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Oil factor in the Sudan conflict

SUDAN faces imminent prospect of a breakup and a civil war.  Following 9/11 the Bush administration decided to remake the map of Middle East through brutal use of military power. Muslim countries were particular target.
Besides Iraq and Afghanistan, the oil rich states of Iran and Sudan were also identified as part of the over-arching geo-strategy to control the oil resources in the region. The UN Security Council was manoeuvred to provide a legal cover for the US’s aggressive policies against the states deemed supportive of terrorism. The invasion of Iraq, the removal of the Taliban regime in Kabul and threatening policies against Iran, Syria and Sudan — all have been a part of this policy.
Sudan is the poorest and largest country in Africa, with a population of 35 million, majority of whom are Muslims. Sudan
produces 350,000 barrels of oil a day, with the possibility of doubling the quantity due to massive investments in the oil sector by China. The US has looked to Sudan with covetous eyes and has been aspiring to seek ingress into it. The Islamic Shariah-based government of President Omar Al-Bashir has been under intense US pressure.
It was declared a terrorist state and accused of harbouring terrorists. Bill Clinton in his last days of presidency even ordered an aerial attack on a factory in Khartoum, allegedly producing nerve gas. Later, an international inquiry confirmed that the facility was a small pharmaceutical unit and not engaged in any nerve gas production. The Bush administration continued to follow the policy of keeping Khartoum off-balance.
A civil war has raged in Southern region for 22 years and ravaged the country. Finally, an agreement was reached in December 2005 between Sudan Liberation Army and its leader Colonel John Garang. The ink on the peace treaty was hardly dry when yet another region of Sudan, Darfur, saw a civil strife between animist tribes of African origin and Muslim tribes of Arab descent escalate. It provided yet another opportunity to the US to build pressure on Sudan. It was alleged that in this civil war, more than 300,000 people have died and more 2.2 million have fled their homes.
To enhance the pressure, the US and the West prevailed on the International Criminal Court in The Hague to indict President Al-Bashir on ten counts of mass crimes, including three for genocide, and to issue a warrant of arrest against him. The indictment was based on the situation in Darfur, where an uprising of African tribes against Arab tribes has been going on since February ’03. The US Congress in 2007 declared it a genocide, urging the US administration to take punitive actions against Khartoum. A well-organised and orchestrated media campaign was launched to underscore the gravity and urgency of the situation.
Sudan is reported to have three billion barrels reserves and produces 350,000 barrels per day, earning $1 billion in oil revenues. The oil factor has changed the dimensions of the conflict, inviting rivalry between China and the US, China being the largest investor in the oil industry. The US imposed sanctions on Sudan, declaring it a ‘state sponsor of terrorism,’ and also opposed supply of weaponry by Russia and China.
While the civil war in the South raged, there were peacemaking efforts by the Organisation of African States from time to time.
These efforts failed both because of inability of the mediators to play a decisive role and the outside interference for political and economic domination.
Rebel leader Garang and Sudan’s Vice President Taha finally met in 2002 in Nairobi and signed six protocols covering issues relating to political power and wealth sharing. These documents became the basis of a comprehensive ceasefire and eventually peaceful settlement covering security arrangements and positioning of various forces.
The failure of African Union to enforce the Nairobi accords led to the UNSC intervention. It decided to hold the session in Nairobi — only the fourth to be held outside New York since 1952. The SC resolution 1574 urged the two parties to conclude two years of talks with a comprehensive peace accord by December 31, ’04. Massive economic aid, including possible debt relief, was promised to ensure “lasting peace and stability and to build a prosperous and united Sudan.”
The Resolution required of Sudan to abide by the preliminary accords negotiated in Kenya, including the formation of a coalition government, an integrated military and a sharing of oil revenues to be included in the final peace deal which was concluded on December 31 and formally signed on January 9, 2005.
As per agreement the SPLA renounced its demand for independence and also agreed to limited autonomy to be decided by a plebiscite in 2011. Leader of SPLA John Garang died in 2008 and his successor, at the quiet instigation and encouragement of the US and Europe declared that government of National Unity established in 2007 has failed to satisfy the aspiration of South Sudan and hence as per agreement a plebiscite should be held to decide on the secession from the North.
Preparations are now under way to determine whether or not south should remain a part of Sudan. Census has been carried out and a voter registration campaign is in full swing. The US and Europe are keen to ensure that the plebiscite is held on the scheduled date and are extending all possible assistance. In September US administration presented Sudan with incentives including debt relief, normalised diplomatic relations, the lifting of sanctions and the removal of Sudan from US list of terrorist state which it has been since 1993.
Senator John Kerry delivered President Obama’s message to President Al-Bashir in November that if Sudan allows a referendum to go ahead in January 2011 and abides by the results, the US will move to take the country off the list of state sponsor of terrorism and also offer the incentives announced in September referred to above.
There are, however, a host of logistic problems and challenges in particular the disagreement between the North and South over what are their respective obligations under the agreement. There are also differences between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the SPLM about the percentage of voters needed to be in favour of independence. It was agreed in October 2009 that for the plebiscite to be valid, the voter turnout would have to be 60 per cent. There are also differences on the post-referendum separation process such as the division of national assets and debt.
President Al Bashir has accused SPLM of violating the terms of the peace deal and warned of a return to the conflict unless the agreement over the shared border, how to share the oil, debt, Nile River water was reached.
There are concerted efforts by the West and the US to ensure that the result of the plebiscite are in accordance with their desire and strategy. The observers however agree that the process is a minefield and the result may not be accepted for a variety of reasons and could ignite a civil war. Whatever the outcome one thing is certain. Sudan’s breakup is imminent. It could, however, open a Pandora’s box and could unleash secessionist forces in the region as unlike Europe there is no agreement on the inviolability of existing frontiers in Africa. Big powers are playing a dangerous game and may regret the consequences. Sudan will not go down alone. It would plunge the entire continent into unprecedented turmoil and upheaval.
By Tayyab Siddiqui, The writer is a former ambassador.


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