regime, they could not stop Syria from disintegration. The combined anger of the US and its allies in the Middle East resulted in the support of the so-called moderate rebels, seeking democracy in Syria.

The support was not limited to dispensation of weapons only, it went far beyond, and changed the perceptual leaning of the Free Syrian Army, as they were previously called. It is in Syria that the ISIS was formed. It is in Syria that extremism flourished. It is in Syria that new rules of Jihad, which had no connotation with Islam, were established. It is in Syria that the Islamic World got exposed further for its sectarian and ethnic divide. Syria has rewritten the history of Middle East.

Just as the region is getting mired in political chaos, more so because of the Sunni-Shia rivalry, the Saudis are modernizing to end the Jihadist era of conservative Islam. The broader picture that emerges from the Syrian crises in particular is the annihilation of Iran. Will Saudi Arabia succeed in doing that – having left its violent footprint in Yemen and Syria – is a wild question? The error of judgement shown by the Muslims, in understanding the larger design of the Western world led by the US, has plunged the Middle East in chaos.

Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen have been reduced to ashes but US allies the region have sustained and flourished. Syria is fast becoming a proxy for the powers to be in the new geopolitical era. China and Russia are asserting their power, both on the military and ideological fronts. Just like Afghanistan, the US has no intention to leave Syria. In response to an inquiry from Virginia Senator, Tim Kaine asking former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis to explain the administration’s intentions in Syria, it was told that the US would stay there indefinitely.

The reason lent for this indefinite stay is usual: combating terrorists and bringing about peace as enunciated in the US resolutions. Every player has given the same reason behind their stay in the Syrian war but not a single act of any of the powers involved, especially the US, has reduced terrorism. In fact, with every support to the moderate rebels, more bullets are emptied on unarmed civilians, and more powder is thrown to render the cities of Syria barren.

Three issues stand out in the Syrian conflict; the supply of weapons to the rebels, removing Bashar ul Assad, and the choice of ruler after the departure of Assad.

The existing chaos in Syria has been exacerbated because of the relentless supply of weapons to the rebels. There have been many promises and pledges to disarm the rebels, but nothing practical came about. The Assad regime is a reality, which could not be changed, because it is in Assad’s presence that each player sees the realization of their own strength getting stronger. About the new regime; not a single dime was thrown to ponder over the issue. This state of affair goes to show the non-seriousness among the major stakeholders in the Syrian battle.

The project of democracy that the US started across the world, by imposing its mechanism of institution building, has failed everywhere. Though the invaded countries could not make the US leave by force, the retaliation has been fierce. But the US has so far not buckled under any pressures.

In this situation, how could Syria attain peace? The first step towards any such agreement would be to stop the killing of innocent civilian by all parties. This can only happen if the parties involved in inciting hatred and violence shun their differences. The Syrian war today is not about the internal dispute; it is about the political actors vying for their positions vis-à-vis Iran and the western allies led by the US. No one is in control of the Syrian conflict, yet each participant has a say in making the battle fiercer.

Only a win-all to lose-all perceptual shift can create an enabling environment for any truce. Will the players of the Syrian war look beyond their geopolitical interest? Unless this key is resolved, Syria would remain heated and contested.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore. (

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