Dr. Ammar Kahf from Omran for Strategic Studies discusses Russia's Airstrikes on Hospitals and Civilians in Syria
Dr. Sinan Hatatet from Omran for Strategic Studies addresses ISIS in Deir Ezzor and ISIS Shelling Turkey
Dr. Ammar Kahf from Omran for Strategic Studies discusses De Mistura's role and the possibility of reaching a political solution in Vienna.
Dr. Sinan Hatatet from Omran for Strategic Studies discussess tensions between Russia and Turkey following the downing of a Russian near the Turkish - Syrian border.
Abstract: The statement on the cessation of hostilities in Syria released on February 22, 2016 following meetings between Kerry and Lavrov indicate the continuance of a joint US-Russian policy to push for a political process that excludes all “rebel” parties. This proposition reinforces new rules to push forward a political transition in Syria devoid of any political or legal guarantees that would end an era of state terrorism. The statement further entrenches the Russians in the Syrian file by graduating them from an ally of the regime to an internationally sanctioned sponsor of the political process and ultimately an overseer of the ceasefire with rights to strike “other groups” not specified in the agreement
Overview of the Statement
• Enhancing the position of Russian leadership in setting the conditions for a final settlement in Syria: the statement issued by the ISSG Ceasefire Task Force, established by the Munich Communique in February 11, 2016, led by the US and Russia, indicates the complete delegation of executable details of the final settlement from Washington to Moscow. Kerry has been committed to the Russian vision which has been repeatedly revealed in Lavrov’s public statements since the Vienna meetings last year. In turn, Russia is given a free hand to target any opponent to its proposal under the pretext of the fight against terrorism while at the same time ensuring the safety and security of all other groups not designated as terrorist organizations. This premise is evident in the exclusion of all groups who do not express commitment to the cessation of hostilities in addition to excluding ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra and any other group designated by the UN Security Council as terrorist groups in Syria.
• Presenting the Syrian regime military as the only legitimate force of the Syrian state: the statement reiterated the legitimacy of the Syrian regime forces and militias as “the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic”. It further grants the Syrian Armed Forces exclusive rights to fight terrorism and Syrian opposition revolutionary forces. According to the statement, the regime forces become the guarantors of establishing peace and security in Syria. Meanwhile, all other Syrian forces; including the national moderate opposition, the Syrian democratic forces and the YPG units, are not allowed to fight ISIS or other groups designated as terrorists without authorization from the Syrian regime. Furthermore, the Syrian regime, with international support, is thus allowed classify the national moderate opposition forces as opponents of the regime’s state in the case they reject the cessation of hostilities, and therefore target and attack these forces without any legal or political deterrents.
• Managing exceptions within the agreement and maintaining the fluidity of the military situation: As a whole, the exceptions in this statement and previous UN resolutions maintain the fluidity of the military situation in Syria to the advantage of the regime and its allies. The agreement also excludes from the political process in Syria all of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups to be identified later on by the UN Security Council. The statement considers the national forces that reject the agreement as legitimate targets for the international coalition, Russia and regime forces. In contrast, the statement does not exclude from ceasefire arrangements any of the Iran-supported foreign militia. Instead, it considers them as legitimate groups because they fight along the “Syrian Armed Forces”. The national opposition forces are thus forced to stop all of their military actions against regime forces and its allies without exception and no matter the circumstance.
• Seperating ceasefire from negotiations, thereby abolishing the Political Solution: UN Security Council Resolution No. 2254 closely links a nationwide ceasefire with taking real steps towards a transitional process. The draft statement, however, does not maintain any such links and overlooks any of the preconditions to engage in tangible political progress. The statement concludes with a demand that all parties commit to the release of detainees without deeming it a prerequisite for engaging in the political process or a ceasefire. Furthermore, urging all parties to allow easy access for humanitarian assistance is basically the same as the implementation of Security Council Resolutions No. 2139 and 2165 – something the international community has failed to hold the regime accountable for since the passing of these resolutions. Moreover, efforts to force the regime to follow the timetable set out by UN Resolution 2254 are meaningless once the national opposition forces are stripped from their ability to arm themselves and fight the regime and allied forces per the proposed cessation of hostilities agreement.
