The continuing aftershocks of the horrific attack on New York have probably changed the geopolitical shape of the world even more than the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Ten years ago the ataclysmic events that heralded the "Triumph of the West", the defeat of communism and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, reverberated around the world. Nelson Mandela was freed, apartheid ended, dictators toppled. The international coalition against Saddam Hussien brought a temporary optimism and a new beginning for oppressed peoples the world over. Except in Sudan. In 1991 General Ahmed al-Bashir’s military-fundamentalist regime survive dunscathed, while the SPLA was virtually incapacitated by its expulsion from Ethiopia after the fall of Mengistu.
Sudan’s marginalised people suffered even more harshly than before, particularly in the Nuba Mountains, where Khartoum launched a "Jihad" to cleanse the rebellion in the north while the SPLA was wrong-footed in the south. Gradually, Khartoum’s support for Islamist extremists led to sanctions and isolation. Holy War was acceptable against communists and troublesome minorities, not against the guardians of the free world. Sudan’s links with Bin Laden led to the misguided cruise missile attack on El Shifa pharmaceutical factory and towards US support for the rebels. Things began to look up.
Ten years later, despite all odds, the Nuba still hang on. The SPLA are once again a force to be reckoned with and al- Bashir is still in power. But now the oil is flowing and Turabi is out of favour and Khartoum wants to appear respectable. Despite remaining on Washington’s list of terrorist states, Sudan has signed up to the Global Coalition Against Terrorism, sealing this marriage of convenience with a lavish dowry of Bin Laden suspects and intelligencedetails. UN sanctions have been lifted and US Congressional moves against Sudan look dead in the water.
The heat is off and like respectable members of the coalition the world over, Khartoum is again free to suppress internal dissent – this time in the guise of fighting terrorism. Once again Sudan’s fate seems to be held in the balance by distant forces that have almost no direct relationship with the reality on the ground.
Desperate to prevent its campaign against terrorism appearing to be a Crusade against Islam, the United States has made policy reversals unthinkable just a month ago. If George Bush is prepared to turn his back on Israel and recognise the idea of Palestinian statehood to prevent his latest version of the New World Order from disintegrating into the Clash of Civilisations, he may be equally happy to ditch his new found friends in the SPLA.
As al-Bashir’s regime celebrates its new-found respectability it may discover whole new avenues of weapons supplies available for its new-found petro-dollars. With its recent seat on the UN human Rights Commission,
Khartoum is likely to face even less scrutiny than Moscow or Beijing, which have also demanded the green light to suppress internal dissent as their price for allowing the war on terrorism.
A week before the murderous events of September 11 changed the world forever, George W Bush appointed a new Special Envoy to Sudan, Jack Danforth. An active member of the Republican party’s powerful Christian right that had previously been lobbying the Clinton administration against "Muslim atrocities" in Sudan, his appointment signalled a new American determination to act against allegations of slavery and persecution of Christians. Since then his terms of reference may have changed to suit Washington’s new strategic priorities, which can no longer afford to support any further aggression towards members of the Islamic world.
Before Mr Danforth gives Khartoum the stamp of respectability he should think through the implications of endorsing the current regime.
Despite appearances, the war in Sudan is not about religion. Beshir’s troops regularly burn Mosques as well as Churches in their modern day Highland Clearances in the Nuba Mountains. It is basically an old-fashioned land-grab, a battle for oil and resources built on a history of racism, slavery and exploitation and legitimised by the abuse of Islam by a succession of power hungry zealots who fight among themselves whilst the country falls apart.
The chilling reports of mass detentions and hundreds of summary executions that proceeded this year’s dry season offensive in the Nuba Mountains could be merely a taste of things to come. The SPLA’s recent massive advances in the south could eventually be overturned, the last Nuba enclaves in the north completely overrun.
It would be tragic if Khartoum was allowed to destroy the Nuba and reconquer the south, just to prove the coalition is not a crusade against Islam. But if events following the bombing of Afghanistan begin to spiral out of control the situation could again change rapidly. It remains to be seen whether Sudan remains a forgotten backwater or degenerates into an active frontline in a forthcoming Clash of Civilisations.