The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) toyed briefly with war in Abyei before succumbing to the de facto division line along Bahr el-Arab/River Kiir. Militarily neither side made any considerable gains. The situation they ended up in is probably the unwritten bargain underlying the squabble over Abyei, namely its division into a Northern and a Southern territory.
In the rump North the SAF made quite a show of its petty adventure. The episode was televised in the jihad style of the 1990s including the voice of the select SAF muezzin calling for the prayers from the repeatedly torched remains of Abyei town. Of course, the voice of the muezzin is not by any means foreign to Abyei. The town, like most others in the region, probably heard a ‘peaceful’ call for prayers from a local chap, possibly even a Moslem Dinka, five times a day. The point however was to stress to the Intibaha-sensitised audience that the SAF had victoriously claimed the day and flung the banner of Islam à la the National Congress Party (NCP) high and wide.
Conscious of the political pressure in the South to conclude the formalities of secession without undue interruption the NCP made a calculated move targeting the boosting of its negotiation position on the post-referendum table, definitely with more than the Abyei territory in mind. Abyei, after all, was never the big fish, despite the claim to its Kashmiri foretaste. The Government of South Sudan (GoSS) however seems to have stumbled into the situation rather than stepped into it. Whatever the exact force behind the attack on the SAF contingent in the escort of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) that ignited this last episode the SPLA high command was apparently taken by surprise and the political leadership preserved its peace composure so to speak preferring to defer the matter and whatever consequences it may entail to the ‘international community’.
Well the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) excitedly issued a presidential statement demanding the SAF to withdraw from Abyei, the UNMIS opened an investigation into the conduct of its ‘peacekeepers’ who unsurprisingly deserted their duties in the heat of the moment, and the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) led by Thabo Mbeki looks likely to lose the lead on the Abyei proposals. Probably Princeton Lyman will pick up with greater input from where Scott Gration left. Amongst the proposals forwarded by Khartoum’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the resolution of the conflict was one calling for the deployment of a peacekeeping force with an ‘African character’ to stand between the SPLA and the SAF along the Bahr el-Arab/River Kiir. Ethiopia reportedly expressed interest in sending in troops to fulfil the task following a flash visit by Khartoum’s Minister of Defence, Abd el-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, to Addis Ababa, step that could not have taken place without President Bashir’s approval. Al-Intibaha, thirsty for a cheap war, bashed the Ministry for what its chief editor, al-Tayeb Mustafa, described as ‘defeatist’ proposals.
Under the urge of an Abyei-like run-over the SAF got embroiled in a rough attempt to disarm or contain the SPLA combatants in South Kordofan. The comparison however was greatly misplaced. The situation evolved into a military confrontation inside Kadugli. While the SAF spokesperson repeated the mantra that the army “reserves the right to respond when and where it sees fit” the costs of such a large scale confrontation across South Kordofan would outweigh its immediate political benefits. Possibly, President Bashir will consider negotiating through this tight bend with his eyes on a more advantageous state of affairs in the near future. Unless the situation does spiral out of control he can rely on a tactful Ahmed Haroun and the numerical majority of the NCP in the state legislature to reduce the risks of the charged popular consultation process ahead.
The two SAF excursions with the warmongering of al-Intibaha in the background fed in a loop fashion into the politicking of the NCP nomenklatura in Khartoum. One message I suppose is the assertion of the authority of the SAF and President Bashir over the shura of the politicians, a point that the President clearly phrased when he stated to the recently convened Shura (Consultative) Council of the NCP that any member who flouts the directives and decisions of the party leadership will be dismissed. One likely candidate for dismissal as things stand is Vice President Taha, probably to the glee of Nafie the royalist.