July 28, 2003
The National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum continues to reject in categorical terms the peace accord presented in Nakuru (Kenya) by the IGAD/Machakos mediators as the basis for final negotiations to end Sudan’s twenty-year civil war. Agence France-Presse reports today (July 28, 2003) that NIF Peace Advisory Secretary General Ali Ahmed Hamid has “dismissed the latest [IGAD] draft” viz., the “Draft Framework for Resolution of the Outstanding Issues, Arising out of the Elaborations of the Machakos Protocol,” presented at Nakuru three weeks ago. Hamid also declares that he hopes the upcoming seventh round of talks “would be a ‘serious’ one during which proposals ‘compatible with the Machakos Protocol and with aspirations of the Sudanese people would be presented'” (Agence France-Presse, July 28, 2003). In other words, Hamid is implying a lack of seriousness in the draft presented at Nakuru and absurdly claiming to represent the “aspirations of the Sudanese people.”
With characteristic arrogance and disingenuousness, the National Islamic Front has reneged on its commitment to accept the Nakuru document as the mediators’ best good-faith effort to fashion a compromise document that might serve as the basis for final peace talks. Khartoum’s reneging has so far gone unrebuked by those best positioned diplomatically to salvage the peace process—Great Britain, Norway, and the US. There is nothing but silence: no reiterated support for IGAD, or the Machakos peace process, or chief mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo, or the Nakuru “Draft Framework” presented by the Sumbeiywo and his fellow mediators. Whatever may be occurring behind the scenes, Khartoum has certainly taken very careful note of this refusal by the “troika” members to make any public statement of support for a peace process that is in crisis.
At the same time the SPLM/A has continued to insist that the “Draft Framework,” while indeed a draft and thus subject to further revision, must constitute a starting point for final negotiations. These are the terms on which the draft was produced by the mediators, and acceptance of the draft as a basis for final negotiations is a key requirement for the diplomatic evolution that has seen the Machakos mediators functioning more and more as arbitrators. The diametrically opposed views of Khartoum and the SPLM/A on the “Draft Framework” have produced the impasse described by this source last week (July 24, 2003): Khartoum has declared that there will be no resumption of peace negotiations unless the “Draft Framework” is abandoned, and the SPLM/A has declared there can be no negotiations without continuing commitment to the “Draft Framework.”
To be sure, the Agence France-Presse report of today also notes that despite rejecting the “Draft Framework,” Khartoum has declared that it will appear at the seventh round of the Machakos talks, which were to have been anchored by this very “Draft Framework.” But the meaning of the regime’s presence at this new round of talks, already delayed almost three weeks by Khartoum’s reneging, is quite unclear. The regime’s leadership evidently calculates that simply by showing up, even while cleaving to its intransigent rejection of the “Draft Framework,” they will be perceived as continuing to participate in good faith in the peace talks. And judging by the irresponsible silence from the international partners of the Machakos process, this is no bad diplomatic calculation.
Indeed, Khartoum’s brazenness seems now to be without limit. In another arena, for example, in response to the sharply rising number of reports on repressive measures in Khartoum—by a wide range of human rights groups—Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail declared (Al Ayam [Khartoum], July 26, 2003) that:
“Sudan should abandon totalitarian rule and pursue political pluralism that can accommodate Sudanese people of all faiths and ethnic groupings, the Sudanese Foreign Minister said. ‘The Sudan should part with totalitarian regimes for good and adopt a rational pluralism that is free of past shortcomings,’ said Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail.”
Such fantastic mendacity, such wildly exuberant cynicism and expediency, is of course not out of character for the NIF regime. Indeed, it is worth remarking only because of the evident assumption by Foreign Minister Ismail that somehow such bald lies and bad faith might actually be credited in some fashion, in some quarters.
