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The Wars of Sudan | The Nation

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The Wars of Sudan

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Taha had gambled that peace would create a new politics in Sudan. But when Garang's body was laid to rest, Taha's star dimmed sharply. As Khartoum's party operators and security chiefs realigned themselves amid the flux of intra-elite intrigue, it became clear that few in the Cabinet believed in the spirit of the CPA. Without strong leadership to rein it in, the security cabal reverted to its vicious games, fomenting discord among the Southern tribes and going slow on giving the South its half share of the oil revenues.

About the Author

Alex de Waal
Alex de Waal is a program director of the Social Science Research Council and a director of Justice Africa in London....

To salvage his strategy of unity through democracy--and to save his own political skin--Taha now needed the United States to deliver on its promise of improving relations between Washington and Khartoum. But the United States would not move on this until there was a deal on Darfur. Having initially seen the Darfur conflict as little more than an irritating sideshow to the North-South war, the Administration was pressed by an unprecedented mobilization of college students and community groups, who branded Darfur "the first genocide of the twenty-first century" and insisted that the United States had a responsibility to stop it. This mass movement scored some impressive victories: Colin Powell labeled the Darfur killings "genocide" in September 2004, the case was referred to the International Criminal Court by the UN Security Council in March 2005 and the White House handed down an instruction that there should be a peace deal and that the small African Union peacekeeping contingent should be upgraded to a sizable UN force.

Taha's hope was that an accord with the largest of the Darfur rebel groups--the SLA, headed by Abdul Wahid al-Nur--would translate into an electoral pact that would allow the NCP to emerge from the 2009 elections as head of a ruling coalition. This was a tricky piece of political engineering to pull off--not only did Taha have to convince the rebels; he needed to get his own government behind the plan. Indifferent to whatever moral condemnation was heaped upon them, Khartoum's security chiefs were intent on a new military offensive, confident that by fomenting insurrection in Chad they would cut off the rebels' rear base and force them to submit.

After months of painfully slow negotiations, last May a combination of African leaders, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and a host of other international diplomats managed to obtain the signatures of Khartoum and Minni Minawi (chief rival to Abdul Wahid in the SLA) on the Darfur Peace Agreement. But against the wishes of most of his delegation, Abdul Wahid refused to sign. A little more flexibility by the African Union and the United States might just have pulled off a deal, but Abdul Wahid was also banking on outside military intervention that would drive the Sudanese army from Darfur. He was ill advised--he should have known that neither the United States nor the Europeans were ready to commit to fighting Khartoum's army on his behalf.

The Justice and Equality Movement also refused to sign. They and other holdout factions began a military offensive last summer. The Sudanese army has tried to enlist the Minawi faction as its shock troops, but without much success. More ominous for Khartoum, many among Darfur's Arab tribes--most of which have until now remained neutral in the conflict--are shifting toward the rebels. (The depiction of the Darfur war as "Arabs" versus "Africans," always simplistic, is becoming more and more of a misrepresentation as the conflict drags on.) But although they are winning the battles, the holdout rebels are politically fragmented and have no plan for what to do with their military momentum. Most of them want to go back to the negotiating table, but they won't do so unless they get the chance to revise the text of the Darfur Peace Agreement.

Khartoum hasn't stuck by its commitments under the agreement. There has been no effort to disarm the Janjaweed militia, and the one rebel signatory, Minawi, has been given no real power. The relative lull in fighting of 2005 has been replaced by escalation in many areas. Although the level of atrocities is still far below what happened when the government-Janjaweed counteroffensives rampaged through North and West Darfur three years ago, lawlessness is now at such a level that humanitarian operations are more restricted than at any time since those dark days. Should relief access deteriorate still further, the health and lives of millions will be threatened.

The African Union peacekeepers--a mere 7,000 troops to cover a territory as large as France--cannot stop the violence. Taha had signaled that Khartoum would agree to a handover from the AU to an enlarged UN force, but when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1706 last August 31, authorizing 20,000 blue helmets--and implying that it might impose them without Khartoum's consent--President Bashir overruled his more accommodating colleagues and army generals and drew a red line. He categorically rejected UN troops in Darfur, thereby cementing Taha's marginalization, and ominously declared that the Sudanese army would bring peace to Darfur.

Bashir fears that UN troops would have an open-ended mandate to arrest anyone indicted by the International Criminal Court and that authorizing international troops to use force on his territory would be a Trojan horse for a takeover à la the US invasion of Iraq. In naming the first two war crimes suspects on February 27, the ICC was carefully respectful of Sudan's sovereignty, giving Bashir the opportunity to cooperate in handing over the two men. But he is unlikely to take this way out--as long as he believes the Western agenda is one of regime change, no pressure in the world will be sufficient for him to yield. What he has reluctantly conceded is a limited role of UN support to the existing African Union force. Recent diplomatic arguments have been over the makeup of such a force, but there's no strategic plan for how to achieve stability in Darfur. Security cannot be imposed with 20,000 troops, or even 100,000 troops, in the absence of a peace agreement. An effective peacekeeping operation will be nine parts community liaison and political intelligence to one part force. This requires a long-term vision of how peacekeepers will work with tribal chiefs and the men who run village self-defense groups to bring security, peace and reconciliation to the region. But what's needed first is a political deal.

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