The ongoing conflict between North and South Sudan and the threat of these countries' further fragmentation hold lessons for the Arab order as a whole, writes Galal Nassar
April 27, 2012
By occupying the Heglig oil region, internationally regarded as a part of North Sudan, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has shown himself to be either short-sighted or reckless or to have been propelled into this action by outside forces that care little about the welfare of South Sudan and its people.
Within a few months of its secession and establishment as an independent state, South Sudan has moved to the brink of another destructive war with its northern neighbour. The signs of impending war were already present before the secession and they continued afterwards. Clashes had flared in South Kordofan, where Heglig is located, in June 2011 just before the South's proclamation of independence, and some analysts say that the South's failure in these clashes drove it to its present recklessness.
The government in the South Sudanese capital Juba took this aggressive measure while the African Union-brokered talks in Addis Ababa were still in progress and in spite of the fact that only two months ago the South and the North signed a non- aggression pact in which they agreed to "continue dialogue over issues still pending between the two sides."
Is the present move to occupy Heglig proof that Juba never intended to honour its commitment and that even as Kiir put pen to paper it had other plans?
The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), also known as the Naivasha Agreement, was meant not only to end the conflict between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), but also to end the tensions between what have become two neighbouring states since July 2011. However, the Southern People's Liberation Movement in the North (SPLM- North) has remained active, and, prompted by Juba, it has allied with rebel movements in Darfur and South Kordofan to form the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) with the declared aim of toppling the regime in Khartoum.
The implications of this seem clear: first, the rulers of the South never intended to implement the peace agreement they had claimed to seek in the Naivasha Agreement; second, they planned to grab more than they obtained in the agreement; and, third, they always had their eyes on a greater goal, which was to topple the regime in Khartoum, probably on behalf of parties interested in the further fragmentation of Sudan.
The way the situation in the two Sudans has developed over recent months points to major deficiencies in the CPA, which did not lay genuine foundations for ending the tensions between the two sides -- perhaps because this was never really the aim -- and which instead kept outstanding issues pending like fuses that could be lit at any moment. The essential aim of the CPA may have been clear, but it was still very general, being "the division of power and wealth". The agreement did not specify the ways in which this was to be done, however, and though power was indeed divided through the division of Sudan, the division of wealth has not been settled even though the South obtained three- quarters of Sudan's oil wealth, and the question of borders remains unresolved.
In overseeing the drafting and implementation of the CPA the United States was not aiming to halt the conflict and bring about peace in Sudan. Instead, it aimed to divide Sudan before going on to fragment it further into ever smaller pieces. For this reason, having ensured that the partition of the country would go ahead as planned, the US planted plenty of mines that could be detonated in that partition's aftermath.
However, it is also true that the regime of North Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir bears a large share of the responsibility for what has happened. Concerned for little more than securing his own survival, Al-Bashir acted in such a way as to reap what Khartoum obtained from the Naivasha Agreement: the loss of the South, of three-quarters of his country's oil, and of any prospect of peace, with problems that were supposed to be peacefully resolved slipping beyond the point where there is much hope of a peaceful resolution.
In their recent statements, the leaders of South Sudan have made it clear that they consider the oil- rich regions of Heglig and Abyei to belong to them. It is also obvious that they have been inciting rebels in Darfur, and perhaps East Sudan, to secede as well. The latest measure is intended to impose an economic stranglehold on Khartoum and to weaken it politically, perhaps in order to strengthen South Sudanese negotiations over Abyei. It is doubtful that things will stop there.
Although international opinion has condemned Juba's occupation of Heglig, and calls for its unconditional withdrawal have been voiced by the US, the EU, the African Union and the UN Security Council, Juba has nevertheless set out a list of conditions that it says must be met before it withdraws from the region.
Read aloud by South Sudan Minister of Information Barnaba Benjamin, these demand the withdrawal of North Sudanese forces from Abyei, the immediate cessation of all land and air attacks, and the deployment of international observers along the demilitarised border areas until the boundary between the two countries has been settled by international arbitration.
Under a barrage of international criticism, the government of South Sudan then softened its stance slightly, saying it would withdraw from Heglig if the UN deployed peacekeeping forces in the area until a settlement could be reached between the two sides.
SUDAN AND THE ARAB ORDER
Observers of the situation in Sudan fear that developments in the two countries less than a year after the independence of the South bode ill not just for Sudan but also for the Arab order as a whole.
The CPA provided a mechanism that would open up the possibility of self-determination for the people of the South after a six-year period, the purpose of this interim period being to give Khartoum a chance to make the preservation of the unity of Sudan attractive to the southerners. Largely due to a chain of political and military blunders on the part of the Al-Bashir regime in the North, the Southerners remained unconvinced, and this was demonstrated in the referendum at the end of the interim period in which the people of the South voted almost unanimously for secession, leading to the creation of an independent state in July 2011.
