Goodbye Afghanistan, Hello Mali !

You say « Yes », I say « No ».
You say « Stop » and I say « Go, go, go ».
Oh no.
You say « Goodbye » and I say « Hello, hello, hello ».

What lesson brings Afghanistan conflict to Mali crisis ?

Negotiations are currently taking place in Ouagadougou and Algiers with the Islamist group Ansar al-Dine (AD), one of the armed Islamist groups occupying the north of Mali. We do not know yet what will really result from these discussions, if there will be a peace process with the authorities of Bamako, and if there will be moderate and acceptable claims for the international community. A first statement has been made this Tuesday, Ansar al-Dine « rejects all forms of extremism and terrorism and is committed to the fight against transnational organized crime. »

Image credit: AP

It is worth to note that the talks were welcomed by many negative and harsh comments. To start with, some medias like to feed the confusion. In a recent documentary of the French TV channel M6, the jihadists of the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (not named as such in doc) in Gao were presented as members of Ansar al-Dine. And let’s make it clear, talks with AD irritate some circles.  One example among others, this Figaro article sketched one of the first secret talks in Algiers between a Malian military officer and delegates of AD with members of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and tribal leaders as a direct negotiation between the Algerian authorities and northern Mali Islamists.

Who are the leaders of Ansar al-Dine ? They are mainly from the Tuareg tribe of Ifoghas. Iyad Ag Ghali and Ahmada Ag Bibi were rebels back in 1990. Alghabass Ag Intallah was a member of the Malian Assembly, and is a probable future successor of his father as the chief of Ifoghas. So beware of thoughtless comments asking to uproot the Tuareg Islamist insurgents from their own ground.

To read and listen to the supporters of the war in Mali, there is a bold tendency for overconfidence in the military solution. According to their opinion, there is no difference between foreign Jihadists and local Islamists, and AD should be as well a target of the forthcoming attacks. They blindly miss the point. Why a foreign military intervention has to neutralize the Tuareg Islamist insurgents ? Do the latter constitute a threat to foreign interests ? Ansar al-Dine hold no hostage, neither planned nor did an attack on foreign soil, and has a solely local agenda. Yes, they do have fundamentalist beliefs, but they have no international Jihadist agenda.

A view shared even by the new Emir of AQIM is the Sahara. Asked on his relations with AD, Yahya Abu El Hamam, said in an interview (in Arabic):

« The Ansar al-Dine is an Islamist local group who seek to establish the religion of Allah, and has chosen jihad for Allah to do it, although we disagree with this group in its limited view to the local dimension, but we eventually have many common things, the Islam brotherhood and what it requires in the cooperation for righteousness and piety, the support and the justice of the oppressed, the defense of the honor of the Muslims,   and the restitution of their rights to their beneficiaries which is the basis of our dealings with all Islamic groups. »

Like it or hate it, the Ansar al-Dine are actors on the northern Mali political scene well before the numerous titles « Mali is the new Afghanistan » popped up as mushrooms in the mainstream media. Time to revisit what happened in Afghanistan and to listen to the former U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in this country, the diplomat who negotiated an interim Afghan government after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. In 2008, he made this revelation in his article A New Strategy for Afghanistan

« Seven years ago, the Taliban was routed and vanished from Kabul and other big cities, but it never surrendered to anyone. It stood to reason that its intentions and strength would have a major bearing on the country’s future. The United Nations therefore made two suggestions in early 2002: to reach out to those members of the Taliban potentially willing to join the political process; and to deploy the ISAF outside of Kabul, with significantly increased strength. Both fell on deaf ears. I regret bitterly not having advocated even more forcefully for these proposals at the highest levels. Their pursuit then might have changed the course of events in Afghanistan. »

Eleven years after the launch of operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan is still far away from a peaceful stabilized country. But nowadays, the peace talks involve the Taliban around the negotiations table with the U.S.

It’s time for all the actors involved in the Mali crisis to learn or relearn the Afghan lesson, and to try to avoid the repeat of the same mistakes… time to reach out to those members of the Malian Islamists potentially willing to join the political process.

UPDATE Nov 7, 2012 :

1. in the post above, I haven’t talked about the other components than the Tuareg one in Ansar al-Dine. Especially, the Timbuktu group as mediatized by the « spokesman of AD » Sanda Ould Bouamama. In my vision of the Malian crisis, there are at least two different AD groups, one in Kidal with the Tuareg islamist leaders and one in Timbuktu with a mixed composition. But the main difference between the two groups is their attitude towards negotiation. AD-Kidal participates in the political process and seems ready to compromise. On the other part of the islamist specter, AD-Timbuktu has a tense and radical position on the full application of a hard Sharia. Unsurprisingly, many leaders of this latter group are previous members of AQIM. It will be interesting to see their reaction to the statements made by AD-Kidal in Ouagadougou.

