A story of two Sudans
Are the two Sudans arranging a real peace deal or is it just a piece of deception, wonders Asmaa El-Husseini
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SPLA-North fighters take a break near the Jebel Kwo village in the rebel-held territory of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan
The two Sudans are returning to the negotiating table after bitter military, political and media wars against each other that have cast a long shadow over their bilateral relations. This could have serious repercussions on upcoming talks that should have started in mid-May. They were delayed by nearly two weeks from the deadline stipulated by the UN Security Council roadmap that forces the two sides to reach a final agreement on all pending issues within three months. Otherwise, the intransigent party will be subject to international sanctions according to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
The delay, accusations of assault by both sides exchanged up until the last minute, attempts to impose conditions on talks, and confusion in handling the international resolution are just a few of the complications facing the negotiations. This has resulted in a recent irresponsible escalation of combat operations, creating long-term repercussions within crisis between the two sides because agreement had not been reached as planned before South Sudan became independent. Also, because the proposed solutions between the two states by the international community did not include all problematic issues and only focussed on the quick secession of the South.
The ongoing talks between the two are entirely different from previous open-ended talks that have been going on for years, without a deadline or firm agenda. The new format of talks puts the two parties in a dilemma and a genuine moment of choice between real peace or deception. Duplicity is easy but carries serious and hazardous repercussions because of the threat of expected sanctions; both sides have attempted this path many times before without gain. Genuine peace comes at a high price but is the shortest path to salvation. Deceit today is no longer acceptable or sustainable after so many parties inside and outside Sudan have run out of patience, and are prepared to impose their own conditions.
Talks also come at a time of immense pressure on Khartoum after what seemed a moral victory in Heglig and international condemnation of the Southern army after it raided this oil-rich region. Soon afterwards, however, the situation began to shift against Khartoum as lobby groups in Washington decried the air strikes by the North against the South, as well as appalling humanitarian conditions in the Nubia Mountains and Blue Nile regions. They have demanded that the US Congress adopt sanctions against Sudan as well as countries that welcome Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir because of charges brought by the International Criminal Court against him for crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.
The talks themselves are a tool to pressure Khartoum and many leaders fear their repercussions. Although a return to negotiations has been officially sanctioned, many circles in Khartoum remain disgruntled and concerned that they are on a bilateral basis and not under the auspices of the African Union as in the past. This time, talks are sponsored by the international community and according to Chapter 7 that permits the use of military force to obligate parties to whatever agreement is reached. Khartoum cannot convince mediators to insist that security issues should be addressed first, which is a priority for the North since it wants the South to stop supporting rebels in the northern regions of Nubia Mountains and Blue Nile, as well as Darfur.
Khartoum's dilemma is now not only negotiations with the South but also forced talks with northern rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. If these talks go the same way as other negotiations with the South, it could in the end lead to the secession of further areas under its control. The choices for Khartoum on this issue are difficult and the government might try to escape the issue by making a partial deal with the Popular Movement in the North that is fighting in the two regions while it addresses other problems in Darfur on the domestic scene and the economy. Khartoum could also make concessions and offer power positions to the northern popular movement in these regions, which would embarrass the movement in front of its supporters as it calls for a comprehensive political solution in the country.
Khartoum could also pressure the South to abandon the northern contingent which would be a difficult option for the South.
All the complications inherent in these partial solutions beg the question as to how a comprehensive solution in Sudan through the constitutional conference is to become a reality. This could be the least acceptable for Sudan's ruling National Congress Party because it would dismantle its powers. The alternative, however, is to dismantle the country itself which is the end result of more or less all the proposed partial solutions -- whether through dialogue with the South or through resolving the problems in the state of North Sudan.