There are 97 fighting groups in Syria that as of midnight local time on February 26 have agreed to “a cessation of hostilities”. This is the first time in five years of bitter conflict that such a deal has been brokered. It is neither a peace treaty nor anything close to it and is scheduled to last for two weeks. The hope is that peace may take hold in that time. The ‘cessation’ does not apply to the fight against the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State (IS). The deal has been brokered by the US and Russia with the latter country the senior partner and very much the future determinant in terms of the continuity of ‘cessation’. There is every expectation that there will be breaches of the ceasefire and contingency plans are in place to deal with them as and when they occur.
In Syria any light is better than no light. The civil war has triggered crises across a swathe of countries from Turkey to the western-most reaches of the European Union, as well as feeding the voracious conflicts that ripple along the Maghrib and Levant. The IS has carved itself a chunk of territorial control and Russia, despite its sponsorship of the ceasefire, continues to support the Assad regime, bombing its opponents up to the last minute before the truce came into effect. Many observers are rightly sceptical, but if the first few days can pass without a major breakdown then hope is alive; and perhaps peace talks in Geneva can commence on March 7. Even a partial de-escalation may do something to stem the flood of refugees that are currently ripping up the Schengen Agreement as they march ever onwards, the flow not occluded by winter as had been supposed. In Syria itself, there is the world’s largest humanitarian emergency. Entire cities are on the verge of starvation. Children have died of hunger. The war has proved to be a magnet for radicalised men and women — including from Pakistan let it not be forgotten — from across the globe, the bacteria for future infection in their home countries. The world will hold its breath as the ceasefire goes ahead.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2016.