Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Does the New Sudan Policy Have a Real Chance?

The Obama Administration has released a new policy formulation on Sudan that has allayed some fears of softness in official U.S. handling of the situation in this East African giant. However, while the new policy strikes all the right policy chords, implementation of this plan may be more difficult than anticipated as tensions are running high in the country.

The three strategic objectives for the new Sudan policy are: 1) a definitive end to conflict, gross human rights abuses and genocide in Darfur, 2) implementation of the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that results in a peaceful post-2011 Sudan, or an orderly path towards two separate and viable states at peace with each other, and 3) assurance that Sudan does not provide a safe haven for international terrorists. These are all very laudable goals, but over the past few years, the signs have pointed against progress in these areas.

Reuters is reporting that there is a military buildup in Darfur, especially in the north, and rebel and government forces seem to be massing for more conflict. UNAMID, the hybrid African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur, also confirms a military buildup, although neither the government in Khartoum nor the rebels would admit to moving forces and weapons in the region. Observers note that this military movement demonstrates that neither the government nor the fractured rebel movements are ready to lay down their arms. Peace accords attempted in the past have failed due to continuing government intransigence on establishing and maintaining peace in Darfur and safety for its citizens, as well as impact of the splintering of rebel movements in the region.

Similarly, Jane’s Defense Weekly reports that military conflict between the North and South could rematerialize, as satellite imagery is showing 33 new T-72 tanks en route to the South. Meanwhile, the Khartoum government has repeatedly failed to live up to the terms of the CPA, signed in 2005 to end the North-South civil war. The bulk of the country’s oil reserves are in the South, and Khartoum has refused to abide by the commission established to set the boundaries between North and South. In Southern Sudan, leadership appears to be awaiting the 2011 referendum that will almost certainly lead to independence. Yet full control over their oil is obviously not a development the Khartoum government is prepared to accept.

From about 1992 to 1996, al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden based themselves in Sudan at the invitation of Islamist theoretician Hassan al Turabi. Providing information on al-Qaeda has been a lever the Khartoum government used to curry favor with the Bush Administration since there were rifts between Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and Islamist extremists such as Turabi. Turning in al-Qaeda elements had an upside for Bashir. But since his International Criminal Court indictment earlier this year, al-Qaeda leaders have tried to use it as an enticement to bring Bashir’s government to their side. In March, al-Qaeda’s number two in commend, Ayman Zawahiri urged the people of Sudan to prepare for a long guerrilla war against the West and asked Bashir to "repent." Should the U.S. and other western allies continue to support the indictment, Bashir might make common cause with Islamists who share his disdain for the West and its justice.

President Obama’s government has its work cut out for it in resolving the mess that is Sudan. The President expressed his intention to remain tough in the fight for peace in Sudan. “Later this week, I will renew the declaration of a National Emergency with respect to Sudan, which will continue tough sanctions on the Sudanese Government,” he said in a statement issued by the White House. “If the Government of Sudan acts to improve the situation on the ground to advance peace, there will be incentives; if it does not, then there will be increased pressure imposed by the United States and the international community.”

The President is applauded for his sentiments, but China and Russia have stymied the effective implementation of tough sanctions before. With conflict about ready to erupt again and terrorists aiming to get back into Sudan, stronger allied cooperation will be required to make President Obama’s words actionable.

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