It is time for reason to prevail in Yemen
The Yemen peace talks in Kuwait are the third negotiations among the warring parties since the start of the conflict. The first talks were in June 2015 and the second last December.
After a full year of vicious fighting, both sides in the conflict seem to be exhausted and find themselves in politically and militarily difficult situations. The legitimate Yemeni government is facing serious security challenges in the southern regions made worse by the presence of Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda factions. Pressure is building following calls for a north-south partition.
To make things worse, the military reality is moving towards a stalemate and the adoption of an “attack-and-retreat” strategy. According to political and military analysts, government forces have failed to build on their victories in Taiz and Naham. On the other side, the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh are getting aid and protection from foreign powers, which renders defeating them virtually impossible.
Given these realities, the battle for Sana’a, the capital, has become more complex and more difficult to settle.
The Houthis and Saleh sympathisers have lost a great deal of their political and military bite. The pro-legitimate government Arab alliance forces led by Saudi Arabia have regained control of almost 70% of Yemeni territory. Rebel forces, however, are capable and skilled enough to make the fight difficult for government forces, in addition to controlling certain strategic zones.
These relative failures from both sides might push belligerents to stop hiding behind appearances of flexibility and come to grips with the practical necessities of a real political settlement in accordance with UN Resolution 2216 and the frame of reference established by the National Dialogue and the Gulf Initiative.
There will be no escape from having to make concessions, no matter how painful they might be. Anything less than that will not do or the conflict will go on and increase in intensity and violence.
UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed set a five-point agenda for a political settlement. At the top is the necessity for the Houthis and Saleh factions to withdraw from Sana’a and all other cities and to surrender their heavy weapons. Then comes the need for the legitimate government in Yemen to regain control of state institutions and take the proper security measures, the need to settle the issue of political prisoners, abducted people and prisoners of war and, finally, the need to negotiate the procedures for a political transition.
The real problem, however, lies in the appropriate mechanisms for executing the points. The legitimate Yemeni government insists on implementing them in the order they were given. In other words, the Houthi and Saleh factions must first withdraw, surrender their weapons and turn over the cities and government institutions under their control, and then there may be negotiations about political transition.
Of course, the Houthis and Saleh’s camp see things differently. They insist on discussing the political transition and forming a national unity government first.
Perhaps discussing the political transition process first might lead to agreeing about forming a national unity government headed by a Yemini figure acceptable to all parties in the conflict.
As a first step, it is likely to result in breaking down the distrust barrier, reducing hateful discourse and preparing the right conditions for moving forward with the political process.
All of this, of course, must be carried out under UN, international and regional oversight. This international cover is intended to keep the momentum of the process going, monitor its details and even penalise those who deviate from its frame of reference or break its rules.
Whatever the details of the final outcome might be, the Kuwait talks must necessarily lead to the end of hostilities and the preservation of a unified Yemen through a political consensus.