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Global issue 12

Inbox GLOBALIST Dilip Hiro Is there an Indian solution to Syria’s civil war? A age-old Sunni-Shia confl ict and Qaeda-affi liated groups to fl ourish as they League to counter the infl uence of the na-During their rule in India, the British en-couraged the rise of the All India Muslimbetween various anti-Assad militias forsupremacy, creating a fertile ground for al-imbroglioSyriantheroot,itstis sectarian. It is the result of the the divide-and-rule policy of imperialists. did in post-Saddam Iraq. tionalist Hindu-dominated Indian National It therefore parallels the turmoil in the In- A protracted scenario is more likely be- Congress (INC). The League gained much dian subcontinent in 1947 at the end of the cause the FSA is unable to consolidate ground during the Second World War by 140-year-old British Raj. The eight-century its gains, mainly because it lacks popular backing the Allies while INC leaders were long tensions between majority Hindus and support in major cities – as has been in the jailed for launching the anti-British Quit In- minority Muslims culminated in a com- case in Damascus and Aleppo since mid- dia movement in 1942. Within seven years munal bloodbath which subsided only af- July. Lacking a central command, suffi cient of demanding a Muslim homeland in the ter Britain divided its colony into India ammunition and anti-aircraft missiles, the subcontinent, it achieved its aim. and Pakistan. The partition claimed nearly rebels are being squeezed out of the neigh- During its Mandate over Syria from 1923, 800,000 lives, and led to the transfer of 12 bourhoods of the two prime cities by the France shored up minority Alawites – de- million people across the newly demarcat- regime’s air force, armour and infantry. tested by Sunnis who resisted foreign rule. ed international border. Whereas the regime’s authority has been Crucially, it gave preference to Alawite ap- Now, considering the intensity of vio- contested in Damascus and Aleppo, it re- plicants at the military academy in Damas- lence in Syria, the level of armed rebels’ or- cus. Later when it moved the academy to ganisation and the duration of fi ghting, the Homs and set up special forces units, it con- International Committee of the Red Cross tinued this policy. The Homs Military Acad- ruled on 15 July that the country was in the emy played a leading role after Syria’s inde- midst of a civil war. Of the 23 million Syr- pendence in 1946, with many of its Alawite ians, 15.5 million are Sunni whereas levers graduates becoming generals and mounting of power are held largely by 3 million Ala- a series of coups, the last one led by Hafez wites, a sub-sect within Shia Islam. al-Assad – a native of an Alawite village Several scenarios for Syria can be cat- near Latakia – in 1971. He co-opted fellow egorised as clear-cut or protracted. The cadet Mustafa Tlass, a Sunni. While reserv- most optimistic and least violent one has Damascus, Syria ing top senior civilian and military posts for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad transfer- Sunnis, he ensured that offi cer corps of the ring power to a transitional authority led mains unchallenged in the coastal plain be- military, police and intelligence services was by his deputy until fresh elections are held. tween the al-Alawiyin Mountains, running dominated by fellow Alawites. This proposal has the backing of the USA, north to south, and the Mediterranean. Bashar’s more recent privatisation policy Britain and France, and would satisfy the Tartus, the second largest Syrian port, is enriched the Sunni business class in large armed Syrian opposition which refuses to the site of Russia’s sole naval base in the cities and that strengthened the regime’s deal with Assad under any circumstances. Mediterranean. By gradually shifting its non-Alawite base but the sectarian com- Another clear-cut scenario would entail power base to the coastal plain, the Assad position of the military remained. Of the the loyalist Syrian military defeated by the regime could continue a protracted civil 300,000 soldiers, two thirds are profession- rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA). The FSA war with assistance from Iran and Russia. als, with 70 percent being Alawite. They can achieve this by ‘controlled demolition’ Already, besides using the seaports to ferry know that if the Assad regime collapses, of the Assad regime, stripping it of one arms and other aid to Syria, Iran is using the they could be butchered by Sunni victors. powerful layer after another, until it is left unguarded Iraqi air space to shore up the They are therefore fi ghting as much for with the exclusively Alawite militia nick- Assad government. their own survival as the regime’s. A viable named Shabiha (‘ghosts’ in Arabic). But The end of such confl ict can be achieved alternative for them is retreat to an Alawite- such a process will not unfold as planned by carving out an Alawite state between majority zone where Christians, close allies when almost 100 rebel formations are fi ght- Lebanon and Turkey. This could involve of the Baathist regime, would be welcome. ing the government. population exchange amid violence as hap- Together, the two minorities form a quarter Moreover, such a multifarious coalition, pened in British India in 1947, with Hindus of the Syrian population, just as the Mus- united only by its hatred of the Alawite- and Sikhs moving out of West Pakistan into lims in British India did in the mid-1940s. dominated regime, will struggle to cope East Punjab and Delhi, and the Muslims with the collapse of the centralised Baa- from the other side migrating in the oppo- Dilip Hiro is the author ofThe Essential thist state. The post-Assad period will wit- site direction. Already the Sunnis are leav- Middle East: A Comprehensive Guide. His ness ethnic cleansing of Alawites and their ing the coastal plain to take refuge in Sunni most recent book isApocalyptic Realm: close allies, Christians, as well as clashes Turkey or to join relatives in the hinterland. Jihadists in South Asia global fourth quarter 2012 www.global-briefing.org l9


Global issue 12
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