Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The War in Syria – Why It Resembles the Afghan War of the 1980s?

Moheb Arsalan J.

From the looks of the lingering war in Syria, I could not help but to think that this war resembles the Afghan War of the 1980s-1990s.  And the current Western requirement for President Assad to go, no matter what, may have similar consequences as those Afghanistan faced later in the 1990s.  If possible, the World must pause and rethink an approach that differs from the status-quo.  They should work with Assad, than without him, in Syria if further crisis are to be avoided and peace is to come and maintained.  It would be almost impossible to have armed groups take over Damascus and expect them run a modern state, peacefully.  The experience in Afghanistan has proven that this may not happen. 

Lessons from the Afghan War can be utilized for peace in Syria.

Leadership - Basharul Assad and Dr. Najibullah

As was Dr. Najibullah, the President of Afghanistan from 1987 to 1992, Basharul Assad is head of a powerful centralized government that owns and maintains a well managed army.  If Assad is gone, so would be the Army and the established political order in the country.  This will cause chaos for Syria and reestablishing that order or the Army may take more blood, time and dollars in the future. To expect the armed opposition groups will unite and agree on post Assad leadership is too simplistic and perhaps misleading.  Having no prior experience than using guns, the groups would find it hard to agree on a president, the defense minister, the foreign minister etc.  Resolving such a crisis would not only be exhausting but also dangerous and eventually turned into violent conflicts that would destroy of what is left of the war in Syria, Damascus in particular. 

Najibullah was President of Afghanistan and led a strong Afghan national army that for a decade had resisted the west backed liberalizing fighters in the 1980s.  However, as soon as Najibullah was ousted, the liberalizing fighting factions could not agree on leadership in Kabul; after a brief political power sharing agreement, they soon found each other not trust-able and a horrific civil war broke out.  The civil war, not the Soviet war, turned the country, particularly its capital Kabul to a war-zone.  Kabul had survived the decade of war fought in rural parts of the country.  The humanitarian and economic crisis caused by this civil war, after Najibullah removal, was more brutal, horrific and destructive then the entire war against the Soviets. 

The Vacuum – After Basharu Assad is Gone

After Basharul Assad is gone, a power and leadership vacuum will be created.   It would be hard, if not impossible, to fill effectively.  The different factions of the free Syrian fighting groups would want power, and more of it!  That will then create a chaotic situation that even the west would not understand and perhaps fail to resolve.  And that will then leave a big political vacuum that could be filled with non state actors.  The proponents to Assad-gone may not like that situation.
After Najibullah in Afghanistan, the warring factions failed to agree to a lasting political settlement; each wanting more power and this and that political offices.  That soon led to the horrific civil war which then gave rise to the Taliban filling the political vacuum and offering a much needed single governance order.  

What happens to Damascus?

Currently, Damascus has been remained protected from the turmoil and destruction in rest of Syria.  However, it is largely a peaceful city where run by the Assad government.  If Assad is gone and the gunmen are in and they get into the “turmoil” part, which is the most probable scenario, they will soon turn Damascus into a war-zone too.  And that would not be pretty for the million of humans-beings living there or for the humanitarian and migration crisis it would trigger.

Such a scenario happened in Kabul which largely survived the Soviet War, but the sooner the “liberalizing forces” entered Kabul; the violent power struggle broke out that made Kabul a war-zone showered with bullets and bombs.  The Darulaman Palace and its bullet ridden walls in the west of Kabul is an example to show what happened here.  And that was not the only issue.  Millions of Afghan civilians were forced to flee Kabul or live to the mercy of the gunmen for food and shelter.  Horrific stories of various crimes committed at the time can be read about or heard from Kabulians when you talk to them.

So, What to Do in Syria?

A simple solution is to work with Assad than without him. Although this may not look good for the western and their allies’ ego, but to avoid another, more serious and worse crisis in Syria, Damascus in particular, it is important to work with the existing establishment to end the conflict on terms that are good for the Syrian people and rest of the World, not without it.  Big lesson from Afghan War is that it is unhelpful, dangerous and chaotic to replace an experienced, albeit unliked leader, with gunmen that have no experience in governance. 


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