Thursday, December 30, 2010

Khartoum Changes its Tone ..

I need to say Nothing..!!

The tone of the Sudanese government’s rhetoric concerning Southern Sudan’s upcoming referendum has shifted, indicating that Khartoum has accepted the eventuality of Southern Sudanese independence. Though most northerners do not want the south to secede, the north has begun planning for southern independence — and, despite many outsiders’ expectations, war is not necessarily likely. Northern Sudanese opposition parties are using the referendum as an opportunity to push for the formation of a new interim government, a new constitution and for fresh elections, but the ruling party intends to serve its full term and maintain control for years to come.

Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has demonstrated a noticeable shift in rhetoric over how it intends to react should Southern Sudan vote for independence in a referendum scheduled for Jan. 9. No longer threatening to force a delay to the vote, or even to refuse recognition of the results, Khartoum now appears resigned to the inevitability of a new state arising in the south. This does not mean that tensions between the north and south will dissipate suddenly. The breakup of the country will not be smooth, and there will likely be moments where it appears that war could erupt. But Khartoum is not preparing for a fight as its first recourse; rather its focus will be on achieving two main objectives in the months ahead: ensuring it obtains a favorable new oil-revenue sharing agreement with the south, and staving off a looming political crisis in what will remain of Sudan.

Voting in the referendum will occur from Jan. 9-15, but independence cannot legally become official until July, when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement — the document that ended the latest civil war (1983-2005) — expires. This is also when Sudan’s interim constitution will have to be amended to account for the departure of the south, assuming a majority of southerners vote to secede. Between the referendum and July, the north and south will have to come to terms on a new oil-revenue sharing agreement to replace the one that has been in place since 2005, which gives Khartoum roughly half of all oil revenues from crude pumped in Southern Sudan.

There is a natural inclination that the oil issue alone will lead to war if Southern Sudan secedes, as most of Sudan’s oil comes from the south. However, Sudan’s geography and the location of its oil infrastructure give Khartoum enormous leverage. Southern Sudan is landlocked, and the only export route for its crude oil is a pipeline network that goes through the north. Discussions about building an alternative network through Kenya have yet to lead to anything tangible, and any real alternative is a minimum of three years off. The south certainly maintains the option of trying to sabotage its own production should the north refuse to substantially increase the share of oil revenue that goes to Juba, but this would hurt them more than the north. Khartoum is aware of all of this.

Politically speaking, southern secession has been more difficult for the north to accept, as is the case whenever any country loses a significant portion of its territory. Khartoum has repeatedly threatened war if issues such as border demarcations, citizenship, international debt obligations and the status of the Abyei region are not settled before the referendum, and also sought to find ways to delay the Southern Sudanese vote. These issues remain unresolved, yet there are now signs from several leading NCP figures that Khartoum has accepted that not only will the vote take place on time, but also that Southern Sudan will break away:

On Dec. 16, state-run media quoted presidential adviser and NCP Deputy Chairman Nafie Ali Nafie as acknowledging “the failure of all the efforts to maintain the unity of Sudan.” Nafie reportedly said, “We shall accept the reality and must not deceive ourselves and stick to dreams.”

Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti said Dec. 23 that “even if South Sudan votes for its independence in the referendum, we are interested in creating two viable responsible states that would honor their international obligations. We want cooperation to develop between them and all of the issues to be resolved. We do not want any conflict to exist between our two countries.”

Sudanese President Omar al Bashir said Dec. 28 that he would be “the first to recognize the south” if it chose independence, referring to southerners repeatedly as brothers, and promising to help them “build their state” regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

Bashir has also specifically addressed the oil issue. During a Dec. 19 rally in al-Qadarif state, he said that Southern Sudan “is part of our body, but (its secession) is not the end of the world.” He then reminded the crowd that the Sudanese oil industry is still relatively new (Sudan only began exporting crude in 1999), saying, “People said that the south’s oil will go, [but] how many years has the south’s oil been there? Before the oil, were we not living?” Furthermore, Bashir emphasized the potential for the north to develop its own oil industry, which is currently thought to produce between 100,000-115,000 barrels per day (bpd) out of Sudan’s total estimated production of 475,000-500,000 bpd. Playing up the potential for northern Sudanese oil production (Limited Open Access) has been a recent strategy of Khartoum’s to allay public concerns that southern secession would lead to economic catastrophe in Sudan.

The majority of Sudanese people do not want to see the south secede, though, and so all of these statements are usually adjoined to criticism of foreign influences for the south’s determination to leave (a “Zionist conspiracy” is the most popular explanation).

The national elections held in Sudan last April left the NCP with a solid mandate; it won just more than 72 percent of all the seats in the national assembly, with 22.3 percent of the seats going to the south’s leading party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The SPLM’s seats would become vacant if the independence referendum passes, and this essentially would turn Sudan into a one-party state run by the NCP. Bashir’s party is thus completely opposed to calls by northern opposition parties (most of whom decided to boycott the April elections) to voluntarily concede its power by forming a new transitional government that would craft a new constitution before calling for fresh elections.

Bashir and his allies see such demands by Sadiq al-Mahdi’s National Umma Party and Hassan al-Turabi’s Popular Congress Party as an invitation to create an unnecessary risk to its political power. Al-Mahdi and al-Turabi, on the other hand, feel that the south’s imminent exit from the government of national unity will provide a rare opportunity to place significant pressure upon the NCP. Both opposition party leaders know that once this window closes, it will be extremely difficult to reopen. Thus, they fervently are pushing the notion that southern secession — and the void it will leave in the democratically elected government, not to mention the problems that will arise with the interim constitution — will strip the NCP of its political legitimacy. This, they argue, would require a reorganization of Sudan’s political framework. Bashir is not budging, however. He has vowed to merely amend (not discard) the interim constitution so as to account for the south’s departure, and declared that he and the rest of the government will remain in office for the remainder of their five-year terms won in the recent elections. Anyone opposed to this, Bashir said Dec. 28, can “lick his elbow.”

Bashir’s recent pledge to reinforce Sharia as the law of the land in Sudan after the south secedes, with Islam as the national religion and Arabic as the national language. Having lost the role of the protector of Sudan’s unity, the NCP is seeking to return to its roots in a way, playing up its Islamist credentials as a means of regaining whatever political legitimacy it risks losing with the breakup of Sudan. While Khartoum has decided that going to war with the south is not worth it (as long as the SPLM does not try to overstep its bounds, say, in the oil-revenue talks, or by increasing its support for Darfur rebels), it will not be so compliant when it comes to how it intends to wield control in what is left of Sudan.

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