The recent U.S. move to remove Sudan’s designation , which had been in place since 1993, as a state that sponsors terrorism could potentially come at a huge price that no sovereign nation should demand, or another acquiesce to. The Sudanese government’s recognition of the state of Israel — which looms as Khartoum’s trade-off for the terror delisting — should be the sole prerogative of the people of that country, not of a superpower such as Washington or any other to arbitrarily impose its will.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok had himself articulated the dilemma that his unelected government should take upon itself the responsibility for such a pivotal decision to accord formal recognition to Israel, given the sensitive historical background. That goes back to the time when Khartoum played host to the Arab League gathering, which adopted the so-called “three nos” resolution to deny recognition, initiate negotiations and seek peace with Israel, in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day war. It would seem a stretch to assume that bilateral relations between the two countries were germane to a determination of Sudan’s status on the international stage.
On the other hand, the factors that influenced the designation of Sudan as a sponsor of terrorism are relatively clear. They relate to the former military regime’s backing for the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas and Hezbollah, besides the harbouring of Osama bin Laden until 1996. Sudan is a rather different country now since the overthrow of the 30-year-long dictatorship of Omar Hassan al-Bashir in the popular uprising in 2019. The democratic transition that has been underway in the North African country since August 2019 is expected to lead to general elections in 2022. The ultimate objective of the mass uprising was, after all, to ensure that the military, which still shares power in the transitional government, returned to the barracks.
The reintegration of Sudan into the global community via a renegotiation of its national debt and reopening of investment opportunities would be crucial ingredients for this overall endeavour. The country has suffered a crippling impact from the loss of vast oil reserves to South Sudan, which seceded in 2011. The COVID-19 pandemic and the worst floods in a century have compounded the problems of food shortages, skyrocketing inflation, and severe unemployment.
The deal struck with the United States will provide Sudan crucial access to global financial institutions, resume dollar-denominated transactions, and revive foreign investment after nearly three decades.
Long in the making
In fact, the stage had been set for the removal from the terrorism bracket with the easing of U.S. economic sanctions in 2017, which was followed by the exchange of ambassadors between the two countries after 23 years in 2019. Unfortunately, what has proved decisive in an appraisal of Sudan’s emerging status is President Donald Trump’s own electoral calculations and his several highly controversial interventions in the West Asian peace process. The transactional approach towards a matter that has implications for global security was perhaps too awkward for Washington. As such, for the record at least, the terror delisting has been treated as an outcome in exchange for a compensation payment of $335 million for the victims of the 1998 Al Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Sudan has, for its part, stopped short of a commitment to re-establish normal diplomatic relations with Israel, and opening of embassies is not part of the agreement.
There is concern that the recent turn of events could ease the pressure on the military to hand over the former dictator, Mr. Bashir, to the International Criminal Court for investigations of genocide and war crimes. Apprehension on that score is only legitimate, given that the U.S., which is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that underpins the Hague Court, has sought to block its operations. The assertion of national sovereignty is integral to Sudan’s democracy.