The previous analysis in this series (http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article231.html) focused primarily on the potential for intra-state conflict in Sudan, particularly in South Sudan, Southern Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains, the East, and of course Darfur. It highlighted the National Islamic Front regime’s growing dependence on an oil-sustained economy, even as oil revenues have plunged dramatically in recent months. The consequent large-scale revenue shortfall will inevitably work to short-change further Sudan’s peripheral regions, as Khartoum struggles to maintain its stranglehold on Sudanese national wealth, despite presiding over an economy deeply in debt and defined by profligate military spending. In turn, given its present exclusionary economic policies and brutally repressive military past, the National Islamic Front regime cannot prevail fairly and honestly in the national elections scheduled for this year. Indeed, there have been dangerous slippages in conducting a controversial census (whose results are still not known), various delays in passing required election laws and an election commission, and growing logistical and monitoring challenges to the electoral process outlined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (January 9, 2005; Nairobi). The elections scheduled for July 2009 now seem very unlikely to occur before 2010, the year prior to the scheduled self-determination referendum for South Sudan (July 2011). If these earlier elections are widely perceived to be unfair or fraudulent, there will be little faith among South Sudanese in the meaningfulness of their referendum, which on all present evidence would result in an overwhelming vote for secession. Understanding this all too well, Khartoum will likely respond preemptively at a time it judges to be militarily auspicious, resuming war in the South and the oil regions on a scale previously unseen.
Certainly there is every reason to believe that Khartoum will use its control of the electoral machinery, the vast state security apparatus, and as much money as required to bribe key officials and local authorities to ensure victory by whatever margin is deemed necessary. The National Islamic Front has never in its almost twenty years in power (which was assumed by military coup) conducted free and fair elections. As the Economist Intelligence Unit analysis of October 2008 put the matter:
“we do not expect [the National Congress Party, i.e., National Islamic Front] predominance to be threatened by the polls, as it is unlikely to allow them to take place until it is confident that its management of electoral politics and recent crackdown on dissent have assured a victory.”
The regime will face, as it has so many times before, some measure of unctuous criticism from the international community if it rigs the elections—and will simply ride out the period of opprobrium. Arguments that somehow this time will be different, that the regime will honestly abide by its commitments under the CPA’s electoral provisions, are the triumph of facile hope over the brutalized experience of Sudanese for the past two decades under National Islamic Front tyranny. Since the NIF (now disingenuously renamed the National Congress Party) came to power, it has never abided by a single agreement made with another Sudanese party—not one, not ever.
Recently, for example, Khartoum attempted to give the appearance of inaugurating a reconciliation initiative to address ongoing conflict and human destruction in Darfur. The nominal goal of the “Sudan People’s Initiative” was to bring together various elements of Sudanese civil society in an effort to forge a series of steps to resolve the Darfur crisis. The whole affair was of course entirely “cooked” in advance, and even Sadiq el-Mahdi (head of the Umma party, and the consummate Northern political whore), was forced to admit that several of his party’s recommendations were simply dropped by Khartoum before the outcome document was eventually promulgated. Tellingly, a key demand from all constituencies, excluding the NIF, was a cease-fire. On November 12, 2008 President Omar al-Bashir solemnly declared that the NIF would begin an “immediate and unconditional” cease-fire. And yet less than a day later this “cease-fire” was consequentially violated by aerial bombing attacks in North Darfur; these and subsequent bombing attacks would be investigated and confirmed by the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur. The “Sudan People’s Initiative” stood revealed as the cynical manipulation it was.
It seemed not a problem for those supporting the Sudan People’s Initiative that there was no presence of the Darfuri rebel groups or representative Darfuri civil society leaders. And yet Alex de Waal, program director at the Social Science Research Council in New York City, had already rendered his judgment of the “Sudan People’s Initiative” on his SSRC blog (November 12, 2008 at http://www.ssrc.org/blogs/darfur/2008/11/12/the-sudan-peoples-initiative-a-flicker-of-optimism/):
“There is a flicker of a chance that the Sudan People’s Initiative marks the beginning of Sudanese taking ownership of the Darfur crisis and finding a way towards a solution.”
“Flicker” is an easy “out word,” a means of later disclaiming any real belief in the process in the event of failure. But de Waal is much more committed to a positive assessment with his concluding paragraph, which argues:
“The most important reality today is that the denial and self-imposed political paralysis that have marked the Sudanese political establishment’s approach to Darfur have been decisively overcome. Sudanese leaders are back at doing what they do best—talking through their issues.”
This is either dangerous foolishness or breathtaking disingenuousness. Not simply because the “cease-fire” never existed, and its serial violations were justified with the most preposterous of lies (an army spokesman declared that the Sudan Armed Forces bombers were clearing the roads of “bandits,” an absurdly improbable task for inaccurate Antonov cargo planes, crudely retrofitted for bombing attacks). But de Waal’s claims that the NIF is “talking through the issues,” his suggestion that there is a “Sudanese political establishment” outside the regime that has been ceded real power by the NIF to negotiate over Darfur, that “denial and self-imposed political paralysis” have been “decisively overcome”—all bespeak a failure or refusal to recognize the NIF regime for what it is. This fundamental error fatally compromised de Waal’s participation in the Abuja (Nigeria) negotiations, helping lead to the disastrous “Darfur Peace Agreement” (May 2006).
Two months after the demise of the Sudan People’s Initiative nothing of value is being done by way of follow-up: no one from the Darfuri leadership was ever included; bombing attacks by the regime’s forces have continued, as have ground attacks; Khartoum continues to harass, obstruct, and intimidate humanitarian workers in Darfur, forcing many to evacuate; ominous threats against UN peacekeepers continue to be issued. De Waal’s “glimmer of hope” has been extinguished by the unblinkable reality of NIF obduracy and ruthlessness. The Sudan People’s Initiative was never anything more than a ploy designed to create the impression that the NIF regime was seriously engaged in a “peace process.”
And yet too many follow in de Waal’s footsteps, refusing to see the regime’s gnocidaires for who they are, refusing to accept the scale of their mendacity, refusing to hold them accountable for their deadly war of attrition against humanitarian assistance, and refusing to see that the NIF continues to arrogate to itself as much national power and wealth as possible. Instead of a clear-eyed assessment of the NIF, we too often have instead facile talk of “moderates” within the regime. But the grim truth is that at the senior levels of the regime we are simply talking about different ways in which survival is calculated. Al-Bashir, Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e, Saleh Abdalla ‘Gosh,’ Ali Osman Taha, and a small handful of others, including very senior military and national security figures, continue to make all significant decisions by the NIF.
