Mali has slipped into a total chaos after a coup toppled thedemocratic government in 2012 and was followed by the MNLA and the Islamicfundamentalist gaining control. French-led Mail troops have been trying tosuppress the Tuareg-led rebellion which is now being dominated by Islamicfundamentalism. To counter it, an African-led force is also coming in to tacklethe situation. But it seems all this will take some time until Mali achieveslasting peace. Yet, their entry strategy may be compelled by rise offundamentalists, but they should also think about exit strategy not too late.
Following a UN Security Council Resolution 2085, which hadbeen ratified in December, a West African force - African-led InternationalSupport Mission to Mali (Afisma) has started to arrive in Mali. It is expectedto replace the French troops that had timely arrived in the conflict-torn areaafter a formal request by the Malian President as the African-led force was tooslow to consolidate.
France however does not have a clear exit strategy and thearrival of West African forces – from Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria,Togo, Cote’ d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone – could further complicatematters as they might have some old grievances and may side with a particular community at a particular situation, iftheir mandate remains in ambiguity.
It must be noted that in the case of Afghanistan, the US hadpurposefully asked Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours to keep out, not allowingAfghanistan’s neighbors to send their troops, as it could have created furthercomplications.
The situation in Mali has been heading towards a crisis eversince a coup led to the ouster of President Amandou Toumani Toure and that endedthe 20-year old democratic tradition. The coup was followed by the rebel forces– the Tuaregs, under the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA)taking control of the cities in northern Mali.
Within weeks fundamentalist groups – Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda inIslamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa formed aconvenient alliance with the rebel forces that resulted in Mali heading towardsa total chaos and leading to anarchy.
Another contributing factor was the influx of arms and armedmen in Mali after the end of war in Libya.
Further, the Islamist forces wanted Mali to be ruled bySharia law and even imposed it in major cities like Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal.But, the crux of the problem is nationalist secession movement of the Tuaregpeople, which was later hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists.
The demand for self-determination of the Tuaregs for Azawadwas largely ignored for years. But what has gained world attention is Islamicfundamentalism in Mali. Some have even termed the operation in Mali as a ‘waron terror’.
But only military means cannot lead to the end of the conflict.Ethnic, political and religious dynamics in Mali have to be taken intoconsideration while trying to resolve the crisis.
Critics have talked about French intervention being drivenby resource interests. France in fact has important strategic and securityinterests in the region. But it is notcorrect to think this as the sole reason for French intervention.
Malian army had been unable to withstand Tuareg advance inMarch and there is no reason to believe that they would have survived anoffensive by the fundamentalists.
An importantconsideration for the French is to think of its exit policy from Mali beforehand, otherwise matters could complicate resulting in an ‘Afghanistan-like’situation. The same holds for any other country sending its troops to Mali.
Over 200,000 people are believed to be internally displacedin Mali and around 140,000 are estimated to have fled over the borders,according to a report by the EU.
The EU has decided to establish a Training Mission in Mali(EUTM Mali) to help the Malian armed forces to improve their military capacity.EU’s Sahel strategy also includes allocation of 660 Euros for the Sahel region.
International assistance is extremely important in such asituation as reclaiming northern Mali from the extremists is fundamental. Thereis also the threat of the conflict in Mali having consequences beyond itsborders as was seen in the Algerian hostage crisis, which was linked to theFrench operation in Mali.
It is also true that the conflict will not end soon as theTuaregs have long-standing grievances and the extremists are displaying theirdetermination to hold on. However, recent reports say that Ansar Dine has splitinto two, showing factions within the militant groups.
A comprehensive resolution of the conflict is required,which not only calls for ceasing of fighting, but also disarming of the rebelforces, transfer of power in an interim government and finally seeking people’smandate.
Malian people have come to treasure political participationas a key component of citizenship, therefore a legitimate government would haveto be established after the situation is brought under control. Also, economicdevelopment of the entire country, including the north would do good for thepeople of Mali.