Sudan’s calamitous three-month war may be entering a critical new phase. In recent weeks, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has further entrenched its superior position in the capital, Khartoum, and intensified a siege of the headquarters where top generals in the Sudanese army, its enemy in the conflict, have been holed up since the war began. Army leaders have shown a new willingness to entertain peace talks, while the paramilitary claims victory is nigh. What comes next is uncertain, but the conflict has already pushed Sudan to the brink of ruin as more of the country outside the capital descends into violence. Given all the dangers that loom – from state collapse to spiralling atrocities to spillover into adjacent countries – it is imperative that outside actors seize every opportunity to bring the parties back to dialogue before the moment is lost.
Whether the two sides can find middle ground is an open question, but there is reason enough to test the proposition. The army’s battlefield losses and besieged headquarters give it strong motivations to come the table; likewise, the RSF’s narrow base of support, abysmal standing at home and abroad, and the steep odds of taking all of Sudan by force have long meant that, even if it comes out on top militarily, it needs a negotiated settlement. Outside actors should work in concert to impress this logic upon the parties. Diplomacy thus far has been messy: the U.S., Saudi Arabia and others will need to pool their efforts in a more coordinated fashion, and with a greater sense of urgency, than they have mustered to date. Even if they do, success is far from guaranteed, especially if the RSF wants to keep pressing its momentum in Khartoum before coming to terms. The army and its aligned militias, meanwhile, could easily splinter. But the stakes are too high not to make a concerted new push to halt the conflict at this pivotal moment in Sudan’s war-torn history.