Juba and Khartoum: Border Wars, Negotiations and National Integrity

By Martin Garang Aher

March 29, 2012 (SSNA) — The two nations of South Sudan and Sudan seemed to have bypassed the habitual melanoma that had in history, plagued the countries that have once been united from independence – reverting to war soon after separation. Rather unusual! But strange as it was, the international community witnessed the Sudanese bizarre and peaceful separation that many analysts, in forecast, believed would be preceded by upsurge of violence. Though these forecasters of war were wrong in speed with which war was prophesied to come, they were right in ‘time’ that it would surely take to come. Up until July 9th 2011 when the Africa’s massive country came crashing down into two states: Sudan and South Sudan, there was little hope that all would go well and peacefully without a farewell fire flare – well before independence of South Sudan or just as the two countries regularize their national borders and set up independent institutions.

To the Arab North citizens, particularly those who possess the will-power to attribute Arabness to themselves, and who by virtue of well positioning in the country’s power, they thought that disciplining South Sudan before it seceded was conceivably a matter of psychological settlement and a retribution for the damage done to national integrity. It also serves, as a ploy to blindfold the Sudanese masses that separation of South Sudan was not the making of the leadership in power – indicative of their constant flexing of muscles to prevent it from happening. Although the trick never played out, it was certainly tried.

Indeed, occupation of Abyei by Sudanese forces prior to independence of South Sudan was meant to correct the presumed wrong signatures appended to CPA peace documents; action that was literally driving South Sudan away into independence – which eventually occurred. Sudan claimed that occupation of Abyei was a result of retaliatory action of an attack on their retreating column of soldiers by South Sudanese army. So, it seemed beating South Sudanese army in the retaliation was not enough but to occupy its territory! The rationale is unfathomable in this case. No question at that point, the stage for war was, in effect, set.

What prevented a full-scale war at that point might have been a careful self-education of the people of South Sudan on the visionary Islamism nature of the old republic of Sudan. And so the trick was neither heeded nor allowed to tamper with the freedom that would have, in a single day of indecisiveness, shattered what was fought for in many decades.  One wonders now, why the SPLM/A that had mastered the tricks of the Sudanese army is falling fast into the trap. It was perplexing to hear president Kir announced in Juba that the South Sudanese army had taken Heglig. Though his position was based on the authenticity that Sudan started the war at the borders, he should have been aware that his position would solidify Jihadists peace distractors in Khartoum who see no reason to have smooth relations with South Sudan. Khartoum’s agression must be treated in a similar way to that of Abyei before the referendum; only that this time, the nation must be mindful of the border line.

When Abyei fell to the Sudanese army prior to independence, South Sudanese were consciously obsessed with independence, not war.  The current twist in the tails between Sudan and South Sudan in which negotiations, the borders, citizenship status and oil become intertwined, points to the direction of other countries that historically never beat the temperaments and a sense of loss of each other in a civilized split-up. In such countries, war accompanied what was once a peaceful divorce in bloody exchanges that led to restrained relations. And this is one of the problems with peaceful resolution of conflicts through negotiations – the vanquished (including the one on the verge of it) never acknowledge the defeat; and wavering over remaining contentious issues of the conflict farther sow seeds for future confrontations.

As we saw in the breakup of Pakistan and India in 1947; where there was lack of clean division of the country in apropos to religious lines upon which the whole idea of division rested; and the actual lines of the borders were actually skewed in the areas of Kashmir and Hyderabad; that there was no doubt the wounds of partition would remain maligned for some time. South Sudan and the Sudan almost have a similar situation akin to what happened to the Himalayan nations.

With one third of the Muslims remaining in India and Indian Hindu population in bitterness over the partition – something that drove them rowdy and killing Mahatma Gandhi, their erstwhile religiously venerated figure – the seeds of war had been sown.India and Pakistan had since clashed over their borders numerous times.

Those were India and Pakistan. Today, they still fight declared and undeclared wars, with caution knowing very well they have their nuclear warheads pointing at each other and madness from either side to use one nuke-headed missile would lead to a Mutually Assured Destruction of the two nations. No one can lecture them on the true value of peace today for they know more than be told.

With a reasonable fraction of South Sudanese population still languishing in North Sudan and North Sudanese businesses and government eyeing South Sudan for business and economic (and oil is the economic stimulant the Sudanese government needs to counter economic spiral) gains respectively, there is a cause for concern that what started in Abyei and now in Heglig, will transcend further into the future – long after the National Congress Party (NCP) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) left the political scenes in both countries.

Perhaps the Ethio-Eritrean circumstance provides a similar situation of uneasiness over the break-up between two countries. I consider this appropriate because the two countries fought over borders in the 1990s after Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia. The world media that witnessed the fighting told of the horrific nature of the war. So nasty and meaningless was the war. It was in contrast  with the fact that the bit of land in the contention was not economically useful or geopolitically de rigueur to either of them. The principle for war was only to maintain national integrity in terms of firm borders. The International Commission in The Hague established that Eritrea was to blame for starting the war by invading Ethiopia. As of 2012, the town of Badme, which was at the epicenter of war, is still under Ethiopian occupation even though The Hague based court ruled it in favour of Eritrea.

If South Sudan and Sudan inch in a full-scale war over the borders, I believe it is national integrity, which plays a critical role. With oil and national integrity complicating the scenario between South Sudan and Sudan, it is apparent that intermittent border skirmishes would not go away sooner than they suppose. Negotiations will only be deployed as vanguards for national integrity.

Who really wants to safeguard its national integrity more, South Sudan or the Sudan?

It is in answering this question, that the issue of national integrity becomes a little more complex. I suppose South Sudanese see the recent four freedoms agreement as simply another invitation of Arabs into the country. This is historically evident in the Sudanese common knowledge that the Arabs came to Sudan, spread their religion and never left. South Sudanese hardliners too, view Addis Ababa agreement on the four freedoms as a strategy schemed by the Sudan to encroach on South Sudan. To prove this fear, here is a comment made by an anonymous North Sudanese national on Sudan Tribune online newspaper on hearing that the two nations would sign agreement on the four freedoms:

‘What a great victory! that’s exactly what we were looking for, now on, we can own land, houses, move freely in the south, now the separation is meaningless, it’s just on the paper! Now the road has become widely open to our great mission of arabizing the South, we need to follow the same technique and method that our Arab great grandfathers had done when they came to Sudan, yes, we need to marry southerners ladies, that’s the shortcut solution in arabizing the south, our new generations will become full southerners but arabized! I personally prefer to marry from Western Equatoria, yes, Azande, what beautiful ladies! WOW!

(Sudan Tribune, 14 March 2012)

Northern Sudanese too, must have grown weary of the African resistance in South Sudan to the point that they panic over such agreements as antecedents for the possible loss of what they have already achieved. As such, whatever may reconnect South Sudan with Sudan must be nipped in the bud even if it means via the barrel of a gun.

The recent border clashes in Panthou (Heglig) echo what Islamists in Khartoum had reiterated about keeping the north Arabised and purely Islamic. In the words of Al-Tayyib Mustafa, a close relative of President Bashir, and leader of Just Peace Forum (JPF) of Sudan, agreement with South Sudan that involved the four freedoms: freedom of residence, freedom of movement, freedom to undertake economic activity and freedom to acquire and dispose property, poses threat to national, social and political security. His further calling on the president Bashir to scrap the deal as he did with the Addis Ababa framework agreement signed in July 2011 between the government and rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), referred to national embarrassment hence, national integrity.

To juxtapose Sudanese vox populi position on normalization of relations with South Sudan, it is clearly that of resentment and hate. The editor in chief, Al-Sadiq al-Rizigi of Al-Intibaha newspaper had denounced the negotiations on four freedoms and fumed that he sensed an American hand in it. His last words were that the deal would not succeed because it compromised their rights – Islamic rights. Khartoum newspapers report that other Islamic hardliners in Khartoum have threatened to ruthlessly deal with South Sudanese in the Sudan when April dateline passes. These religious theocrats and fanatics explained the reason for their anticipation of a genocide night to be that an Islamic country cannot have non-Islamic citizens.

Of course, keen followers of the Sudanese politics would note that recent attacks on the South Sudanese forces which led to clashes over Heglig, were obviously designed to scrap the ongoing negotiations between the two countries and to keep the border wars continuing in order to uphold national integrity. No doubts negotiations will still be used in the near future, again and again.

Martin Garang Aher is a South Sudanese living in Western Australia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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