Astana Talks

Why are Syrian opposition undecided about Astana talks?

Alwaght– The Syrian conflict for certain is one of the most complicated global crises in terms of multitude of effective actors, the huge casualties, and the ever-changing military and political equations since the Second World War.

Since 2016, the international will to find a settlement for the now six-year-old Syrian war saw a remarkable increase as the terrorist groups enlarged dramatically and the crisis spilled over enormously. It is now influencing the neighboring countries in West Asia and other areas like Europe, America, Africa, and Australia on the strength of terrorist groups recruiting large number of fighters from different global countries.

The International measures are represented in such efforts as Geneva and Astana peace conferences over last year. Cooperation between Russia, Iran, and Turkey, each supporting one side of the fight, led to a comprehensive ceasefire between the Syrian government and part of its armed opponents on December 30, 2016. However, despite holding five rounds of peace talks in Geneva and three rounds in Astana, a clear outlook of reaching an agreement for settlement of the country’s devastating crisis remains out of sight.

However, the opposition who accepted to join the Astana peace process declined to go for negotiations with the government delegation in the Astana 3 conference. And Even their participation in Geneva 5 talks did not help the meeting to achieve its announced goals. And now that the agreements are being reached between key actors for the Astana 4 meeting to be held on May 3 and 4, the news reports suggest wide gaps between the opposition camp as they struggle to unite their voice about whether or not they should go to Kazakhstan for another round of dialogue with Damascus government.

Putting Strains on Russia

The Astana peace talks and the Tehran expert-level meeting that preceded the main conference and meant to make preparations for next round are based on the United Nations Security Council’s resolution 2254 and eye four areas of settlement including agreeing a new constitution, holding elections, determining the form of future Syrian governing system, and keeping the truce standing, and simultaneously jointly fighting terrorism in the country.

Through threatening not to join the upcoming talks, the opposition, meanwhile, are hopeful to press Russia, and thus the Syrian government, to accede to their conditions. On the one side the opposition groups are seeking a transitional government without any participation of the current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and on the other hand the Damascus government has rejected such conditions offering to them to form an inclusive government bringing under its cover the current government elements and those of the opposition.

These groups are also in conflict with the government over the definition of the ceasefire terms. They argue that by encircling the opposition fighters in Al Waar district of Homs province and forcing them out of their positions the government forces have violated the truce terms. In other areas of disaccord like the prisoners and captives case, the opposition are pressing to wrist further concessions on the negotiating table.

Unwillingness to see ceasefire holding

As the evidences clearly show, after Aleppo liberation from the anti-government militants and agreeing the truce deal, the Syrian government’s forces managed to make even bigger gains on the battlefield, something enabling the government delegation to be empowered enough to negotiate with the opponents from a strong position. Furthermore, these triumphs have helped the government as well as its allies to draw lines between the opposition camp and the terrorist groups during the process for cessation of fire.

The analysts suggest that now that the opposition body is living its weakest position, it struggles to degrade the Syrian government’s upper hand— provided by its superiority on the battleground— through setting conditions deeply inconsistent with the country’s field developments. Once the government does not bow to their conditions, they can label Damascus government killer of the ceasefire process and accuse President Assad of handicapping the political solution initiative.

Still from another aspect, some opposition factions have set hope on total change of view of the US President Donald Trump on Syria crisis. The militants were emboldened after the US missile attack against Syria’s Shayrat airbase, leading them to think of getting further military and political backing once new administration decides to further intervene in Syria.

Trump is discontented with Astana process as Washington is deprived of an effective presence in the talks. This can push the anti-Assad Arab allies of the US to find cause to beef up military and financial support for the opposition and even convince them to quit the ceasefire agreement with the government.