And so with the regime’s commitment to show up for the next round of the Machakos peace talks: this is no more meaningful, taken at face value, than the NIF claim to be abandoning its “past shortcomings,” e.g., torture, disappearances, barbaric imposition of the shari’a penal code, denial of political freedoms, press censorship, arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings. No matter that Amnesty International, Sudanese Organized Against Torture, World Organization Against Torture (Geneva), Sudanese Human Rights Group (Cairo), and others report on the continuation, indeed increase of precisely these totalitarian practices. And of course “past shortcomings” also include in southern Sudan and other marginalized areas of Sudan the deliberate bombing of civilians and humanitarian relief efforts, engineered starvation as a weapon of war, scorched-earth civilian clearances in the oil regions, and a long list of other war crimes and crimes against humanity.
By what flight of fantasy can Khartoum be accepted as acting in good faith? Who can possibly imagine that without the most intense, public international pressure Khartoum’s appearance at another round of peace talks can have the slightest meaning in itself? Who within the international community will declare the most basic truths about diplomacy with Khartoum?
Certainly not the US State Department. The silence over Khartoum’s point-blank rejection of the “Draft Framework” is deafening. Perversely, a search for “Sudan” on the State Department webpage turns up as a headlined item the following:
“On April 21, President Bush determined and certified that ‘the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement are negotiating in good faith and that negotiations should continue.'”
This has the virtue of being a true statement in one sense: both the State Department and President Bush did in fact declare that Khartoum was negotiating in “good faith.” As an item for current consumption, however, the statement from the webpage is burdened by the overwhelming evidence that this simply is not true—on no conceivable definition of “good faith” can such characterization be made of Khartoum. Of course even in April, in reaching this conclusion about Khartoum’s “good faith,” the State Department was (in both its own report and that which it prepared for the President) guilty of serious errors of fact, egregious omissions of key issues and developments, and a consistently distorting tendentiousness. It is thus perhaps ironically appropriate that this transparently false statement remains highlighted on the State Department webpage.
It is also worth highlighting this State Department expediency from several months ago because it is so entirely consistent with what all evidence suggests is present US Sudan policy. This is especially so in dealing with Egypt and the Arab League, both regarded by the State Department as crucial for what is viewed as the geopolitically more consequential Middle East peace process. For one way of understanding State Department silence on Khartoum’s rejection of the “Draft Framework” is to look closely at the response from the Arab world. It is far from a coincidence that when the “Draft Framework” was presented by the Machakos mediators, Egypt and the Arab League shortly after weighed in with their own peremptory rejection of the document. Indeed, just two days ago Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak took aim at the self-determination provision of the Machakos Protocol (July 2002), the bedrock for present peace negotiations:
“Granting southern Sudan independence from Khartoum would ‘tear the region to shreds’ and would be ‘dangerous’ for both sides, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Saturday.” (Agence France-Presse, July 26, 2003)
What especially concerns the Egyptian strongman at present is the fact that the “Draft Framework” calls for security arrangements in southern Sudan that actually guarantee that a self-determination referendum could take place after the six-year interim period. So long as the self-determination referendum was merely notional, with no realistic mechanism for implementation, Egypt was content to raise its voice but take no action. Now, by deploying such strenuous language, Mubarak is deliberately taking aim at the foundation of the Machakos peace process itself. He doesn’t care about issues of wealth- or power-sharing in Sudan, the status of the national capital, or indeed peace itself: he is determined to do all that is necessary to kill any peace agreement containing a meaningful provision for southern self-determination.
Given Khartoum’s rejection of the “Draft Framework” (increasingly using language that deliberately echoes Cairo’s objections) and the joint rejection of the document by Egypt and the Arab League, the State Department seems to have acquiesced in the view of US special envoy for Sudan, John Danforth: the “Draft Framework” is “***only*** a draft,” and apparently enjoys no special diplomatic status in the eyes of the US. This is evidently the message Danforth delivered in Nairobi and the message is being reinforced by the silence of the US State Department at this critical moment in the peace process.
But such expediency will never work with a regime as brutal, ruthless, and cynical as the National Islamic Front. The integrity of the Machakos process, and thus the chances for peace, can only be preserved by means of a US policy that is relentlessly honest, forcefully communicated to Khartoum’s leadership, and that reflects a willingness not to be blackmailed by Egypt and the Arab League. This is a tall order; there is no evidence that it will be filled.
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