Monday, March 9, 2009

What is the tactical advantage to the Khartoum regime of ejecting the humanitarian operation?

We can view it, of course, as an angry emotional lashing out following the ICC arrest warrant. but the ICC arrest warrant has been a foregone conclusion for several years, ever sincde the case was referred to the ICC by the Security Council. Did anyone doubt the ability and willingness of the prosecutor to bring forth reasonable evidenc eof war crimes and crimes against humanity commited at the direction, or with complicity, of the president? As I noted yesterday, even the First Vice President of Sudan knew there were likely grounds for an arrest warrant.

So the interesting question is, what is the tactical advantage for the government, and why didn't the regime use this lever before the arrest warrant, to try to pressure for a pre-arrest warrant deferral. Possibly they calculated that a pre-arrest warrant deferral was less likely than a post-arrest warrant deferral.

So what is the tactical advantage? Like any game of attrition, demonstrating a willingness to suffer large losses is an essential way to establish credibility and show streangth. Here the game of attrition is with the SPLA. The regime wants to ensure that the 20009 election and the 2011 referendum happen in a way that they do not lose power. So they have to demonstrate to the SPLA that they are prepared for everything if they do not get their way. in a sense, they are preparing their minimal bargaining position- what they will not give up. So the ejection should be seen as a basic sttement: we will not permit free and fair elections, no way. And to show this, look what we are prepared to do.

Ejecting the humanitarian organizations carries considerable risk for Khartoum. It increases the gravity and evidence for the crimes that had been and will be committed. The public relations could backfire horribly for the regime in the Middle East. Al-Jazeera news has been somewhat sympathetic to the various Darfur reebel groups and the IDPs. A real catastrophe might put irreversible pressure on Egypt and the Gulf States to make al-Bashir back down.

Moreover, the worse are the conditions in the camps, the greater is rebel recruitment. Finally, large population movements to Chad or South Sudan, or Khartoum itself, can easily destabilize the tenuous civil peace in the north than keeps the regime in control of the streets of Khartoum.

Speaking of Chad and South Sudan, this may be one anticipated advantage by the regime: the large refugee flows out of Darfur may destabilize those two areas. Fits very comfortably with Khartoum's interests.

Another likely advantage scenario for Khartoum is reopening aid on terms much more favorable to and manipulble by Khartoum. Operation lifeline all over again.

An important advantage is a temporary window to commit large scale "clean-up" operations against problematic IDP camps and camp residents, and rebel movements, and rebel-sympathetic populations, without the scrutiny that the humanitarian operations were providing.

Finally, the action generates lots of rationale for the "ICC is to blame" talking point.

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