What Pakistan and Southern Sudan have in common
Southern Sudan's secession serves as a grim reminder - a neglected people will only remain suppressed for so long.
This is written on a billboard on a road in the capital of Southern Sudan:
“9th July, 2011. Our long walk to freedom. 2.5 million lives paid for our independence.”
Southern Sudan’s proclamation of independence is a result of a peace agreement that was signed between the rebel group, Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) and the government of Sudan after more than three decades of civil war. It gave the SPLA the right to govern Southern Sudan for six years.
After six years a referendum was conducted in January 2011 in which people were to decide whether to stay a part of United Sudan or become independent. An overwhelming majority of the populace decided in favor of independence. The secession of Southern Sudan will be a huge blow for the autocratic government as oil revenues generated from the area's oil fields contribute in the overall national budget.
Learning from Southern Sudan
Southern Sudan's secession serves as a grim reminder to countries like Pakistan - if the people's voice is not heard and rights are not given, they will ultimately look for alternatives. The creation of Bangladesh is a glaring example of this. They democratically fought for their rights within the federation and finally separated, after being denied for 25 years.
Similarly, a ruling elite class belonging to a certain tribe and religion, had been ruling Sudan since its independence in 1956. Resources were taken from one part of the country and generously used for development in the other, without any effort to ensure development in all areas. Dissent was forcefully suppressed in the name of national unity and those who asked for their rights were labeled as traitors.
Minorities pushed to the limit
Southern Sudan's secession also serves as an example of the fact that in a country that is ethnically and religiously diverse the burden of ensuring justice in distribution of resources lies with the ‘majority’.
Most of Sudan's oil fields are located in the south and accordingly most of the revenues are generated from the south. However, a quick tour around the country would make one realize that not even a fraction of the revenue has been spent on the South Sudanese. Sudan's ruling junta's forced imposition of Sharia law acted as the last nail in the coffin, as Christian-dominated Southern Sudan feared that whatever little religious freedom they had would be snatched away from them.
The irony of hatred
Once, Pakistan was a new country too. Our fundamental reason for independence was the same - being outnumbered by a majority in United India, we thought we would be denied religious freedom and basic rights. Since independence however, religious minorities are being treated in the same manner.We have witnessed to bloodshed in recent years in the name of Islam, the so-called basis of the country's creation.
Southern Sudan' s secession should also remind us that Balochistan has supplied the rest of the country with coal, gas and minerals for over 60 years, yet remains the province with the lowest rate of development.
The people of the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan are still being ruled via tyrannical pre-partition laws. They still do not have access to basic constitutional rights and have perhaps the worst human development indicators in the entire country.
I often tell my Southern Sudanese friends:
"Your future generations will hold you accountable once you have finally become independent."
Southern Sudan's government and people have a responsibility to ensure that their tribal and cultural differences do not take away their focus from the bigger picture.
Southern Sudan currently ranks at the bottom of world' s Human Development Index. Most of the country's population does not have access to roads, clean water, schools and health facilities. Putting all their differences aside they need to ensure that the government focuses on these key development indicators.
They also need to ensure a broad-based that a united government which will include representation from different tribes and sub-cultures prevalent in Southern Sudan is in place, which will take forward country's development agenda.
I hope the Southern Sudanese will be able to overcome their minor differences, will try not to interfere in their neighbouring states, will focus their energies in developing their own communities and will make sure that from the very beginning, the new country focuses on developing health, education and basic infrastructure for all citizens in order to ensure that it remains solidly grounded in years to come.
Happy independence, Southern Sudan!