Nothing has more severely impeded negotiating success with Khartoum over many years than the inability to see into the heart of darkness that animates a regime which simply does not care how many lies it must tell, does not care how many people must die or suffer, does not care except in purely pragmatic terms about how it is perceived by the non-Arab and non-Islamic world. Only if we understand the essential identity of the NIF regime can we make sense of the options it is weighing in responding to an impending decision by the three-judge Pre-Trial Panel of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the Prosecutor’s application for an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. This is the critical starting point if the international community is to fashion responses that will change the regime’s calculus of survival.
NIF RESPONSE TO IMPENDING ICC ARREST WARRANT FOR AL-BASHIR
Unsurprisingly, it is de Waal who has led an ill-conceived campaign against the ICC and in particular Luis Moreno Ocampo, Prosecutor for the atrocity crimes that have occurred during the regime’s genocidal counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur, now entering its seventh ghastly year—making Darfur’s the longest genocide of the last century. Failing to acknowledge the savage intransigence of the NIF, de Waal is determined to blame Moreno Ocampo for his conduct in investigating crimes against humanity and genocide. These crimes, particularly crimes against humanity, have been established with unassailable authority by not only the antecedent UN Commission of Inquiry (January 2005), but by many distinguished international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch. And yet de Waal is joined by some such as Justice Africa (where de Waal remains a director), which in a recent brief (December 2008, “Prospects for Peace in Sudan”) accuses the international community of being “irresponsible” in “allowing the ICC Prosecutor to demand the arrest of President al-Bashir” (48). Here we should bear in mind that the UN Security Council referred formal investigation of these crimes to the ICC in March 2005 (Resolution 1593); among the eleven members voting affirmatively on the resolution were Benin and Tanzania (revealingly, China, Brazil, the US, and Arab League member Algeria abstained—all with thoroughly compromised motives). The referral was made in the context of what human rights investigators have repeatedly described as an ongoing “climate of impunity,” an impunity that continues to this day.
In short, despite al-Bashir’s clear complicity in and responsibility for atrocity crimes, despite the UN authority undergirding the ICC investigation, despite the voluminous extant evidence of not only crimes against humanity but genocidal intent, de Waal sees the ICC primarily as an obstacle to peace negotiations—negotiations that that have not begun nor are anywhere in prospect (see below for an account of the so-called “Qatari initiative”). Indeed, no one has done more than de Waal to set up as mutually exclusive the pursuit of justice and the pursuit of peace in Darfur. This is precisely the opposition that the Khartoum regime itself has sought to establish for months as a means of undercutting support for the ICC; the primary tactic has been a wide range of threatened reprisals against UN peacekeepers, humanitarian workers, and civilians, both Sudanese and international. Insofar as the threats are directed against the UN, they are without precedent: never before has a host country directly threatened UN personnel and infrastructure that have been deployed with prior permission.
Darfur itself gives no sign of progress toward either peace or justice. Violence and human destruction continue in Darfur precisely because there is no justice, no accountability—only the impunity that has been a defining feature of NIF conduct of counter-insurgency war, as well as recruitment among its Arab militia allies, the Janjaweed. Until all combatants are convinced that justice awaits all who commit atrocity crimes, those crimes will continue. The abstractness of such a formulation achieves a terrible clarity when we attend to particular moments of human agony. The Guardian Weekly (January 15, 2009) recently offered as stark an example as one could imagine. Let us bear in mind that it is fathers such as Muhammed Ahmed who are being asked by de Waal to trade out justice for “peace” (Ahmed speaks in the first-person in this extended but all too representative account):
“From my home I can see in the distance the military camp of the government of Sudan. Originally, I am from a village near here, but my family and I had to flee when it was attacked and burned. We are now displaced people, IDPs.
“I want to tell you about what happened on October 12, 2008. It was a Sunday.
“On that day my two sons, one is 13, the other 15, went to the river in the valley to swim. While they were there, two soldiers found them and asked them what they were doing. They said: ‘We are students; we are just here to refresh ourselves.’ But the soldiers said: ‘No, you are not. You are tora bora.’ When someone says that, they mean rebels, the Sudan Liberation Army [SLA]. The boys said: ‘No no, we are students—look, here are our identity cards to prove it.’ But the soldiers beat the boys anyway. And after they had beaten them they dragged them back to the checkpoint near our house.
“Several people saw them and shouted to the soldiers: ‘Why are you taking our boys? They’re not trouble, they’re students.’ But the soldiers refused to let them go.
“At this time, my daughter was in the house and could hear the commotion. She came out and stood by the fence looking towards the shouting. On the other side of the fence, some soldiers were standing around, watching the situation. One of them took his machine gun and fired at her. He hit her right in the heart. She fell down dead. She was eight years old. Well nearly; she was still seven.
“Some of the soldiers saw what had happened and rushed over; they picked up her dead body and took it away.
“I was in the town of Zalingei at the time, on UNAMID business. I got a telephone call.
“Some of my relatives went to the soldiers and asked them to please give back the dead body, but they refused. They asked where the father was. My relatives had to say that I wasn’t there.
“They kept her body at the checkpoint for two days, then they took it to Kass, a town about 40km from here. My relatives kept asking for her body, but the soldiers refused. Sometime after that my relatives went to the police station and explained that they had to take the body to the hospital; they had to make a medical report. So eventually it was agreed and the body was returned to us.
“At the hospital, the doctor said: ‘This girl died from a gunshot wound.’ And that was it.
“My relatives went back to the police station to file a report, but the police refused. They said that they couldn’t make a report. Later I went myself—and eventually they agreed to take down the information. They filed it under the number 1516. Yes, 1516.
“The police told me the name of the soldier who killed my daughter. He is a lance corporal. He wasn’t arrested. I see him around the place, like normal, sitting on the back of vehicles, moving around Kass with his commanders.
“I told the UNAMID officers. They made a report, too.
“So, you see, the situation here is very bad for us. We can’t do anything. Someone can take your daughter from you and you can’t say anything; you can’t do anything. If I were to say something, they might send someone to my house to kill me, to keep me quiet. The situation here is very terrible.”
Not only is the situation “terrible,” but it shows no signs of significant improvement, despite the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) finally reaching 60 percent of its military strength (see below). But for de Waal the more important issue is evidently not angering Khartoum. He declares in a Washington Post op/ed (June 28, 2008) co-authored with Julie Flint:
“We support accountability for the crimes committed in Darfur, including at the highest levels. But prosecutions must be in the interests of the victims.”
The possible risk of reprisals from an angry Khartoum must govern the pursuit of international justice in Darfur, de Waal and Flint argue, presuming to speak in “the interests of the victims.” But for many months the real choice before the international community has been whether to confront the NIF over its unprecedented effort to blackmail the UN by threatening its peacekeepers and humanitarian workers—or to succumb to the specious words de Waal and Flint offer:
“The risks in Sudan are so great right now that the instruments of justice must be handled with great discretion.”
