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Another Afghanistan Could Be Averted

By Abdifatah Ismail



Residents in Mogadishu go about their business with out fear for the first time in sixteen years, thanks to the Union of Islamic Courts, an Islamist movement that toppled the merciless warlords in control of the capital since the ouster of the late dictator, Siad Barre, in 1991.


Amid a worldwide concern about possible emergence of Taliban like rule in Somalia, the Islamists carry on to consolidate their power with relative ease as private and clan militias continue to hand over their weapons and ordinary citizens, in dire need of law and order, across the southern provinces welcome them with open arms.


The international community is cautious of hasty conclusions about the new movement’s intentions. So far the United States is the only country that ruled out of dealing with the Islamists as George Bush, the State House occupant, considers some of their leaders as terrorists.


Washington is believed to be backing again the defeated secular warlords currently regrouping in Baidoa as well as some countries in the region to quell this public driven revolt.


Ethiopia has already hinted at moving in Somalia if its national security is threatened. The international media has reported movement of Ethiopian forces in and out of the villages along the border and at timer further inside.


Observers predict an all out war between Islamists and US backed allies if the Islamists attempt to oust Abdilahi Yusuf, the exile inaugurated Somali head of state.   


Earlier, foreign intervention in Somalia failed after the United States sent in over 20,000 heavily armed forces for humanitarian purposes only to be withdrawn a year later after local militias led by Gen Mohamed Farah Aideed defeated them, dragging elite soldiers in the dusty streets of Mogadishu, an image that drew a wrath from the American public.


Since the withdrawal of the American and the United Nations peacekeepers, the number of militia groups in the country has doubled, Islamists being the least popular. Surprisingly, in less than a month, their power has increased significantly after CIA backed warlords waged a war against them, winning them a widespread public support.


On several occasions, Yusuf called on the Islamist militias to surrender their weapons to the government, a simplistic demand met with a swift rejection.


As a result, Yusuf sped up his proposal that foreign forces should come into the country to pacify the situation, a controversial request endorsed by the African Union.


Many African countries are, however, cautious of deploying their soldiers, fearing avowed resistance by the Islamists. Uganda has already made it clear that it will not participate in this mission.


Pressure is mounting on Yusuf to come to the negotiation table. In a meeting on the Somali crisis on Tuesday, the Somali Contact Group, primarily comprising the European Union and the US, called on him to attend the peace talks.


His own government is also split on whether to attend the Khartoum talks. The speaker of parliament was categorical about the lawmakers’ desire to send delegates to the talks if the government fails to do so.


However, unlike the unexpected quick understanding between the two sides in the preliminary June talks, future negotiations are likely to be much thornier.


Discussions in the previous talks revolved around the two side’s recognition of each other. The TFG accepted the UIC as a new political force where as the UIC recognized the TFG as the central government of the country. Generally this has been a positive development.


The forthcoming talks are likely to center on a power sharing mechanism. This is where the problem lies. President Yusuf, with the backing of Ethiopia, is not prepared to share his government considerably with the Islamists.


On their part, the Islamists may not be satisfied with any thing less than a substantial quota in governmental positions, including the clan based parliament - formed in the neighboring Kenya three years ago - temporarily sitting in Baidoa 200km North West of the capital.


Many people are doubtful of the prospect of satisfactory outcome from these talks unless the two sides display a solemn sacrifice, a subtlety not often known for most Somalis. Thirteen reconciliation conferences have earlier failed and this one may follow suit.


Besides, the forthcoming talks will likely be meddled by foreign forces, most notably America and Ethiopia on the one hand, and Egypt and Sudan on the other.


The former two are interested in making sure that the Islamists don’t get the upper hand in any power sharing arrangement as they deem the Islamists a threat to their national securities.


The latter duo are interested in bringing about a powerful Somali government capable of preventing Ethiopia, which intends to make large scale water catchments in the source of the Blue Nile, from blocking substantial water from going to their respective nations.


As evident from here, the interests at stake are far more than what could easily be solved hence belittling each other will only exacerbate the already fragile situation. 


Thus far, the Islamists are on the right direction in their dealing with Baidoa but seem to have miscalculated the seriousness of Washington about terrorism and those it alleges to have links with Al Qaeda, by naming Dahir Aways, sought by the American anti terror agencies, as the head of their council.


This may have a serious implication on the peace process in Somalia as Bush is prepared to go an extra mile in his war against terror.


Another invasion of Somalia by joint forces comprising America and Ethiopia is highly possible if the Islamists insist to include the likes of Aways in their structure.


The strategy behind the appointment of Aways as the head of the Shura Council was probably that he was the most prominent radical cleric competent enough to rally the support of Haber Gidir, the most armed Hawiye clan, behind the Islamic Courts.


Notwithstanding the essence of this strategy, internationally this move pits the west against the Islamists, attracting unprecedented hostilities from the US led allies that include Ethiopia.


One way that pending hostilities could possibly be averted is the allies to realize that the Islamists are a political reality, here to stay, and the Islamist to bear in mind that the allies could jeopardize their successes.


If this kind of preliminary acknowledgement is established, a more comprehensive agreement that could secure allies an anti terror deal and give Islamists a lion’s share in the government could follow. In this way, a win-win situation could be realized for both sides without the making of another Afghanistan.


In fact the Islamists have some thing to offer which warlords didn’t; a unified front to talk to, sparing the world, from the unpredictable and ever changing demands of the warlords.


A golden chance for stability in Somalia presented itself in the form of extremism, but this extremism is just a face value. The bigger picture is the beginning of a new era of peace.


Abdifatah Ismail

Cape Town, RSA

[email protected]


The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"



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