Though still profoundly frustrated, Polisario is shifting from defiance and threats to embracing a UN-led political process it had decried and dismissed.
Even as it insistently accuses the UN of supporting Morocco in perpetuating the political stalemate in Western Sahara, an apparently languishing and rudderless Polisario Front is now begging the UN Secretary-General to relaunch the stagnant, UN-led peace talks on the Sahara question.
In a letter to the UN Secretary-General, dated February 26, the sepratist front requested that the UN reconvene the parties to the conflict to solve the decades-long political deadlock in Western Sahara.
The letter began by briefly recalling the genesis of MINURSO, the UN mission in Western Sahara. Despite its three decades of existence, Polisario complained, the UN mission “has so far failed … and has chosen to turn a blind eye as Morocco persists in its actions to undermine the stability of the whole region.”
However, unlike the deluge of misinformation, fabrication and overreach that has marked all of its recent press statements and official letters, the latest Polisario letter provides a window into the rickety morale of an increasingly embattled and desperate Polisario Front looking to emerge from the costs of its miscalculated militaristic bravado and diplomatic bluster.
While it mobilized its traditional besieged underdog rhetoric by accusing the UN of being in bed with Morocco, the Polisario letter extended an olive branch to the UN in pledging to commit to dialogue as soon as the UN appoints a new Western Sahara envoy.
“The Frente POLISARIO is looking forward to the appointment of a new Personal Envoy of the Secretary General for Western Sahara at the earliest opportunity, in order to carry out what the former Personal Envoy Horst Kohler had started,” the document tellingly noted.
It added, even more strikingly, “Today, the Frente POLISARIO reaffirms its commitment to engage in the UN political process in Western Sahara in a serious and respectful manner, in order to achieve a lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, based on compromise.”
Some observers might well see in the militant group’s letter a shrewd move from a plucky underdog which, having failed to get its way with war threats, is now committing to dialogue and political arbitration in the hopes of eventually gathering enough momentum to remobilize the earlier, lost international support for its secessionist ambitions.
Such an interpretation, perhaps the one the Polisario leadership hoped to elicit with its curated, friendly tone, would put forth the notion that the group is recommitting to dialogue to avoid further, uncalled-for escalations.
But the optics, especially in light of recent developments in Guerguerat and elsewhere in the region, hardly support such a reading. To a very large extent, Polisario’s letter suggests an apparent desire to limit the severe — and ongoing — knocking the group and its allies have taken on the diplomatic front.
In place of the fierceness, zeal, and defiance the Polisario leadership has traditionally espoused, the February 26 letter essentially begged the UN to relaunch the very political process the polisario leadership had dismissed.
That is not all, however.
In November 2020, Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces intervened in Guerguerat to lift a Polisario blockade that had been obstructing essential traffic between Morocco and Mauritania for three weeks.
Since then, a central theme in pro-Polisario circles has been to point to Morocco’s “brutal” military intervention as the clearest indication that only a self-determination referendum could convince Polisario to reconsider its supposedly deep-rooted mistrust of the UN-led process.
But as it apparently panics to update its diplomatic endevor and swim back to relevance, Polisario’s letter this week was a start departure from its traditional, thumpingly defiant statements of purpose.
Not only was the letter deafeningly silent on both Geueguerat and the usual referendum thesis, it even embraced talking points — compromise and realism — that most Sahara watchers generally associate with Morocco’s 2007 Autonomy Plan. Even more importantly, after feebly stressing Polisario’s “spirit of realism,” the document appeared to admit the militant group’s violation of the UN ceasefire.
“It should be recalled the Frente POLISARIO, being driven by the spirit of realism, wishes to express its readiness to engage in political negotiations and immediately consider resuming the ceasefire. The other party should, therefore, accept to give concrete guarantees and demonstrate its willingness to fully implement a mutually acceptable political solution under the UN auspices.”
In this, the Polisario leadership’s message is basically one of conceding defeat — even if tacitly — while expecting that it may yet again regain the territory its miscalculations cost it in recent months.
But as the Biden White House appears to uphold the former US administration’s Western Sahara proclamation while Morocco eagerly consolidates its diplomatic outreach and upps its lobbying efforts, it is an understatement to say that the future does not look rosy for Polisario’s statehood aspirations.