Mohammad Salman & Dr Farhan Zahid
Mohammad Salman (Syria) is a Doctoral Candidate at Vrije University Brussels.
Dr Farhan Zahid (Pakistan), Ph D, is a Terrorism and Security Analyst.
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis three years ago, one could see the repeated mistakes of western governments in contributing to the worsening of the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Firstly, since the beginning of the crisis in 2011, the western media in general, viciously attacked the Syrian regime and portrayed a situation that the regime had lost its legitimacy and the days of Bashar al Assad were numbered. Such claims were repeatedly made by senior analysts on various occasions and widely published and covered in print and electronic media. It could not be denied that a large segment of multi-sectarian and multi-religious Syrian society had turned anti-government nonetheless the ranks of opposition groups were not sufficient enough to bring down the regime. Since the beginning the Syrians have split into three categories: pro-regime, pro-opposition and neutrals. The last one comprised over the largest segment of population. Even the stubborn Syrian President had to admit this reality several times.
Secondly, from the earliest days of demonstrations, the Islamist extremist groups have taken over the control of the opposition, mainly because of their highly discipline cadre and substantial percentage in opposition; radical religious slogans and sectarian issues were time and again raised during the growing demonstrations on the streets. The western media completely ignored the growing presence of Islamist radicals amongst the Syrian opposition groups. This realization came at a later stage with the brutalities committed against the Syrian unarmed populace and captured soldiers loyal to the Assad regime. The US and EU economic sanctions against Syrian government led to lose Western credibility between secular and pro-democracy groups, supporting the government propaganda that the present situation was the outcome of a ‘western conspiracy' against their state. This belief was further entrenched in the wake of support rendered by western countries to hard line Islamist elements in the ranks of the Syrian opposition, e.g., the opposition Syrian National Council, recognized by the EU and US, was mostly comprised of radical Islamists. Recognizing "Syrian National Council" as the sole representative of the Syrian opposition during this year's conference in Geneva and ignoring the secular parties in the opposition ranks boasted the Islamist terrorist groups active in Syria.
Thirdly, Western floundering in the Syrian crisis seemed clear from the differing positions of armed groups in the ranks of the Syrian opposition; Al-Qaeda-linked Nusrah Front has been classified as a terrorist group, paradoxically, other radical Islamist terrorist groups allied to Nusrah Front recognized as armed opposition and received EU and US arms and logistics for continuing to play their role in the Civil War, mostly resulted in killing and maiming civilians that have fallen under their control. By virtue of supporting opposition groups in Syria, thousands of foreign jihadists were allowed to travel to Syria via Turkey, many joined them from west European countries. In fact, according to Western media figures, hundreds of Islamist radicals arrived from countries as far as Australia, after drawing jihadi inspirations through the eyes of western media.
Fourthly, the use of chemical weapons in August 2013 led to the increased complexity in the Syrian crisis. The Western governments reacted in haste. The response was a keen readiness for surgical military strikes, led by the US and supported by a plethora of countries. The response was too spontaneous without any real proof or conclusive evidence that could have confirmed the use of chemical weapons by the hands of Assad regime. The event was significant as the US fleet was closing down towards the Syrian coastline, and it seemed that a regional war, engulfing Israel, Jordan and Turkey, was inevitable, where the chemical weapons would be used. Unlike so-called Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction the Syrian WMDs are indeed real and considered third largest in stocks. Luckily the crisis was averted with the Russian mediation but brought loss of prestige especially to France and US, the two countries eager to strike the Syrian regime. The Russian mediation to persuade the Syrian regime to surrender chemical weapons was an optimal solution to save face for the Western leaders, and to avoid a further intensification of the conflict, that has so far consumed lives of more than hundred and fifty thousand people.
Finally, the recent events in Syria pose a serious threat to global security in terms of counter-terrorism. The ungoverned territories in Syria are falling into the hands of wide range of jihadist elements, now becoming centers for the training of jihadis across the world. Syria offers a complete déjà vu of pre-9/11 Afghanistan under the Taliban, where scores of training camps were administered by Al-Qaeda. Abandoning Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 is usually considered a solely American folly, but in case of Syria the burden would be shared by many EU countries, the US and traditional hostile Syrian neighbors such as Israel, Turkey, Jordan; and with some distant neighbors like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, bank rolling the radical Islamist groups. A part from threats emanating from mainland Syria and presence of Jihadis out there, the issue of western Jihadis in the Civil War poses alarming situations. The Syrian territory has become a center for the training of jihadists and sooner or later the foreign jihadists will return to their countries and constitute a real and potent threat to that country's national security. In addition to the plight of millions of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries showcases the declining interest of the regional and international players. Perhaps it is because of the reason that no security analyst was expecting the war to go that long and with no near end in sight.