The news coming out of Sudan grows bleaker by the hour. Prospects for peace look less likely now than at any point since the north-south civil war, Africa's longest-running conflict, ended in 2005.
The Sudanese government is presently bombing the northern border state of Southern Kordofan, and the United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people have been displaced as a consequence of Khartoum's seizure of the contested Abyei region last month. The emerging picture stands in stark contrast to what appeared to be President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's surprising commitment to the peaceful separation of northern and southern Sudan just a few months ago.
Since then, much analysis and media commentary has focused on whether the soon-to-be country of Southern Sudan, which attains formal nationhood on July 9, will be viable. Observers have raised valid concerns about the south's myriad inter-ethnic tensions, internal insurgents, fledgling governance structure, and poor set of development indicators.
But what about the north? In the focus on all the coming problems of Southern Sudan, the full implications of partition creating not one new nation, but two, have gone largely unexamined --with potential repercussions that could derail peace for north and south alike.
Northern Sudan will be a different country in geographic, ethnic, religious, political, cultural, and economic terms once the south separates. And the viability of the new northern nation is also in question, as is the survival of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party.
"The NCP are being weakened day by day. They know they don't have acceptance in the north," says International Crisis Group analyst Fouad Hikmat.
Northern opposition parties blame NCP policies for the loss of the south, which is where most of Sudan's oil lies. Moreover, well-connected Sudanese say there is dissatisfaction within the army, in addition to the armed insurgencies and political discontent in peripheral areas across northern Sudan.
Much of the current fighting may be strategic posturing as final deals are being hashed out over the division of wealth and territory between north and south in advance of July 9. But the ominous developments over the past three weeks are perhaps best understood as being driven by the NCP playing to its fiercely nationalistic domestic audience inside northern Sudan.
The most obvious danger to the NCP is economic. On Tuesday, Sudanese Finance Minister Ali Mahmoud told reporters in Khartoum that as a result of the secession of the south "the national budget will lose 36.5 percent of its revenues." Sudan's external debt already stands at $38 billion. It has been barred from further World Bank loans because of a failure to pay its arrears, and the United States has fiercely opposed Sudan receiving support from any international banking institution because of its listing as a state sponsor of terrorism.