Matt Freear: Local Peace agreements are the only way to stabilize Syria
12 October 2016
Displacing ISIL from its territorial base in Syria, and destroying its leadership and ﬁnancial foundations, may be a start, but it is not enough to pursue stability in this war-torn country. When al Shabaab vacated its conventional frontline in Mogadishu in 2011, it turned to guerilla operations, like many other insurgencies. A public debate amongst Syrians about what a stable future looks like – including those in Syria and displaced around the world – is one that can eventually lead towards a developed political framework and constitutional reform, Matt Freear , a strategic communications expert, specializing in security and stabilization in post-conﬂict environments stated.
Freear , who has worked in campaigning, advisory and oﬃcial roles for the UK and US governments, the United Nations, European and African Unions in Kenya, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq explained in an interview with Aljoumhouria the aim of his paper, entilted “the Syrian Stabilization and Reconstruction Lessons Learned for a Post-Conflict Syria” and that was published by The American Security Project (ASP) in June 2016 .
Freear said :" People can work together ,and local peace agreements can be a small start ,and it may extend to cover the whole country".
In light of what has happened in Mogadishu, reconstruction is stabilization when it grows the circle of stability stakeholders who are invested in peace, provides jobs and builds conﬁdence in the future, Freear concluded in his paper.
It is more than just formal structures of government and navigating local political economies. “It is about building an entire country’s vision of its future”. Things has to be done from the local level upwards – not by foreign actors – and creating momentum in public debate is an area where the US and its democratic partners have considerable advantage.
But how can this work in Syria?
Freear said: "communications platforms and social media oﬀer opportunities to innovatively generate conversations about the future of Syria. Amidst the conﬂict, that public debate is much needed".
This debate should start now and Syrian NGOS even they are depressed , they should say what they want for their country ,and there is a tremendous potential for carrying this out using technology to reach Syrians globally in the digital age .
NGOS hand in hand with media should play a role in bringing people together and finding common interest and motivating Syrians in diaspora to come coming back, and invest not necessarily on a large scale and to be part of the future of Syria.
According to Freear , social media is an opportunity that should be used properly, since words are better than weapons , later on people need to sit face to face and build trust.
Freear added: “provisional constitution needs to be understood and supported by majority of people, things require a lot of debates, about balances of power , legal systems economy and division of adminstration between central and local government”.
Freear found the Somali model quite interesting to realize how the Somali refugees that settled in Europe and North America in the 1990s today provide one source of skills and investment for the current wave of reconstruction in Somalia, as many diaspora return to their country of origin.
Freear said:” Private (sometimes diaspora) investors were among a new set of stakeholders for stability in Mogadishu, especially after al Shabaab left the capital of Somalia in 2011”. Their conﬁdence, risk and willingness to invest in reconstruction has led to a greater sense of security, and there is much to be learned from that.
He added:"Media reached to those in Somali Diaspora and linked them with their citizens inside despite the divide between several groups. This move can be applied in Syria and people need to express their desire and reconciliation and plan for their future together.
Will international and regional powers facilitate this dialogue?
Freear did not deny that regional powers and neighboring countries to Syria have their own interests, but they have to stop interfering in Syria.
He said: “If USA , Russia and European countries have to protect their interests, then we can ask regional powers to pull back. if we want these local peace agreements to flourish, it is supposed to be linked with international powers, who should protect and ensure its implementation”.
For instance in Somalia, when international powers reached to a settlement in this country, African union countries decided to lessen its interference(Kenya , Burundi mainly). So what seems a challenge now may lead to new approaches in the future.
But such agreements willnot enahnce dividing Syria?
Freear said in fact , Syria is divided today, what will be the situation in the future, what people expect how power will be distributed, maybe there will be reconciliation and people will work together how minorities will be treated.
Freear believes that local agreements will not be final, it may expand in the entire country, and have a domino effect if they donot surrender in the face of overwhelming force. It will take time, if we want different outcomes of what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, patience is highly recommended.
Freear considered that western countries focused on military power in Iraq and Afghanistan to establish strong central government ,and launching massive development projects did not lead to fruitful results, because people wasnot being listened to, plans were put in Newyork , London, and Brussels.
So lessons learned, that to achieve development, we need to focus on people and local governments and giving United Nations more influence to contain the conflicts.
What is still missing?
The US government and its partners in Syria prioritise what is still known as the war on “international terrorism”, and it is unclear how that current policy contributes towards peace for Syrians given the clear lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan but also Libya and Somalia.
"Harnessing the considerable power and will of international allies in the destruction of regimes or organisations, however abhorrent, is far from enough for creating stability. The primary antidote to international terrorism is not destruction of organisations - you can’t destroy an idea. Rather, the balance of resources and effort must be placed on the positive construction of politics and ideas - and the best place for that to happen is locally”.
Freear said :“It might sound trite when peace seems a long way off and while people in Aleppo continue to be bombed, but we need to arm people with ideas, as well as guns. And in the internet age there is no doubt that there are huge opportunities to garner and support the construction of political ideas".
He added: “the appalling disaster of the Russian-US, national-level truce shows that progress cannot be agreed distant from the country. It may be harder in practice but what is needed investing - properly, adequately - in fostering local ideas, and leadership and peace is a relevant alternative - or complement - to high level negotiations”.
Freear concluded that the new American adminstration willnot send boots on grounds if they don’t have a clear paln, that is for sure.
The American Security Project (ASP) is a nonpartisan organization created to educate the American public and the world about the changing nature of national security in the 21st Century.