Brahimi’s tough task

The veteran Algerian diplomat Lahkdar Brahimi has a challenging assignment. The newly appointed UN-Arab League envoy to Syria brings with him decades of experience in crisis management.

With the successes of Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and South Africa under his belt, Brahimi is expected to make a strong case as he rubs shoulders with the stakeholders in Damascus and other regional capitals. But can he succeed where Kofi Annan has failed in ending the 17-month long conflict that’s claimed thousands of lives, reduced parts of the country to rubble and risks turning into a full-scale civil war?

It’s here that Brahimi has to unlearn the lessons from Lebanon’s civil war and the upheavals in Afghanistan where it was almost next to impossible to stick to a draft resolution that had to be retailored to take into account the changing ground realities.

Brahimi has made a bold start by categorically stating that it would be too early to write-off President Bashar Al Assad’s role and stressing for a multi-party dialogue. To what extent he will differ from Kofi Annan in reaching out to Moscow and Beijing—Syria’s two strongest allies—remains to be seen. But if his interactions in the corridors of power is any indication, it’s quite likely he could succeed in bringing on board all the game-players and open new vistas of personal dialogue in order to bring about a quick a consensus. The sooner a consensus is reached the better as the country is now on the verge of implosion with a humanitarian crisis brewing. The exodus on its borders with Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey poses the gravest threat to regional security and it brings with it an ethnic and sectarian dimension.

What Brahimi needs to do immediately is broker a ceasefire across the war-torn country and bring all parties involved in the conflict to the table. Reconciliation has to be given a chance in Syria. The rebels and the local militia, who are in a perpetual state of war with the security forces, have to draw the lines of engagement. Brahimi — who enjoys the support of the Western powers, the Arab League as well as China and Russia—has a unique opportunity to get Damascus to see reason and make it clear to Assad that the time has come for a peaceful transition. There’s no room for delay and Brahimi’s mandate should be more than just brokering peace. He has to save Syria from total anarchy.

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