What do Sudan and Syria have in common apart from being two Muslim countries that are also members of the Arab League? Each is the victim of mounting and relentless pressure from the West and their Arab allies, the UN and the international media, over their internal and regional policies, which they are required to abandon in the interests of those targeting them. Interestingly, they have even been accused of conspiring to enable Syria to carry out experiments on weapons of mass destruction in the Sudanese region of Darfur, which is at the root ofKhartoum’s current difficulties (the German newspaper which made these allegations on September 16 claimed that it had obtained the information from unnamed European intelligence agencies.) The similarities do not end there: they extend to the manner in which the pressure is exerted. Both, for instance, are required to comply with specific UN security council resolutions passed largely at the behest of the US to give legitimacy – no matter how dubious – to the imperial demands being made on them. Moreover, the resolutions call on UN secretary general Kofi Annan – who does not appear to need any persuasion – to give periodic reports to the council on the degree of implementation by Khartoum and Damascus.
Both countries are highly vulnerable to the pressures being exerted and are expected to make considerable concessions in due course. But Khartoum already appears to have given in to a significant degree through its acceptance of the notion of a federal solution to the conflict in Darfur – a solution that is only a short step away from secession, particularly given the fact that the primary aim of the pressures is in the first place to break up Africa’s largest predominantly Muslim country. Earlier, the Sudanese government had been sending mixed messages on the issue of granting autonomy to Darfur as proposed by the UN. Only as late as October 4, it was adamant that no such concession would be made. Majzoub al-Khalifa, the government’s chief negotiator at talks with the Darfur rebels, said then that there was no chance of conceding such a status to the region. Khartoum’s climbdown follows the escalation of pressure by the UN and Western and Arab leaders.
On the very day al-Khalifa was announcing his rejection, for instance, Kofi Annan issued a damning report on the failure of Khartoum to comply with the earlier security council resolution onDarfur. The government failed to curb attacks by the pro-government ‘Arab’ rebels (dubbed the Janjaweed), on black Africans in the region, or to prosecute those responsible for the assaults, the report said. Only two days later Tony Blair, the prime minister of Britain, who was on his way toEthiopia to attend a conference on Africa’s problems, stopped briefly at Khartoum and “berated”president Hassan al-Bashir for the “carnage in Darfur”. Blair made five proposals, including strict compliance with the UN resolution and allowing more African Union troops into the country. It is not surprising that on the same day of Annan’s hostile report and Blair’s harsh words to Bashir, Sudanese foreign minister Mustapha Osman Ismail said that he did not rule out the very negotiation (on autonomy) so strongly rejected by al-Khalifa only two days earlier.
But Khartoum’s adoption of federation as a possible solution to the Darfur problem and its agreement to the deployment of substantially more African Union (AU) troops in the region were only announced at and soon after the five-member African summit held in Tripoli, Libya, on October 17. Hosted by Colonel Mu’ammar Qaddafi, a “born-again” US stooge, the summit was attended by the presidents of Egypt, Nigeria and Chad – politely referred to as Uncle Sam’s allies – and president Bashir. The Sudanese foreign minister told the summit that giving more autonomy to Darfur may be the best way of bringing peace. Ismail added that the proposed system would give people in Darfur “the right to elect their own governor and parliament and take care of their internal affairs.”
The system was first proposed in September by Ruud Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who should not have involved himself in the constitutional issues of a UN member. He said then that “there has to be some clear partition of power in Darfur.” But Lubbers knows that neighbouring countries “believe” a degree of federalism is the only way of preserving the unity of such a vast country, and that even some of them support the US-led campaign to partition not only power but territory as well. And to disguise their mission, the leaders at the Tripoli summit said that they wanted to prove that Africa could solve its own problems and that they did not want the UN or the West to impose sanctions or other penalties – a reference to threats by the US and the UN to impose sanctions if Khartoum fails to comply with the security council resolution.
Two days after the summit, the AU agreed to expand its small mission in Darfur to more than 3,300 troops, police and civilian support staff. The mission currently has about 135 unarmed military observers and a 300-strong armed protection force deployed in the region, monitoring a humanitarian ceasefire between two rebel groups, although only the government is blamed for the violations of the ceasefire, never the rebels. Khartoum is also blamed – falsely – for committing ‘ethnic cleansing’ (by the UN) and genocide (by the US) through the Arab Janjaweed militia, which is fighting the anti-government rebels and their supporters. The Tripoli summit could have tried to correct this disastrous myth that the conflict is a clash between Arabs (Khartoum and the Janjaweed militia) and Africans (the rebel groups), but did not. The UN and the West for their part continue to encourage the myth. On the day after the summit, for instance, members of the British House of Lords criticised the British government and the Arab League for failing to put pressure on Khartoum to end the ‘ethnic cleansing’.
Lord Holme of Cheltenham, a Liberal Democrat, said: “The passivity of the Arab League in the face of the wholesale massacre of African Muslims by Arab Muslims is a scandal. What exactly is the [British] government doing to bring pressure on the Arab League and its member countries to treat these horrors seriously?” But it is common knowledge that Egypt, a leading member of the Arab League, and its president, Hosni Mubarak, cooperate closely with the US and the West in the pressures being exerted on Khartoum. A delegation of the US House of Representatives in Cairo in September, for instance, openly praised Cairo for supporting US ‘initiatives’ in Sudan and Syria. The pressure on Khartoum and the genocide allegations are certain to encourage the secessionists to continue their war. In fact, the two rebel groups, delighted by the support they had received inTripoli, even said the summit favoured Khartoum and vowed to continue their struggle.
Another reason why the rebel groups and their supporters are delighted is that the pressures on the Sudanese government are not ending there. Apart from the two meetings – one in Abuja, the other in Cairo, that were convened to ‘help’ the two sides reach a settlement of the dispute – the UN security council, in an unprecedented move, will meet in Nairobi (the capital of Kenya) in November to assist peace talks about Sudan. At the meeting not only pressure will be exerted on the Sudanese government, but ‘aid’ is expected to be offered to speed up its capitulation. Moreover, in addition to the Darfur conflict, the war in the south between the North and the South will be discussed. Nairobi has been chosen because it is the venue for peace talks between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, headed by John Garang. The SPLA has already elicited the right to secede through a referendum. The stage now looks set for a similar right to be granted to the ‘rebels’ of Darfur.