THE BALKANIZATION OF SYRIA

Posted on September 7, 2012 by

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Sectarian divide, the modern warfare

Farooq Yousaf*
Faultlines

The current situation in Syria is showing signs of bigger things to come. By the look of it, regime change may not be the sole purpose of the Western coalition, rather dividing Syria for long term goals may also be on the agenda.

Observers are of the view that the Syrian state may be heading towards balkanization – a model in which a state is fragmented into many parts.  Maplecroft, one of the major risk assessment firms, also shares the same view:

“Kurds in the north, Druze in the southern hills, Alawites in the coastal northwestern mountainous region and the Sunni majority elsewhere”, it says talking of the different divides present in Syria.

With such an intricate nexus of different ethnic groups, it seems that the division of this Islamic state may be based upon these ethnic boundaries and may soon lead to a chaotic civil war among Shias and Sunnis. This, in other words, may mean that the process may initially lead to Lebonization, a mild form of balkanization, as witnessed in Iraq, before heading towards balkanization.

This scheme of things may promote sectarian hatred, ethnic dangers and racist expressions among different groups living in Syria. The pattern also seems to suggest that the in-fighting among these groups may be a far more easy tool to promote or force a regime change than a physical intervention. Such clashes also put a mark on neighboring countries, such as the Libyan effects in Niger and Chad where as the Syrian effects in Turkey and Lebanon.

The raging spiral of Syrian violence has also spilled over to Lebanon. As I write, members of the Meqdad Clan, belonging to Shia’ite community, of Lebanon have abducted some 20 Syrians in retaliation for one of their family members being kidnapped in Syria. The Saudi ambassador in Beirut and the United Arab Emirates Foreign Ministry undersecretary advised their nationals to leave the country immediately, as did Qatar and Bahrain. Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry issued a similar warning anticipating the Syrian war aftermath in Beirut.

As the Arab Spring gained pace, public revolts gathered momentum in peaceful countries such as Bahrain, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. But these movements had another dimension to them as well. Along with the public dissent against the rulers, there were ethnic Shia-Sunni conflicts in these regions. These conflicts boast a bigger danger compared to movements against the rulers.

Amidst the fiasco, there was still a state that kept itself safe from infighting and chaos. Egypt, a ground for both revolution and counter-revolution scenes, is heading towards positive developments, both domestically and internationally. Although the Western forces, along with Israel, are trying to meddle with internal affairs creating a faceoff between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army, the decision by President Morsi retiring an influential army general played down much of the speculations of the possible clash between him and the military establishment.

Libya, on the other hand, is a prime example of balkanization. With the country divided into countless splinter groups, killing each other, there seem to be no signs of improvements in post-Gaddafi Libya.

The stake and viewpoint of Israel is important in this regard. The president of a renowned Israeli think tank says, “What you have in Syria is that the Middle East is coming apart; a new form of chaos is replacing what has existed.”

Pakistan is also under the same ethic-cum-sectarian violence. With a fragile security situation in FATA and Balochistan, as a result of militancy and separation movements, a spate of ethnic violence on minority Hazaras, and different ethnic groups in Karachi, is making the situation worse. Although the situation is comparatively better compared to Syria, Iraq and Libya, yet a check on violence is imperative to avoid similar cases faced by the aforementioned states.

Sad enough is the situation of Sunni majority Muslim states supporting interventions in Shia-led states such as Syria at present or Iran in future. The recent moves by the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) suspending Syria’s membership depict the same phenomena of the Muslim states helping in promoting a possible foreign intervention in Syria.

Interesting to note is Turkey’s role, a moderate Muslim state, having strong ties with USA and weak with many of the Muslim states, including Syria.  Erdogan, the Turkish PM, has time and again blamed Syria for fighting that has erupted in Turkey’s Kurdish areas. On the other hand, he ignores the fact that the violence in Turkey is a direct result of Turkish interference and its support to rebels in Syria.

Sarcastic for the Muslim states though, is the fact that China and Russia, non-Muslim states, are coming to the help of Syria in order to avoid any chaos. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently stated that the consequences in Libya have made Russia realise its mistake of allowing an intervention in Libya and that is why they are holding firm in the Syrian crisis.

The situation on the ground, although extremely complex, is portrayed as a a simple one by observers and analysts around the world. Even with the smallest of skirmishes in Muslim states, the blame is directly laid upon religio-sectarian reasons. This calls for greater unity and compassion among Muslims on the whole who must start agreeing to underlying disagreements in pursuit of unity, harmony and strength.

*The writer is working as a research analyst, programme consultant and content editor at the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad along with pursuing his Research Studies in Public Policy from Germany. He can be reached at farooq@crss.pk