Washington / Morocco News Board -- In an interview with French television channel TV5, Morocco’s Prime Minister, Abdelillah Benkirane, stated, “Algeria does not want that Morocco intervenes in Mali, I don't know why... ». Mr. Benkirane is either sarcastic or clueless. Regardless, Morocco’s absence in Mali is inexplicable and inexcusable. Calls from the Malian government and different Tuareg movements for a more active Moroccan diplomacy in resolving the crisis in the North went perplexingly unheeded.
Counterinsurgency lessons from Afghanistan and Yemen have shown that the secret to winning rests on finding dependable and capable local groups that can assist in securing territories for the long run. French and Malian troops will perpetually struggle in securing Northern Mali unless they obtain the support of local Touareg groups including the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). The coalition forces’ failure to secure parts of Afghanistan outside Kabul is due in large part to the weakness and unreliability of the Afghan National Army, while the American relative success in Yemen is credited to local tribes assisting foreign troupes in fighting Al-Qaeda. MNLA forces are the military answer to securing Northern Mali. France is making a strategic error by selling the Touareg cause to secure Algeria’s support for its mission in Mali. By refusing to address the legitimate demands of the Touregs and allying itself with Algeria, France is turning the locals in the North against its operation; and thus making its military’s job harder and driving religious Tuaregs to join Al-Qaeda affiliates.
Instead of coddling the Algerian anti-Touareg position, France should encourage the Mali government to compromise with the MNLA and other secular Touareg groups. The failure to secure local support will spell trouble for French interests in the Sahel and endanger the very existence of the Malian state.
By ignoring protests from the Touareg elders and turning a blind eye to extrajudicial killings against ethnic Arabs in the North, France is playing into the hands of the Algerian government. Today, under the French intervention, the Malian society has become polarized between Northern and Southern. France and Algeria will eventually have to deal with the intended consequences of such shortsighted approach. In fact, at the end of the day, The Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb will be, without a doubt, the winner in Northern Mali.
In spite of Algeria’s stealth campaigns to discredit Morocco's efforts as attempts by Rabat to score point against Algiers in their conflict over the Western Sahara, Morocco’s should forge ahead with diplomatic plans to put an end to the bloodshed in Mali. The death of 25 Chadian troops, the ongoing fighting between the Franco-Malian forces and members of armed groups on the Algerian borders and the disturbing racially motivated revenge killings of Touareg and Arabs underline the need for an outside mediator.
Although the conflict in Mali is depicted as a war on Islamist groups that took over the northern part of the country, the Touareg rebellion is at the heart of the Malian crisis and the key to resolving it. As such, the Moroccan diplomacy should propose a resolution to this conflict based on a marriage of the Touareg and Arab population’s demands for local self-rule with the right of the Malian state to protect its territorial integrity.
Despite French Military intervention and Algerian counterproductive maneuvers, Morocco remains in a unique position to assist the Malian state and help Paris achieve a fair and durable solution to the crisis. Facing a separatist movement of its own and harboring a long tradition of historic and religious relations with Malians of all ethnic backgrounds, the Kingdom is well suited to propose resolutions that will gain the confidence of both Touareg rebels and the Malian government.
The government of Bamako remains weary of Algeria’s intentions in the region. The cozy relationship between the Algerian military and the terror group Ansar Eddine and Algeria’s history of backing certain Touareg movements spoiled Algerian diplomatic role in the Sahel. For its part the MNLA, the chief Touareg movement, consider Algeria an obstacle to achieving local autonomy in the Azawad, since the Algerian government is facing social tension in the South where young Saharan in the Provinces of Ouargla et Laghouat have been protesting their living conditions.
France and Mali need an honest broker that commands the trust of all parties. Morocco is that negotiator; unfortunately, Rabat remains unengaged despite the obvious positive diplomatic outcomes of such undertaking.