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Peace in Darfur was Long Entrusted to Qataris: What we see of Qatar now


Eric Reeves - June 5, 2017

After the disastrous failure of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) of May 2006 (Abuja, Nigeria), neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration (beginning in January 2009) committed the diplomatic resources necessary to find a true peace agreement. The DPA had no support from Darfur civil society or hold-out rebel groups (only one of which signed the DPA, ensuring a catastrophic splintering of the groups). The failure to include meaningful provisions for security in the region convinced Khartoum that it could continue its genocidal counter-insurgency without consequences. The events of the past eleven years have proven the regime right.

Only in July 2011 would another “peace agreement” emerge, the so-called “Doha (Qatar) Document for Peace in Darfur” (DDPD) a travesty described by one participant in the Abuja negotiations, Julie Flint, as “Abuja replayed as farce.” And farcical it was, having been cobbled together by the spectacularly incompetent and ignorant Obama administration Special Envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, and Libyan strongman Muammar Gadhafi (who once described the Darfur genocide as a “quarrel over a donkey”). The “rebel” representation confected by Gration and Gadhafi consisted on no major rebel groups, only the entirely fictitious Liberation and Justice Movement of Tigani Sese. Again, there was no inclusion of Darfuri civil society, no participation by any of the remaining rebel groups, no meaningful security arrangements—and no effect whatsoever on the ground in Darfur. Again, the events of the past six years make this painfully clear.

Despite this conspicuous fact, it was only very recently that the U.S. and other Western international actors acknowledged the failure of the Qatari effort; but even this has led only to encouraging that the DDPD be “built upon,” “strengthened,” “augmented”…or other disingenuous pretenses that the “Document” could possibly be the basis for peace. And the grossly incompetent man leading current diplomatic efforts, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, has a dismal record of failure after failure on the Darfur file. His first effort—his self-proclaimed “Roadmap for Peace in Darfur” (2009)—could not have been a more obvious disaster. He is despised by Darfuris, by the rebel groups, and by all major Sudanese constituencies other than the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party.

So catastrophic were Mbeki’s efforts that they left a diplomatic opening for the ruthlessly ambitious Qataris, and a desperate Special Envoy Gration was only too eager to seize on what appeared the only opportunity for something that could be called a peace agreement, even if “peace” appeared only in the name of a document.

Entrusting peace in Darfur to the Qataris, allowing them to serve as mediators between the victims and perpetrators of genocide, was such a gross error in judgment that there can be no forgiveness for the expediency it represented. Given Qatar’s long support for the Muslim Brotherhood—of which the National Islamic Front in Sudan (now the expediently renamed “National Congress Party”) was an offshoot—the impossibility of a true mediating role should have been obvious. But like Qatar, the Obama administration had already sided with Khartoum, a fact made conspicuous in an interview later in 2011 by Gration’s successor as Special Envoy for the Sudans, Princeton Lyman:

“We [the Obama administration] do not want to see the ouster of the [Khartoum] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.” (Interview with Asharq al-Awsat, December 3, 2011 | http://english.aawsat.com/2011/12/article55244147/asharq-al-awsat-talks-to-us-special-envoy-to-sudan-princeton-lyman )

The absurdity of this belief that an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood could “carry out reform [in Sudan] via constitutional democratic measures” was entirely comparable to granting the Qataris a central role in the negotiations the produced the DDPD.

All this makes for useful background in understanding an important dispatch from today’s Washington Post:

Four Arab nations sever diplomatic ties with Qatar, exposing rift in region | Washington Post, June 5, 2017, | DUBAI

Four Arab nations severed diplomatic relations with Qatar on Monday, moving swiftly to isolate the small but influential country after accusing Qatar’s rulers of supporting terrorist factions and stoking regional conflicts. The four countries—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain—released separate and apparently coordinated statements saying they would cut air, sea and land links with Qatar, which hosts a forward base for the U.S. military’s Central Command and is home to the widely watched Al Jazeera network.

The feud—the most serious in decades among some the region’s most key Western allies—has been simmering for years as Qatar increasingly flexed its political muscle across the region, including backing for the Muslim Brotherhood. The diplomatic break came just weeks after President Trump met with Arab and Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia and called for a unified front against extremism and regional influence by rival Iran.

The diplomatic break came just weeks after President Trump met with Arab and Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia and called for a unified front against extremism and regional influence by rival Iran. The visit was hailed by the Trump administration as a success, but analysts in the region said at the time that it seemed likely to aggravate local disputes. Trump’s trip, they said, amounted to a U.S. endorsement of the Saudi-led bloc that has increasingly demanded that other Arab states—including Qatar—fall in line with its positions, including a hard line against Iran and opposition to transnational Islamist groups.

