Can peace be achieved in Sudan?

Sudan finds itself entangled in a burgeoning proxy conflict that has garnered limited interna-tional attention.

The heart of Khartoum, Sudan’s once-vibrant capital, the echoes of gunfire and the cries of displaced families tell a story of a nation at war with itself. Since April 2023, a brutal conflict between, army leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitary group Rapid Support Force’s (RSF) head Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, has plunged the country into chaos; marking a devastating trajectory which has engulfed multiple parts of the riverine heartland with callous disregard for peace and civilian lives.

Sudan is now described as “one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory,” with 15,500 reported fatalities stemming from 5,550 instances of political violence. Millions face acute food insecurity and severe malnutrition. Women and children are at significant risk of sexual violence and forced recruitment. Additionally, the country grapples with one of the world’s worst displacement crises, with 12 million people displaced, many of whom have endured rubbering, beatings, and abductions.

Sudan has become a battleground for regional proxy violence which has exacerbated the situation. Having had close ties with General Burhan over their dispute with Ethiopia over the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile, Egypt is the army’s main external backer. Similarly, Burhan’s troops have been greatly aided by Iran through the supply of combat drones. UAE extends its support to Dagalo due to his role in dispatching militias to Yemen. Moreover, Saudi Arabia and China and Russian backed Wagner group have been drawn into the conflict for holding substantial investments in Sudan. These foreign entanglements have made diplomatic efforts lacklustre.

Given the backdrop of the perceived unwinnable nature of war, can peace be achieved in Sudan?

The harsh reality on the ground has caused the resumption of a concerted international push for a ceasefire. A high-level panel has been appointed to bolster an international endeavour to halt the conflict, which includes special envoy Tom Perriello who previously served in a similar capacity. A renewed sense of optimism has flooded the scene with Saudi Arabia and the USA’s high-level political engagement, in which both warring factions took part. There have also been secret engagements between Egypt and UAE indicating opportunities. However, there seems to be no collective effort. Therefore, the high-level panel has suggested the need for new negotiations in which all key players can come together to broker peace in Sudan. The high-level panel has also suggested that the US, which seemingly lacks direct stakes in the conflict, is well-positioned to lead this unified diplomatic effort.

While Washington’s diplomatic weight on the multiple proxies involved could be of significance, its waning influence in Africa and the Gulf no longer puts it at a credible position to lead negotiations. This is evidenced by their inability to coordinate sanctions or rein in UAE’s alleged support to the RSF. The United States also appears to lack interest, amidst other global crises they have relegated Sudan as a second priority.

Their only concern in Sudan today is largely tied to normalising the country’s relations with Israel who has positioned itself as a potential mediator in the Sudanese conflict, showing a willingness to engage with both parties. This comical proposal is indicative of Israel’s goals in East Africa evidenced by the Abraham Accords. Although the US does not have a direct stake in the conflict, its regional objective of fostering alliances between Israel and Arab authoritarian regimes is causing further harm in Sudan. It is emboldening militaristic authoritarianism and stunting grassroots democratic movements.

The only viable solutions predicted for ending hostilities include non-western approaches such as Egyptian and Emirati diplomacy; Cairo and Abu Dhabi both have significant influence over the warring parties. UAE’s recent $35 billion financial aid package to Egypt could indicate improving bilateral relations and a possible channel for peace in Sudan. However, Gulf monarchies have a pattern of subverting democratic movements in the region since the Arab Springs and Sudan would be no different. China is also in an ideal position to mediate as Sudanese leaders have increasingly lost faith in Western leaders. It’s success in restoring diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran shows that their diplomatic channels within the Arab League could be effective in deescalating the situation in Sudan.

Sudan finds itself entangled in a burgeoning proxy conflict that has garnered limited international attention. Entrenched in a strategic stalemate there seems to be no foreseeable solution. Should negotiations fail, the decisive defeat of one faction regardless of the consequences, will be the only viable solution. This scenario would most likely cause Sudan to divide once again as it did in 2011, another breakup would be catastrophic and destabilise the region. On the other hand, if negotiations succeed, Sudan could mirror Libya’s predicament with rival factions vying for governance.

The Sudanese conflict is, therefore, more complex than superficial observations suggest. Today, the efficacy of diplomatic intervention in mitigating the crisis in Sudan remains dubious, it has raised concerns on whether diplomacy even has potential in this climate. Sudan’s trajectory hinges on the ability of international and regional players to put aside their melting pot of interests and break the cycle of violence.

Meher Rana
The writer is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies, Lahore. She can be reached at

Meher Rana
The writer is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies, Lahore. She can be reached at

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