The French-led Western intervention in Mali, which was (is) being justified in the name of fighting the ‘Islamic fundamentalists’, displays a usual pattern of direct and indirect Western interventions in different countries since the end of the second World War.
Apart from political and strategic factors, one of the most pertinent factors has almost always been economic, mostly related to the target countries’ natural resources. For instance, in the case of Iran (1953), it was oil; in the case of Guatemala (1954), it was the issue of the nationalization of the US’s United Fruit Company’s land; in the case of Egypt (1956), it was the Suez Canal; in the case of Cuba (1961); it was the nationalization by the Cuban government of the US’s business, banks, and other stakes; in the case of the Congo (1961), it was its huge reservoirs of natural resources (diamonds and copper); in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan (2002-03), it was again oil and access to the Eurasian corridor of energy reserves respectively.
Current western interventions such as in Libya and Syria, too, have to be understood in the same context and construed in terms of continuation of this policy. But there are some significant differences between the pre and post 9/11 interventions. For example, above mentioned (pre 9/11) interventions were mostly made in the name of “democracy”, “human rights”, “restoration of peace” etc.; however, in the case of Afghanistan, the world witnessed the West raising a new slogan of the ‘global War on Terror’, grim realities of which are now well known not only in the US but in the entire world. Intervention in Mali, too, has been legitimized in the name of fighting the fundamentalist forces; however, it is also deeply linked with the resources not only of Mali but of the region around it.
It is for this reason that we need to understand the latent reality of this twenty-first century slogan of the West in order to better understand the related intricate mechanisms of the US’s geo-politics.
Although Mali is a very significant country in terms of resource potential and geographical location, and the Western states, especially the US, have long been supporting the regime (which was overthrown) politically and militarily. However, the casus-belli of the current conflict is not the natural resources of Mali and the region, but the rising insurgency there and the potential danger to the West of losing this important state to the “Jihadists”, especially in the wake of a series of political changes occurring in North-Africa and the Middle East (“Arab Spring”).
The West, having already lost some of its allied regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, and in the wake of rapid advances of insurgents in Mali, was left with no other option but to strike the “Jihadists” to secure their interests. But who are these “Jihadists”? Where have they come from and what has led them raise arms against the Malian government? (Or against the Western exploitation?) These are the pertinent questions which need some explanation to grasp the actual ground realities.
Notwithstanding Mali’s geo-economic and geographical significance for the West, the latter, especially the US, has been trying to keep the African region unstable since the Bay of Pigs (1961) fiasco. However, the tactics of penetration have changed over the years from provoking the masses against the incumbent Government to ‘fabricating terrorism’ in order to justify the need for aiding and militarizing the US ‘friendly’ regimes.
The US, along with other African countries especially Algeria, has been creating such conditions in Mali since 2003, whereby such a scenario could be painted as ‘exposing’ the terrorist organizations’ penetration in the Sahara-Sahel, followed by the Pentagon’s production of a series of maps of this region, declaring it a ‘Terror Zone’ or ‘Terror-Corridor.’
On the other hand, a study of the terrorist incidents (The Dying Sahara: 2103) occurring across the region exposes that only a few terrorist incidents were real, while the vast majority were fabricated and orchestrated by US operatives along with their regional counterparts.
We can have an example of such fabricated incidents of terrorism by looking at one prominent case that gained much coverage in Mali and Algeria. In July 2005, Tuareg youths were blamed for riots in the southern Algerian city of Tamanrasset, setting ablaze some 40 government and commercial buildings. However, it was finally proven in court that the riots and arson attacks had been led by the Algerian ‘agents’ themselves.
Although the matter was settled in Mali and Algeria, the aim of the US and its allies did not go unachieved. They were able to translate this incident into an example of terrorist penetration—hence the US’s Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative and the Pentagon’s almost concurrent joint military exercises (Operation Flintlock) across the Sahara that paved the way for long term military presence of the US in the region.
The current military intervention in Mali is an offshoot of the above explained policy of securing deep penetration in Africa. But we cannot understand this resource-grab venture of the West without also first understanding the truth of the current well-trumpeted slogan of the West about the presence of terrorist organizations in Mali. To begin with, we should give due recognition to the fact that it is not always possible to categorize every armed resistance as ‘terrorism’; for, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and this is quite relevant to Mali, where, apart from above cited policy of the US, socio-economic and political backwardness of the Tuaregs is one of the main reasons behind current insurgency.
It should be kept in mind that Tuaregs’ insurgency is not something new. As a matter of fact, they have been struggling to exercise the right of self-determination since the outset of the twentieth-century, which continued even after Mali got independence in 1960. Nor can we ignore those political and external factors which drive a group of persons to violently oppose the government. Understanding these factors is also relevant to the case of Mali.
