July 29, 2003
The fundamental impasse in the Machakos peace talks continues to deepen daily, as the National Islamic Front asserts ever more emphatically its rejection of the key “Draft Framework.” This is the document presented three weeks ago at Nakuru (Kenya) by the Machakos/IGAD mediators as the basis for final peace negotiations to end Sudan’s catastrophic civil war. The UN’s Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) today (July 29, 2003) reports that Khartoum has declared that a “new draft framework agreement is a precondition to the resumption of peace talks in Kenya on 10 August.” This demand comes amidst more talk from the Khartoum regime about the Machakos/IGAD mediators “going to hell” (IRIN, July 29, 2003).
Khartoum’s insistence on a “precondition” for the resumption of peace talks is transparently diplomatic blackmail and augurs extremely poorly for the future of the Machakos process. For IRIN also reports that in addition to demanding a “fresh” draft, Khartoum has explicitly rejected the premise governing the crafting and presenting of the “Draft Framework,” viz. that this would be the document, whatever further modifications might be negotiated, serving as the basis for final negotiations. These were the terms accepted by both Khartoum and the SPLM/A, and which the SPLM/A insists must continue to be respected if the integrity of the peace process is to be preserved. But Mohamed Ahmed Dirdeiry, Khartoum’s deputy ambassador to Kenya, today deliberately mischaracterizes the way in which the mediators crafted the “Draft Framework”:
“you get draft after draft until you really narrow the gulf between the two parties” (IRIN, July 29, 2003)
This is simply not true: there was no “draft after draft” process envisaged by the negotiators. The document presented at Nakuru was not one in a series of drafts but the culminating, best effort by the Machakos negotiators to address all the difficult outstanding issues in balanced fashion. There was allowance for final negotiations to revise this document; but given the lack of progress on all key issues over the past year, the mediators have clearly moved with the formulation of the “Draft Framework” into a role closer to that of arbitrators. Dirdeiry’s characterization holds open the clear and diplomatically perverse possibility that Khartoum will continue to shop for “drafts,” even as it has over the years relentlessly searched for new negotiating forums whenever the diplomatic pressure for peace became sufficiently great.
So conspicuous is Khartoum’s disingenuousness here, so transparently are they reneging on the terms of the Machakos process as it has evolved, that it is time to look past what appears to be the impending collapse of the peace process and assess Khartoum’s clear willingness to let the search for peace fail. For though a collapse in the talks insures the resumption of war in southern Sudan and other marginalized areas—with unprecedented human destructiveness—there are many ways that, if properly managed diplomatically, such a collapse can be prevented from threatening various of the regime’s strategic goals.
Key to Khartoum’s “diplomatic management” will be an effort to preserve the illusion that the regime is actually participating in the peace process, when in fact their words and actions are clearly creating a fundamental impasse, one undermining the integrity of the Machakos mediators. Dirdeiry’s comments in Nairobi today are an exceedingly good example of NIF disingenuousness and the way in which a factitious “engagement” by the regime will be claimed. The present success of Khartoum’s strategy on this score can be measured in part by the silence from the international community: though the regime is transparently reneging on commitments made to the mediators and their international partners, though Khartoum is deliberately undermining chief mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo and is engaged in diplomatic blackmail, no real price is being paid. This will make it all the more difficult for Khartoum to be held meaningfully accountable when the fact of a collapse in the peace process can no longer be denied.
At that point, Khartoum will hope for an assessment of the breakdown that is a version of the “moral equivalency” argument that has so often been asserted in comparing the National Islamic Front regime and the SPLM/A–both as combatants and negotiating parties. In other words, what Khartoum hopes for is something like the assessment implicit in recent comments by US special envoy for Sudan, John Danforth.
After foolishly mischaracterizing the difficulty of the outstanding issues in the peace talks, Danforth went on to say, “[this] has always been the question—whether the two sides really want peace” (Reuters, July 18, 2003), and that “maybe the two sides are comfortable with the status quo” (UN IRIN, July 18, 2003). But if the Machakos peace process breaks down under present circumstances, there will be no equivalent responsibility on the part of Khartoum and the SPLM/A—and all who are honest will know as much. Indeed, if responsibility for the failure of Machakos is not authoritatively assessed, if an expedient equivalency of the Danforth sort is suggested because there is no other politically acceptable alternative, then a profound moral failure will accompany the diplomatic failure.
All of this would leave Khartoum with an opportunity to engage in a new round of “forum shopping,” an exercise that has had bewildering success over the years as a public relations strategy for the regime. The African Union seems the front-running candidate for Khartoum to bill as a new, more “effective” venue for peace diplomacy.
Certainly the collapse of the present peace process would also offer the regime an opportunity to assess what advantages have accrued during the long, slow demise of Machakos and the role of IGAD as a venue for peace talks.
