(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 10, 2012
Regime Change Destabilises
THERE were never any shortages of guns in the
sparsely populated regions of North Africa and the
The dramatic turn of events was also facilitated
by a ham-handed military coup in
Observers of the region predict that other
countries in the region, like
Gaddafi had many reasons to get involved in the
affairs of his immediate neighbours like
The Tuaregs, who till recent times led a nomadic
life style, can be found settled in sizeable numbers in
In Gaddafi the minority Tuaregs found an ally as
well as a mentor.
Unwanted and hunted in post-Gaddafi Libya, the
Tuaregs, along with the other foreign fighters, melted away
with the sophisticated weapons they had acquired from the
Libyan armoury. Many of the Tuareg fighters were veterans of
the failed 2009 rebellion, led by Ibrahim Ag Bahanga. The
Tuareg leader had fled to Libya and had returned with his
heavily armed fighters after the fall of Gaddafi.
And now it is this group which is claiming credit
for the liberation of northern Mali. Other groups like the Al
Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are also trying to claim
credit for the military successes against the Malian army. An
Islamist rebel faction, Ansar Din (Defenders of the Faith),
has proclaimed Sharia law in the North. The group which is
alleged to have links with Al Qaeda has at the same time said
that it is against the creation of an independent state for
Tuaregs. The group claims that its demand is only for the
introduction of Sharia law in the whole of Mali. The MNLA has
now denounced the call for the introduction of Sharia law and
vowed to set up a secular state.
The Tuaregs had started fighting against the
government in Bamako soon after the French left the country in
the early sixties. After a relative lull, the Tuaregs rose up
against the rule of the recently ousted President Amoudu Toure
in 1990. Mediation by Gaddafi had helped douse the situation
in the last couple of years. Toure, a former general, had
seized power in the mid-eighties and had later won elections
in a democratic set-up. He had told a French paper in February
that Gaddafi had persuaded the Tuareg fighters in Mali to
disarm and reintegrate into Malian society. “His overthrow has
left a vacuum,” Toure conceded. The former Malian president
also revealed that he had warned “NATO and others of the
collateral effects of the Libyan crisis.” But he said that it
was of “no avail.”
The deteriorating military situation in the
North, coupled with the ultimatum given by the Economic
Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to the putschists to
restore democracy, made the coup leaders come to their senses.
Mali is a member of the grouping. In early April, they
returned back to the barracks. The speaker of the Malian
parliament, Dioncounda Traore, took over as interim president
and promised to go ahead with elections within 40-45 days, as
per the agreement signed between the military leaders and
ECOWAS. Traore, after taking over, also issued a warning to
the Tuareg rebels to withdraw from the towns they have seized
or face “total war.”
The ECOWAS may have to send in its troops to yet
another of its member states. In early April, there was
another military coup in a member state, Guinea-Bissau. The
Malian army, after the serious military reverses it has
suffered, is incapable of militarily tackling the rebels in
the North. It will also be difficult for the scheduled
elections to be held when half of the country is in the hands
of the northern rebels.
The French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, has
said that his country would provide logistical support to an
ECOWAS force in Mali. The former French president, Nicolas
Sarkozy, stated that it was to prevent a “terrorist or
Islamic” state emerging in northern Mali. ECOWAS officials
have confirmed that a military intervention may be on the
cards and that France and the US have offered military
assistance to “restore the territorial integrity” of Mali.
Algeria, which shares a border with Mali, while deploring the
Tuareg secessionist move, has warned against the dangers of
foreign intervention. The Algerian prime minister, Ahmed
Ouyahia, said that past and recent experiences have shown that
such interventions backfire badly, “now or six months later.”
He was of course alluding to the West’s intervention in Libya.
According to the UN, the fighting between the Malian army and
the Tuareg rebels since January this year has already
displaced 206,000 people.
During his last years in power, Gaddafi had
purchased huge amounts of weaponry from the western powers.
Gaddafi, fighting with his back against the wall, had warned
the West that forcible regime change in Libya would lead to an
Afghanistan like scenario in the region. In one of his last
interviews, he had said that his fight was against the Al
Qaeda. “We are fighting against Al Qaeda. Our war is against
the Qaeda,” he had kept on insisting. Weapons stolen from the
Libyan arsenal have been intercepted in distant Gaza.
Islamists of all hues have gained from the NATO
invasion of Libya. Within Libya itself, Abdelhakim Belhadj, a
former jihadist, is the military governor of Tripoli. He has
been however unsuccessful so far in bringing the various
militias jostling for control of the capital city to heel.
Tripoli, like the rest of the country, is fast spiralling into
chaos. In the south of the country, Arab militias are
attacking non-Arab ethnic groups, disparaging them as “Black
Africans.” Regime change in Libya has opened a can of worms.
Ethnic strife seems to be spreading like bushfire in the Sahel
and could threaten the region beyond.