x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

In some ways, Syria starts to look like Afghanistan

Foreign meddling, covert and overt, leads to a stalemate. Does that sound familiar? Other topics from Arabic-language papers: democracy in Iraq and weapons in Libya.

Foreign powers settle in for a long inconclusive struggle in Syria, as happened in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan the Mujahideen fought the communist regime and its backer the Soviet Union, and now history is repeating itself, in a sense, in Syria, wrote Abdel Bari Atwan in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.

Russia and China support the Syrian regime while the US and Europe stand by the opposition, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar fund and facilitate the fighters' arrival at the front, the writer noted.

Now, Turkey assumes the role Pakistan played in Afghanistan, as a transit centre for the Mujahideen, funding and weapons. Antakya plays a role similar to that of Peshawar, the city closest to the Afghan border, he said.

To be sure, the strength of the regime is not the main difficulty for the armed Syrian opposition. Nor is it the shortage of funding, arms or fighters. It is the opposition's acute internal division.

On Sunday the British newspaper The Independent reported that Turkey and Qatar had stopped supplying weapons the Syrian opposition in Aleppo, Idlib, and elsewhere, because the conflict is getting worse.

If correct, this suggests that backing for the opposition is "under serious review in an attempt to avert catastrophic mistakes like those that occurred in Afghanistan".

Turkey and Qatar, urged possibly by the US and other countries, are demanding a unified leadership for the opposition as a prerequisite for resumption of military and financial support, the writer cited The Independent as saying.

But it is likely that this suspension of aid is really due to a state of despair about toppling the Syrian regime in the short term, and the conclusion that this impasse may last for years, he noted.

And there are some signs of that. The first is Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inviting the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) to resume negotiations to end the fighting that has re-erupted in the past six months. The Syrian regime has been supporting the Kurds, in response to Turkey's backing the armed opposition. This initiative reveals Mr Erdogen's concern about Turkey's stability.

The second sign is the move of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) leadership from Turkey into FSA-controlled areas in Syria, weeks after Ankara deported Syrian refugees from Antakya, following clashes with Turkey's Alawite minority.

Meanwhile, armed Islamist groups from abroad are attacking the regime on their own, in isolation from the FSA and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a serious problem, he said.

Afghanistan began as a struggle between Washington and Moscow, where the US sought a victory after its defeat in Vietnam. In Syria the Russians need a victory, after losing allies in Iraq and Libya, the writer said.

Military intervention seems to be the only equation-changer; without it, the crisis will remain open-ended, he concluded.

Democracy is the only hope for Iraqi stability

Barely a week after Iraq's prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, said his country had defeated terrorism and sectarianism, deadly explosions shook Baghdad and a number of other Iraqi cities, editor-in-chief Tareq Al Homayed wrote in the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

"It was a bloody reminder that nothing has changed on the security front in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein," he wrote.

Nothing justifies terrorist attacks, but the situation calls for deep inspection of the causes and the motives of these attacks. A study of the Iraqi case suggests that security will remain a far-fetched dream for all citizens, because of sectarian polarisation, systematic eliminations and the sectarian and ideological issues that rule every aspect of Iraqi life.

"What we see in Iraq today applies to many Arab countries," added the writer. "The idea isn't to bring down one regime and replace it with another without modifying concepts and ideologies. The idea is to build state institutions and laws, to fulfil the requirements of coexistence, to get the cogs of the economy moving, to provide for good education and to ensure security."

But eliminations remain the modus operandi. The regime refuses to submit to the rules of democracy. It has tried every possible way to strengthen its hold on the country and serve its narrow sectarian interests, but it has yet to try the easiest of all methods: real reconciliation.

Arms-collection drive in Libya is promising

Loose weapons are the main ingredient for a security disaster in any country, the Qatari newspaper Al Watan said in its editorial on Tuesday.

Post-revolution Libya has finally heeded this fact following a number of security incidents in recent weeks, events that came about as a result of easy access to weapons among the militias that fought against the Qaddafi regime.

This week Libyan authorities launched a campaign to dismantle militias and gather up stray weapons.

The campaign, which came at the request of a large portion of the population, was positively received throughout Libya. Civil communities were growing anxious about the repercussions of widespread weapons in their midst. There was relief that many militiamen were cooperative and understanding.

In fact, in their bid to ensure that weapons remain in the hands of the proper authorities, the Libyan government had facilitated the assimilation of rebels into its various security services: The door was opened for them to enrol in the military, the police and other security departments. Militants had no pretext to bear illegitimate weapons.

As a result of these changes, the paper said, Libya is on its way to become a state ruled only by law.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk