August 7, 2003
For whatever reasons, few have been willing to recognize fully the endangered state of the Machakos peace process. For example, the head of the US State Department’s Sudan task force, Michael Ranneberger, declared last week to a number of groups that are following the Sudan crisis, “the Machakos talks are not floundering,” and that “Khartoum is being far more positive behind closed doors than in their public statements” (quotes as reported by a participant in the meeting). Justice Africa (UK), which offers a monthly account of the Sudan peace process, declares in its briefing of today (August 7, 2003) that Khartoum “has no alternative but to return to the peace talks in August,” and that the regime will “will attend the coming round armed with that position [i.e., that it cannot accept the Nakuru document as the basis for a final agreement].”
Khartoum may yet show up this Sunday, August 10, 2003, as scheduled—armed indeed with an intransigent refusal to continue negotiations on the terms that the Machakos mediators have set out in their Draft Framework for resolving outstanding issues. But this seems increasingly unlikely given today’s unambiguous comments by the National Islamic Front foreign minister, Mustafa Ismail. Agence France-Presse reports Ismail as declaring that Khartoum:
“will not resume peace talks with southern rebels unless the mediating African body modifies a draft accord, the Sudanese foreign minister said Thursday. ‘Peace talks will resume if the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) takes a new initiative providing for reasonable arrangements in the interim period,’ the minister, Mustafa Ismail, told Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram in an interview. ***’If not, or if the (new) initiative is not acceptable, the meeting due Sunday in (the Kenyan town of) Nakuru will not happen’*** [emphasis added], he said. ‘Next Sunday will be a decisive day.'” (Agence France-Presse, August 7, 2003)
If this is brinksmanship, it can go no further. Certainly we must credit the accuracy of Ismail’s declaration that “next Sunday will be a decisive day.”
But if things are going as well behind the scenes as Ambassador Ranneberger would have us believe, then the Khartoum regime, with statements such as Ismail’s, is gratuitously setting itself up for an extremely awkward climb-down from its threatening negotiating position. So awkward would such a climb-down be, indeed, that it is exceedingly difficult to believe it can occur. For Ismail’s statement is clearly an ultimatum from Khartoum, and puts the Machakos mediators in the position of either acceding to diplomatic blackmail, and thus compromising the whole peace process—or maintaining their integrity and watching Khartoum abandon the best chance for peace in a generation. The former would be disastrous for the credibility of a process that must address the interests of both parties to the talks; the latter would oblige the mediators to render a fully decisive attribution of responsibility, and clearly this will belong to Khartoum.
It is no secret that Khartoum has stayed engaged with the peace process over the last month only to the extent that it has tried, by way of bombast, blackmail, and the drafting of a substitute “compromise” document, to force its own positions upon the mediators. But these efforts have relentlessly assumed that the mediators are indifferent both to the original form of the Draft Framework (Nakuru [Kenya], July 12, 2003) and to the wholly legitimate claim by the SPLM/A that the integrity of the negotiating process must be preserved for both parties.
The fundamental logic of the situation has not changed in the past month, has not altered since Khartoum began its efforts to undermine the Nakuru Draft Framework. These efforts initially took the form of crude rhetorical blasts, with President Omer Beshir telling the Machakos/IGAD mediators they could take their Draft Framework and “go to hell,” or “grind it up, put it in water and drink it” (AFP, July 14, 2003). But the concerns of Egypt and the Arab League have recently given a good deal more focus to Khartoum’s objections, especially as they bear on the security arrangements that would make possible a meaningful southern self-determination referendum.
The culmination of these efforts was evident in a recent statement by Ahmed Dirdeiry, Khartoum’s deputy ambassador to Kenya, declaring that, “a new draft framework agreement is a ***precondition*** [emphasis added] to the resumption of peace talks in Kenya on 10 August” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 29, 2003). Dirdeiry’s comment was relatively little noted at the time, but it is the entirely consistent antecedent to today’s statement by Foreign Minister Ismail.
Khartoum’s contempt for the Machakos negotiating process has of course been earlier evident in a variety of ways; it is a contempt, moreover, that is ultimately reflective of the regime’s attitudes towards the people of the south. And it is this contempt for southern lives, for the people of the south and the marginalized areas, that will make the resumption of war a decision made not in any moral context, but simply on the basis of what is most likely to preserve the power of the National Islamic Front. Justice Africa is only partly right in noting that August, the height of the rainy season, would not be ideal timing for the resumption of military activities. For the dry season is not so far off, and if war resumes we could certainly see in the very near term the military consequences of the elevated, all-weather oil roads constructed in Western and Eastern Upper Nile. These would allow Khartoum to project significant military power south and west from Bentiu, and southeast from the garrison at Adar Yel in Eastern Upper Nile.
To be sure, Khartoum must deal with the growing insurgency in Darfur, and this requires significant military assets. In fact, the insurgency in Darfur is likely not susceptible of a military solution at all, only a brutal holding action. But the oil regions are the strategic prize in any renewed war, and Khartoum is certainly in a position even during the rainy season to advance toward the goal of full militarization and control of the oil concession areas of Upper Nile.
The US-led Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, at least under present leadership, has already proved hopelessly inadequate to the task of reporting on civilian destruction, disruption, and displacement in the oil regions. The Verification and Monitoring Team (negotiated in the February 4, 2003 “Addendum” to the October 15, 2002 cessation of hostilities agreement) would never be allowed by Khartoum to deploy in the event of a resumption of war. Moreover, it is highly likely that renewed war will severely attenuate humanitarian aid, with large implications for out ability to see and understand what is happening to civilians in Upper Nile and Bahr el-Ghazal. The humanitarian access agreement for Southern Blue Nile would likely collapse almost immediately, and the cease-fire and humanitarian access arrangements in the Nuba Mountains would be at grave risk, and might also collapse altogether.
This is the unsurpassably urgent context in which the international community must respond to today’s ultimatum from Khartoum’s Foreign Minister Ismail. There are three days until Sunday—three days in which to convince the National Islamic Front regime that despite its threatening ultimatum, it must attend the reconvened peace talks at Nakuru or the peace process as a whole will begin to collapse—perhaps very rapidly—and the regime will be held accountable.
For its part, Khartoum is counting on an international desire for peace in Sudan that exceeds any commitment to justice, even as the most conspicuous feature of an unjust peace will be its meaninglessness. An unjust peace simply cannot stop Sudan’s war—not given the political realities in Khartoum. Even so, such a factitious peace may continue to halt major fighting long enough for the international community to gain some diplomatic cover as it abandons those who will be most affected by renewed war. But this indecent interval of retreat will be no less revealing of moral failure.
The task remains what it has always been: a just peace for all of Sudan. Khartoum’s ultimatum gives us a chance to see whether the world understands this essential task or not.
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