Procedural Problems within the Text of the Agreement
The statement solidifies the status-quo on the ground prior to the commencement of negotiations, and eliminates any room for objections. Thus, given the reality on the ground, the only way to interpret what the statement means by “preparing the conditions for the peace process” is the surrender of the opposition. The statement includes several problems that will result in its failure and they are as follows:
1. The US and Russia are responsible for defining the non-target areas. Such an arrangements is feasible in the south due the availability of the right conditions, however, the same arrangement is impossible in the Idlib province where the areas held by Jabhat al-Nusra and the national resistance forces are geographically intertwined.
2. There is ambiguity surrounding the final wording which describes the monitoring mechanisms. As it appears, the text maintains the legitimacy of the Russian expansion in northern Syria. It also allows the regime forces and its allies to target the national resistance forces, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, even while conducting investigations into questionable attacks.
3. Accountability mechanisms for breaching the agreement are limited to excluding those who violate the ceasefire from international protection ensured by the statement. This is not achievable except by US-Russian approval – thus granting the regime immunity to pursue its military operations under Russian sponsorship.
4. The statement institutionalizes security and intelligence cooperation and information exchange between the US and Russia but offers no guarantees against the misuse of intelligence of avoiding targeting the headquarters and facilities of national resistance forces. Moreover, it does not compel the implementing parties to disclose their internationally-agreed military objectives.
A Fragile Agreement Jeopardizing Regional Peace and Security
Similar to previous agreements, the US-Russian agreement fails to handle the underlying causes of the ongoing conflict in Syria, namely, the continuation of Bashar Alassad as the head of state and the persistence of systematic violence and terrorist acts against unarmed civilians carried out under the pretext of fighting terrorism with the blessing, support and participation of Russia. The failure of the international community to stop the bloodshed of the Syrian people and the destruction of state institutions led to the fragmentation of the Syrian society. This created a political and institutional vacuum, which was taken advantage of by extremist groups and grew within it. Another result was the development of a stifling humanitarian disaser that led to the largest refugee cisis since WWII.
Regionally, Iran exploited the crumbling regime to control state institutions end secure its presence in the Levant after tightening its grip on Baghdad and Beirut. In turn, Iran improved its political standing and managed to sign a historical nuclear deal with the US. The nuclear deal’s impact is further manifested through the deepening partnership between Tehran and Washington in managing the regional issues militarily and Iran’s increased aggressive interactions with Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia. The current US-Russian agreement further enhances the Iranian stance and legitimizes the operations of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Syria while also maintaining geographical connections with the Iranian backed militias in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hence, Iran has institutionalized a continuous military presence commensurate with its political influence in the region for the first time since the Islamic revolution in 1979.
As it relates to Turkey, the Syrian dilemma affected the domestic situation in two ways: First, at the humanitarian level, with the nonstop flood of refugees – posing economic and security strains on Turkish state institutions and negatively affecting relations between Ankara and the EU. Secondly, at the security level, the vacuum created by the collapse of the Syrian state resulted in the rise of both ISIS and the separatist Kurdish movements in the north, threatening the Turkish inland. Within a span of four months, Ankara suffered two terrorist explosions by both groups. Istanbul and the border city of Suruc and areas in southeast Turkey suffered similar operations resulting in the deterioration of the security situation and reviving PKK dreams to separate. The current US-Russian agreement on Syria ensures the continuity of the security threats to Turkey as it fails to resolve the crisis of refugees fleeing through Turkey to Europe. It also maintains the status quo along Turkey’s southern border allowing for extremism to continue spreading. Furthermore, the US-Russian deal creates easily accessible equipment and supply routes for the PKK fighters in the border areas with Syria, especially in southeast Turkey where the PKK is most active.
