I recently received a message from a friend still living in a suburb of Aleppo. She told me that she was closing the school she had been operating (underground since the uptick in airstrikes), and was taking the children closer to the Turkish border. As I thought about her message, I was reminded how a ceasefire observed by all parties will protect children like her students, today. But only a long-term political settlement will secure the country they will hopefully still call home, when they have children of their own.
My friend's story and the fate of future generations were at the forefront of my mind as I headed to the Syria peace talks in Geneva this month.
As a member of the Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee who is a believer in dialogue rather than violence, it is still clear to me that the solution to Syria's crisis is political not military. Thus, after weeks of preparations, travel, and meetings--observed with renewed interest by the media--it felt terribly difficult to postpone the very talks necessary to make this political solution a reality.
Ultimately, when I departed Geneva two days after the official decision to postpone the Syria peace talks (scheduled to resume February 25), I couldn't help but reflect rather emotionally on the wave of activity that had transpired during the previous two weeks.
Sitting in the Palace of Nations with UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura last Monday, our delegation listened closely to the ceasefire framework that was established. Shortly after, we met with an assembly of ambassadors who confirmed our growing confidence in the feasibility of this plan. Yet from the outset, we were concerned about compliance. The escalating Russian airstrikes around Aleppo last week, as our talks unfolded, raised internal debates about whether Russia would comply with a prospective ceasefire. And there are other concerns that linger. Will extremist factions like the al-Nusra Front observe or exploit such a deal? Does Syria's moderate opposition - of which I am a part - have a reliable commitment from all parties so that a ceasefire will adequately protect civilians? Is the establishment of a transitional government still an objective?
This last point is of particular interest.
As someone with close ties to those still suffering inside Syria, I can speak to the extent to which a ceasefire and political transition are viewed as closely intertwined. There is genuine concern that a ceasefire without the assurance of a political transition will simply preserve the current power-dynamics, and in the process, the same sources of suffering will endure. Likewise, there is grave worry about the international community, which must continue to prioritize humanitarian action as an immediate focus of these peace talks. If Syrians on the ground see humanitarian corridors open, reduced civilian casualties, and the release of detainees, they are more likely to show enthusiasm for a negotiated ceasefire.
As Syrians, we are asking what the world can do for us. And what we can do for ourselves. The ceasefire negotiations to resume later this month have opened an important opportunity for addressing Syria's humanitarian crisis in a more lasting way. But the ceasefire discussions cannot be separated from the larger political dialogue. An ultimate political transition remains the light at the end of this dark tunnel. It is the light that Syrians continue to strive toward, even in the darkness.
Hind Aboud Kabawat
Member of the High Negotiation Committee and Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action.