The Brotherhood and affiliated groups, which favour Islamist-inspired policies, are seen by many Arab leaders as a threat and have faced sharp crackdowns around the region since being ousted from power in Egypt in 2013. The result was an unusually bitter feud between Gulf monarchies that have long boasted in public of their “brotherly” relations, while competing behind the scenes for influence in a region riven by uprisings and wars, and haunted by resurgent militant groups. (emphases in bold added—ER)

This split will test Khartoum’s ability to navigate its way in the region. Having been unable to afford (economically) its longtime strategic relationship with Iran, and having received very substantial financial assistance from both Qatar and Saudi Arabia (with which it is fighting in Yemen against the Iran-backed Houthis, whom Khartoum once supported), the NIF/NCP regime will clearly have to choose.

By instinct and ideological commitment, the men who control the regime in Khartoum are eager to support radical Islam, and likely continue their support for international terrorism (it is one of only three countries remaining on the U.S. State Department list of “state sponsors of terrorism”). Leaked minutes from a meeting of senior military and security officials on August 31, 2014 (and widely confirmed as authentic, including by the U.S. State Department) remain revealing of attitudes that prevail within the regime:

"We have a problem with Saudi Arabia because they found out about the weapons we sent by way of the Red Sea to Abd al-Malik Al-Huthi’s Shiite group in Yemen."

(Major General Hashim Abdalla Mohammed, Chief of Joint General Staff) [The al-Houthi terrorist organisation at the time controlled much of northern and western Yemen, immediately across the Red Sea from Sudan, as is Saudi Arabia—ER]

But it was in various comments about Libya in the 2014 meeting that attitudes of the regime were most widely displayed:

"We have intensified the work to train and graduate Libyan [Islamist rebels] Military Intelligence cadres. Currently, they are doing an advanced course on Internet operation, deciphering of codes, interception of telephones and wireless radios. Their leadership requested us to train and establish for them a strong Military Intelligence system." (General Siddiq Amer, Director General of Intelligence and Security)

"Our intelligence and security files can play a role in the improvement of our economy [this ominous claim is never explained—ER] and diplomatic relations. They can also be used to abort the conspiracies of the rebellion against us. The victory of our people [Islamists of the Libya Dawn rebel movement—ER] in Libya is an indication that we will also achieve victory over the New Sudan Project ["New Sudan Project" is Khartoum’s catch-all phrase for any movement toward democratization, press freedoms, equality in citizenship, and secular governance—ER]

In the same meeting, a highly revealing assertion was made by General Imad al-Din Adawy, Chief of Joint Operations:

"The Libyan border is totally secured, especially after the victory of our allies [Libya Dawn forces] in Tripoli. We managed to deliver to them the weapons and military equipment donated by Qatar and Turkey and we formed a joint operations room with them under one of the colonels in order to coordinate and administer the military operations. Turkey and Qatar provided us with information in favor of the revolutionaries on top of the information collected by our own agents so they can control the whole country."

Radio Dabanga reported shortly after (28 October 2014) on further details of the Libyan accusations:

[In] late September, Libyan army officers intercepted a Sudanese convoy with Yemeni fighters at El Kufra on the Sudanese-Libyan border. On 6 September, a Sudanese military aircraft was grounded at El Kufra airport, “laden with weapons bound for [Libya Dawn] rebels.” The week before, the Sudanese military attaché in Tripoli was declared persona non grata, after being accused of supporting Libyan militia groups.

Perhaps our best news account of what is really at stake here, and the character of Libya Dawn militias is The Guardian [Tunis], 7 September 2014:

Libya has expelled the Sudanese military attaché after accusing Khartoum of flying weapons to Islamist rebels in Tripoli, raising fears of a widening regional conflict. The government, which has fled Tripoli for eastern Libya, accused Khartoum of sending a transport plane loaded with munitions for the Islamist-led Libya Dawn militias who control the capital.

"Sudan is interposing itself by providing arms to a terrorist group that is attacking the headquarters of the state," said a government statement.

Implications of the Saudi/Qatari Split

The split between Qatar (where the U.S. military’s Central Command has an important base) and Saudi Arabia (revealingly, the most important U.S. Gulf ally) puts the State Department in a difficult quandary and may very well have to choose sides. But it is the choice that will be forced upon Khartoum that is the more difficult and revealing as the regime approaches the July 13, 2017, deadline for a U.S. decision on whether to lift economic sanctions on Sudan permanently.

