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The President's Take

The Dangers of Ignoring Yemen's Southern Question

In his introduction to this month's edition of CrisisWatch, Crisis Group's conflict tracker, our President Robert Malley reflects on signs of hope in Afghanistan and Sudan, and on dangerous new developments in southern Yemen.

The work of Crisis Group’s field analysts covers the spectrum: from early warning to resolution; from preventing deadly conflicts to mitigating their impact to avoiding their resumption. Events this past month offer examples of work needed in all of the above. 

For some time now, we have been warning of the risks of ignoring Yemen’s southern question. So it should not have come as a surprise when, on 10 August, United Arab Emirates-backed southern separatists took up arms against Saudi Arabia-supported government forces in Aden and moved to consolidate control across the south. As of this writing, the struggle is in flux, but the risk of violence escalating into a full-fledged civil-war-within-a-civil-war – and further distracting from the urgent task of ending that other war – is all too real, as we wrote in a recent briefing.

A glimmer of hope – or even two – in Afghanistan, comes with the prospect of ending the United States’ longest-ever war, and in Sudan, with the chance to turn the page on one of the continent’s bloodiest regimes. As to the former, one can and should debate how the U.S. got to this point, why it took so many years and so many futile military escalations to get serious about negotiating and pulling out, and – critically – what the U.S. will leave in its wake, but progress in talks with the Taliban is welcome. As in so many peace processes, the approach to the finish line is accompanied by intensified violence. Civilians, as usual, pay the price: some 1,500 were killed in July, the highest monthly number since 2017. Even assuming the U.S. and the Taliban reach a deal, the conflict between the government and the Taliban may well persist. How the U.S. withdraws and what it and others in the region and elsewhere do to support intra-Afghan talks will help determine whether that war can be successfully resolved as well. Crisis Group will be offering its recommendations every step of the way. 

Sudan’s ruling military council and opposition coalition signed a landmark constitutional declaration but the road ahead will be rife with obstacles, in the form of resistance by old regime elements who still control (and profit from) the economy and security sector as well as of unresolved local insurgencies. The same international pressure that supported the protesters in toppling President Omar al-Bashir will be required to ensure the transition stays on track.

A new cloud emerges over Venezuela’s peace process

Meanwhile, a new cloud emerges over Venezuela’s peace process. Tentative progress in Norway-brokered talks between the government and opposition suffered a setback when the U.S. announced on 5 August a new round of tough sanctions. The government responded by suspending its involvement in the talks; this almost certainly was a brief suspension, but the timing of the U.S. decision was curious, to put it mildly, coming as it did just as the government reportedly was showing some modest flexibility. Disconnected from the realities and rhythm of the negotiations, the sanctions are likely to harm ordinary Venezuelans yet further, rally chavistas around President Nicolás Maduro, and empower the more hardline in their ranks, leading even some opposition members with whom we spoke to wonder what might have motivated the U.S. administration.

Events in Colombia showcased the fragile nature of a peace deal and the need to consolidate it continuously. Three former senior commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – including their former chief negotiator – announced their return to armed struggle in a 29 August video, making them the highest-ranking ex-guerrillas to renege on the 2016 peace accord. That they reportedly are based in Venezuela makes the situation even more explosive, as it could lead to clashes between the two countries. 

Our colleague Michael Kovrig has been arbitrarily held in a Chinese jail for over 260 days, without access to family or lawyers. If China wants to send a message to Canada and the United States, it should find other ways to do so than to unjustly imprison an analyst whose life’s mission is to prevent, resolve, and mitigate conflict. They should promptly release him.