According to some of the very credible published material in the Western media, militancy in Mali is a direct result of the US and its allies’ own policies. For example, Jeremy Kennan (Professor at University of London) reported in his article of December 1, 2012 about the shadowy ties that link the ‘fundamentalist forces’ across the North Africa to Algeria, the U.S. and the Gulf states. The article was titled “How Washington helped foster the Islamist uprising in Mali”, in which he writes that the ‘catastrophe now being played out in Mali is the inevitable outcome of the way in which the Global War on Terror has been inserted into the Sahara-Sahel by the U.S., in concert with Algerian intelligence operatives, since 2002.’
It is also a fact that the US has long been involved in militarizing a number of West African countries in order to establish its own hegemony over the resource-rich but poor African countries. Vast expenditures on militarization (500-600 million US dollars in last four years) in the wake of rampant poverty and joblessness did pave the way for escalation in violently resisting the incumbent government, leading to its eventual overthrow. This is what gives birth to armed resistant movements like the Tuaregs’ in Mali, who have been, on occasions deliberately provoked since 2003 into raising arms—hence justification for Mali’s militarization, as well as current intervention.
Similarly, according to a New York Times report (January 13, 2013), which uncovers the ‘truth’ about the ‘presence’ of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali, much of the instability in Mali is a direct outcome of the US led NATO intervention in Libya. The report highlights a very crucial fact of the mechanisms of the US’ geo-politics. According to the said report, it was the (US-backed) “heavily armed, battle-hardened Islamist fighters who returned from combat in Libya and played the precipitating role in the collapse of the US-supported central government in Mali.”
Similarly, according to a report of the Guardian (January 22, 2103), Al-Qaeda itself does not as such exist in Mali. As a matter of fact, the so-called AQIM is a successor of an Algerian Islamist group, (a product of Algerian civil war) which is only using the brand “al-Qaeda”, and which is further being imposed by the West for propaganda. This militant group was smashed by the Algerian authorities, and most of its leadership is, in fact, Algerian. And, now after having been ousted from Mali, they are again challenging the Algerian government.
And, as a matter of fact, it was neither AQIM nor the Tuaregs, but the US trained military officers of the Malian army, who actually overthrew the Malian government because of the latter’s inability to address the Tuareg problem, leading to eventual instability and intervention of the West. The so-called defection of the Malian army can also be explained with reference to the US led intervention in Libya when we take into the fact that Tuaregs—who traditionally hailed from northern Mali—made up a large portion of his army, and when Gaddafi was ejected from power, they returned to their homeland and joined the local armed resistance. Thus intervention in Libya precipitated the Malian crisis, the latter being the consequence of the former as acknowledged by the United Kingdom’s current Foreign Secretary William Hague himself.
These pertinent facts highlight that the basic and immediate reason for the Western intervention in Mail is not “terrorism”, but the overthrow of a ‘US friendly’ regime and the possible danger of losing access to the Malian and the adjacent states’ reservoirs of natural resources. In other words, the west is once again at war, not with terrorists, but with the very forces that it trained, funded and armed to achieve its objectives.
The War is thus not merely about fighting terrorism out (Western perspective), or fighting the Western imperialists out (insurgents’ perceptive), it is equally about who controls the resources of Mali and Mali itself. There is no real “terrorism” as defined by the West. The current insurgency is a combination of Tuaregs, the Malian army’s defected groups, and the US trained and armed resistant groups which previously operated in Libya under the US’ ‘auspices’.
Although the West apparently seems to have succeeded in containing the rapid advances of the insurgents, Mali is still far from stable, and the Malian military is still not in any position to check the return of the “Jihadists,” who are now being reported to have regrouped in Libya, Nigeria, and Algeria, clearly a sign of regional instability and unrest providing the West with an ‘excuse’ for stationing its forces and establishing its air bases in Mali and in the region.
The conflict has died out temporarily only to re-surface again. It is not over, and it cannot be eradicated until its root causes are addressed. As long as the West continues to exploit resources of these states, and as long as internal problems like poverty, corruption, and discrimination against a community persist, unrest will continue to prevail and danger of war would continue to loom large over Mali and the Sahara-Sahel region, its grave consequences being unheeded by the West.
UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming has already warned that “in the near future there could be up to 300,000 people additionally displaced inside Mali, and over 400,000 additionally displaced in the neighbouring countries.” There is no doubt that as a consequence of such flagrant oppression, resulting human miseries, and the reported atrocities of the French military and their protégée the US-trained Malian Army troops, the violent reaction of the oppressed will spread far and wide.
Unfortunately, however, the “liberal” states of the West are not paying heed to this extremely dangerous ‘mass human hatred’ which is emerging as a by-product of their military interventions, which they would later on again term as “terrorism” and “fundamentalism”—hence, more conflict and more human misery.