by M.A. Shaikh (World, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 8, Sha'ban, 1425)
Sudan is the largest country in Africa, its western region of Darfur alone being larger than France; the “Islamic and Arab” government of president Omar Hassan al-Bashir is financing and arming the Janjaweed– the “Arab” militia which is allegedly ethnically cleansing the “African” tribes in that region. Those are the partly fabricated facts that the US, the UN and Europe are using to break up Sudan into smaller, mutually hostile units or states, in order to prevent the giant of Africa from becoming an oil-rich “Islamic superpower”. It is, of course, true that Sudan is a huge country, but when has the size of a state been the legal or logical basis for splitting up a sovereign state or dividing it?
The very countries and organisations that are now accusing the Janjaweed of committing genocide, and Khartoum of backing it, or at least failing to control it, are the ones that earlier forced Khartoum to accept an arrangement with the southern Sudanese rebels, led by Colonel John Garang, which has set the basis for secession of the south after a six-year transition period. They are also the countries and organisations that helped to bring about the secession of East Timor from Indonesia–another huge Muslim country–while ignoring the justifiable quest for self-determination of the Muslim peoples of East Turkestan, Chechnya and Kashmir (to take only three examples).
The pressure on Khartoum has been increased in recent weeks, with the US formally calling the killings in Darfur genocide. UN officials despatched by secretary general Kofi Annan to the region have been making inflammatory statements, blaming the government alone for the strife, while failing to mention the role of the anti-government insurgents, and calling for autonomy or federal status for Darfur. Western politicians and media, quoting as evidence statements by UN officials and aid agencies, have given prominence to new allegations that the Janjaweed, helped by the government, is forcing refugees who have been displaced to go back and tend the farms they fled earlier. The Janjaweed militia, being nomadic, cannot grow food for themselves, and the government needs to show that the strife is over, they argue. The UN security council recently passed a resolution calling on Khartoum to end the violence and disarm the Janjaweed, or face sanctions.
The government in Khartoum strongly denies the charges. Dr al-Sadiq Abdullah, the press councillor at the Sudanese embassy in London, dismissed the allegation that refugees are being bribed to return as absurd. “Those who have been displaced own their land. It won’t be possible for them to return as slaves to the land they own.” But the world media rarely quote government officials and, together with UN officials and aid-agencies, base their accusations against theJanjaweed and Khartoum solely on statements by refugees and the anti-government militias: the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Movement for Justice and Equality (MJE). The highly one-sided statements made recently by Louis Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and by Ruud Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, are good examples of international officials who are supposed to be impartial, are behaving otherwise.
Arbour, who was sent to Darfur by Annan to prepare a report for the security council before it votes on whether to impose sanctions on Sudan, gave several interviews to the media at the end of her visit, instead of maintaining a discreet silence before reporting to her boss. She said, for instance, that the Sudanese government has failed to keep its promise to protect refugees, and that there is evidence that the Janjaweed, who drove villagers out of their land, are policing camps – a brand-new accusation. Ruud Lubbers went even further, proposing publicly that Sudan would have to grant Darfur autonomy to end the conflict. He did not add the obvious remark that the rebels, the SLA and MJE, would have to negotiate seriously with government at the African Union peace-talks, which they have been boycotting at Abuja, Nigeria.
It is not right for a UN commissioner to interfere with the constitutional issues of a country that is at war. It is this kind of intervention, not Khartoum’s policies alone, that is prolonging the violence, mainly by encouraging the rebel groups to hold out for greater gains, and encouraging other parties to meddle. John Garang, for instance, hailed Lubbers” proposal “for a federal state”, as he put it, and called on the Darfur rebels to maintain their struggle until they achieve this state. He and the rebels know that federal status is but one step away from secession.
But even secession will not bring peace to Darfur, although the vast majority of its population are Muslim. The anti-Khartoum propaganda that Khartoum is promoting a war between the “Arab”Janjaweed militia and the African tribes of Darfur is causing new fears and hatreds that go beyond the historical feuding over grazing, and which, if allowed to intensify, will poison relations between African tribes and Arabs not only in Sudan but in neighbouring countries. Ethnic feuding can also hinder the growth of Islamic activism, even in regions where the populations, like Darfur’s, are all Muslim. This is a gain for the enemies of Islam, which they will engineer and foster. That is whySudan’s accusation that Israel is financing and arming the SLA and the MJE, as they did Garang’sSudanese Liberation Army earlier, is not all that far-fetched. Certainly it is possible that the funds and arms Garang is supplying to the Darfur rebels come from Israel.
Kofi Annan has failed in his duty as UN secretary general to thwart US and European countries” attempts to destabilise an African country. Annan, who is holding his UN position because it isAfrica’s turn, should not be blind to the interests of African countries in peaceful co-existence, free from tribal and regional wars that bedevil the continent; Africa certainly does not need to have a new conflict between its Arab and African populations.
But it is doubtful whether Annan will stand up to the US and Europe, which between them controlthe UN. He may even think that there is no reason for him to do so, when Muslim and Arab countries are more conspicuous for their indifference than for their support of the government in Khartoum.