Clearest are the benefits that have derived from Khartoum’s relentless violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement signed October 15, 2002. The regime’s open flouting of this agreement permitted not only the massive military offensive in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile during January 2003, but has allowed for an immense redeployment of military equipment and manpower. The cessation of hostilities agreement has also allowed for the training of large numbers of new soldiers and a steady ramping up of military production at the GIAD industrial complex and the Military Manufacturing Complex (MMC), both outside Khartoum.
There has also been a steady consolidation of military control in the oil regions, even beyond Khartoum’s January offensive. In Western Upper Nile, along the oil road running from Bentiu to Leer, numerous military garrisons have been established following the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement (October 15, 2002): Kuer Tuoi, Khor Jamus, Padier, Mirmir, Reang, Kuok, Rubkoi, Tutnyang, and Gier. Though the February 4, 2003 “Addendum” to the cessation of hostilities agreement requires that Khartoum dismantle all of these, not one has been to date. In Eastern Upper Nile, Khartoum has deployed helicopter gunships, again in clear violation of the October 15 agreement; the regime’s forces have been very active in a number of areas, and have seized firm control of Longochok, at one end of a key oil road running from the Adar Yel development site (run by the Chinese-dominated outfit “Petrodar”).
Though the uprising in Darfur presents a serious challenge to Khartoum’s military, a resumption of war following a collapse of the peace talks will put Khartoum in a position to further significantly its military ambitions in the oil regions of both Eastern and Western Upper Nile, to extend its control of the Nile south to Juba, and to threaten key southern towns, including Rumbek (from Wau) and Yei (from Juba). Indeed, these strategic goals are reflected precisely in the redeployments that have occurred during the period between the signing of the October 15, 2002 agreement and the present.
Khartoum also hopes that the extensive foreign commercial investments in the country will work to create the economic conditions that make NIF tyranny seem a fait accompli. These investments have come to be justified by the code phrase “constructive engagement.” With such “engagement” as a fig-leaf, various European, Canadian, and Asian commercial and economic interests have invested heavily in Sudan—primarily in oil development, but in a wide range of other projects as well.
For example, the German industrial giant Siemens is constructing the world’s largest diesel-powered electrical generating plant just outside Khartoum; the British-Italian firm Alenia Marconi is installing advanced, dual-use (military/commercial) radar systems in El Obeid and Juba—key military sites for Khartoum. (The Alenia Marconi system can also be used very effectively for the interdiction of humanitarian relief flights out of Lokichokio, Kenya.) Meanwhile, the IMF has recently whitewashed Khartoum’s bankrupt economy, its massive external debt, and its huge military expenditures—and the UN seems powerless in any capacity except humanitarian relief.
What price will Khartoum pay, then, for collapsing the Machakos peace talks? Perhaps next October 21 the US State Department will find the nerve to declare that Khartoum is no longer participating in “good faith” in peace talks. This is hardly a certainty, and the sanctions triggered by such a finding (per the terms of the Sudan Peace Act) are hardly robust. Without the leverage of capital market sanctions, US policy will amount to a scolding, a diplomatic downgrading, and some tougher credit terms for a Khartoum regime that will by then be realizing over $1 billion a year in oil revenues (it was, of course, oil investment in Sudan that was the target of the capital market sanctions embodied in the House version of the Sudan Peace Act, and rejected by the Bush administration).
If this is indeed the extent of the price that Khartoum pays for collapsing the Machakos peace talks, if there are no greater consequences for aborting the best chance for peace since the civil war resumed in 1983, then Khartoum will see this whole debacle as a brilliant diplomatic victory, one that has insured a very significant improvement in their overall strategic military position.
Here it must be said that many have long asserted that Khartoum has never been interested in a just and sustainable peace; they have argued, with a compelling logic, that the democratizing effects of any such peace would inevitably threaten the National Islamic Front’s grip on power and its ability to pursue the Islamist project. From this perspective the Machakos process has always been an exercise in futility, allowing Khartoum to reap various diplomatic and thus economic benefits, while always having the ability to collapse the talks when militarily or politically expedient to do so.
Others have asserted that while it would take immense international pressure on the regime to produce serious and meaningful negotiations, there are enough sources of such pressure that in concert they might force even Khartoum to negotiate in good faith.
What the Machakos process is now revealing is that neither of these views has prevailed. Instead, Machakos shows that at the moment of truth, Khartoum was allowed to renege, engage in diplomatic blackmail, and subvert without consequence the last, best hope for peace in Sudan. But let there be, then, no claim of ignorance by any in the international community. Khartoum’s bad faith could not be clearer. The inexorable moral logic of the present situation leads to only one conclusion: Sudanese lives simply don’t matter enough, they aren’t worth the diplomatic or geopolitical investment Their imminent destruction, while offering a wearingly predictable occasion for some pious hand-wringing, will go unchecked and little reported.
This now seems the ghastly and inevitable legacy of Machakos.
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