Scenarios for the National Resistance Forces
The proposed formula for the cessation of hostilities in Syria maintains the fluidity of the crisis, both politically and militarily, as established by the Geneva Communiqué. Such uncertainty was exploited by Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime to reset the rules of the game toward their joint interests, end the Syrian national resistance and exploit regional security to enhance their goals. As the international community fails to face the Russian and Iranian aggressive agendas, it is imperative that the political and military opposition to work toward ending the liquidity of the situation in Syria.
The Higher Negotiations Council (HNC) was successful in pursuing a policy of conditional acceptance for the demands laid out by the ISSG in order to look for new ways out of the dilemma imposed on the opposition due to the US’ significant pressure in causing the decrease of financial and logistical support. The HNC also succeeded in maintaining its unity despite many internal elements leaning towards reconciling with the regime. Also, the HNC was able to continue to politically perform and maneuver despite Russia playing one of its last cards in an attempt to eliminate any remaining chance for the Syrian people to achieve a just and sustainable political solution.
Therefore, in order to for the national political opposition to recapture its independent decision making it should:
1. Fully reject the statement and threaten to withdraw from negotiations since all ceasefire conditions in the proposed text entail excluding groups and organizations in geographical locations intertwined with opposition strongholds. The Russians and Americans must offer guarantees to not use such exclusions as pretexts to target the opposition.
2. Insist that the ceasefire takes into consideration all of the opposition’s concerns and make a condition, guaranteed by the ISSG, that a transition without Assad will start immediately. This should be clearly stated in the expected Security Council resolution for this agreement.
3. Work towards more decisive support by the allies of the opposition, both politically and militarily, and the designation of foreign militias supporting the regime as terrorist organizations. In addition to the establishment of a joint crisis chamber that includes the HNC and the national resistance forces.
Abstract: Since its establishment in early 2012, al-Nusra Front (al-Nusra) was active in the Syrian uprising and fiercely fighting against the Assad regime. It exploited organizational weaknesses of national resistance factions and benefited later from the mistakes of ISIL. It also collaborated in and coordinated some battles with some national resistance forces. However, this presence has become increasingly problematic with the continued affiliation of al-Nusra to al-Qaeda – an affiliation made public after its leader, Abu Mohamed al-Joulani, pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri on April 10, 2013. This paper explores this problematic relationship and its causes by defining the “allegiance” between al-Nusra and al-Qaeda’s central command in Afghanistan. Additionally, we will analyze the potential for disengagement and its consequences on both parties. Finally, we will tackle the implications on the national resistance forces and their options with the continuous growth of al-Nusra at the expense of the Syrian revolution agenda.
Since its establishment in early 2012, al-Nusra Front (al-Nusra) was active in the Syrian uprising and fiercely fighting against the Assad regime. It exploited organizational weaknesses of national resistance factions and benefited later from the mistakes of ISIL. It also collaborated in and coordinated some battles with some national resistance forces. However, this presence has become increasingly problematic with the continued affiliation of al-Nusra to al-Qaeda – an affiliation made public after its leader, Abu Mohamed al-Joulani, pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri on April 10, 2013. ( ) This paper explores this problematic relationship and its causes by defining the “allegiance” between al-Nusra and al-Qaeda’s central command in Afghanistan. Additionally, we will analyze the potential for disengagement and its consequences on both parties. Finally, we will tackle the implications on the national resistance forces and their options with the continuous growth of al-Nusra at the expense of the Syrian revolution agenda.
