April 5, 2013 6:04:08 pm
Yesterday,I had the opportunity to sit down with a member of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s inner circle. He is Syria’s Ambassador to the UN. His name is Bashar Ja’afari and he began his career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1980. Back then,Syria was governed by Bashar al-Assad’s father,Hafez al Assad.
Our meeting came in the wake of a General Assembly vote that approved the historic Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The ATT will attempt at regulating the $70 billion dollar arms trade by scrutinising whether sales of weapons breach international law,abet terrorism or foment genocide.
Syria,North Korea and Iran voted against the ATT. Ja’afari was quick to point towards India’s decision to abstain. India,a major importer,complained that the treaty favored exporting over importing states.
I caught up with Ja’afari in his office in New York. A portrait of Bashar al Assad hangs on the wall above his desk. Ja’afari points at the window,the UN building towers on a deceivingly sunny yet cold day.
“I control things from here,” he jokes.
What follows is our conversation where Ja’afari talks guns,geopolitics and rubbishes a rights group that has provided much of the international media with statistics on the war.
ALIA ALLANA: March has been the deadliest month in Syria according to the BBC,Al-Jazeera,FOX News to name a few. Most major news outlets have cited the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as a source. More than 6000 dead in the last month.
BASHAR JA’AFARI: Does number matter? Whether it is one or 100 dead,that is too many for the Syrian people. The international media rely on this source,the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Had anybody heard of the Observatory before the crisis? Is the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights a credible source?
The reporting on the crisis has been biased and one-sided. Why did Western capitals and the GCC stop showing broadcasts from Syria? Why did they not renew the Syrian News outlets subscription on Arab Satellite (ArabSat)? They cancelled our subscription at the early stage of the crisis. Why can’t Syria reach the international public?
ALIA ALLANA: There has historically been a scenario of lack of trust amongst the Arab States. Has this fuelled the current crisis?
BASHAR JA’AFARI: Indeed this is where the problem starts.
ALIA ALLANA: At the Arab League’s most recent meeting in Doha (Qatar),Syria’s seat was given to the Opposition,Syrian National Council. How do you respond to this?
BASHAR JA’AFARI: There is no more Arab League. How can there be one without Syria,Egypt,Algeria and Iraq? These four countries are the four pillars of Arabism and they have either collapsed or face serious problems. There is a heavy weight vacuum that is being taken advantage of by Gulf States,by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
All the decisions made by the Arab League are a violation of the Charter. The league deals with states,not bodies such as the Syrian National Coalition. The Arab League has become an integral part of the problem,not the solution. The Arab League had a duty to help Syria resolve the crisis not to allow and approve terrorists to acquire more weapons. What is the difference between NATO and the Arab League?
ALIA ALLANA: But the roots of the crisis were peaceful. In March 2011,the demand was reform.
BASHAR JA’AFARI: The calls for reform and change are legitimate but you don’t destroy the infrastructure if you are seeking freedom and democracy. You don’t set fire to a gas line; start shooting at embassies,universities,airlines. This is the work of mobs and gangs not of reformers or freedom seekers.
We do need democracy,reforms and cleaning up of corruption.
But there are many who have been manipulated; they have been enticed by the petro dollars. Fighters from Tunisian Libya. This scheme fits the Western strategy. They have gathered these terrorists and dumped them in Syria to kill and be killed.
ALIA ALLANA: A new network of alliances has emerged in the Syrian crisis. Has such determined Chinese and more so Russian support been a surprise?
BASHAR JA’AFARI: There are two parts to this answer. In order to understand the current crisis we need to look beyond the internal politics of Syria. This crisis is about geo-politics. Russia and China remember their lessons of Libya. The Libyan incident left them feeling deceived and cheated.
Russia and China backed the imposition of Resolution 1970 and 1973 that endorsed a No-Fly Zone. They thought this would protect the Libyan people but they were taken advantage of. Russia and China were been extremely surprised by the misinterpretation of the mandate given by the Security Council.
Russia and China have now stuck to the Charter. Their diplomacies do not accept foreign intervention or the changing of regimes.
