I just finished reading Anouar Boukhars paper for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace titled, “The Paranoid Neighbor: Algeria and the Conflict in Mali.” Boukhars offers the following findings.
1. Algeria’s sustained, cooperative, and sincere engagement in Mali is necessary. Algiers, critical to the success of conflict management and resolution in the region, is in a unique position to influence events in Mali.
2. Bolstering the political transition in Bamako should be a priority. Rushed military intervention without first stabilizing the regime in the south could disturb the precarious northern dynamics and have disastrous consequences. It must attempt to coordinate its actions with its neighbors.
3. Algeria should urge Iyad ag Ghali to sever his ties with AQIM. This would facilitate a political settlement with Bamako and help end the conflict.
4. Algiers should employ its military and counterterrorism capabilities along its southern border. Doing so would help prevent spillover of the conflict.
5. The United States should assist in rebuilding the Malian armed forces. Mali needs a disciplined army capable of stabilizing the south and credibly threatening the use of force in the north. The United States must engage in a way that is complementary rather than competitive to Algeria’s security and diplomatic initiatives.
Some disparate thoughts, praise and critiques:
1. This is a very useful primer on Algeria’s posture toward northern Mali, but there is nothing really new here. Boukhars has more or less woven together – quite skillfully – various perspectives from scholars like Wolfram Lacher, Judith Scheele and Alexis Arieff , and reports by organizations such as International Crisis Group into a coherent analysis. You should read it, but be sure to check out some of the oft-cited works in the footnotes as well.
2. The findings are straightforward and reasonable, but in some cases, obvious. I am particularly interested in the third finding because it implies that Algeria has a certain amount of sway with Iyad ag Ghali. Though ag Ghali does have connections with various elements in the Algerian regime, it is not obvious that these past (or current) connections translate into an Algerian ability to influence his behavior. I would love to hear more from Boukhars on this point. Additionally, I think analysts need to be careful not to overstate the significance of ag Ghali (Boukhars refers to his role in northern Mali as “dominant”). Serious questions remain regarding ag Ghali’s actual level of operational control, and it is not at all clear that “peeling away” ag Ghali will fundamentally alter the security dynamic in northern Mali. At this point, the mercurial Ansar Dine movement is more than just Iyad ag Ghali’s personal militia. If he changes his tune, will his fighters stay loyal to him, or will they be recruited or bought-off by other movements such as AQIM and MUJWA?
3. This piece is a nice contribution to an important conversation and to that end, I am flattered that Boukhars, a scholar whose CV is much more impressive and extensive than mine, saw fit to cite my writing on northern Mali and Algeria several times. Every journalist hopes his work becomes part of the discourse.
PS – Thanks to to Rida Lyammouri, who you can follow on twitter at @rmaghrebi for sending this paper my way.