September 10, 2003
The last week has seen an extraordinary rush of diplomatic activity, just as Khartoum’s intransigence seemed to have doomed the Machakos peace process to a final collapse. Success is still far from assured, and there are a host of problems that will attend any agreement, both immediately and in the longer term. With so much still unsettled and unclear, nothing more than a brief “interim account” is presently possible; but certain parts of the picture have come more fully into focus.
What is most noteworthy in the current phase of the peace process is the presence of the First Vice-President of the National Islamic Front regime, Ali Osman Taha. Taha has long been widely regarded as the most powerful political figure in the NIF—and the member of the regime most adamantly opposed to making a just peace with the people of the south. Though he works primarily behind the scenes, Taha has consistently demonstrated his inflexibility and his obdurate refusal to make the necessary concessions to move the peace process forward. He clearly threatened President Omer Beshir’s grip on power late last summer (after the signing of the Machakos Protocol) during and after the SPLM/A capture of Torit. No peace agreement with the National Islamic Front can be made without Taha’s approval, and he retains the ability to collapse even these most promising of talks.
Thus simply by virtue of having remained in the Kenyan venue of Naivasha for seven days of negotiations, Taha has given clear evidence that this is as serious as Khartoum can get in peace talks. Whether this will be enough in the event still remains to be seen, but in Taha’s participation in peace talks we have the most encouraging sign to date. For what was scheduled to be a preparatory two-day summit between himself and SPLM/A leader John Garang has metamorphosed into the resumption of full-scale diplomatic negotiations that had been scheduled to begin today under Machakos/IGAD auspices (September 10, 2003).
Similarly encouraging is today’s appearance in Naivasha of Khartoum’s defense minister, Major General Bakri Hassan Salih. Agence France-Presse reports a Machakos/IGAD mediator as saying that:
“‘The defence minister and other senior military officers came to reinforce the government delegation as they discuss security arrangements,’ an official in the mediation team told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.” (Agence France-Presse, September 10, 2003)
This comports well with a number of reports from Nairobi and the region to the effect that there has been very considerable progress on “security issues,” viz. the status of SPLM/A forces during the interim period, the terms of a disengagement of forces (including a buffer to separate forces between the 12th and 13th parallels), and the constitution of joint forces in the north and south. The rough outlines of the agreement, as reported, square in the main with the terms outlined in the Nakuru Draft Framework, which Khartoum had previously refused to accept as a basis for final negotiations. (See, for example, the comments in Al-Khartoum daily [Khartoum, September 10, 2003] of Pagan Amum, a senior SPLM/A delegate to the peace talks; available upon request.)
The presence of defense minister Bakri Hassan Salih strongly suggests that an agreement in principle on “security issues” has been reached, and evidently one that provides what the SPLM/A perceives as the essential protection of the integrity of any final peace agreement during the six-year interim period contemplated in the Machakos Protocol (July 2002). A recent BBC Arabic Services news bulletin reports that chief Machakos/IGAD mediator General Lazaro Sumbeiywo has declared, “a major breakthrough has been achieved in the current peace talks.” It is possible that Sumbeiywo is here referring to a breakthrough on security arrangements.
At the same time, other very serious security issues must be kept in mind. A peace agreement that is to end the war, especially in the oil regions, must insure the disarmament of the Khartoum-allied militias. The regime simply must stop supplying these military instruments of terror and destruction with both arms and logistics. At the same time, it is incumbent upon the SPLM/A to give real and meaningful opportunities to all who wish to participate in the vast labors that peace will entail in southern Sudan. If all southerners do not feel as though they have a stake in the peace, then the peace will become that much more difficult to sustain. Governance in particular must be more inclusive than the peace talks have been. Only these actions by both Khartoum and the SPLM/A can end the destructive role of the militias and the incentives that animate them.
On another front, the US State Department is indicating that it is prepared to send a high-powered military person (Marine General [retired] Carlton Fulford) to become involved in more detailed security arrangements, should a preliminary agreement be reached. This would be welcome news, and give real military authority to what will undoubtedly be ongoing and often contentious discussions, even after a possible peace agreement is signed.
The State Department has also deployed Jeff Millington, former charge d’affaires in Khartoum, to the Naivasha talks. Since Millington arrived in Naivasha only on Monday (September 8, 2003), three days after the Taha-Garang meeting was scheduled to have concluded, this diplomatic effort cannot have been previously scripted—at least to include such US participation in meetings that have now become in effect the final round of the Machakos/IGAD negotiations. Though Millington has said only that “Washington is closely watching this peace process and I came along to see the developments in the talks” (Agence France-Presse, September 8, 2003), it is reasonable to assume that he came bearing an important message from senior members of the State Department and the Bush administration. We must hope that this message has been appropriately forceful, indeed categorical: “should either party collapse the peace process at this decisive juncture, the US government will insure that the responsible party faces extremely serious consequences.”
Even as significant progress appears to have been made on “security arrangements,” perhaps the most difficult of all the issues outstanding, there are still other serious negotiating challenges. On the three contested areas—Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile—there has been no reported progress. Khartoum is evidently willing to concede Abyei as part of the south (Bahr el-Ghazal Province), but this is primarily a negotiating gambit—a means of refusing to address the much more serious and difficult issues involving the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile. These issues must be resolved fairly for a just peace to emerge.
Power-sharing issues are also apparently still without resolution, as are the issues of wealth-sharing (primarily oil revenues) and the religious status of the capital. This represents a great deal of diplomatic work, but there are some encouraging signs of engagement. Significantly, BBC Monitoring (September 10, 2003) reports Khartoum television as stating on Tuesday (September 9, 2003) that “there was optimism that a solution could be found to the issues that divide the warring parties.” Since Khartoum has done so little previously to prepare the people of the north for the possibility of peace, this is quite significant—as are reports that the editors of Khartoum’s major daily newspapers yesterday flew to Kenya. An optimistic joint statement on progress in the talks may be issued in Naivasha as early as tomorrow (September 11, 2003). Reuters also reports today that when SPLM/A leader John Garang was asked about “chances [for] advancing efforts to end 20 years of conflict,” he replied ”excellent” (Reuters, September 10, 2003).
But there are still major obstacles to a successful peace agreement. Perhaps the most significant of these is Egypt’s continuing objection to any peace agreement that makes a southern self-determination referendum truly viable. This has been Egypt’s position since the signing of the Machakos Protocol, and the objection has become no less vehement. Cairo has considerable leverage with Khartoum, and Taha in particular. As the end-game approaches, it will be important for all international participants in the peace process to make clear to the Egyptian leadership that its parochial and narrowly self-interested view of Sudan will not be allowed to block this desperately needed peace.
We must also recall the most basic fact defining Khartoum’s history in signing agreements: the National Islamic Front regime has never abided by a single agreement it has made with any Sudanese party—not one, not ever. Inevitably we must ask: “What will make the present, more consequential agreement, should it come to pass, any different? What guarantees are built into the agreement to prevent Khartoum from reneging as soon as international attention has begun to drift, as it inevitably will?” The real success of any peace agreement must be measured in terms of both its justice and its durability—indeed, these two features are finally inseparable.
Against all apparent diplomatic odds, peace seems possible in Sudan. Those who have created this moment of extraordinary opportunity deserve the highest praise. But peace will come but only with the relentless focus and diplomatic energies of the international community—accompanied by the clearest, most forceful indication that there will be severe consequences for the party that obstructs the peace process at this critical moment. For what is clearest about the present negotiations is that there can be no successor: what will follow on any diplomatic failure is war, and war on an unprecedented scale in this already unfathomably destructive conflict.
The moment is fully upon us.
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