Tactical Allegiance and Mutual Interests
The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) emerged in October 13, 2006 without consulting the central command of al-Qaeda. After its establishment, a member of its Consultative Council, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, sent a letter to Osama Bin Laden reaffirming its affiliation to al-Qaeda, stating that the Consultative Council has witnessed the ISI leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, pledging allegiance to Bin Laden, hence, confirming ISI’s allegiance al-Qaeda. After Bin Laden was killed by US forces and al-Zawahiri assumed the leadership of al-Qaeda, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed as the new ISI leader based on a decision by the ISI Consultative Council. The latter appointment was however made without consulting al-Qaeda, subsequently, ISI contacted al-Zawahiri to bless his appointment, and so did the newly ISI leader renewing his pledge of allegiance to al-Qaeda and its leader as evidenced in several audio recordings.( ) The pledge of allegiance was honored until al-Baghdadi declared the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and annexed al-Nusra Front to the new entity on April 9, 2013. al-Joulani, however rejected this announcement, thus creating an organizational rift between the two groups that later necessitated an Islamic legal justification to their armed conflict.
In its early months, the disagreement between al-Nusra and ISIL was a cautious one. It, however, rapidly turned to an armed conflict starting in Raqqa, fiercely escalating in Deir El-Zour and later spreading to all the territories under the control of both groups. Consequently, the dispute was referred to al-Qaeda to act as an arbitrator, which assigned Abu Khalid al-Souri to investigate the dispute and accordingly to convene a religious court to rule against one or the other. Following the assassination of Abou Khalid Al Souri, al-Zawahiri was pushed to take things in hand and ruled in favor of ISIL dissolution, and the conservation of the original Islamic State of Iraq, on Iraqi territories and under the leadership of al-Baghdadi, hence legitimizing al-Nusra’s independency and presence in Syria under the leadership of Abu Mohamed al-Joulani while preserving its affiliation to the central command of al-Qaeda. ( )
In response, ISIL rejected al-Zawahiri’s decision and Joulani’s pledge of allegiance to al-Qaeda. Moreover, it adopted a new “frowned upon” approach for trans-national jihadist groups by exposing internal disagreements in the media. Indeed, ISIL published several recordings addressed to Al Zawahiri urging him to renounce al-Nusra’s pledge of allegiance, or to refute the legitimate defect he undertook. The most noticeable was a recorded audio message by ISIL’s spokesperson, al-Adnani, entitled “Apologies to the Amir of al-Qaeda” which served as a foundation for revoking ISIL’s pledge of allegiance to al-Qaeda. This public “score-settling” has undeniably revealed the true nature of ISIL’s relationship to al-Qaeda, with no financial commitment or logistical support required from the later, ISIL’s pledge of allegiance to Al Qaeda was nothing more than an unbinding convention for occasional consultations and religious formalities.( )
Early on, al-Zawahiri was quick to realize that al-Baghdadi was a rather more extreme version of Abu Mosab al-Zarqawi and eventually he will disobey al-Qaeda’s orders regardless of how al-Qaeda will handle al-Nusra’s pledge of allegiance. ISIL’s one-sided commencement left a bitter taste in al-Qaeda’s higher ranks as most of al-Zawahiri’s recordings have revealed, he realized that ISIL has attracted a large segment of Jihadi circles away from al-Qaeda. The flowing pledges of allegiance to al-Baghdadi from jihadist groups in Yemen, Tunisia, Libya and Africa, in addition to large numbers of European immigrants was a clear manifestation of this new reality. ( ) It was just a matter of time before ISIL succeeds in completely outgrowing al-Qaeda. In the end and as expected al-Baghdadi finally seized the opportunity created by the circumstances and declared the Islamic Caliphate in June 29, 2014 declaring himself “the Caliph of Muslims”. Weary and desperately clinging to any form of continuity al-Qaeda decided to favor Abu Mohamed al-Joulani over al-Baghdadi, as he offered a niche to be invested in the Levant.
