By Ruby Amatulla
A short-term approach such as defeating a group and letting another win and dominate is not going to work either in Syria or in the region inflamed by sectarian conflicts. A pluralistic culture with power-sharing arrangements is the long-term solution for the region. The long conflict-ridden history has caused Shi’a, Sunni, and others to become intractable adversaries. If one comes to power the others will make the situation volatile fighting jihad. This is the very reason the Shi’a dominance in Iraq, even though brought about by a democratic process, has not worked since 2005. Instead it ignited the sectarian conflict in the country and in the region. This is one of the main reasons why Sunni extremist groups like the “Islamic State” (IS) emerged in the region.
Most unfortunately the regional and the global powers have been engaged in counterproductive strategies: pushing their respective parties to win and to annihilate the others. They all are responsible for this ever intensified four-and-a-half year civil war. Their failing to accept that there is no win-lose option is causing devastation in that unfortunate land.
An earlier international intervention to establish a power-sharing system in Syria perhaps could avoid this humanitarian crisis that has taken over 300,000 lives and displaced half of Syria’s 23 million people since it started in March, 2011.
The successful intervention in the Balkans in the 90s brought about the end of the conflict saving hundreds of thousands of lives and ushered an era of democratic culture. A similar intervention is long overdue in the Middle East.
However, if an intervention is undertaken, the occupation should be well-planned and well-controlled. The way the Marshall Plan was conducted, to rebuild two devastated enemy countries after the World War II – Japan and Germany – to become successful democracies and giant industrial powers in our time, should be a guide. The seven-year military occupation did many things that were not democratic at all but in the end what it achieved was nothing short of paradigm shifts of two belligerent societies.
On the other hand the Iraq invasion in 2003 failed miserably. America remained most unprepared – there was no post-invasion plan – and wanted to hand over the responsibility to the UN too soon, and most importantly, the superpower yielded to the Shi’a majority pressures to marginalize the Sunnis through the most irresponsible and most exhaustive de-Baathification processes that ignited the sectarian inferno in the land. Had America taken full control of the situation after the invasion, as it did during the Marshall Plan, and gone for a greater integration and power-sharing arrangement to promote anti-majoritarian coalition-facilitating democratic system in Iraq the world would have seen a success story today at the fraction of the price America paid there. Similar blunders were done in Afghanistan also. Therefore, unsuccessful invasions due to the failed leaderships should not be taken as excuses for not getting involved in Syria and Iraq today.
A Marshall Plan in this extremely important geopolitical area – close to the root of the Muslim world – long time ago could have helped bring about a healthy relationship between the West and the one-fifth of humanity. This relationship based on trust and confidence could have been vital for the stability and development of the Muslim world and vital for the security and well-being of the West. Instead, many unjust, self-serving and short-sighted policies of the West during the last 100 years have victimised many Muslim majority societies, the consequences of which are now coming back to haunt the perpetrators.
The vast young generation of the entire region – 65% to 70% are 35 years or younger – are bitter about the ways their societies were exploited during the long colonial rule and they are also utterly frustrated and angry about the ways autocrats or alliances of vested interests rule their lands now. They grow seeing rampant corruption, abuse of power, extreme disparities and dysfunctional systems rob their future. The potential for extremism is indeed looming large. This cannot be eliminated by military means.
Extremism does not grow or survive where good governance and stability prevail. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab in Somalia and the “Islamic State” in Syria all originated in utter chaos, turmoil, repression and poor or lack of governance.
There are circumstances when the conflicting parties are stuck in a vicious cycle of violence and unable to get out on their own. An international intervention becomes an imperative then. Iraq and Syria are now in that situation. Reforming one without reforming the other would not work as they are neighbours with long common boarders and with the same type of sectarian tensions.
In this global society to avoid greater fallout of such conflicts well-meaning international interventions in these countries is a moral call.
Ruby Amatulla is a writer and an activist. She is the Executive Director of Muslims for Peace, Justice and Progress [website, www.mpjp.org], and the Secretary General of Women for Good Governance