May 29, 2012

More Updates From Northern Mali's 4GW

As stated in the previous post, the fluctuating situation in northern Mali and its outflow of information is moving at a rapid pace, often by the day or hour. 

Sometime between Saturday night's celebration in Gao and Monday night, the uncertainty of northern Mali's future took another hit when the National Liberation Front of Azawad (MNLA) balked on Ansar Dine's final protocol. This agreement contained the provisions for a strict version of an Islamic state, in opposition to the more tolerate and secular model that the MNLA envisions. MNLA officials have defended their governing style in order to soothe the international community, a futile tactic with a high probability of agitating Ansar Dine's membership, but the Tuareg movement appears to have intercepted a looming disagreement. 

“We have refused to approve the final statement because it is different from the protocol agreement which we have signed,” MNLA member Ibrahim Ag Assaleh told Reuters. 

According to MNLA spokesman Moussa Ag Assarid, the two groups' preliminary agreement has yet to break down to the level described by the international media. He claims that negotiations over the "details" are ongoing, meaning their "big picture goals remain the same," except the MNLA and Ansar Dine hold mutually exclusive objectives at the strategic level. Both must cooperate in the short-term to expand their individual resources and authority - an alliance that is akin to a survival pact made on a deserted island. Ag Assarid argues that Ansar Dine's members are not fanatics, contrary to the MNLA's anxiety towards Islamic hardliners and fears of an external takeover. Amid the political and media battle over Sharia, the two quoted MNLA members rejected Ansar Dine's strict laws and harsh punishments before reinforcing their own movement. 

“It is as if they want us to dissolve into Ansar Dine,” Ag Assaleh warned. “That is unacceptable.” 

Speaking on behalf of leader Iyad Ag Ghaly, Moussa Ag Asherif tipped off their confident ambitions by describing Ansar Dine's political offer as a "take it or leave it" basis. The group seems convinced that it can ultimately co-opt the MNLA's independence movement into a full-blown Islamic state. If a multitude of reports are half credible, al-Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQIM) has already begun directing foreign recruits towards northern Mali to bulk up Ansar Dine's numbers. The MNLA responded by pressing for the formation of a national army which, like Azawad's political council, will not tolerate foreign elements. Ag Assarid says the MNLA agreed to an Islamic state "developed by their own imams and suited to local religious practices, not those from the outside." 

He added that the MNLA "is looking to Mauritania as a model." Coincidentally, parts of Mauritania are targeted for Ansar Dine and AQIM's regional Islamic state. 

The ongoing schism between the MNLA and Ansar Dine is dumping a large amount of friction into a murky environment. Developing a coherent response would be hectic enough with the benefit of a clear opponent, but the international community must now confront two different problems within the same space. Washington's response remains muted in the run-up to summer's presidential campaign, with no statements released by the Obama administration as of Tuesday night. Perhaps the West's public drive will be left to Europe, where French President Francois Hollande told the African Union and ECOWAS to, "go to the UN Security Council so that it finds a framework that allows stability to be restored in Mali and the wider Sahel." 

Paris is Washington's optimum partner due to its regional military capacities and vested interests, including French nationals kidnapped by AQIM. Conversely, any joint African-Western operation must include full-spectrum U.S. support in order to succeed, otherwise the mission is likely to protract beyond the AU and ECOWAS's own resources. The end result: observing the international community's thought process is no easier than interpreting the MNLA and Ansar Dine's competing strategies.

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