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Connecting The Dots: The Future of Syria and Libya In 2017

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The Arab Spring, instead of making the region blossom, brought a long winter to the people of Middle East. 2017 might be an important year in determining the future of middle-east. Fuelled by the change in administration in the US and England, there are expectations that the situation in the middle East will change. But will these changes be positive? Let’s examine the case of Syria and Libya.

Ceasefire in most of Syria

By the end of 2017, there are high chances of ceasefire between rebels and government forces. Talks are about to begin in Astana and the interest shown by Russia, Turkey and Iran raises hopes. These three are the major players in Syrian war along with the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The US has considerable negotiation power in Syria and can’t be overlooked,  as they have put their weight behind PYD, which Turkey has declared a terrorist group and which it considers as an extension of PKK (declared as a terrorist organisation by the US, Turkey as well as EU). But the change in the US administration might lead to some positive development. Trump and his advisers have shown interest in rapprochement with Turkey, and want to reduce tensions with Russia. Most probably they will demand some autonomy for Kurdish areas. If Turkey agrees to it, Syria will be a more peaceful place than it is presently.

Russia is looking to turn Obama’s foreign policy failures into its gain, and is aggressively looking for a more dominant position in the world. If it succeeds to bring ceasefire in Syria, it will redefine its position in middle-east, and will gain a reputation of credible arbiter in the region. It cannot be overlooked that if Assad is on top in Syrian War, it is only because of Russia and Iran, and it is only Russia’s direct involvement which turned the momentum. Iran can’t go alone, and certainly it can’t go against Russian interests. It might use its proxies to create leverage for its demands and may play a very important role in determining the successor of Assad.

The economic constraints and trust gap with its NATO allies will lead Turkey to soften its stand in Syria. However, it has highest negotiation power among the backers/supporters of the rebels. Its disappointment with Obama and western allies over a number of Syrian issues like creation of safe zone, No-fly Zone, support in operation Euphrates Shield, etc. has led to tectonic shift in its foreign policy. The anti-Turkish and anti-Erdogan sentiments incited by western media and European politicians have added fuel. Turkey is looking to return to its “No problem with neighbours” foreign policy to add stability to the country which has been marred by a number of terrorist attacks in 2016. With Saudi Arabia losing its influence over rebels, it has ability to direct rebels’ opinion and bring them to peace. Saudi Arabia has significantly withdrawn its hands and Qatar is more likely to toe into Turkish lines. Overall, there are bright chances of peace in Syria, and with ceasefire between rebels, regime and Kurds, ISIS is more likely to change its focus. There are high chances that its militants will become proxies of powerful countries in other sensitive and unstable regions in middle-east.

Civil War, rise of terrorism and instability in Libya will lead to Haftar’s rise

The peace in Syria will come at the cost of Civil War in Libya. The once most developed country in Africa, Libya, will become a battlefield for proxy wars. Don’t be surprised if you see the rise of terrorism in areas under the hold of UN backed governments and the rise of Khalifa Haftar. Terrorism is generally believed to be the result of radical thinking which becomes powerful when there is a weak government. Unfortunately, this wrong belief will become basis of Libya’s demise.

The playground is all set. The negotiation failure between Hillary and Cameroon over Libyan resources has already started showing its result. Libya has huge natural resources, especially oil. But the development in Libya after fall of Gaddafi didn’t go as per expectations of western nations.  As Islamic sentiments gained momentum, the international players had to deal with an unexpected challenge in the form of Political Islam. The deadlock over its resources only meant that Libya will be left divided. The powers that toppled Gaddafi are looking for other ways, owing to instability and lack of commitment on their part. Since the powerful countries find it easier to deal with a secular dictator than an elected ruler, Haftar is the perfect man suited for this job. But it will be difficult for a dictatorial minded person like Haftar to gain legitimacy against a UN backed government, and it is here that terrorism will play its role.  Neither Cameroon nor Hillary Clinton is in office. There will be a new plan for Libya, and deals would be reached between NATO allies as soon as possible as Russia is also knocking the door. To fight against this menace of terrorism, there might be an initial race between the US and Russia to support Haftar, Russia supporting openly and US tacitly. Egypt will be Haftar’s the biggest regional supporter. Tunisia, Turkey and Qatar might choose to side with UN backed government. But the civil war in Libya will not be as long as Syrian war. We might see Haftar gaining huge power and control over swathes of Libyan soil. All this means that Libya becoming a stable democratic country is a distant dream.

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