As the Syrian war enters its 6th year, months of preparation to cultivate another round of negotiations between Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition could still unravel.
Just days before the talks were due to commence, there is fervent debate on who should attend the talks as well as various other pre-conditions still been set.
The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) that was created in December after a Syrian opposition conference in Riyadh is deemed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey as the only representatives of the opposition.
The age-old problem in Syria’s brutal war is deciding who the opposition is, with literally dozens of groups and just who are the moderates.
Russia has been jockeying for involvement of other Syrian opposition parties that are aligned to their strategy and that the HNC deems as too close to the regime.
But of all the groups, the omission of the Syrian Kurds led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is the most controversial. The PYD and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have proved to be the most effective fighting force on the ground and have made steady gains against the Islamic State (IS).
The Syrian Kurds have been heavily backed under the cover of United States warplanes and are the only group that both the U.S. and Russia can agree on.
Turkey has been ever suspicious of the rising stock of the Syrian Kurds and the ramifications of their increased autonomy.
In recent days, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeated warnings that they will not tolerate any expansion of Kurdish territory west of the Euphrates and deem PYD as no different to IS or the PKK.
And this is where the contradictions intensify. The remaining IS corridor to the Turkish border can be easily sealed with coalition support and YPG forces. But for an anxious Turkey facing a renewed Kurdish war at home, IS still remains a more manageable entity than Syrian Kurds assuming most of its southern border.
In parallel to the Syrian Kurds facing the reality of no invitation to Geneva III, there have been widespread rumors in recent days that U.S. has been working to expand a disused former airbase in Rmelian, Hassaka, in the heart of Kurdish territory and in close proximity to Turkey and Iraq.
Whilst the US Central Command (CENTCOM) has stated it ‘has not taken control of any airfield in Syria’, other statements were not as definitive as a spokesman for the US Department of Defence said its small team in Syria needed “occasional logistical support”.
Either way, for a concerted move on Raqqa and even Mosul, opposition forces need greater logistical support from the U.S. led coalition than the usual airdrops.
If Ankara was feeling unease with the U.S. reports, then similar reports of Russian troops and a team of engineers in Qamishli looking to expand the airport and build a Russian base there would hardly have helped.
Whilst the US has tip-toed around both its key allies in Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, Russia does not have this problem and after relations nosedived with the downing of a Russian jet in November by Turkey, the Syrian Kurds remain a vital card for Moscow.
Any notion of a Russian military base in Kurdish territory would send a strong warning to Turkey.
It remains to be seen if PYD will attend the peace talks. Both the HNC and Turkey have insisted that if PYD does join, then it would be on the side of the regime. Turkey has even threatened to boycott the talks if PYD becomes part of the “official” opposition.
The differing stances of the Syrian Arab opposition, U.S., Russia and Turkey towards the Kurds will create another time-bomb if the Syrian Kurds are side-lined. Even if elusive peace is achieved, what then for the Syrian Kurds? Do you disregard their strategic importance against IS? Or do you even take moves to take away their autonomy or not include them in a future political framework?
With so many opposition groups and as many ideals and goals, and the crucial Kurdish position, Syrian troubles will continue long after Assad is gone.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc