Authors: Areeja Syed, Ahmed Bux Jamali*
The conflict in Western Sahara between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO has lasted for over three decades, and continues to pose a potential danger for stability and security in the entire region of North Africa. Despite the successive efforts of the international community to resolve the conflict, a mutually agreed solution remains elusive. Western Sahara is a sparsely-populated area of mostly desert situated on the northwest coast of Africa. A former Spanish colony, it was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then it has been the subject of a long-running territorial dispute between Morocco and its indigenous Saharawi people led by the Polisario Front. During 1960s UN General Assembly passed a declaration in the name of free people of the world called ‘Declaration for the Independence’ of colonial countries and people. Following this resolution Spain began to withdraw from these lands of Western Sahara.
Historically, Morocco and Mauritania claimed the lands of Western Sahara as their own due to their historical bonds in this region. This claim was opposed by Polisario (an Algerian backed Saharawi rebel movement) whose requirement was a choice by the people of these lands for a separate state and UN General Assembly backed this idea. As a result, Mauritania withdrew its claim on these lands but Morocco took the case to ICJ (International Court of Justice) and due to these interventions, the situation got further complicated.ICJ postponed the referendum and therefore a political deadlock was built. The conflict was escalated during 1970s and the year of 1973 ultimately played a significant role for a ceasefire that was after a long effort signed between Kingdom of Morocco and Polisario in 1991.
Since 1997 UN attempted to break the deadlock and resultantly, UN special envoy gave his famous Baker Plan suggesting a third way to end the conflict by which a five-year autonomy for the Sahara people should be provided under the rule of Morocco and in this way both parties get to exercise their rights on these lands. Polisario rejected the idea and Baker again gave a modified plan but this time morocco opposed, and hence failing James baker in his efforts leading him to resign from job in 2004.Since the baker’s resignation the conflict remained in further deadlock. According to different reports regarding this conflict, the situation in Western Sahara continues to deteriorate over time that led the rise of terrorism in this region.
Implications and a way forward
The Western Sahara conflict has destabilized regional security cooperation and assistance. The distrust and aggression between morocco and Algeria have been so critical that the whole region has been dragged into a spiteful circle of collective suspicion, counterproductive rivalries and self-defeating policies. In the Western Sahara the security risks of the persistence of the conflict by analyzing the undermining forces that heighten local tensions and regional instability. The Western Sahara conflict delays regional cooperation and integration with vital implications for cooperative security in a part of the world full of major security challenges that require comprehensive regional solutions. For both Morocco and Algeria, it’s high time to move away from historical paradigms in order to promote security, stability and dynamic regional cooperation.
This conflict can be solving if the rivalries resolved it through cooperation. No country is under any impression that the two rivals will soon resolve their difference over the Western Sahara. May be any significant inroads toward peace and reconciliation would probably have to wait for the upcoming generational shift in the both countries military and political leadership. The united nation UN secretary general give personal envoy for Western Sahara. The only possible solution is for the parties to negotiate a constitutional arrangement that focuses on the present and the future instead of the past. The Morocco’s proposal for autonomy for the Western Sahara is good starting point. A real and credible autonomy will give significant privileges to the people and might end up convincing the refugees in the Tindouf camps that morocco is serious in its calls for granting self-governance to the Western Sahara.
However, the case of Western Sahara, which has not been so widely reported and cared about, shows that as soon as the media and the people are not involved, the EU remains divided, simultaneously supporting both sides and concerned only with its economic interests. On the other hand, the French strategy originates from the Cold War, when the Western leaders feared another Soviet stronghold in Africa. France has, consequently, stuck to the policy of preventing further instability in North Africa and has done her best to contain the conflict without changing the status quo.
Other European countries evidently do not have a clear strategy and indirectly support Rabat’s claims over the region either to boost their economic interests in North Africa or merely because it has always been their policy. The pattern is always the same. However, some EU members try to be as impartial as possible or postpone the debate about the humanitarian and diplomatic crisis. Germany, as the strongest European economy, has always remained neutral about the conflict. As a result, due to the neutral position of Angela Merkel’s cabinet in the conflict, the UN chief appointed German ex-president Horst Koehler as the Western Sahara envoy in July 2017.
The recent reports explain that, the UN Security Council threw its weight behind planned talks on Western Sahara as it voted to extend for six months its decades-old mission in the disputed north African territory. The council adopted a US-drafted resolution that renewed the mission, known as MINURSO, until April 30, setting a deadline for progress in the push to relaunch political talks. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 12 in favor in the 15-member council. Russia, Ethiopia and Bolivia abstained. Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Polisario Front have accepted a UN invitation to hold talks in Geneva on December 5-6 that could pave the way to formal negotiations on ending the conflict. These meetings will be the first held on Western Sahara since 2012.
But getting to this point requires breaking out from the current impasse through the leadership of the UN Security Council, thereby ensuring the peacekeeping mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Progress also requires a report from the Secretary General that calms, rather than enflames, tensions and a standard MINURSO rollover. From there, political goodwill and effort is required from all stakeholders for a deeper and realistic engagement in a path to the eventual resolution of this conflict. These steps matter. Not just for the refugees who have been stuck in camps for over 40 years, but for the future of Algeria and Morocco as neighbors and for regional stability in the Maghreb.
By summing up, the conflict between Morocco and Western Sahara is still unresolved; nothing had been changed since the beginning of the conflict and the dispute is considered as one of the most prolonged issue in the region. The cooperation between conflicting parties is rare and conflict is on rife. Large amount of money and resources had been wasted as well as thousands of Saharawi’s flee from Western Sahara due to direct confrontation between Morocco forces and the Polisario forces. Hence, it can be said that US and France should cut off the weapon supply to Morocco and Algeria to Polisario to minimize the conflict as well as it is the responsibility of great powers to protect the rights, freedom and self-determination of Sahrawi’s on the other hand the conflicting parties should move toward conflict resolution to create stability and peace in the region.
*Ahmed Bux Jamali: Author holds a Masters in International Relations from Jilin University China Presently, he is serving as Research Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies Islamabad. He is available at ab_ir92[at]yahoo.com