Source: Gulf News
France has strategic interests for seeking military intervention in the restive north, but such a move could spark regional conflict and boost extremism
All hopes of a dialogue to end the crisis in the north of Mali have disappeared; the region is inching towards a relentless war, financed by the Africans and supported by the French. Several countries, including France, are considering the option of military intervention to keep order in a region taken over by militants following a coup that overthrew former president Amadou Toumani Toure. However, having assessed their own political standing, countries like the US express their reservations.
So the drums of war beat in northern Mali, sparking fear among its citizens and neighbouring countries that may be affected by a military intervention.
France’s inclination to intervene can be attributed to its history. As a former colonial power in Saharan Africa, it is bound by defence agreements in Niamey and Bamako. Furthermore, as the main trading partner and the largest donor to Mali and Niger, France contributes significantly to their political stability. Niger holds added importance in the eyes of Paris as it has large deposits of uranium (Arlit mines) needed by French nuclear power plants. Consequently, France has stepped up efforts to conciliate in its dispute, dispatching emissaries and diplomats regularly to mediate between the rebels and national authorities. There has been relative success as the crises in Niger and Mali have eased since 1995.
The people of Mali have their own ideas of stability and unity. They have rejected any military intervention in the region. The fact, however, is that the Mali government has been unsuccessful in allaying the ‘evils’ of militancy.
What is the situation on the ground?
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA), a political and military organisation based in northern Mali, comprises those disappointed with the political developments and one which includes intellectuals and young unemployed graduates. NMLA’s strategy aims at avoiding casualties and sparing the civilian population. They claim to occupy 100 per cent of four locales near the borders with Niger, Mauritania and Algeria. Their message to the Occident is that they want to go back to regional cities — Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal — where there is an independent front. Ambitions, whims and political calculations were at their peak during the course of the crisis; under the disintegration of the unity of the state and its transformation into small states with differing intellectual backgrounds.
NMLA has, along with another armed radical Islamist group — Ansar Al Deen — seized control of northern Mali. Although their aims differ, the coalition makes it the most dangerous alliance in the region.
Furthermore, Al Qaida-related groups also backed the coup — Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) — in particular. What strikes one as being peculiar is why fighters of Algerian and Moroccan ethnicity would choose to settle in Mali. Perhaps because this is seen in this case as well. The desert people do not know borders; it is impossible to put barbed wire in the middle of the sand.
The Libyan war is also part of the Mali crisis, especially since weapons that are being used to fight the Mali army and other military forces are Libyan.
It is expected that several neighbouring countries are or will be affected by the conflict; these include Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco. Mauritania will be most affected due to the close bilateral relations. The political turmoil in Mali is like a monster on the rampage, ready to devour everything in its path.
After weeks of shuttle diplomacy, speculation and conflicting signals, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) seems to have finally obtained the agreement of the Mali government to carry out a major military deployment in north Mali. ECOWAS seeks the support of the Security Council of the United Nations, whose members are divided on the need for military intervention. Internal documents suggest the drafting of a plan to establish a provisional number of deployed personnel, budget and schedule of implementation. In Bamako, supporters of ECOWAS are convinced that the intervention of a powerful external force is crucial if Mali wants to ‘take back’ the north and hunt down militants.
Does ECOWAS have the capability for effective intervention?
According to diplomats, who believe that conflict is likely and even inevitable, early intervention could be catastrophic, especially because of the doubts about the ability of ECOWAS to intercede. Member states such as Senegal are eager to intervene in Mali. However, Nigeria, which is itself facing the threat of a fundamentalist movement, could face internal pressures and refuse to participate in the intervention.
At the UN General Assembly meeting last Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande called for approving the military intervention as quickly as possible. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has echoed Hollande’s call. This resolution will put the entire African continent on a real volcano of conflict. The African-led intervention with the help of the Occidental power in Somalia and the Ivory Coast was not successful at all. This will prompt the extremists to commit more human rights abuses and destroy irreplaceable heritage.
This possible intervention may spark civil war in the region. The French have regional interests. Algeria, which borders northern Mali, is seeking to downplay its role in the military intervention. It is posturing as an opponent of such intervention and issuing cynical appeals to national unity.
The Malian people remain, as do the citizens of neighbouring countries, at the mercy of war, which appears to be just around the corner.
Dr Shakir Noori is an Iraqi writer and journalist based in Dubai.