Al-Nusra was not strong enough, being a rather nascent group. Moreover, it was suffering an identity crisis as it started to fight with ISIL. Additionally, it didn’t successfully attract jihadi leaders and scholars as ISIL did. Al-Nusra’s al-Joulani was confronted with the necessity of justifying to his group the dissent from ISIL and to convince them with the reasons behind rejecting the merge. Faced with these challenges, al-Joulani was only left with pledging allegiance to al-Zawahiri to escape yielding to the smaller branch entity -ISIL- by resorting to the original and broader umbrella group – al-Qaeda.
It is evident that in addition to the structural and organizational relationship between al-Nusra and al-Qaeda, the relationship was further solidified through mutual interests. While al-Joulani was seeking a legitimate umbrella other than ISIL, al-Qaeda was in need for a new popular base – overtaken by Baghdadi’s declaration of the Caliphate.
Repercussions of Revoking Pledge of Allegiance on Syria
Al-Nusra’s role in the many battles fought during the Syrian revolution in addition to its growing authority, encouraged many to support it and overlook its affiliation with al-Qaeda. Many fighting factions further claim that al-Nusra would be widely accepted and its relationship with the revolutionary forces naturalized in case it revokes its pledge of allegiance with al-Qaeda. However, this position does not take into consideration the consequences of such a move if it materializes. Al-Nusra is by default a power hungry group linked to a trans-national project, and given the current situation of the Syrian revolution, the consequences of revoking the pledge and its impact on national resistance forces, must be analyzed. These impacts can be illustrated further in this paper.
A Strategic Shift in al-Qaeda’s Structure
The latest events in the Levant and Iraq forced al-Qaeda to rethink its international and regional positioning and to redraw its transnational project borders. Indeed, the group had no choice but to act in accordance with the deteriorating popular support to its transnational outlook in favor of more national local political projects necessitating the relocation of the central jihadi command from Afghanistan to the Levant resulting in a dramatic shift in al-Qaeda’s narrative and politics. An initial review of statements and communiques by al-Qaeda’s leaders and theorists indicate a shift from global and transnational jihad to national jihad within local communities. ( ) The transnational approach al-Qaeda adopted has proven catastrophic to its existence and more alarmingly it bred more extreme and out-of-control offshoots. Local jihad, on the contrary, offers the opportunity of creating a social base for its ideology and avoid isolation it used to fall prey to. In this context, al-Nusra’s experience could be a new one for al-Qaeda and the main paradigm to test the success of such a shift in strategy. Consequently, it would not come as a surprise if al-Nusra’s pledge is revoked by al-Qaeda without an endeavor from al-Joulani. Al-Zawahiri had previously stated in a televised interview that the main point of disagreement between al-Qaeda and ISIL was declaring the existence of the group in the Levant and announcing the Caliphate. Al-Baghdadi’s solo move offered a valuable opportunity for Bashar Assad to invoke al-Qaeda in his fight against the Syrian people, he added. “The sole guarantee for the success of any jihadi experience is jihadists mixing with the social base”, he affirmed – referring to the experiences of Taliban and al-Nusra in the Levant. ( )
Therefore, it is safe to argue that the developments in the Syrian scenery and the current reality forced al-Qaeda to reconsider its organizational structure and to redefine its relations with its offshoots, granting them flexibility and autonomy. This shift in politics, however, needs to be initiated by al-Qaeda in order to guarantee a smooth transition. In the case of al-Nusra for example, al-Qaeda extends political legitimacy to its leadership, protecting the group from disintegrating and joining ISIL. For the pledge of allegiance between al-Nusra and al-Qaeda to be “harmlessly” revoked, al-Nusra must acquire rooted local support to provide an alternate source of legitimacy.