Second,Russia and China both have Islamic minorities. They are afraid of the Islamic extremism that they have seen crop up. Islam has been used by the West and their proxies in the Arab world since the early 1940s and 1950s. The current wave of Islamism,Salafism,Wahabism,has its base in fighting the enemies of the West. This is the same scenario we have seen in Afghanistan. Jihadism has always been manipulated by the West.
ALIA ALLANA: Islam is being manipulated through the help of proxies? Saudi Arabia’s Imam recently prayed for the mujahedeen in Syria. How do you read this?
BASHAR JA’AFARI: These mullah’s are destroying Islam. These Mullah’s who encourage violence,pray for the mujahedeen are misleading millions of innocent Muslim. How can they be calling for jihad? This is an artificial jihad.
For instance after the suicide bombing at the Imam mosque that took the life of Imam Mohammed Said Ramadan al Bouti in Damascus,the Imam from the Holy Mosque in Mekkah praised the killing. Why? Because Bouti belonged to a moderate school of Islam.
These mullah’s are issuing irrational fatwas and the Gulf States have not been honest. This is where the issue can be traced.
ALIA ALLANA: Until the “Arab Spring” arrived to Syria,Turkey and Syria enjoyed good relations. Now Turkey is staunch supporter of the opposition. Did this shift in alliance surprise you?
BASHAR JA’AFARI: The friendship between our countries was a trap. We found this out early. The camps that are on the border of Syria and Turkey were built one month before the crisis had even begun. Then they were empty waiting for refugees.
When the Turkish allow,facilitate,harbor and host all kinds of terrorists without them being persecuted then they too should be held accountable. They have allowed these people to cross into Syrian territory.
ALIA ALLANA: Talk of an endgame is premature. Where do you think the crisis is headed to now?
BASHAR JA’AFARI: Over the course of four days at the end of last month,a new strategy emerged. First Ghassan Hitto,a Kurdish Texan (of Syrian origin) was appointed Prime Minister of the so-called liberated areas. Then Obama went to Israel and on his exit he repaired Turkey-Israel relations,which have been strained for the past two years. Erdogan meanwhile has reached some sort of deal with Abdullah Ocalan,the Kurdish leader of the PKK that has now called for an end to the civil war against the Turkish state. For Syria these developments mean a lot.
The majority of Kurds in Syria have been pro government through the uprising. Now the Kurdish card is being played. They will promise the Kurds their own state that runs from Iraq and through Syria. A new state will be carved. What was once the Skyes-Picot Agreement will be the Erdogan-Hamad deal.
ALIA ALLANA: By Hamad you mean Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani,the Emir of Qatar?
BASHAR JA’AFARI: Yes
ALIA ALLANA: Qatar has emerged as a major player,a new power in the Arab world.
BASHAR JA’AFARI: Qatar is not a new power. It is merely following instructions.
ALIA ALLANA: How do you explain Syria’s objection to the ATT? Surely curbing the sale of weapons is a good thing.
BASHAR JA’AFARI: We have struggled with this treaty for the past seven years. We have struggled over incorporating crucial issues but our efforts have been in vain. Our objective was to ratify a good treaty. Not one that would politicize the matter yet allow the sale of arms in a selective and discriminatory manner.
ALIA ALLANA: Issue such as?
BASHAR JA’AFARI: We have an issue with the illegality and illegitimacy of providing weapons to non-state actors. By this we mean drugs cartels,terrorist groups,armed groups,such as those that are currently acting against Assad in Syria. But they (the West) don’t want to cut the exportation to terrorists. None of our concerns were taken into consideration. Therefore most of the like-minded groups abstained.
ALIA ALLANA: Do you,does the Syrian leadership feel cornered? If the treaty is ratified it could in theory influence the sale of arms from Russia to Syria and Russia has been a key ally in the crisis.
BASHAR JA’AFARI: No,not cornered at all. We have steadfastly been pursuing our own policies based on principles for decades. For instance,we have always been against the US blockade of Cuba irrespective of whether it would fly in the General Assembly. For this is about the principles enshrined in the Charter.
We do not bargain on our positions when it comes to the matter of international law. We are against manipulation by the Western powers. It is they who are taking advantage of the balance of power after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They seem to be disenchanted with the ideals enshrined in the 1945 Charter. The idealistic provisions do not fit the current realities of the unipolar system.
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