Unfortunately, arrangements for the future relationship between the two Sudans fell far short of the importance of this event, and the final borders between the two countries remained undecided, with the two sides continuing to quarrel over them.
Such a situation naturally breeds tensions, and these have remained the chief trait of the two countries' relationship. Only a month before the latest crisis, the two sides clashed over the border areas, with southern forces invading and occupying Heglig, which belongs to the North in accordance with an International Court of Justice ruling, on 26 and 27 March.
Heglig is strategically vital to North Sudan. According to some reports, the region produces 50 per cent of the oil that remains to the North following the South's secession, with others placing the figure as high as 70 per cent. Southern leaders have defended their actions on the grounds of self-defence, claiming that they acted in response to northern attacks, repelling the invading forces and driving them back up to Heglig.
However, the South's decision to occupy the area suggests that Juba has adopted a policy of calculated escalation, believing that one of the chief aims of the North's attacks is to seize the oil fields in the South. In statements following the occupation, southern leaders insisted that they would not withdraw from Heglig until the threat from northern forces had ceased. They then linked the South's withdrawal from this area to the North's withdrawal from Abyei, which northern forces have controlled since May last year. Such escalatory tactics reached new heights when South Sudanese President Kiir threatened to move his forces into Abyei if the UN did not evacuate northern forces from the area.
Officials in Khartoum were initially shocked by the South's occupation of Heglig. The talks in Addis Ababa were in progress, and they had succeeded in solving nearly 80 per cent of the pending issues between the two states, according to North Sudanese Foreign Ministry sources. According to the North Sudanese minister of defence, the South's actions demonstrate that it has been colluding with rebel movements in the North planning to seize power in Khartoum. President Al-Bashir has echoed this view, charging the South with supporting insurgents in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions of the North as part of a drive to strangle the North economically by choking off oil production in Heglig.
Given such views and its rejection of Juba's demands, it was inevitable that Khartoum would break off the talks in Ethiopia and revert to the military option with the declared intention of "recovering Heglig immediately and by force". However, in the two weeks since the crisis broke out, the North has been unable to recapture the area by military means. After declaring that Heglig would be "purged" within 24 hours, reports from Khartoum began to speak of "fierce resistance" on the part of southern forces.
Regardless of the outcome of this confrontation, such developments should have reminded both sides of their long and bitter experience of hostilities and served as yet another lesson that military solutions to their problems are counter-productive. Such solutions, if solutions they be, are highly costly, especially for countries with very limited resources. For the North, military action against the South has profound repercussions for other trouble spots, notably in Darfur and Kordofan.
Khartoum should bear in mind that if the South succeeds in imposing its will militarily, or if it succeeds in preventing the North from accomplishing its aims in this manner, this will encourage the rebel movements in the North and endanger the country's territorial integrity.
The degree to which the relationship between the two states has deteriorated recently also suggests that they are still unable to pursue diplomatic solutions on their own and that they need the help of mediation. Perhaps international, African and Egyptian efforts can succeed where they have failed, especially given that the latter parties would also be motivated by the spectre of fall-out from the confrontation between the two Sudans on the neighbouring Arab and African environment.
There have been numerous cases similar to that afflicting Sudan in the Arab order as a whole. Although these did not reach the point of secession, they had many features in common. The cases of Yemen, Iraq and Libya immediately spring to mind, as does that of Somalia, which seems to have deteriorated beyond hope, perhaps in large part because it has drawn so little Arab attention.
In view of this past history, it is important that the Arabs try to absorb lessons from the Sudanese case. The first lesson they should grasp is that secession is not a solution: as the case of Sudan demonstrates, in countries where there are disaffected groups or regions due to a legacy of suspicion and, perhaps, bloodshed between them and the central authorities, secession is no guarantee that further deterioration in relations between the sides can be prevented. Instead of secession, the solution is to institute comprehensive political change in such a way that all the parties concerned are able to claim their fair share of rights within the existing framework of the state.
This was former SPLM leader John Garang's approach. He saw the SPLM as an inclusive and all- Sudanese movement that embraced all opposition forces in the country, both in the South and in the North, and united them with the purpose of changing the political system in Sudan as a whole. Unfortunately, Garang was not destined to bring his vision to fulfilment.
One can only hope that the Arab order turns its attention to this matter, not just for Sudan but also for other similar cases where the threat of secession may loom. Early intervention is better than waiting until the situation reaches the brink of secession, as the Arab order did with the situation between North and South Sudan. Conversely, if the Arab order chooses to remain indifferent to, or to handle events in Sudan and elsewhere in routine ways, then it should not be a surprise if this order, which seeks to promote unity between its member states, sees the unity of these states crumble.
Such a nightmare of chaos and disintegration is closer than many might care to imagine. Somalia is in the midst of such a nightmare, Libya may be only around the corner from it, and behind them stands a long queue of Arab countries that may be only steps away.