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Crisis in Mali: Implement and quickly exit

Mali has slipped into a total chaos after a coup toppled the democratic government in 2012 and was followed by the MNLA and the Islamic fundamentalist gaining control. French-led Mail troops have been trying to suppress the Tuareg-led rebellion which is now being dominated by Islamic fundamentalism. To counter it, an African-led force is also coming in to tackle the situation. But it seems all this will take some time until Mali achieves lasting peace. Yet, their entry strategy may be compelled by rise of fundamentalists, but they should also think about exit strategy not too late.


Following a UN Security Council Resolution 2085, which had been ratified in December, a West African force - African-led International Support Mission to Mali (Afisma) has started to arrive in Mali. It is expected to replace the French troops that had timely arrived in the conflict-torn area after a formal request by the Malian President as the African-led force was too slow to consolidate.

France however does not have a clear exit strategy and the arrival of West African forces – from Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, Cote’ d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone – could further complicate matters as they might have some old grievances  and may side with a particular community at a particular situation, if their mandate remains in ambiguity.

It must be noted that in the case of Afghanistan, the US had purposefully asked Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours to keep out, not allowing Afghanistan’s neighbors to send their troops, as it could have created further complications.

The situation in Mali has been heading towards a crisis ever since a coup led to the ouster of President Amandou Toumani Toure and that ended the 20-year old democratic tradition. The coup was followed by the rebel forces – the Tuaregs, under the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) taking control of the cities in northern Mali.

Within weeks fundamentalist groups – Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa formed a convenient alliance with the rebel forces that resulted in Mali heading towards a total chaos and leading to anarchy.

Another contributing factor was the influx of arms and armed men in Mali after the end of war in Libya.

Further, the Islamist forces wanted Mali to be ruled by Sharia law and even imposed it in major cities like Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. But, the crux of the problem is nationalist secession movement of the Tuareg people, which was later hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists.

The demand for self-determination of the Tuaregs for Azawad was largely ignored for years. But what has gained world attention is Islamic fundamentalism in Mali. Some have even termed the operation in Mali as a ‘war on terror’.

But only military means cannot lead to the end of the conflict. Ethnic, political and religious dynamics in Mali have to be taken into consideration while trying to resolve the crisis.

Critics have talked about French intervention being driven by resource interests. France in fact has important strategic and security interests in the region.  But it is not correct to think this as the sole reason for French intervention.

Malian army had been unable to withstand Tuareg advance in March and there is no reason to believe that they would have survived an offensive by the fundamentalists.

 An important consideration for the French is to think of its exit policy from Mali before hand, otherwise matters could complicate resulting in an ‘Afghanistan-like’ situation. The same holds for any other country sending its troops to Mali.

Over 200,000 people are believed to be internally displaced in Mali and around 140,000 are estimated to have fled over the borders, according to a report by the EU.

The EU has decided to establish a Training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali) to help the Malian armed forces to improve their military capacity. EU’s Sahel strategy also includes allocation of 660 Euros for the Sahel region.

International assistance is extremely important in such a situation as reclaiming northern Mali from the extremists is fundamental. There is also the threat of the conflict in Mali having consequences beyond its borders as was seen in the Algerian hostage crisis, which was linked to the French operation in Mali.

It is also true that the conflict will not end soon as the Tuaregs have long-standing grievances and the extremists are displaying their determination to hold on. However, recent reports say that Ansar Dine has split into two, showing factions within the militant groups.

A comprehensive resolution of the conflict is required, which not only calls for ceasing of fighting, but also disarming of the rebel forces, transfer of power in an interim government and finally seeking people’s mandate.

Malian people have come to treasure political participation as a key component of citizenship, therefore a legitimate government would have to be established after the situation is brought under control. Also, economic development of the entire country, including the north would do good for the people of Mali.