Devel­op­ment will stop ex­trem­ist tide

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Pa­trick Seale

FRANCE'S of­fen­sive against Is­lamists in north­ern Mali is ap­proach­ing what it hopes is a fi­nal phase. Hav­ing driven Is­lamist fight­ers out of the main cities of Tim­buktu, Gao and Ki­dal, French troops are now be­sieg­ing the moun­tain­ous re­doubt of Ifoghas close to the Al­ge­rian bor­der, where Al Qaida in the Is­lamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other armed Is­lamists are said to be dug in.

Right across the re­gion, the Is­lamists are on the de­fen­sive, but they are fight­ing back with am­bushes and sud­den armed in­cur­sions deep into ar­eas al­ready cap­tured by the French. The guer­rilla war threat­ens to be long and hard.

An un­fore­seen con­se­quence of the over­throw of Libya's Muam­mar Gaddafi by the west­ern pow­ers has been the re­turn home to Mali and Niger and other coun­tries of the Sa­hel of thou­sands of men - many of them Tawareq - whom Gaddafi had re­cruited into his armed ser­vices. Most of them re­turned with weapons plun­dered from Gaddafi's ar­se­nals.

This is what trig­gered the cri­sis in Mali. In early 2012, a Tawareq force, named the Aza­wad na­tional lib­er­a­tion move­ment, or MNLA, chased out the Malian army and pro­claimed in­de­pend- ence in north­ern Mali, an area big­ger than France, which they call the Aza­wad.

The Tawareq, an an­cient Ber­ber-speak­ing race, have risen re­peat­edly in the past against the government in the cap­i­tal Ba­mako, only to be crushed or fobbed off with empty prom­ises of devel­op­ment. Had Ba­mako had the sense to con­cede au­ton­omy to the Tawareq long ago, both the Is­lamist in­va­sion and the war to oust them could most prob­a­bly have been avoided. But hardly had the Tawareq cel­e­brated vic­tory than they in turn were ousted by Is­lamist fight­ing groups, which had roamed the deserts of the Sa­hel liv­ing off large-scale smug­gling and hostage-tak­ing. French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande has vowed to de­stroy the Is­lamists of north­ern Mali - a task in which France is now re­ceiv­ing help from the US and from West African troops.

The US has set up a new drone base in Mali's east­ern neigh­bour, Niger, to pro­vide French troops with in­tel­li­gence and keep an eye on re­gional threats, as well as on the flow of weapons from Libya. The French are also us­ing Niger's air­port to fly men and equip­ment into Mali. Mali's Is­lamists have not yet been de­feated but they are now on the run. Smash­ing them, how­ever, will not re­solve the coun­try's main puz­zle, which is how to deal with the Tawareq's de­mand for in­de­pen­dence in their tra­di­tional north­ern home­land.

When the Tawareq's MNLA was over­whelmed by Is­lamist groups, Niger de­ployed 5,000 men along its 800km bor­der with Mali, and man­aged to pre­vent mil­i­tants from en­ter­ing its ter­ri­tory. It has now contributed 680 men to MISMA, the West African mil­i­tary force which has ral­lied to the sup­port of France's ef­forts in Mali

Niger, a vast poverty-stricken coun­try of 15 mil­lion peo­ple, has done its best to keep the mil­i­tants at bay. As in Mali, many of its young men went to work in Libya or were re­cruited into Gaddafi's forces. But, when they flooded back home af­ter Gaddafi's over­throw, they were not al­lowed to bring their weapons with them. In­stead, they were dis­armed by the Niger army at the bor­der. This led in­evitably to numer­ous skir­mishes, but has greatly contributed to the coun­try's sta­bil­ity. Un­like Mali, Niger has man­aged to defuse the Tawareq prob­lem by in­te­grat­ing them into po­lit­i­cal life. The Tawareq are said to num­ber about 10 per cent of the Niger pop­u­la­tion.

In sev­eral other coun­tries, Is­lamists are in trou­ble. In Egypt, for ex­am­ple, the Mus­lim Brother­hood-dom­i­nated regime of Pres­i­dent Mo­ham­mad Mursi is strug­gling to res­cue the state from bank­ruptcy. In Tu­nisia, the Is­lamist party Al Nahda is still in the driv­ing seat, but is has faced enor­mous pres­sure from street demon­stra­tions fol­low­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion on Fe­bru­ary 6 of a left-wing op­po­si­tion fig­ure, Shukri Be­laid. Ha­madi Je­bali, him­self the num­ber two at Al Nahda, re­signed as prime min­is­ter, af­ter fail­ing to per­suade his party to al­low him to form a government of tech­nocrats. He has been re­placed by a mod­er­ate Is­lamist, Ali Larayedh, who spent 14 years in Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali's jails, but who seems de­ter­mine to keep mil­i­tants at bay, which he de­scribes as the great­est dan­ger fac­ing Tu­nisia.

In Libya, hard­line Is­lamists are said to be on the de­fen­sive, although An­sar Al Sharia - the Is­lamist mili­tia be­lieved to be re­spon­si­ble for last Septem­ber's at­tack on the US diplo­mati.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.