Manish Rai

Assad and Kurds Can Work Together for Future of Syria

Syria’s Kurds are trying to negotiate a settlement with Damascus as they seek to protect gains made in seven years of war, wary of its unpredictable partner now they are eager to negotiate with President Bashar al-Assad. Initial round of talks has already taken place when Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), a political arm of Kurdish dominated SDF delegation led by Ilham Ahmed its executive head visited Syrian capital Damascus last month. This marks the first diplomatic engagement between the Assad regime and Kurds since 2011. The Damascus negotiations are more realistically an attempt to test the waters and we should not have any big hopes from these initial talks. The negotiations will be long and arduous process because the Damascus regime is very centralized. But there are speculations that in the meeting, both the SDC and Syrian regime representatives agreed that it is not possible to carry on with the current administrative system of the country and that a decentralized state structure is a necessity. But it will a long negotiation process to decide exact form of a decentralized state structure. In a meantime until a final agreement is reached goodwill and confidence building measures should be taken by both sides. So that talks can progress in positive environment. Return of Tabqa Dam to Syrian government by Kurds was good example of that.

Now Syrian conflict is entering into its final stages as not many enclaves are left outside government control. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has already stated that if Kurds controlled areas are not returned to his regime through negotiations then he will not hesitate to use force. Moreover, United States has announced its desire to withdraw from Syria, which could leave the SDF exposed and embolden to its enemies. To avert such an outcome and secure its gains on the ground, the SDC political arm of SDF appears to be in a hurry to reach an agreement with Damascus while its negotiating power is still strong. For Syrian regime also its desirable that it can restore its authority over SDF controlled areas without any major military campaign and it can save its military resources for Idlib which is last major rebel stronghold. SDC negotiators appear to be hoping for a devolution agreement along the lines of a 2011 decree issued by the Syrian government detailing the role of local authorities. Decree 107, also known as the “Local Administration Law,” was introduced as part of a package of political reforms passed in August 2011 in response to demands by a civil uprising by then already sweeping the country. The decree was designed to devolve political and administrative responsibilities to institutions at the local level, but it was never fully clear how it would be implemented.

The two million Kurds in Syria, accounting for 15% of total population, has only aspired before the civil war to nothing more than a degree of autonomy an aspiration always denied to them. Syrian Kurds never thought to break away from the country which was even acknowledge by state. Last September Syria’s foreign minister Walid Muallem said that his country was open to the idea of greater powers for the country’s Kurds. He said “They want a form of autonomy within the framework of the borders of the state, this is negotiable and can be the subject of dialogue.” The SDC delegation visit to Damascus may be the start of that process. With a shared enemy that is Turkey and perceived advantages from cooperation, the outcome of the current negotiations could well be a continued Assad presidency, sustained by Kurdish support. The Kurdish forces needs help from the Syrian Arab Army to protect the Kurds from Turkey’s military and the Syrian Arab Army need help from Kurds for ruling north Syria and policing against both rebel and ISIS attack. Hence, it’s a mutual benefit for both the parties to engage with each other.

Syria because of seven years of conflict now suffers from deep divisions along both ethno-sectarian and geographic lines. While economic links and interdependency still very much persists between the various parts of the country, and most Syrians remain remarkably attached to the idea of national unity, the country is fragmenting into competing centres of power. So, one thing is clear that Syria can’t be monolithic nation state. But weather it going to be a decentralisation, federalism, or a confederation that has to be decided by Syrians themselves. Syria is a multiethnic society consisting of Sunni Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Turkomans, Alwaites and Yazidis. To keep the country united and stable it is required to delegate powers at local level. In multi-ethnic countries like Nigeria and India this kind of model has arguably helped to hold these nations together. Future Syrian state should be the nation which accommodate and grant rights of all the ethnic groups and everyone feels their participation in running of the state.

About the Author
Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region; Editor of a geo-political news agency Views Around (VA)