Despite its affiliation with al-Qaeda, al-Nusra managed to recruit numerous Syrian youth due to various reasons and in complete disregard of the local, regional and international burden this affiliation created on the Syrian revolution. Revoking al-Nusra’s allegiance to al-Qaeda removes the main barrier stopping members of other fighting groups in Syria from joining the ranks of al-Nusra. This allegiance is seen as the cause for al-Nusra being listed internationally as a terrorist entity and its dissolution will lead to an influx of fighters without a significant shift in its ideological outlooks. Moreover, several reasons may push the youth to join al-Nusra if it succeeds in getting larger grassroots support such as its track record of victories in fiercely fighting the Assad regime in addition to having a Salafist project that intersects with a large number of Islamist factions. Moreover, it possesses an organizational advantage over other national groups that gives it a wider appeal especially with weakening mainstream religious education and the lack of Syrian-based counter-extremism programs. Therefore, revoking al-Nusra’s pledge of allegiance to al-Qaeda would remove the last obstacle preventing the group from gaining nationwide accession and recognition.
Local Entrenchment of al-Qaeda’s Ideology
When the question of revoking the pledge of allegiance with al-Qaeda is raised, not all members within al-Nusra are concerned with it but more discussed among a certain faction within it referred to as the “reformers” or “al-Ansar” represented by Abu Maria al-Qahtani and Mazhar Alwess vis-à-vis the hawkish old guards represented by Samy al-Areedi. Dependence on the former, however, requires great prudence because they represent a rooted segment within Syrian society that embraces al-Qaeda’s ideology. It should be noted that revoking the pledge does not mean political denouncement of al-Qaeda’s ideology, but rather a public maneuver for tactical purposes. In other words, the dissolution of alliance lead by the reformers within al-Nusra comes at the risk of further naturalizing, entrenching and rooting al-Qaeda’s ideological outlooks in Syrian society.
Filling the Political and Religious Vacuum
Salafist jihadi movements invoke distorted parts of cultural heritage in marketing their authoritarian cause, while in fact they make use of an existing political vacuum. The lack of capable and moderate Islamic and national political projects by the opposition contributes to the sustenance of political vacuum and leaves the scene open for other ideologies to hijack local political and social initiatives. This leaves al-Nusra with an opportunity to seize the moment and present itself as an Islamist opposition group that fights both Assad and ISIL, given the lack of a unified national vision and agenda. Most national and Islamist fighting and civil society groups on the ground are yet to develop a unified national agenda that appeals to the aspirations of the population and does not ignore prevailing religious sentiments. Besides, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), due to the nature of its structure and the regional and international dynamics of the situation in Syria, failed to develop an appealing and clear political vision. Considering this political vacuum, presenting al-Nusra as a genuine Syrian faction, with no relations to al-Qaeda may transform it to become an indigenous Syrian project.
Options for National Resistance Forces
Direct confrontation between national resistance forces and al-Nusra may push large segments within it to forge tactical alliances with their worst enemy i.e. ISIL, as the latest events in the Yarmouk camp and several other locations in Syria have proven. On the other hand, holding off any action to counter al-Nusra’s local and cross-border agenda may have adverse consequences on local national projects and allows al-Qaeda ample time to plan to carefully craft the dissolution of al-Nusra’s alliance with it at the same time as al-Nusra is further rooted in Syria. Nevertheless, national forces still have a margin to strategically and tactically approach the issue of al-Nusra’s presence, avoid direct confrontation, and contain and scrutinize its grandiose ambitions in Syria.
A Strategic Option
It is hard to overlook the role of al-Nusra as an active and influential player in the military and political scenery in Syria. However, it draws strength from the lack of a national project capable of filling the vacuum overtaken by its religious discourse and military performance. Forming a unifying national political agenda with a moderate Islamic discourse to be adopted by the revolutionaries and is a viable alternative to al-Nusra’s agenda is an urgent need, especially with the deteriorating performance of other alternatives. Such an agenda must be empowered with the military means that can deter any military confrontation with al-Nusra and thus protect national forces and put an end to claims by al-Nusra of being the only alternative to ISIL. This approach should have a strategic plan for confronting al-Nusra or other groups with clear Syrian-based guidelines and provisions in order to succeed in countering any transnational and extreme movements.