“The risksare so great right now.” (June 28, 2008) — but what about seven months later? Are we still in the moment of exquisite threat to diplomacy that de Waal and Flint imply? Won’t their insistence upon “discretion” always be available as a means of arguing that the ICC should stand down in the face of NIF threats? Must we wait for the NIF to be deposed before acting? This is the worst and most destructive form of appeasement.
Leaving aside the deep and widespread support for ICC prosecution of al-Bashir among Darfuris, both on the ground and in the diaspora, one must be ready to defend every word of an argument in which one presumes to speak for victims and ask them to defer accountability for their terrible losses. And yet the de Waal/Flint op/ed, despite its plea for “discretion,” contains an embarrassment of errors, tendentious misreadings of Moreno Ocampo’s words, and misleading claims (see my detailed critique at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article218.html).
Perversely, de Waal more recently seems equally determined to upbraid ICC Prosecutor Moreno Ocampo for bringing genocide charges against al-Bashir, apparently conceding that evidence of crimes against humanity is indeed overwhelming:
“Two weeks ago, Moreno Ocampo succeeded in accusing Bashir of the crime [genocide] for which he is not guilty.”
De Waal has trimmed his political sails quite considerably since arguing just the opposite in August 2004:
“[Counter-insurgency in Darfur] is not the genocidal campaign of a government at the height of its ideological hubris, as the 1992 jihad against the Nuba Mountains was, or coldly determined to secure natural resources, as when it sought to clear the oilfields of southern Sudan of their troublesome inhabitants. This is the routine cruelty of a security cabal, its humanity withered by years in power: it is genocide by force of habit.” (“Counter-insurgency on the Cheap,” London Review of Books, August 5, 2004)
What has changed? Why should Moreno Ocampo not bring charges that were warranted in August 2004, and for many months subsequently? Are charges of genocide inappropriate or misguided because they have come so late? It is, to be sure, a terrible scandal that the international community has deferred justice for Darfuris for so long, given the reports available from 2003 through the present. But that hardly relieves us from the obligation to pursue justice as vigorously as possible. De Waal has also consistently played fast and loose with the language of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide, often simply ignoring key language from Article Two, which specifies genocidal acts. It is difficult not to conclude that de Waal has determined that a genocide arrest warrant would simply be too potent, and his criticism of Moreno Ocampo for bringing charges of the ultimate crime has more to do with expedient diplomacy than an honest assessment of the evidence of genocide. (For one of the most important reports from a human rights organization presenting evidence of genocide in Darfur, see Physicians for Human Rights “Darfur: Assault on Survival,” January 2006 at http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/report-sudan-2006.html; de Waal dismisses its findings. For a broader analysis of the very substantial evidence of “genocidal intent” on the part of Khartoum and its Janjaweed proxies, see my two-part account at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Sections-article489-p1.html and http://www.sudanreeves.org/Sections-article488-p1.html.)
Still, there can be no gainsaying the significance of Khartoum’s threats of reprisals, including attacks on civilians, peacekeepers, and humanitarians, and the expulsion of aid organizations charged with aiding the ICC in any fashion. Here it is important to realize first, however, that Khartoum’s war of attrition against humanitarian personnel and operations is already of longstanding, indeed has defined the regime’s counter-insurgency campaign since 2003 (for a recent summary account of the character of this “war within a war,” see my October 28, 2008 analysis [“Humanitarian Efforts in Darfur Face Escalating War by Khartoum”] at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article227.html). The costs to humanitarian organizations in lost worker hours, materiel, and delivery delays are immense; and these come at a time when financial resources are terrifyingly scarce worldwide and Sudan consumes a disproportionate amount of these resources. The worldwide UN Consolidated Humanitarian Appeal for 2009 is $7 billion, $2 billion for Darfur and South Sudan alone. And yet Khartoum refuses to contribute meaningfully to aid efforts anywhere in Sudan; instead, the regime is exporting large quantities of food for profit, primarily to Arab countries, even as malnutrition is again rising in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan (see The New York Times, “Darfur Withers as Sudan Sells Food,” August 9, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/world/africa/10sudan.html?scp=1&sq=gettleman%20darfur&st=cse). All this was true long before the prospect of ICC action; indeed, Khartoum feels emboldened in obstructing or compromising humanitarian assistance precisely because there has been in the past no credible threat of accountability.
Khartoum’s opposition to the UN/African Union peacekeeping presence in Darfur (UNAMID) has been similarly vehement, and again long preceded the ICC Prosecutor’s announcement of July 14, 2008. This opposition reaches back to the days of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), nominally the monitoring force in charge in Darfur from summer 2004 through December 31, 2007. In addition to denying access to AMIS—and later UNAMID—personnel as they sought to investigate violations of various cease-fire agreements (none has been observed by Khartoum), there has been a denial of resources, a commandeering of aviation fuel, and constant harassment and obstruction. Over the last year there have also been a number of direct attacks on UNAMID, including an especially deadly attack by Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia allies on July 8, 2008 (for a detailed account of Khartoum’s carefully orchestrated Janjaweed attack on a large UNAMID patrol, killing seven and wounding twenty-two near Umm Hakibah, North Darfur, see my analysis of July 12, 2008 at
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article219.html). Notably, this attack came several days before the announcement from the ICC Prosecutor that he was seeking an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. Even more telling of Khartoum’s attitude was an unprovoked attack on a well-marked UNAMID convoy by the regime’s regular forces on January 7, 2008 (for a detailed account of this attack, see my January 15, 2008 analysis at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article200.html). In short, deeply hostile actions and policies have defined Khartoum’s attitude to international peacekeeping and humanitarian responses in Darfur from the beginning.
Which is not to say that conditions cannot be made much worse. And the failure of the international community to put Khartoum on notice that there will be heavily punitive consequences for any and all reprisals only encourages the regime. But while humanitarians rightly prepare for the worst, including tightly timed evacuation exercises and preparation of flight resources for a direct exit to Uganda, there are good reasons to believe that Khartoum will in fact demonstrate restraint, at least initially. Support for the regime’s defiant position on the ICC is waning in both the African Union and the Arab League. Al-Bashir’s increasingly bombastic declarations that there will be no cooperation whatsoever with the ICC leave no middle ground for diplomatic initiatives or support. Saudi Arabia has quietly advised al-Bashir and the NIF to find a way to accommodate the ICC; so, too, has Egypt. Indeed, President Mubarak in November signaled his displeasure with al-Bashir’s obduracy, and traveled for an unplanned visit to Khartoum to convey as much. An exceptionally well-informed account of this visit by the Sudan Tribune (the only account by any news organization in a European language), notes that while the contents of the November 14, 2008 meeting were not disclosed, a senior Egyptian official who speaks with considerable legal authority made plain the growing impatience with Khartoum. Mufid Shihab, Egyptian State Minister for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, declared:
“‘I thoroughly examined the ICC Statute to look for something that could aid Sudan’s position. Even though Sudan is not a state party this will not prevent the ICC jurisdiction in these cases and dropping all immunities’ Shihab said during a forum at the Saudi Embassy in Cairo.”
