Despite objecting to previous initiatives to get a UN peacekeeping force in to the western Sudan region, Qatar has set itself as the latest honest broker attempting to mediate a solution to the Darfur conflict, but some may see it as another move to sidestep the International Criminal Court.
When Sudan’s President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir was accused last July by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of 10 charges: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder, odds were long that the erstwhile coup leader would ever face trial.
Odds were shorter, of course, that the willful and wily Al-Bashir, now a somewhat Janus-faced US ally in the “war on terror,” would pull some stunt to undermine the ICC warrant. His latest gambit – the apparent arrest of Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, commonly known as Ali Kushayb, a prominent Janjaweed commander – is as transparently hollow in its sincerity, as it is adolescent in its audacity. At the same time, it could prove a factor, among many others, in ensuring Sudan’s President does not join Head of State counterparts Charles Taylor and Slobodan Milosevic in facing international justice.
Khartoum has appointed special prosecutor for Darfur crimes, and announced that it will try Kushayb, who, like Al-Bashir, is wanted by the ICC.
Nice work if you can get it. This move comes after three months of diplomatic back- channeling, with the National Islamic Front (NIF)/National Congress Party (NCP) leadership in Khartoum assiduously- cultivating the African Union, Arab League, China, Russia and France, to push a UN Security Council move, mandated under the ICC, to effectively postpone progress on any indictment of Al-Bashir for one year.
The United States and United Kingdom would almost certainly veto that, so Al-Bashir is throwing a curveball, partly based on the facile argument that the Darfur peace process risks being undermined by a formal ICC indictment, and partly hoping that a war-weary, financially-precarious West will be too distracted and overburdened to focus on Sudan, and will therefore be placated by empty gestures around Sudan’s own justice system.
A note on the first part of the above argument: Darfur’s peace process remains a de facto myth, with the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement a dead letter from the outset, and numerous other deals meant to address specific aspects of the war being honored only in the breach.
This time last year, talks held at Sirte in Libya were little more than a farce, and now Qatar is set to host a new peace initiative, backed by the UN, Arab League and AU.
It is not clear how much engagement there has been between the Qataris and the various Darfuri rebel groups, who may see the initiative as another Al-Bashir ploy to deflect attention from the ICC, not least as during 2006, while a member of the UN Security Council, Qatar opposed attempts to bring UN peacekeepers into Darfur.
An Arab Norway
The emirate of Qatar, like its oil-rich counterpart Norway, has emerged as something of a high-profile international peace broker recently, with Lebanese unity government talks held in Doha last May/June.
But given that upshot of the Lebanese discussions was to empower the Tehran-Damascus- Hezbollah-Shia axis in Lebanon, at the expense of the Saudi-backed March 14, it remains to be seen if the Qataris have the experience or savvy to take up where Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya failed. But more importantly, whether or not the Qataris can pull it off depends somewhat on the bona fides of the participants.
One—Darfur’s most effective rebel group of late—is the Justice & Equality Movement (JEM), whose leader Khalil Ibrahim has made some vaguely-positive, but tellingly lukewarm noises, about the Qatar process.
JEM, with links to the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood wing led by Hassan Al-Turabi, the now-estranged ideologue of Al-Bashir’s 1989 coup, launched a shock-and-awe attack on Omdurman, just outside Khartoum, last May. This was the first time the capital has been threatened in almost four decades of civil war in Sudan since independence in 1956. JEM, with its murky pan-Sudanese political ambitions, and Ibrahim’s connections to former and perhaps current regime allies, is thought to be active in strategically-vital central Sudan—just north of oil-rich southern Kordofan, and the disputed and even oil-richer Abyei region—where the southern Sudan people’s liberation Movement (SPLM) sits, in uncomfortable proximity to soldiers of the National Islamic Front (NIF), which with SPLM destroyed Abyei town last April.
The SPLM and NIF/NCP are formally partners in government, after a 2005 peace deal that ended a 1983-2005 war between North and South in Sudan, after a human cost totaling around 2 million lives. That peace deal is just about holding, but with elections set for 2009 or more likely 2010, and the oil-rich South voting on secession in 2011, the odds are firmly against Sudan staying at peace for much longer, as the April flare-up in Abyei showed.
For its part, the SPLM has not shaken off allegations that a boatload of Ukrainian arms seized by Somali pirates recently was destined for the Juba-headquartered former rebel movement. The SPLM has stood accused of sacrificing Darfur for its own Southern-centered ambitions, by not taking a proactive role on the western region, while in government. The SPLM counter-argument is that it has been effectively sidelined by the NIF-NCP in government and that any initiatives it takes with Darfur is generally regarded as suspect by Al-Bashir.
However JEM has gone on the record stating that it has actively sought an alliance with the SPLM, which it describes as having been duped by Al-Bashir.
Egypt retains strong cultural and diplomatic links with Sudan, despite Khartoum’s involvement in the assassination attempt on President Hosni Mubarak in 1995, and last week took the unusual step of publicly-warning of renewed conflict in Sudan. Why this was said, and what it means, remains unclear. Either Cairo has good intelligence on the ground; it maybe just feels snubbed that Qatar has commandeered the diplomatic limelight.
Add to the mix Chad, which supports the JEM, and has Khartoum-backed rebels of its own to deal with, and China, which want to maintain access to Sudan’s oil, and France, which backs Chad’s autocrat President Idriss Deby, a tangled set of webs have been spun across Sudan, and beyond.
And the French may be surprisingly amenable to Khartoum’s overtures vis-a-vis the ICC, even though the previous French administration was a key backer of the international court’s engagement with the Darfur conflict. The key is if Al-Bashir relaxes his attempts to oust Deby. Of course, that would mean establishing trust between the two men, and an end to N’djamena’s support for JEM, which in turn could compromise Deby’s grip on power in Chad, given that he, like Ibrahim, is from the Zaghawa tribe that lives either side of the Sudan-Chad border. Resisting the tribal call to arms during the early stages of the Darfur conflict nearly cost Deby dear, so he would think carefully before cutting ties with JEM again.
After successfully brokering the 2005 north-south peace deal, the United States has been some talk and little action on Darfur, with the Bush administration not wanting to sacrifice the counter-terror crumbs thrown from Al-Bashir’s table, not to mention distracted by Iraq and Afghanistan, to apply the same carrot- and-stick formula, that post-9/11, brought the north-south sides to the table.
In the meantime, the numbers displaced in Darfur mount, with allegations and denials over militia and military operations, reprisals and faction-fighting, all almost a daily occurrence. The UN says over 200,000 have been displaced in Darfur this year, adding to the around 2.5 million in camps since the conflict was it its worst in 2004. Khartoum disputes this, of course, even as the African Union/UN hybrid force—whose deployment was resisted for so long by Khartoum, and which remains hopelessly underfunded, undermanned and under- strength—becomes increasingly suspect in the eyes of Darfur’s politically-vocal displaced. More ominously, the JEM and other rebel groups link AU dismissal of the ICC case against Al-Bashir, with the perceived role played by the mainly-AU troops on the ground, thus perhaps presaging a new front in the Darfur conflict.
Qatar’s mediators may have their work cut out for them.Show