Amid the devastation of nearly six years of war in Syria, some small sparks of hope are appearing – at least among officials from neighbouring countries.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek said that he was optimistic that the 23-24 January Astana talks would lead to a durable and lasting ceasefire “because all the critical players will be at the table.” Russian, Iran and Turkey are sponsoring the talks. The US was the only other international state invited. No Arab countries were at the table.
Compromise is essential to resolving any conflict, and Turkey is conceding one significant point. They place the blame for the conflict solely on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, “we must be pragmatic and realist,” Şimşek said. “The facts on the ground have changed dramatically, so Turkey can no longer insist on a settlement without Assad; it is not realistic. We have to work with what we have, and that is where Russia, Turkey and Iran come in.”
The minister described a linear process for ending the Syria tragedy. The first step is a lull in the fighting, which has been achieved. The second – a more lasting ceasefire – is the aspiration for the Astana talks. After that will be time for more complicated discussions – involving a more extensive stakeholder list – to put a final end to the conflict.
Jordan, which shares a border with Syria and hosts over 650,000 Syrian refugees according to UNHCR figures, supports any effort to bring an end to the conflict, said Ayman Al Safadi, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of Jordan. “We see Astana as an effort to stop the killing and save lives – an essential first step to a political process that should include all national and international stakeholders,” he said.
And while there may not be peace in Syria yet, it is past time to start rebuilding. “When we talk about reconstruction, the easiest is roads. The hardest is damaged people. This is where reconstruction needs to start,” said Al Safadi.
Millions of Syrians are living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, including Jordan. These are the people who will return to Syria to rebuild, so it’s essential to start investing in them now. “The alternative is to leave them uneducated, unskilled, feeling hurt, betrayed and abandoned,” Al Safadi said. This lost generation would then be at risk from “dark ideologies” such as ISIS. Raed Saleh, the leader of the Syrian Civilian Defense, pointed out that it’s also essential to remember the 6 million people displaced inside Syria, and invest in human resources in IDP camps within the country.
Majid Jafar, Chief Executive Officer of Crescent Petroleum in the United Arab Emirates, puts a $100 billion-$200 billion estimate on the cost of rebuilding physical infrastructure, noting that the cost of rebuilding society would be much greater. Capital needs certain stability, Jafar said. But the regional private sector is likely to engage in higher-risk contexts than government or multinationals. Therefore, private-sector engagement should start with regional companies.
Looking ahead to a dream of regional security and stability, Şimşek said that new borders are not the solution. It would be much better to co-exist in an EU-like way where there are different ethnic groups, but fundamental rights and freedoms for everyone, and the rule of law.