“Shihab stressed that the only way out for Sudan and its president is to take ‘concrete and concise steps and that there is no point of taking extreme positions on rejecting the ICC.'”
As the Sudan Tribune rightly notes, the statements by Shihab “marked a radical shift in Egypt’s position, which has backed Sudan in [its] position against the ICC. The Egyptian minister, who is an international [law] expert, had previously said in August  that Khartoum is not bound by the ICC since it is not a member of the Court and emphasized that Al-Bashir enjoys immunity as a head of state.” (Sudan Tribune, November 16, 2008)
Perhaps even more telling is the recent visit to Khartoum by Liu Guijin, China’s special envoy for Darfur. There can be little doubt that Liu represents the obduracy and brutal realpolitik described by the frustrated outgoing US special envoy for Sudan, Richard Williamson: “Their [China’s] special envoy to Darfur is a particularly difficult and unhelpful interlocutor” (Sudan Tribune, January 18, 2009). This is all the more disturbing since Liu’s appointment was accompanied by Beijing’s declaring that it was willing to engage with the US and other members of the international community. In the event, China rebuffed all efforts to work with other permanent members of the UN Security Council engaged on Darfur—France, the UK, and the US. Even so, while declaring that an arrest warrant from the ICC for al-Bashir would “have disastrous consequences on the Darfur issue,” Liu tipped his hand revealingly by putting himself on record about how the Khartoum regime should respond:
“‘Even if in the worst case that the warrant be issued, we hope and we believe that the government of Sudan will continue to exert constraint, and to co-operate with the international community,’ [Liu] added.” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum], January 7, 2009)
With Chinese complicity in the Darfur genocide so clearly established (see my overview in The New Republic, December 19, 2007 at
http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=1f4269dd-9d4f-4911-891f-57ae85d66b70), Beijing certainly has no wish to see the additional blood of humanitarians, UN peacekeepers, and civilians on its hands during what will inevitably be a high-profile news event—and Beijing will have made its expectations forcefully clear to the cabal in Khartoum. Although it won’t say as much publicly, China is well aware of the catastrophic consequences for Darfur that would follow from large-scale reprisals.
Indeed, even from a pragmatic point of view, there are reasons for Khartoum to threaten violence and expulsion, but actually take relatively little action on the occasion of an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. To engage in serious reprisals will likely lose the regime yet further support among the African Union and Arab League (support that had previously been significantly stronger), and may just be the galvanizing event that moves the international community to robust action. 4.7 million human beings are described by the UN as “conflict-affected” and in some way dependent on humanitarian assistance for their livelihoods; 3 million are in need of food assistance, and a great many are totally dependent; 2.7 million people are internally displaced in camps that are often without sufficient potable water or primary medical care. If the humanitarian operations supporting these vast populations were to collapse because of violent reprisals directed against humanitarians or peacekeepers (the breakdown of UNAMID would ensure the evacuation of virtually all expatriate humanitarian personnel), the world would be looking at catastrophic near-term morbidity and mortality, which would accelerate rapidly in a matter of weeks. The example of Rwanda will loom with ever greater urgency, and the catalyst for action might finally have been created.
NATIONAL ISLAMIC FRONT SURVIVALISM
For just this reason, the survivalist instincts within the NIF suggest that following the announcement by the ICC there will be a continuation of present policies: hostile, obstructive, threatening, harassing, and occasionally murderous. These have already led to evacuation of many international staff, to withdrawals by several organizations, and the acute attenuation of humanitarian reach generally. But serious reprisals against humanitarians and peacekeepers would commit Khartoum to actions that cannot be “walked back”; the regime will have permanently defined its position vis–vis the international community and will have no further threats to wield. Moreover, the current semblance of a “Government of National Unity” (GONU), including participation by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), would end with a campaign of large-scale reprisals. The SPLM has been put in an exceedingly difficult position by the ICC, and the leadership has tried to tread a very fine line between expressing concern about the consequences of an ICC arrest warrant for al-Bashir and making clear the Movement is well aware of the threat posed by National Islamic Front policy in Darfur, and the need to engage with the ICC. Salva Kiir, head of the SPLM and nominally First Vice-President of the GONU, recently went so far as to raise the possibility that the National Islamic Front will abrogate the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which remains the overwhelming concern of Southerners:
“‘The problem we have here in South Sudan is what would happen to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) if Bashir is charged by the court?’ Salva Kiir, Sudan’s vice president and president of the now semiautonomous region of Southern Sudan, was quoted as saying in the local press. ‘What about the outstanding items in the peace agreement? Will they be implemented afterwards?'” (Christian Science Monitor [dateline: Khartoum], January 16, 2009)
For a variety of reasons, the National Islamic Front found it advantageous to sign the CPA in January 2005; this was in part because it provided an insurance policy against excessive international pressure over the regime’s genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur—and to a remarkable extent, this cynical effort has been a continuing success. Formerly Khartoum made clear that that if they were pressed excessively over Darfur, the CPA would never become a reality. Four years after signing the CPA, the NIF is threatening to abandon the CPA if they are held accountable for their atrocity crimes in Darfur. The regime counts on broad international understanding that if the CPA were to collapse, or if the NIF were to declare a “state of emergency” without support from the SPLM, then the resumption of North/South war would become inevitable. Elections could not be held under such circumstances, nor would there be any incentive for Khartoum to abide by the terms of the CPA. The regime’s grudging and distinctly limited implementation of the CPA to date would come to a precipitous halt. Though unwilling to date to invest adequately in implementing the CPA, most of the international community nonetheless understands just how dire the consequences of the Agreement’s collapse would be.
There have been few encouraging signs about full or even reasonable implementation of the CPA, even without the issue of an ICC arrest warrant for al-Bashir. Khartoum seems bent on keeping the collapse of the CPA as a consequential threat for as long as possible. For this threat, like that of reprisals against humanitarians and peacekeepers, loses all potency once exercised; this argues that there will probably be no precipitous collapse of CPA implementation, though it cannot be ruled out if there is a change in the NIF leadership.
