Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ten-Day War: South Sudan Withdrawal From Heglig Was Important

Martin Garang Aher

But, never ignore propaganda, it is another frontline.

It was strategically important for South Sudan to withdraw from Panthou. The new country has made its point amidst international fear that it might be crashed if Khartoum unleash its military wrath on it. No one knew South Sudan would hold Khartoum by the throat, given Khartoum's bellicose rhetorics of war and continuous aggression on the new republic. International community and Khartoum sympathisers failed to realise that it was South Sudan that kept Khartoum in check for half a century and eventually liberating themselves from their hegemony. A few were surprised by the developments in Heglig and how SPLA forces handled the situation. No one knew they would be so remarkable.  A disbelieving UK official said it beat logic to see South Sudanese army performing the way it did.The comment came when South Sudan armed forces (SSAF) drove out Sudaneses forces from Panthou and maintained its control by repeatedly repelling Sudan armed forces.The question now is, who will win the day if war becomes the only solution to the outstanding issues of disagreement?

The decision made by president Kir to withdraw South Sudanese forces from Panthou, though painful to South Sudanese community at home and in the diaspora, was significant and nationally strategical.  In the event of the skirmishes in Panthou, South Sudan nearly lost the confidence of  good allies and friends, a state that has been corrected  and restored by the decision of the president to pull the troops out of Panthou. South Sudan cannot ignore international community in which it had become a member. The crux of the world's social economic and even military power rests in having good relations with allies and friends and more importantly, winning their trust. 

The world now knows South Sudanese ability. Regardless of being a young nation, it can be aggressive if her national security is threatened. Khartoum too, had learnt something from its aggressive cross-boarder incursions and ariel bombardment of South Sudanese civilians. The few of enemy combatants who escaped from Panthou/Heglig after they have experienced the raining fire power and the complex nature of South Sudanese military machines, will live to tell the tale. In the words of Gaduel, South Sudanese top commander, that steered operations in Panthou, 'those enemy soldiers who escaped from Heglig will never think of joining the military again. They will be good civilians thereafter. They have learnt a hard lesson.'

The most critical aspect of this Ten-Day War was its ensnaring implications on the continent and in particular, the East African region. The Sudanese war had always involved the region in various ways: small arms proliferation and refugee influx into neighbouring countries. This new war was on the verge of starting the much dreaded Armageddon in Africa. The decision by South Sudan to ease tensions by pulling out its troops from the contested area was crucial in averting the regional aspect of it. Regionally, the sound of war was not played down. As the rhetoric and bellicosity become the advent to actual engagements,  Uganda said it would join in if South Sudan was attacked. The southernmost South Sudan neighbour hinted on the sanctuary provided and the link that Sudan maintains with Lord Resistant Army (LRA). South Sudan is also economically important to Uganda. It imports relatively highly from Uganda than it reciprocally exports. This gives Uganda a fair trade and economic advantage.

 No one knows what Kenya was mulling since it has multimillion/billion project involving South Sudanese pipeline, railway and roads posing to prosper her citizens.  One Kenyan newspaper commentator wrote that 'the war between the Sudans will burn us all this time.' This summarised the feeling of other Kenyan business magnets operating in South Sudan. Kenya would want to be praised for successfully steering to completion the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in the Sudans, not manufacturing conflict, or allowing another to come up. If anything, its relative status of development will always be overwhelmed by refugees in the events of war in the region.

The region is tired of the continuous Sudanese wars. Just as the escalations were heightening up, the top military brass of the Great Lakes Region met and decided to take side in this third war, citing incidences where Sudanese Arabs always draw in support from the Arab world to kill Africans in South Sudan. Rwanda was among them. The Arab league had also called emergency meeting to discuss the situation in the Sudans. The meeting was to be convened on the request of the Sudan. And if the Arab world takes side, beware they will never oppose Sudan, expect someone else to match it up. See how complicated the situation nearly became and how South Sudan nearly dragged Africa and the world onto the verge of an all-out war? Even if it means that not everyone would join in to fight, those who would shoulder the responsibly of the displaced, the refugees and political asylum seekers resulting from the war would have been tormented further. The two nations themselves can become proxies in the war of natural resources.

