Sudan and the West

Sudan and the West

Sudan’s support for the the South Sudanese independence referendum has won the country praise from western nations. But the country has long been considered a pariah state. From Khartoum, Matthew Brunwasser reports on relations between Sudan and the West.

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Sudan’s repeated support for the results of the South Sudanese independence referendum has won the country praise and warm words from the west. The country has long been considered a pariah state and is still under sanctions and designated an official state sponsor of terrorism by the US. But while playing diplomatic ball might help nudge forward Khartoum’s relations with the west, there’s still a long way to go.

The South Sudanese independence referendum which wrapped up on Saturday had strong support from the international community. So if the government in Khartoum wanted to improve its international relations, this issue was the obvious place to start. President Jimmy Carter and his NGO have been involved in Sudan – north and south – since the 1980s.

“I think the entire world is watching very closely to see what happens here in sudan,” said President Carter. “It will be very important to see what the reaction will be in Khartoum from President Bashir and his party leaders”.

Carter says the diplomatic waters around Khartoum are warming. He says that al-Bashir told him in a meeting that he would accept the referendum results, no matter what they are.

Carter said: “I think this will enhance the general feeling that sudan is worthy of support. and that those who are responsible for bringing peace to the country, if it comes, deserve credit. so I think it will enhance the reputation of the Sudanese leaders.”

The recognition of an independent South Sudan would certainly be welcomed by neighboring countries and help stabilize the fragile region. But observers in Khartoum say that al-Bashir’s highly unusual cooperation with the international community doesn’t signal a kinder gentler Sudan. Albaqir Mukhtar, who heads a civil society NGO in Khartoum, expects the opposite: he says al-Bashir’s rule will become more brutal – because he expects the west to tone down its criticism in exchange for cooperation.

Mukhtar said: “As if the government is telling the international community, ‘I’m giving you the south, you give me the north, leave me alone, I do whatever I like with the population in the north. Im’ going to violate their rights.’”

Mukhtar says that al-Bashir doesn’t even try to hide his planned crackdown. He announced it at the same time as his cooperation with the referendum.

Mukhtar said: “With the same breath, with the same statement, he said we are not multicultural anymore, so we are going to implement strict sharia codes, Islam and Sharia will be the only source of legistlation, Arabic is going to be the language, we are going to amputate people, flog them, and implement sharia law without any embarassment.”

For now, Khartoum isn’t showing any sign that it cares what the international community thinks. In fact, officials say that Sudan doesn’t need to change anything. It’s the west that should change its behavior.

“They should be fair and they should not use double standards in their relations,” said Rabie Abdul Ati, a high-level official of the ruling National Congress Party.

When the North signed the 2005 peace treaty with the south, the US was heavily involved. Then as now, Ati says, the US promised to lighten sanctions and take Sudan off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. It never happened.

“We hope they come to a conclusion they have no reason to adopt such actions and stances against our country. because we have done nothing,” Ati said.

The toughest obstacle to the normalization of Sudan’s relations with the west remains al-Bashir’s indictment by the International Criminal Court. He’s the first sitting head of state to be charged. Rather than address the charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, Ati focuses on what he sees as western hypocrisy. Just like the US, Ati says, Sudanese don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the court.

“The same with us also,” Ati said. “Because we consider that, as we are not members, the decision should abide on the countries which are enjoying the membership of that agreement. We consider this as a political issue”.

In Sudan, the south and north still rule together in the national government. The consitutional changes expected to follow the separation of the south will create two new states. After helping see off the south on its way to independence, it remains to be seen which role the new North Sudan will play on the international stage.

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