For yet another possibility—one that may be playing out even now—is a “palace coup” in which either Senior Presidential Advisor Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e or Second Vice-President Ali Osman Taha seizes power with support from other members of the NIF—or al-Bashir preempts them by throwing his lot entirely with the army. The Christian Science Monitor ([dateline: Khartoum] January 16, 2009) reports:
“As one senior government official explained, there are three groups of important players in Sudanese power politics: Turabi and his connections within security organs; Vice President Ali Osman Taha and Presidential Adviser Nafie Ali Nafie, also Islamists who are often credited as the real power behind the throne; and the less religious Bashir and some senior officers in the Army.”
[Turabi is now under arrest and facing imminent trial in the wake of calling for al-Bashir to take responsibility before the ICC for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Darfur. Turabi, the powerful former chief ideologue of the NIF, also has connections through his Popular Congress Party with the Darfuri rebel Justice and Equality Movement—ER.]
“For Mr. Nafie and Mr. Taha, ‘Bashir has become a liability on the party. He must go,’ said the government source, who added that in any case, ‘all of them are conspiring against each other.'”
“Such splits have always existed within the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), but according to Suliman Baldo, Africa program director at the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice, the ICC has sharpened those internal tensions. ‘It is accelerating the internal contradictions within the regime, to really spill out between those who are of a pragmatic nature, who want to be part of the world order and not face an environment of constant crisis and sanctions; and those in the regime who are very defiant and want to have that type of confrontation because they believe it reinforces their hold on power,’ says Mr. Baldo.”
[Suliman Baldo is as informed an observer of Khartoum and its political infighting as we have. But I believe he suggests too benign a “pragmatism” on the part of the senior members of the NIF who are adduced in this dispatch. Importantly, both Nafi’e and Taha have held the Darfur portfolio at critical moments in the genocide; both are committed Islamists; and both know that surrendering al-Bashir buys little time from the ICC, which will sooner or later pursue its investigation of these men. Curiously, there is no explicit mention in this revealing article of the powerful head of the intelligence and security services, Saleh Abdalla ‘Gosh’: he is supremely “pragmatic,” but this extends only to casting his lot with the perceived victor in any palace coup—ER.]
“‘It’s too strong to say the National Congress Party is plotting against Bashir. But people are pondering ways out,’ said another Western diplomat, who requested anonymity.”
“According to [a Western] diplomat, influential members of the ruling party—namely Taha and Nafie—are debating whether they should, in the case of an indictment, offer Bashir up to the ICC. For his part, Bashir is debating whether he could simply place them under house arrest and rule with the support of the military.”
[To be successful, al-Bashir’s efforts to stave off a coup might require a new face for the regime that he controls after house arrest of his rivals; the most likely candidate is General and Presidential Affairs Minister Bakri Hassan Saleh, who would be looked on favorably by the army (which is not true of either Taha or Nafi’e)—ER.]
There are, finally, too many political and military forces at work—and too often countervailing—to make any firm prediction about Khartoum’s response to the impending ICC announcement of an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. And having waited so long without vigorously signaling to Khartoum the consequences of violent reprisals or a reneging on commitments—preeminently the CPA—the international community is at this late moment largely helpless. But not entirely so, and the disgrace of ongoing failure to rebuke Khartoum for its outrageous threats against humanitarians, peacekeepers, and civilians does not lessen for being so belated. In the end, the words of moral integrity have come not from the nations that have postured so shamelessly over Darfur but from Costa Rica and Belgium:
“‘We know there could be reprisals, the situation could get even worse,’ countered Costa Rica’s Ambassador Jorge Urbina. ‘Night is never so dark as before the dawn. We can’t have this arm wrestle between the [UN Security] Council and the Court and not allow responsibility to be taken for one’s acts.'”
Belgian Ambassador Jan Grauls said the Council cannot allow itself to be ‘manipulated by blackmail’ by caving to al-Bashir’s threats of more violence.” (Associated Press [dateline: United Nations/New York], December 3, 2008)
In fact, a credible case can be made that the ICC attention to Darfur’s atrocity crimes has prevented the Khartoum regime from engaging in more destructive actions in Darfur and elsewhere in the country, particularly Abyei and Southern Kordofan. The regime is clearly rattled by the impending ICC announcement, and will think long and hard before engaging in the more provocative actions available to it. That such varied chatter is emerging from Khartoum about what might happen, and what the central cabal is considering, should be sign enough that there is no consensus. We may not be able to enter fully into the vicious calculus that guides the NIF, but their ensuing actions will surely reflect an acutely considered survivalist strategy.
THE QATAR “PEACE PROCESS” FOR DARFUR
The first feature of what seems destined to be called the “Qatar Peace Process” is that it has worked to obscure, and finally hamper, international efforts to organize peace talks between the rebel groups and Khartoum; these talks were to have been led by joint UN/African Union mediator, Djibril Bassol of Burkina Faso. Though troublingly unskilled in either English or Arabic, Bassol has, according to several close observers, worked hard to establish effective relationships with the fractious rebel groups. This in itself is no small commitment, and one that Qatar has certainly not made (the rebels harbor considerable mistrust of Qatar because of the emirate’s past strong support for Khartoum, including while on the UN Security Council). Although Bassol receives public support, it has hardly been prominent or robust. It was again the Sudan Tribune that reported exclusively on a low-level State Department confirmation of Bassol’s role:
“‘We have always, from the beginning, supported Bassol,’ a US diplomat who requested not to be identified by name told Sudan Tribune. ‘That has not changed at all, and certainly that will be [Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs] Jendayi Frazer’s message to him too, reaffirming that support.’ ‘We don’t want these competing initiatives, which is why Bassol is there in the first place. Everything should fall under his authority—that’s what he was appointed to do,’ added the diplomat. ‘From our perspective the most important thing is that Bassol is at the helm,’ said the official.” (Sudan Tribune, November 25, 2008)
We might be forgiven for wondering how “important” Bassol’s leadership role can be if a US official will confirm it only anonymously, even as this key diplomatic figure labors in relative obscurity. France and the UK have been even less helpful in decisively establishing Bassol as the chief mediator. This has led precisely to the “competing initiatives” invoked by the unnamed US official, and which did so much to retard North/South peace talks in 2000-02 (the Libyan-Egyptian initiative of the time was especially pernicious, reflecting above all else Egypt’s determination to deny South Sudan the right to choose secession).
