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Will the ceasefire hold?

  • Published at 12:14 am December 21st, 2018
Peace for a while? REUTERS

There seems to be a global understanding and willingness to bring a humanitarian solution to the conflict in Yemen

Following the Yemen peace talks in Sweden, many observed them as only consultations -- not to make too much out of them. Therefore, it is certainly promising that the two warring parties have agreed on this ceasefire, even if it could be temporary.

Commentators interpreted that both warring parties share the willingness to hold this ceasefire  as long as they deem possible. Unlike the previous peace talks, the outcomes from Sweden have been quite an achievement. But, overall, there is a global understanding and willingness to bring at least a humanitarian solution to the conflict in Yemen and there does seem a genuine desire on both sides for this ceasefire to hold. 

The fact that we’re even discussing this issue is an extraordinary achievement in itself, as it has been mere weeks that the talks were first announced. Most experts, and certainly the diplomatic community predicted doom and gloom, and the parties wouldn’t even meet in the same room together. 

Just a few weeks later now, we are actually discussing real policy proposals. We’re seeing that the UN has come up with monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the ceasefire does hold. So, everything seems to be moving smoothly, and in an incremental fashion, which is a necessity in order to bring discussions to the next level.

The agreement did take everyone somewhat by surprise. How challenging will it be now to monitor the ceasefire with the UN mechanism, given the complexity and wide range of issues that are at play here? 

Getting the ceasefire is the easy part -- what comes next is potentially even harder -- getting a lasting peace deal, and getting a political settlement. They’re all incredibly complex. But, right now, we’re at a particularly sensitive time, where there’s all manner of issues at play. There’s widespread lack of trust, there are all types of actors with their own agendas who can act potentially as spoilers. 

Next, there’s widespread fear -- you have people who have been embedded in a conflict for a number of years now, so paranoia is expected. These people, uncertain about the intentions of others, could act in an unpredictable way, given the types of situations that they are subjected to.

What needs to happen now is the UN has to really enforce a degree of calm, and make sure that there’s de-escalation while also building a sense of safety and trust. This is all so easy to slide back into conflict if people act rashly, and if people don’t observe what has been set out at present. All of this is predicated on trust, and trying to move forward towards something better than what has been the norm.

What we’ve seen from the UN and its Security Council is that it remains united when it comes to Yemen, unlike other conflicts. For instance, the conflict in Syria, where it’s been divided since the beginning. 

Looking at the process that is taking place before our eyes, it’s important to understand that it’s an incremental approach here -- the ceasefire talks are solely focusing on Hodeidah port that the Houthis are controlling. It’s not focusing on Sana, the capital. Precisely because Houthis are controlling that city, it also means that there could be some progress on how humanitarian supplies reach the Yemeni people. From that, momentum can be built to include Sana at a later stage.

The United States will continue to apply pressure, but it would be a mistake to assume that just because the United States has direct leverage now over Saudi Arabia because of the Khashoggi murder, that either the Saudi-backed government of Yemen, or the Houthis, can adhere to maximalist positions. That is the trap we need to watch out for. 

Md Sharif Hasan is a commentator on international politics and is currently teaching International Relations at the University of Rajshahi.