September 16, 2003
A series of highly reliable reports from Nairobi, from Naivasha (Kenya), and elsewhere in the region strongly suggest that this last round of Machakos/IGAD peace talks has stalemated, and that the Khartoum regime is no longer negotiating consistently or in good faith. Rather, the regime’s diplomatic and political presence is seriously divided within itself, on matters of both procedure and substance, and is increasingly prone to reneging on parts of a final peace settlement previously agreed to. Critically, this is true of the fundamental “security issues” that appeared to have been largely resolved last week.
Talks between the First Vice President of the National Islamic Front, Ali Osman Taha, and SPLM/A leader John Garang had until this past weekend seemed highly promising, but now appear to be on the verge of collapse. There are two possible ways to construe the internal disagreements on the part of the NIF regime that are playing out in the form of the present negotiating stalemate. They may reflect a serious power struggle between the “factions” of Taha and President Omer Beshir—or they may simply be part of an elaborately scripted process by which the regime is attempting to collapse the talks in the most ambiguous fashion possible. The point of such an exercise in ambiguity would be to deflect as much criticism as possible. This latter possibility would certainly be entirely in character for the National Islamic Front, which has shown extraordinary resourcefulness in the past in avoiding the diplomacy and negotiations necessary for a just peace.
If the first is the case—if the tensions between Taha and President Omer Beshir are playing out in the form of a fractured negotiating posture—then the IGAD mediators, the US and other international parties to the talks need urgently to apply the pressure that will result in a coherent NIF negotiating presence in Naivasha. Various other Khartoum actors must also be vigorously pressed to support unambiguously what is being negotiated in Naivasha. This includes not only Taha and Beshir, but other NIF heavyweights, including Nafie Ali Nafie (presently at the talks), Qutbi al-Mahdi, Mutrif al-Siddiq (also presently at the talks), Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail, Ghazi Saleh el-din Atabani (formerly Beshir’s chief peace negotiator), Defense Minister Bakri Hassan Salih (also presently at the talks), and the powerful NIF army generals (some of whom are at the talks).
It has long been known that there are serious divisions within the NIF regime, not so much over ideology and ambitions, but over tactics and strategy. But this fact cannot allow Khartoum to escape its overriding international obligation to negotiate a just peace in the context of the best opportunity for such a settlement in a generation. Whatever its divisions, Khartoum must be put forcefully on notice that the regime will bear collective responsibility for the failure of the Machakos/IGAD process. To the extent that these divisions are a reflection of competition for “credit” in securing peace—and thus for “legitimacy” in a post-war Sudan—both Taha and Beshir, as well as other members of the NIF, must be told pointedly that responsibility for success or failure will be apportioned collectively.
Presently the talks between Khartoum and the SPLM/A are largely unwitnessed by third-party observers. If real progress were being generated as a result of this procedure, it might be justified. But there are now many signs that what last week appeared to be evidence of progress is being dissipated by NIF factionalism. In turn, negotiated agreements on outstanding issues, most notably security issues, are proving meaningless. In order to forestall the possibility that NIF internal dissension may collapse the talks, negotiations must be witnessed by those who can hold the regime collectively accountable for commitments made. Khartoum must be made to understand that all who purport to represent the regime in offering and accepting concessions and in making key agreements will be held responsible for speaking on behalf of the entire NIF.
If, on the other hand, the regime is simply contriving an apparent internal dissention in order to collapse the talks in the most confusing fashion possible, then witnesses to the talks at this stage become even more urgently necessary. Chief among these must be the US, if only because it is the US that will have the greatest ability and most responsibility for seeing that Khartoum faces the severest consequences for this duplicitous response to the best opportunity for ending Sudan’s catastrophically destructive civil war.
Real US engagement at this point—as opposed to the stand-off diplomacy that seems to define present thinking—must occur immediately. It must be impossible for Khartoum to avoid making the difficult decisions needed for peace simply because Washington is largely ignorant of NIF tactics and strategy for collapsing the Machakos/IGAD talks.
Indeed, so clear is US responsibility at this juncture, so close are the talks to collapse, that a refusal to act decisively must be held as a major foreign policy failure on the part of the Bush administration. To be sure, we must acknowledge the multiple challenges of a difficult aftermath in Iraq, of a foundering Middle East peace process, of nuclear weapons ambitions in North Korea and Iran, as well as an international war on terrorism.
But this cannot mean that the Bush administration somehow receives a “pass” for not exerting every US effort to insure that the Machakos/IGAD peace process for Sudan has a chance to succeed—or to register clearly and unambiguously US understanding of the causes of any negotiating failure. The stakes in human terms in Sudan are simply too high to relegate the Machakos/IGAD peace process to afterthought diplomacy.
In turn, no electoral assessment of the Bush administration foreign policy will be possible in 2004 that does not take fully into account the success or failure in achieving peace for Sudan. This remains the moment of truth, even as that truth appears to be Khartoum’s barbaric willingness to resume the world’s most destructive conflict: how will the administration respond? From a humanitarian and moral perspective, Americans will have few more consequential foreign policy issues on which to judge President Bush and his State Department.
What should be clearest to the administration and the State Department is that it is not enough simply to observe developments from afar: the US must act decisively now, both to observe at close quarters Khartoum’s negotiating behavior and to make fully clear the consequences of their collapsing the talks, whether through internal dissention within the regime or the contrivance of such “dissention.” The brutal oligarchs of the National Islamic Front must either agree to make peace with the people of the south, or they must all face a full array of the severest consequences—diplomatic, economic, and financial.
In particular, the US must lead aggressive efforts to deny Khartoum all credit and loan opportunities through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. These international financial institutions, particularly the IMF, have for too long ignored the clear realities of Khartoum’s use of oil revenues to prosecute the war in southern Sudan, Darfur, and other marginalized areas of the country. It is a travesty of all that the IMF and World Bank are supposed to represent that Khartoum enjoys any assistance whatsoever as long as long as its budgetary priorities are defined by military ambitions, ambitions that have resulted in unfathomable human destruction. Certainly with a massive external debt—exceeding $22 billion—the regime is much more vulnerable to financial and credit pressures than is generally acknowledged.
But there must be clear international leadership if this source of pressure on the regime is to be utilized effectively. Dismayingly, the most recent IMF report (June 4, 2002) gives a thoroughly whitewashed assessment of Khartoum’s management of the economy. All too revealingly, there is not a single line item—in 60 pages of text and charts—that speaks to Khartoum’s military expenditures, even as these expenditures are most consequential in defining the performance of the overall economy, in all ways. This deliberate and calculated blindness must be ended, and Khartoum brought face to face with its financial vulnerabilities.
[Though the World Bank has no active lending portfolio in Sudan because of Khartoum’s default on it financial obligations to the Bank, there is still room for a further tightening. Bank staff, for example, should suspend all contacts with the Khartoum regime over the Gezira Irrigation Scheme; see page 57 of the IMF June 4, 2003 report.]
Khartoum must also confront the prospect of an enforced “no-fly zone” in southern Sudan that will insure unfettered, unhindered, and unthreatened humanitarian relief. The international community simply must not allow the resumption of war to signal the start of yet another assault by Khartoum on desperately needed food and medical assistance in southern Sudan.
The alternatives are peace or war—nothing else will emerge from Naivasha. It is the immediate, urgent moral responsibility of the United States to signal to Khartoum the consequences of a decision not to make peace.
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