For its part, Khartoum is already speaking in ways that suggest an ownership of the peace process that excludes Bassol from key decision-making. For example, the issue over which rebel groups to invite to peace talks, and in what capacity, has been thoroughly vexed for well over two years. The splintering and infighting among the rebels that resulted from the ill-conceived Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA)(Abuja, Nigeria; May 2006) are far from resolved, and intransigence on a number of issues only grows in various quarters of the insurgency. This refusal to make reasonable compromises in establishing the pre-conditions for talks increases rebel responsibility for the suffering and destruction of the people they claim to be defending and fighting for. But as vexed as the issue is, a tough decision about whom to invite must be made—and it should be the decision of Bassol, in consultation with other stakeholders. Instead, Khartoum is already driving a wedge into the process by presuming to speak for Qatar on this critical issue, with Khartoum’s foreign ministry spokesman Ali Sadiq declaring that, “Qatar ‘does not want to leave any loophole’ by not having all rebels involved” (Associated Press [dateline: Nyala, South Darfur], January 4, 2009). But inviting all the rebel factions ensures that there will be diplomatic chaos, as some “factions” are little more than small groups of armed men, representative in neither numbers, in negotiating priorities, nor in speaking for Darfuri civil society. Khartoum well understands this, and is with this insistence on “inclusiveness” attempting to paralyze the negotiating forum. It is hardly surprising that none of the major rebel groups has committed to the “Qatar process.” And Qatar’s refusal to consult with the former rebel group of Minni Minawi, now nominally part of the “Government of National Unity,” is also clearly at Khartoum’s behest.
Arab countries as a whole have behaved with shameful parochialism, belying any sense of an “Arab League” when in comes to responding effectively to Sudan’s multiple conflicts and crises. Qatari foreign minister Hamad bin Jasim al-Thani recently, not without self-serving motives, declared that “competition among Arab countries is slowing down efforts to formulate an initiative to resolve the five years of Darfur conflict” (Sudan Tribune, January 12, 2009). For its part, Egypt, reluctant to cede its dominant role in fashioning Arab policy toward Sudan, refuses to grant Qatar any form of ownership:
“Some observers have also pointed out that Egypt is uncomfortable with the Qatari role as they consider Sudan their own backyard. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit has made statements in the past stressing that the new Darfur initiative is an Arab one and not owned by one single country.” (Sudan Tribune, January 12, 2009)
But the Arab identity of the talks is precisely the obstacle in the minds of many Darfuris, including those within the various rebel factions. They are well aware of the unstinting support that has been extended to Khartoum by the Arab League countries, collectively and individually. The have not forgotten Arab efforts to forestall the ICC pursuit of justice in Darfur. And they have certainly not forgotten Arab silence during the most destructive years of the genocide, and Arab refusal to condemn Khartoum for its obstruction of humanitarian assistance. Qatar as the venue for peace talks is, however, rapidly becoming a diplomatic fait accompli. This obliges even more robust, more public efforts by the rest of the international community, insisting that Djibril Bassol be recognized for who he is: the duly-appointed joint UN/African Union chief mediator. If the peace process comes to be owned by Qatar or Arab League countries, it stands no chance of succeeding.
CEASE-FIRE: THE INESCAPABLE STARTING POINT
The key to any peace process is the implementation of a fully credible, effectively monitored, and comprehensive cease-fire. Given the size of Darfur, as well as the range and character of combatants, this is a daunting task. Success will depend upon flight and surveillance resources that are presently unavailable to UNAMID, which must be the primary force for monitoring the cease-fire. It remains a sign of the hollowness of international commitment to Darfur that not a single one of the helicopters long ago requested by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations has been committed by militarily capable Western nations (UN Security Council Resolution 1769, authorizing deployment of UNAMID and appropriate resources, passed unanimously on July 31, 2007, a year and a half ago). UNAMID leadership now boasts that 60 percent of its military personnel have been deployed; but only 40 percent of the equipment necessary has been committed, and this severely constrains what deployed troops, military observers, and police can accomplish (only five of the critical 19 authorized Formed Police Units have been deployed, about 27 percent). In his December 19, 2008 briefing of the UN Security Council, Under-secretary General for Peacekeeping Alain Le Roy noted:
“‘For over one year we have been requesting pledges for a multi-role logistics unit, a medium transport unit, a heavy transport unit, an aerial reconnaissance unit, light tactical helicopters, and 18 medium-utility helicopters.'” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], December 19, 2008)
There continues to be an advocacy push, especially in the US, for a “no-fly zone” (NFZ) over Darfur as a means of halting attacks by Khartoum’s helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers. Leaving aside the additional threat of reprisals in the event such a NFZ were deployed, and the immense logistical challenges, an obvious question presents itself, as much to the Obama administration as to the Bush administration. For if what is being urged is an Iraq-style NFZ, it is worth contemplating just how vast a commitment of military resources this represents: fighter jets, re-fueling tankers (assuming a basing strategy could be devised), AWACS surveillance aircraft, fuel, spare parts, and personnel. How likely is it these resources would be committed when the US, with a good deal of shameful company, refuses to commit a single helicopter to UNAMID for purposes more urgent and practicable? (As I have repeatedly noted, an Iraq-style NFZ is also impracticable if only because there would be no way to ensure against the accidental shoot-down of humanitarian cargo planes or helicopters, especially given Khartoum’s penchant for disguising the identity of its Antonovs and helicopters, and the crisscrossing flight patterns of military and humanitarian aircraft).
A fully credible, effectively monitored, and comprehensive cease-fire in Darfur is an enormously complicated military challenge. But it becomes impossible if burdened with the consequences of a NFZ, especially if enforcement is unilateral or includes only two or three Western allies. There is no simple way to end Khartoum’s deadly aerial assaults.
Khartoum must be compelled by the international community to negotiate first a cessation of offensive hostilities, as well as the demobilization of the Janjaweed (the latter “demanded” by UN Security Council Resolution 1556, July 30, 2004); a formal cease-fire must follow; and then a fully empowered cease-fire commission must be negotiated and convened. Reported violations should be investigated promptly, the results publicly released at the earliest possible date, with no opportunity afforded Khartoum to quash the findings.
It will be especially difficult to convince the rebel groups that Khartoum is committed to a cease-fire, although they too must take responsibility for much of the violence in Darfur, especially the opportunistic banditry engaged in by former members of various factions, violence that now severely constrains humanitarian reach in so many areas. The rebels have seen too many cease-fires come and go, violated by Khartoum almost as soon as they were announced. This was certainly true of “immediate and unconditional” cease-fire that was announced by al-Bashir on November 12, 2008 and violated the next day with bombing attacks in North Darfur—and which has continued to be violated over the past ten weeks. These attacks—confirmed in a number of cases by UNAMID investigations, and coming on the heels of such a fulsomely announced cease-fire—put the onus squarely on Khartoum to take the first steps. But if the regime cannot convince the rebel groups of its seriousness about a cease-fire, more encompassing agreement on issues such as security, land restoration, power- and revenue-sharing, and compensation will be impossible.