2. Yes, some leaders of AD-Kidal were involved as intermediaries in the hostages business. Should we blame them for that? First it is obviously less blameful than the implication of Malian officials of the previous government/presidency in the same hostages business, as well as in money laundering and drug smuggling. And for the hostages negotiations, there are other go-betweens like the French colonel JMG, the Air France negotiator and Areva intermediaries… we have to admit that the AD-Kidal are not the only ones involved in this business.


Ev’rybody’s talkin’ ’bout
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, that-ism, ism ism ism
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance
John Lennon

Baki @7our Mansour

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9 commentaires pour Goodbye Afghanistan, Hello Mali !

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  7. 7our dit :

    Interview with Mohamed Ag Ahgrib spokesman of Ansar al-Dine. Implicitly, he indicates that he is the only mandated to speak on behalf of this group. Exit thus Sanda Ould Bouamama from Timbuktu ?

    on AQIM:

    « We did not quote them or to judge them. AQIM is Muslim, like us. Ask us to fight other Muslims, it is not in our ethics. Moreover, it is more than ten years that they occupy the north. If the Malian state, when he was strong, did not fight, it is not for us to do it now. »

    on MNLA:

    « We may also require that the MNLA disconnects from a certain opinion. I do not know whether it is Western or not, but they made secularism a key objective. So for us, the primary objective must be to seek a solution through dialogue. The moment now is not on putting priors but to start a negotiation. »

    on Algerian hostages kept by MUJAO:

    « We would like to help Algeria, but unfortunately we have no specific contacts that would allow us to negotiate with the Mujao. »

    « Our delegation has been duly authorized by the leaders of Ansar al-Dine and everything that has been said and done in Algiers and Ouagadougou is a commitment for Ansar al-Dine wherever it is. »

    And according to the news website Saharamedias (article in Arabic), Ansar al-Dine prohibits the smuggling of Cigarettes and Drug in the Kidal region, indirectly targeting AQIM and MUJAO. They gave the smugglers three weeks to comply with the new rules.

  8. 7our dit :

    In an interview with newspaper « Le Soir d’Algérie« , Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia reveals the taking into account at the highest level of the Algerian state of the risks of a spillover of the Malian conflict in Algeria. He said

    « The official position of Algeria was often reiterated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Algeria does not want a military intervention (in Mali). The priority for our country is to find a political solution to settle durably the problem of the territorial unity of Mali. We need the Tuareg of North Mali to renounce their demands of secession. Algeria is working on it. Currently, there is no legal (meaning legitim) authority in Bamako. Once this problem is solved, and in my opinion it will be, eradicate terrorism and drug trafficking in the North will be easy because the unified Malian central authority and the local residents will coordinate their efforts to overcome the subversive elements and the traffickers. Obviously, if people think the central authority on the North must be reinstated by way of the war, it will have very serious consequences. In this case, it will be very difficult to engage the northerners (in a peace process). And if this war directly or indirectly affects the Tuareg people of Norther Mali, we have (in southern Algeria) Tuareg people who have very strong links with those of northern Mali and, thus, it may complicate things. This is what Algeria is trying to prevent by asking to solve first the political problems. In terms of security, the arguments of saying that the Sahel will become another Afghanistan does not hold water. »

    And a little further:

    « How many terrorists and drug traffickers in the Sahel? What is their number? It does not exceed 2,000 to 3,000. They are strong because they now have the power of the weapons on an unarmed population of the North. In addition, this population is experiencing famine and deprivation of liberty. »

    It should be noted that the Interior Minister is not directly in charge of the Malian issue. This is a file managed by the intelligence services and the military, Daho Ould Kablia’s statements about the military intervention should be taken with caution in my opinion.

  9. 7our dit :

    Not so much details on the technical aspects of the Ansar al-Dine talks in Ouagadougou. According to France 24 :

    In a declaration read by envoy Mohamed Aharid, they called for « a total halt to hostilities, the respect of fundamental rights and freedoms, the return of all displaced people and refugees and the creation of an environment conducive to adopting and implementing a full peace agreement that addresses all the deep causes of the crisis. »

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