At the military level: support the merger of national forces based on strategic needs rather than tactical reasons or regional and international interests. These groups should assemble around a clear political agenda to make coherent and encouraging for other factions to join, and individuals to defect from groups such as al-Nusra. Subsequently, if military operations require joint operations between these groups and al-Nusra, the latter must then be prevented from leading. Al-Nusra selects frontlines and battles that suit its purposes and avoid operations that potentially can drain it. It also uses victories to feed its media propaganda and often performs individual military operations that entail negative political repercussions for the national forces.
At the religious level: al-Nusra should not be allowed exclusive authority over religious courts, which entail legitimate control over local communities. This requires religious rehabilitation for judges to establish the religious foundations of the differences between transnational and national projects. Salafists jihadi scholars, who advised against joining al-Nusra such as Abu Baseer al-Tartousi, ( ) should be promoted and supported and be part of such efforts. Moreover, it is also imperative to prohibit non-bias positioning during battles, to prevent the repetition of al-Nusra practices against Syrian Revolutionary Front and Hazm Movement when they discarded clear court orders and were encouraged to act accordingly when they witnessed other groups’ reluctance to reinforce the court ruling.
At the media level: Battle ground management should be highlighted by media outlets, and accordingly factions’ spokesmen should be trained to prevent the exclusive media coverage of al-Nusra’s alleged military victories and gains, as if it’s the only faction who fought in the battle, hence the importance of opening communication channels between fighting groups that do not follow the extremist transnational ideologies and local and international media outlets.
At the local level: Civil society is still a safety valve that enables local societies to effectively participate in managing their daily lives, protect their rights and improve their livelihoods. Al-Nusra has repeatedly failed to deal with the civil society when they defy its authority. Therefore, empowering local administration councils and encouraging civil society organizations to provide services and conduct public awareness campaigns in the liberated areas is a safeguard for monitoring and accountability and the enforcement of minimum participation of civilians in governance.
Conclusion: A National Agenda as a Basis for Maneuver
Throughout history, many movements were designated as terrorist groups by their societies and the international community. Nevertheless, most of these movements eventually ended up being national partners. For instance, the Irish Liberation Army (IRA) emerged in Northern Ireland under UK rule and plotted bombings and other acts of terror in Britain. However, it ended up as a political party, Shinn Féin, with representatives in the Parliament and part of the British political spectrum. In Spain, ETA resorted to violence in their calls for autonomous rule of the Basque. Today, they are under political rehabilitation efforts with the Spanish government. Taliban falls within the same context through political negotiations with the Afghan government. In Turkey, the Kurdish Labor Party was close to reach a political settlement with the state. Likewise, in Iraq, the Kurdish Democratic Union, headed by Masoud Barzani, once designated as a terrorist organization, is yet another example of such experiences.
In the Syrian context, the main difference between al-Nusra and the above movements and groups is that the latter yielded to a national intra-state agenda, facilitating their merge within the state. The main condition making the merger of these groups possible is their abandonment of militancy outside the state and to resort to political and social practices to resolve their problems and achieve their political aspirations. On the other hand, al-Nusra and its likes adopt a transnational ideology that cannot be contained within one state or national agenda. Even if merged, which is possible given the changing regional and international interests, it would be more threatening to the future Syrian state.
Since its foundation, al-Nusra was known for its jurisprudential flexibility and pragmatism. It considered Syria a land of war, where religious penalties are not enforced and no direct or public infidelity rulings should be made. It also learned from the mistakes committed by ISI in Iraq. This flexibility is key in portraying al-Nusra as adaptable to the area they operate in. Al-Nusra is also pragmatic and maneuvers the political scene carefully and could easily justify its breakaway from al-Qaeda. This might be al-Nusra’s justification for any act they perform after considering their interests. Accordingly, regardless of al-Nusra’s options, the role of national resistance forces should be enforced to accommodate any choice al-Nusra would take.