For their part, the rebel leaders must communicate more effectively and seriously with one another, and give up on a bankrupt policy of placing excessive pre-conditions on the starting of any peace talks. The immensely popular Fur leader Abdel Wahid el-Nur, head of one large faction of the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M), is particularly culpable—the more so since he seems not to be in contact with his own commanders on the ground. Jar el-Naby, one of the most honorable and principled of the rebel commanders over the past several years, recently spoke out:
“To some of his commanders, El Nur is looking out of touch. Jar al-Naby, a SLM commander in Darfur, said he and other commanders have not spoken to their leader for months. ‘If El Nur remains intransigent, we have to speak our minds,’ said al-Naby. He said the rebels need to unite and capitalize on the international pressure being applied against the Sudan government. ‘Before talking to the government we have to talk to each other, within the movement,’ he told The Associated Press. ‘We have to put together a program for dialogue. We can’t leave it open indefinitely.'” (Associated Press [dateline: Nyala, South Darfur], January 4, 2009)
Such clarity of vision is desperately needed, but perversely is in diminishing supply. A good deal of recent commentary and reporting has focused on the growing strength of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which is often characterized as militarily the most potent of the rebel movements. In terms of equipment and military hardware, this is likely true—primarily because of support from President Idriss Dby of Chad, who like JEM’s leader Khalil Ibrahim is from the Zaghawa tribe.
[For a truly superb overview of the rebel movements as of spring 2007, and the role of ethnicity in defining their leadership, see “Divided They Fall: The Fragmentation of Darfur’s Rebel Groups,” by Victor Tanner and Jerome Tubiana, Small Arms Survey, July 2007, at www.smallarmssurvey.org/files/portal/spotlight/sudan/Sudan_pdf/SWP%206%20Darfur%20rebels.pdf).]
JEM used its military strength and ground transport capacity to attack Khartoum (Omdurman) in May 2008, a suicide mission that produced an extremely serious crackdown on all Darfuris in the capital region, and a moral victory for the regime at the UN Security Council (see my May 15, 2008 essay on this “victory” in The New Republic, at http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_plank/archive/2008/05/15/a-gift-for-khartoum.aspx). But because it is short in manpower, a reality obscured by the relative sophistication of its military equipment, JEM is also the rebel movement that has recruited child soldiers most aggressively, especially from refugee camps in Chad. Recently UN Under-secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes singled out JEM for its various violations of international humanitarian law:
[UN USG John] Holmes singled out one of the main rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), for recruiting fighters, some of them children, in Chad. This, he said, was ‘threatening the civilian and humanitarian nature of the camps.’ ‘This needs to stop if the humanitarian effort is to be able to continue successfully,’ Holmes said, adding that the UN refugee agency had been unable to deliver aid in one camp for two months.” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], December 3, 2008).]
Outgoing UNICEF head in Sudan, Ted Chaiban, recently echoed this criticism. And this followed an investigation last June by the British advocacy organization “Waging Peace”:
“Waging Peace has collected testimonial evidence claiming that Darfuri refugees as young as nine have been trafficked and forcibly recruited into armed groups (in particular the Darfuri rebel group JEM, as well as Chadian rebel groups and the Chadian army) operating in Eastern Chad. This widespread forced recruitment has been taking place in open daylight in camps, on a much more widespread scale and with greater violence than ever before and with the tacit approval of the Chadian Government who has at the very
least done nothing to put an end to this.”
“Two leaders in the camps decided to speak out and were filmed talking about the trafficking and forced recruitment of children as soldiers. The two leaders explained that other leaders in the camp have been kidnapping and then selling boys to the armed groups operating in the vicinity of refugee camps. The children are usually boys, aged mostly between 9-15.” (Waging Peace, “Trafficking and Forced Recruitment of Child Soldiers on the Chad/Sudan Border,” June 6, 2008 at http://www.wagingpeace.info/?q=node/38)
Despite its violations of international humanitarian law, its lack of true popular support from any but the Zaghawa tribal groups, and its Islamist past, JEM is seeking to make itself the exclusive interlocutor with Khartoum:
“The rebels increasingly are vying among themselves for dominance. Late last month, Khalil Ibrahim, the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement, dismissed other groups as having been infiltrated by the government, or as ‘individuals with mobile phones who appear on satellite stations.’ The group’s top military commander, Suleiman Sandal, said it is ready to negotiate, but without other factions. In May 2008, his group launched a brazen military assault on the outskirts of Khartoum, the first such attack by Darfur rebel groups on the government seat.” (Associated Press [dateline: Nyala, South Darfur], January 4, 2008)
This JEM exclusivism only exacerbates the difficulties in rebel unification and stokes growing ethnic tensions within the broader rebel movement; it could never yield a peace acceptable to those excluded. A separate peace with JEM, which has a national rather than a Darfuri agenda, would prove as disastrous as the Darfur Peace Agreement of May 2006, in which only Minni Minawi’s faction of the SLA/M signed (notably, Minawi is also a Zaghawa).
Quietly, Djibril Bassol has been attending to the critical task of finding common ground among the rebel groups. There can be little doubt that this task is made a great deal more difficult by rebel determination to await the decision by the ICC Pre-Trial Panel on the Prosecutor’s application for an arrest warrant for al-Bashir, charging him with murder, crimes against humanity, and genocide. But as Bassol seeks to find common ground among the rebels, it is incumbent upon the international community to engage Khartoum in ways that signal real determination to end human suffering and destruction in Darfur. First and foremost this means recognizing the regime for what it is: mendacious, cruel, expedient, and resourceful. Negotiating a meaningful cease-fire with such brutal men, in particular a halting of all aerial military flights (per UN Security Council Resolution 1591, March 2005) is the challenging task at hand. But there can be no doubting the authority for insisting upon such a halt: Resolution 1591 explicitly demanded that Khartoum “immediately cease conducting offensive military flights in and over the Darfur region” (6). And yet bombing attacks, mainly on civilians, have been continuous over the almost four years since the Resolution passed. In the event of all future violations, UNAMID must be prepared to disable aircraft on the ground that have been implicated in attacks on civilians, or violated the terms of Resolution 1591. All helicopter gunships must be removed from Darfur to el-Obeid or Khartoum, since they have only offensive military purposes.
UNAMID REMAINS FAR FROM STRONG ENOUGH TO ENFORCE A CEASE-FIRE, OR PROTECT CIVILIANS AND HUMANITARIANS
In order to monitor and enforce a cease-fire, and to require the withdrawal of helicopter gunships from Darfur, UNAMID must be given dramatically greater support by the international community—both diplomatically and militarily. And UNAMID, along with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, must do some serious soul-searching. The top military leadership of UNAMID receives scathing reviews from Darfuris, international observers, and military experts. The head of UN Peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy recently declared bluntly to the UN Security Council that “UNAMID has been ‘much too slow in providing real improvements for the ordinary citizens on the ground and inadequate in resolving the Darfur crisis'” (UN News Center [dateline: New York], December 20, 2008).