The regime is desperate for an economic boost and has survived an almost complete lack of Foreign Exchange Currency (Forex) only because of cash infusions from both Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Even so, inflation is running at over 50 percent year-over-year, the Sudanese Pound has dropped hugely in value, many basic commodities cannot be imported for lack of Forex (including wheat for bread, various refined petroleum products, and critical medicines), the agricultural sector is in terminal decline, and the infrastructure is decaying rapidly for lack of investment during the 28 years the NIF/NCP has been in power.

But despite Khartoum’s desperate need for a permanent lifting of U.S. sanctions—which would bite much more deeply now that the regime has lost French banking giant BNP Paribas as its off-shore “central bank” (in the words of the U.S. Justice Department on the criminal conviction of the bank for massive violations of U.S. financial laws on behalf of Khartoum [2014])—Khartoum has simply not done what is required.

Over the past year, the regime has given no sign of improving humanitarian access to any areas it does not control militarily, whether in Darfur, South Kordofan, or Blue Nile—despite the fact that denial of relief aid imperils many hundreds of thousands of innocent Sudanese civilians. A story from today’s Radio Dabanga reflects the continuing obstacles Khartoum puts before international relief organisations in Darfur:

Hungry displaced in Central Darfur seek food outside camp | June 5, 2017 | MUKJAR, Central Darfur | https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/hungry-displaced-in-central-darfur-seek-food-outside-camp

Shortage of food at the Mukjar camp in Central Darfur has forced hundreds of displaced people to leave the camp and search for food elsewhere. Speaking to Radio Dabanga on Sunday, a camp elder explained that the food shortage is caused by a reduction in the monthly rations provided by international organisations to the displaced. [These reductions result directly from actions by Khartoum, which has repeatedly expressed its determination to dismantle the camps and end their role in providing focus points for international humanitarian relief—ER] “About 820 camp residents have left in the past weeks in search for food elsewhere,” he said, and called on relief organisations “to urgently intervene to address the problem and save the remaining families.” He added that the people are also in urgent need of tents and tarpaulins, “especially with the approach of the rainy season,” in addition to health care and medicines.

More broadly, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) recently reported:

“Almost 4,000,000 Sudanese have been forced from their homes in 14 years [of violence in Darfur]”

And that:

"Hundreds of thousands of people do not receive the lifesaving help they need because of challenges in accessing communities." (June 1, 2017 | http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/06/4000000-sudanese-displaced-fighting-170601165141799.html/)

If international humanitarian organisations were really given free access to the people of Darfur, we would not be reading such stories. The “challenges” that NRC refers to are overwhelmingly the deliberate creation of the Khartoum regime. But the Obama administration, in lifting sanctions on Khartoum, promulgated a preposterous falsehood by way of an interview given by U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power: “we have seen a sea change” of improvement of humanitarian access, Power declared in her final UN interview (January 13, 2017). This profoundly false statement stands as the last official U.S. government pronouncement on the issue of humanitarian access, one of two issues that will determine on July 13, 2017 whether sanctions are permanently lifted.

The other key issue in the sanctions decision is organised violence by the regime—in the three contested areas, and presumably by both the regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and militia proxies, most notably the still very active Rapid Response Forces (RSF). I’ve evaluated compliance by Khartoum twice since the stipulation of terms was announced by way of President Obama’s Executive Order (January 13, 207); on both occasions, Khartoum earned a richly deserved “F,” or failing grade:

• May 11, 2017 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-238

• April 16, 2017 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-22o

On the issue of organised violence against Sudanese civilians, it is particularly important to see the significance of Khartoum’s creation—in Darfur and elsewhere—of what has been described authoritatively as a “militia state”:

• “Border Control from Hell: How the EU’s migration partnership legitimises Sudan’s ‘militia state’” | The Enough Project | April 5, 2017 [by Suliman Baldo] http://www.enoughproject.org/files/BorderControl_April2017_Enough_Finals.pdf

• “Remote-control breakdown: Sudanese paramilitary forces and pro-government militias” | (Small Arms Survey | April 2017) | http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/issue-briefs/HSBA-IB-27-Sudanese-paramilitary-forces.pdf

Looking Forward to July 13, 2017

There is no reason to believe that the profoundly incompetent Trump administration—which still has no Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs—will consider the issue of sanctions against Khartoum in any but the most cynically and simplistically expedient terms—good news for a regime with a Muslim Brotherhood pedigree. But the rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia raises an immediate economic/financial threat to the NIF/NCP regime; there may well be a bidding war between the two for Khartoum’s support. And nobody should underestimate the financial ability of the Qataris, avid supporters of radical Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood, to make the winning bid.

Eric Reeves, Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights

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