President Obama of the USA was concerned. His direct video address to the two nations underscores the severity of the situation. He urged the two nations to consider the path of peace adding that those who follow the path of peace will always find a strong friend in the United State. With the history of past US assistance to the Sudan during Nimeiri's presidency, and South Sudan having tasted the bitter sweets of American military assistance - there were nasty experiences with Reagan Tanks at the onset of liberation war - the best ploy was to listen and act wisely. It should also be noted that Khartoum's Islamic regime is America's worst human rights partner but good friend in the war on terror. Nothing will be more pleasant than cooperating with the super nation on matters threatening its national security. America (USA) could be anyone's friend. 

The truth is that the international community had the confidence in South Sudan listening to them than Khartoum with its jihadist mentality in this war. At the moment they are wild and wierd and would not contemplate logical arguments. One Sudanese student from Khartoum university once said, 'the world, and the West in particular think that we (Arabs) are mad because we make too much noise in things that should be discussed quietly.' The problem is that when political issues become a bit tough, the Sudanese state manipulators switch from the temporal world to the sacred and subsequently become hysterical and garner supporters in the process. The behaviour has entombed the public psyche for decades.

In this war, the vagueness of South Sudanese on the Abyei boundary commission and the ruling of International Court of Arbitration doesn't register well internationally. Many in South Sudan believe it is the failure of diplomacy and that of the foreign affairs ministry. But it is not. It is time to note that the reason why the international community blames South Sudan for occupation lies in the acceptance, by South Sudan, of the ABC ruling knowing fully well that borders were not demarcated in the areas of Abyei and Panthou. If anyone is to blame, South Sudan and the negotiating delegation that went to The Hague, including the ABC itself, must have a piece. The international community too has made a mess by relying on imaginary borders rather than drawing the borders between the two nations. How do you know which one is Sudan and South Sudan when the issue of borders is under discussion? This would only mean there is a premeditated solution to the borders which the AU and the UN are not communicating to South Sudan! The South Sudanese popular believes there is an international conspiracy surrounding its borders with the Sudan.

As for the Ten-Day war over Panthou, South Sudan has the right to lay it on the cross-border aggression by SAF military and its supporting rebels against the republic of South Sudan. Khartoum all along wanted South Sudan to say a goodbye of fire. This, they got it and they got it quite well. It is now back to the drawing board where reason might replace the rhetoric, fanaticism and dogmatic theocracy.

The element of propaganda had also emerged. One would argue that propaganda is a subtle way of obscuring the victories of your opponent while fully aware of them, but doing so to raise the morale of your people for a course. When applied to South Sudan by Sudan, it will always be followed by reason and and extreme care to avoid lies. In Khartoum and with Bashir, at least economic pressures will not push down the government any time sooner because propaganda had done its job so well to unite the nation. South Sudanese have also soildified their unity in this war. Nationalism will be in the air for sometimes.  

Both South Sudan and Sudan governments have used propaganda maximally in the war on Panthou. As the US representative confirmed in Juba the SPLA withdrawal from Heglig and relayed the same message to Bashir, the ICC indictee in Khartoum went out on Thursday, April 19 2012 and announced to the public and his beleaguered and weakened army that they would then get good news from the frontline in a few hours. South Sudan never made the announcement on Thursday and so went the lie from Bashir. And on Friday 20, the Sudanese claimed version of victory in the oilfields came just after South Sudan announced the withdrawal! A very smart way to entice the frightened population and courting North Kordufan, the only innocent state fighting on the NCP front.

Propaganda has its merits in situations like the one currently existing between the Sudans. In the old walls of Nazi rule in Berlin, Germany and the corridors of Kremlin in Moscow, USSR, propaganda was a portfolio held by officials on the government pay roll. USA was and is now not immune from this. Khartoum is just playing an old game properly.

As with Khartoum's rhetorics and Panthou recapture propaganda, South Sudanese should not be broken. Just like during the CPA era and Torit incident, there will be some sense in the negotiations this time. But, never ignore propaganda, it is another frontline.

One thing will catch attention if it did happen again.  In the Torit battle during CPA negotiations, some South Sudanese soldiers appeared to have been poisoned in the battle. The traces of dirty weapons used against soldiers would be my concern if I were in the South Sudanese military investigative team. The world must know all.

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