The unprecedented command structure of the “hybrid” UN/African Union force has been as unwieldy and ineffective as was predicted by many at the time of authorization. Several militarily capable Western countries have refused to commit equipment to UNAMID because of grave doubts about force leadership. Morale varies considerably from battalion to battalion, but there is much suggesting that poor leadership at the top has led to poor performance within the ranks. Even South Africa, with a sophisticated military service, has troops reported to be experiencing low morale and a sense of purposelessness, especially following the random killing of a South African soldier in October 2008:
“Sources in Darfur involved in United Nations projects said on Thursday [October 23, 2008] the morale of the South African peacekeepers was quite low. UNAMID is supposed to have a staff of 26,000, but so far only 11,000 have been deployed. Everybody expected UNAMID (the hybrid African Union-UN force) would be different to AMIS (the former AU force), but the problems have remained the same. South African soldiers didn’t think they were doing any good. They believe the force’s mandate is too weak.” (The Star [South Africa], October 31, 2008).
It hardly helps that UNAMID’s military and civilian leadership have been so slow in attaining critical memoranda of understanding from Khartoum, both for airport use, right of movement (which continues to be impeded despite previous agreements), and timely delivery of materiel from Port Sudan to Darfur. Only this week—a year and a half after passage of Resolution 1769—was UNAMID able to secure permission for full use of Sudan’s airports:
“The Sudan government and the African Union/UN Mission for Darfur (UNAMID) signed last Sunday [January 18, 2009] an agreement allowing the hybrid peacekeeping force to use Sudan airports. The agreement was signed at the end of the third meeting of the Tripartite coordinating mechanism on UNAMID attended by the African Union Commission, the United Nations and the Government of Sudan at African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on air operations was meant to enable UNAMID to make a more effective use of Sudanese airport infrastructure in order to speed up the deployment process.” (Sudan Tribune, January 20, 2009)
Given the excruciatingly slow deployment of UNAMID, and its critical lack of equipment and personnel, we might wonder how such a critical Memorandum of Understanding could be delayed so long. More than anything else it bespeaks the lack of effective AU political and military leadership in confronting an obstructionist Khartoum regime and its canny array of disruptive tactics. The same could be said of a previous scandalous delay: it took UNAMID over a year to secure permission to fly at night in Darfur, even for medical evacuations—a critical pre-condition for many potential troop-contributing countries:
“In August 2008, the Sudanese government gave UNAMID the green light to conduct its night fights in Darfur enabling the operation to reach the vital 24-hour capability of flight. Sudan justified its past rejection saying the airports are not properly lighted.” (Sudan Tribune, January 20, 2009)
Beyond delaying key terms of agreement, Khartoum also initially refused to accept contributions from non-African countries. This led Norway and Sweden, for example to withdraw their offer of a highly skilled joint engineering battalion in 2007, a loss of capacity that still hasn’t been adequately replaced. The key deficit in personnel remains armed Formed Police Units (FPU), the ideal military tool for securing camps that have become increasingly volatile, the targets of Janjaweed attacks, and often militarized (on the complex question of “militarization” in Darfur’s internally displaced persons camp, see Clea Kahn, “Conflict, Arms, and Militarization: The Dynamics of Darfur’s IDP Camps,” Small Arms Survey, September 2008 http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/files/portal/spotlight/sudan/sudan_publications.html). Under-secretary General Le Roy highlighted the consequential absence of FPU’s in his December 20, 2008 briefing of the Security Council:
“Le Roy also said that ‘limited resources’ have prevented UNAMID from fulfilling its mandate, ‘especially the absence of Formed Police Units.'” (Sudan Tribune, December 21, 2008)
Notably, African countries are notoriously short on both trained civilian police and in maintaining Formed Police Units, making Khartoum’s insistence on African forces for UNAMID tantamount to denying an adequate FPU presence (the same problem confronted the exclusively African Union predecessor to UNAMID, AMIS). This weakening of UNAMID’s ability to fulfill a key part of its mandate is certainly deliberate.
Khartoum is also not above simply denying travel permission to UNAMID, confident that this under-resourced force is so fearful of confrontation that it will take no military action, even to fulfill its clearly mandated tasks. A critical example, one that suggests how difficult it will be to create a meaningful and enforceable cease-fire, was offered by Under-secretary General Le Roy in his December 20, 2008 briefing of the Security Council. Recounting efforts to follow up on a number of rebel reports of bombing attacks between November 12 and November 25, 2008 (again, November 12, 2008 was the date al-Bashir announced an “immediate and unconditional cease-fire”):
“[Le Roy] said that UNAMID had deployed patrols to verify those [rebel] reports [of bombing attacks]. In South Darfur, UNAMID had found visible evidence of air strikes, including four bombing craters and unexploded ordnance near the village of Abu Dongal. UNAMID had dispatched another verification patrol to Abdel Shakur (North Darfur), but had been stopped at Government checkpoints on two occasions and not allowed to proceed to the site. On 13 December , a UNAMID patrol had eventually been allowed access to the area and observed six craters left from aerial bombardments in the village of Korbiya , 90 kilometres north-west of Kutum.” (UN News Service [dateline: UN/New York], December 20, 2008)
Only a month ago, after NIF President al-Bashir declared publicly an “immediate and unconditional cease-fire,” the UN verification patrol “had been stopped at Government checkpoints on two occasions and not allowed to proceed to the site.” It is not simply the violation of the self-declared cease-fire that has produced such deep skepticism among the rebel groups about the Khartoum regime; it is the fact that even in such a highlighted context Khartoum would presume to obstruct a UNAMID team from pursuing its fully authorized investigations. That no real price has been paid by the regime for either action encourages these brutal men to believe that the same will be true if they find it expedient to declare, and subsequently violate, a new “cease-fire.” This is not the road to peace.
So long as expediency dominates international engagement with Khartoum, so long as a fanciful picture of the “National Islamic Front in dialogue” continues to be painted by de Waal and others, and credited as realism by those with the power to confront the regime, then there will be no progress toward peace anywhere in Sudan. A credible, verifiable, and comprehensive cease-fire is the only way to move toward a peace agreement; and that will not be possible if the National Islamic Front is regarded with naivet or disingenuousness. What we might call a diplomatic “salvation delusion,” a refusal to see the regime in Khartoum for what it truly is, represents the final betrayal of the people of Darfur. Such betrayal has for too long defined the history of this tortured land.
[Part 2 of 3; Part 3 will analyze further developments in the “Qatari peace process,” the dismal record of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) (operating in South Sudan and the border regions), and the current state of humanitarian security and operations in Darfur amidst accelerating violence.]