Reza Afshar, providing diplomatic support to the Syrian opposition, said:
The major driver now of the refugee crisis and indeed extremism in Syria is the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. So what needs to happen, the obvious policy choice here, is to try and stop the indiscriminate bombing of civilians as a first step to achieving anything.
We need a policy that stops those bombs.
When Kirsty Wark asked ‘If you were Barack Obama, what would be your next step?’, Afshar responded:
Step One: Condemn the Russian action unequivocally. I’ve heard no condemnation from the Americans. It needs to be clear, it needs to be unequivocal.
Start signalling about the need to protect civilians in Syria and the fact that we’re looking at options to do that.
Enforce a ban on aerial bombardment in Syria – they have the military capability to do it and they could do it without triggering air defences.
Everyone is talking about ISIS, everyone is talking about Assad, but actually the main driver of the problem is the 200 civilians that are getting killed every week by Assad’s airforce. We have the capability to stop that and it would create a whole new dynamic through which we could examine new policy options.
What I found striking about this interview was the clarity with which Afshar advocated a strategy with a humanitarian message: Stop bombing civilians right now.
The Syrian conflict is typically portrayed as a choice between Assad and ISIS, too complex to address, prompting futile responses of handwringing despair.
I attended a discussion about Syria at the Frontline Club last night which took place amidst photographs taken by Caesar documenting the death machine of President Bashar al-Assad. The panel emphasised the international community’s profound moral failing over Syria. Too many journalists have looked away. Nobody intervened to prevent the killing. The Syrian people have been abandoned for years. That vacuum has allowed ISIS to flourish, with civilians turning to extremists for protection and survival.
The panelists called for a No Fly Zone in Syria and serious action to protect civilians.