Astana partners should focus on political transition in Syria  

Astana partners should focus on political transition in Syria  

One of the most important achievements of the political efforts in regards to the Syrian civil war was the decision to set up a constitutional committee with the task of writing a new blueprint for the war-torn country in line with the resolution 2254 of the United Nations Security Council. 

According to an agreement brokered in January 2018, the 150-man committee would be composed of 50 representatives from the Bashar al-Assad regime, 50 representatives from the Syrian opposition council and 50 from the civil society with an independent background.

Once the committee is established, each group would assign 15 persons for starting works to write the constitution of Syria.

However, although nearly two years have passed, the efforts to set up the committee could not be finalized. The problem stems from the composition of the civil society representation at the committee as both the regime and opposition sides are trying to use their influence in selecting these independent members. 

Turkey has been playing a very active role in accomplishing these works so that the political transition period could start in Syria. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has made many proposals to the Russian side for overcoming the remaining minor disputes over the committee. He informed the media that the parties need to agree on two names before being able to announce the composition of the committee and it’s reported that Turkey opposes the appointment of a Syrian Kurdish figure linked with the PYD/YPG to the committee. Once the problem is over the committee will likely be announced in the coming weeks.

The idea is to finalize these works during the Turkey-Russia-Iran summit slated for Sept. 16 in Ankara which U.N. Special Envoy Geir Pedersen is also expected to attend. Apart from de-escalation zones created in the war-torn country, the announcement on the constitutional committee will be one of the most important achievements of the Astana Process set by these three countries. (Turkey and many European nations prefer to announce the committee through a meeting at the U.N. headquarters in Geneva although the Astana trio would come to a conclusion on this effort in Ankara on Sept 16.)

However, the real question accompanied by serious concerns is about to what extent the Syrian regime will be willingly implementing the political transition process. These concerns are being loudly voiced by prominent European nations who are closely following the process but without being much consulted with by the Astana partners. 

They remain very skeptical on the Syrian-Russian willingness to engage with the political process and they want to know to what extent the constitutional committee can be a right vehicle for a genuine transition. The Syrian regime has indeed shown no evidence for the slightest concession for a political transition in the country. On the contrary, its efforts to intensify its military operations in the Idlib province are just proving that they want to further weaken the opposition groups. 

From this perspective, the Syrian conflict seems to last for an indefinite period with the continued presence of Russian and American troops in the field. In such a case, Turkish troops should also be expected to extend their presence in this country as an unreformed Syria would continue to diffuse instability to the entire region.    

At this point, it’s possible to suggest that the Syrian-Russian duo may claim a military victory in western Syria particularly after the Idlib campaign is over. But this won’t bring a democratic and economic win to either party. 

That’s why there are efforts by Russia to expand the scope of the Astana Process with the inclusion of France and Germany as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said. A Russian invitation is surely more to the euros of these countries rather than their political contribution and participation in the process. Europe, however, continues to make clear that not even one euro will be allocated until a genuine political transition process begins. 

Efforts to turn Syria into a tension-free and stable country require a holistic approach supported by the entire international community. The Astana Process should be able to focus on more political transition in the coming period to secure the backing of the Europeans and others for the reconstruction of the destroyed country. That’s essential for Turkey as well if it wants to encourage the return of nearly four million Syrians to their homeland.