United Nations: Senior officials looking into the role the UN could play in Syria if Bashar Assad falls from power face major obstacles, including a bitter division among world powers and the absence of an opposition leader.
A team of senior UN officials led by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson is consulting on the Syrian crisis and studying contingencies, and one possible model might be Afghanistan.
After the ouster of the Taliban by US-led forces in 2001, the UN moved quickly to fill the political vacuum, convening world leaders and prominent Afghans in Bonn, Germany, to consider the country's future.
Participants adopted an accord on Dec 5, 2001, spelling out arrangements for an interim government. The UN Security Council swiftly endorsed the power-sharing agreement, and on Dec 20, 2001, it unanimously authorised a multinational force to assist the new government with security.
Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that in the case of Afghanistan the major powers were united, making for an easier initial transition.
"In the case of Syria, the great powers are fighting," he said. So "UN action is not going to be easy."
Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, the UN Security Council's veto-wielding permanent members have been split.
Russia, the Assad government's most powerful ally, and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions backed by the US, Britain and France targeting the regime's bloody crackdown. The first two resolutions would have condemned Syrian attacks on peaceful protesters but the most recent resolution went further, threatening sanctions if Assad didn't immediately withdraw heavy weapons from populated areas.
The only thing the five permanent members united to support is the six-point peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy, which called for a cease-fire in August and Syrian-led political talks to end the conflict and "meet the aspirations of the Syrian people."
But despite pledges by the government and opposition to implement the plan, a cease-fire never happened, and fighting continued to escalate to a point where the conflict was recently declared a civil war. For many diplomats and military experts, Annan's plan is all but dead.
If Assad were to fall, it's unclear whether the major powers could unite again at a Bonn-style summit to set a roadmap for Syria.
First Published: Sunday, July 29, 2012, 09:20