Better to jaw-jaw than to war-war

This could be said of many places of course, but it occurred to me today after a discussion with Sudan’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) negotiators Abdullahi Osman el Tom, Mahmoud Abbeker Suleiman and Tahir el Faki over at the now well-located offices of the Public International Law and Policy Group. I’ve often accused the head of that distinguished organization, American University law professor Paul Williams, of never having seen a territory so small he didn’t want to help it gain independence.

That would not be fair in this instance.  The JEM folks made it clear that they prefer a negotiated political solution that would leave Darfur within Sudan.  But failing that, they were also clear that they would seek independence by military means and confederation with Southern Sudan, which will become independent in July, hoping eventually that Southern Sudan would itself join Khartoum in a confederation (fat chance of that).  There was no sign that they had the military capability to achieve independence, but they thought they could prevent Khartoum from winning a decisive military victory.  Sudanese soldiers, they thought, had no reason to fight vigorously for President Bashir.

The problem is that the mediation in Doha, conducted by the African Union, is not going well.  The JEM negotiators have been given 10 days to react to a proposal they say was prepared without their participation and falls far short of what they would need in order to sign.  They are spending their time at PILPG preparing a markup of the mediator’s proposal, one that would make it more specific, enable displaced people to return safely to their homes, provide for return of property and accountability for crimes, and ensure that assistance money (Qatar has promised $2 billion) is spent to benefit Darfurians.  This would require a much more comprehensive and detailed agreement, subject to extensive verification, than the one the mediator has proposed.  They have nonetheless been told that failure to come to agreement by May 23 would lead to an end to the mediation.

That would trigger Khartoum’s “domestication” plan, which the JEM folks see as an effort to eradicate their movement (and other rebels), push the internationals out of Darfur, force repatriation of displaced people whether conditions are adequate or not, and impose Khartoum’s authority.  It would also divide Darfur along ethnic lines, something they oppose, and it would allow janjaweed, the army and intelligence forces free rein, leaving the drivers of conflict unresolved.

What are those?  In the view of the JEM people, the drivers of conflict are national, not Darfurian.  President Bashir has made it clear that with Southern Sudan’s secession he will govern what remains as an Arab and Islamic state, further marginalizing the peripheral regions.  JEM does not define itself in ethnic and religious terms, and most of its adherents are neither Arab nor Muslim.  They want a secular, democratic state, the New Sudan of John Garang being their ideal.  They welcomed the Arab spring but underlined that nonviolence would not work in Sudan and that they are committed to keeping their military option open.

JEM would like the other Darfurian rebels to join in a united negotiating front, but that seems unlikely.  They would like the U.S. to make an effort to unify the rebels, but blamed the international community for “recognizing” different groups and thereby promoting fragmentation.

I have my doubts that the May 23 deadline is really a firm one.  If there are signs of progress, I’d be surprised if the Qataris and Khartoum did not want to continue the effort.  It really is better, as Winston Churchill said, to jaw-jaw rather than to war-war.




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