Brig Gen (retd) Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan, Phd in International Relations, author of a book and member of International institute IFIMES
The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. BrigGen (Ret) Muhammad Aslam Khan Niazi, PhD, (Pakistan), member of the IFIMES International Institute, has analysed the posturing threat in Sahel Region of Africa. His article entitled “Africa Destined to Bleed Yet More! Any Remedy?” is here published in its entirety.
Africa Destined to Bleed Yet More! Any Remedy?
“...but I tell you...out of this Nettle, Danger, we pluck this flower, Safety.”
African continent, characterized by its geopolitical and geo-economics significance does not escape observers’ focus with its 54 nations, having cumulative fifth world largest economy, next to US, China, Japan and India. While ten fastest of the developing economies are located in Africa, the continent is, nevertheless, plagued by multiple paradoxes of threatening consequences. The state upheavals, insurgency, chronic human rights violations, child wars, dripping poverty, drugs trafficking, ethnic and ideological massacres eclipse its peace and stability potentials. “... way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst”, said Thomas Hardy. In modern era, perhaps it fits well on Sahel Region. Human dignity to the African masses stands denied, a few islands of exception notwithstanding.
Sahel Region lies between the latitudes 120 N and 200 N. The two latitudes run through parts of, from the east, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia. Possibly the recent flurry of worries would stand substantiated a bit more if we turn the pages of history for a while. Some old sources depict Sahel region historically a grey zone where peace and stability struggled to survive gaspingly between competing empires. In globalized world politics, the region has become more relevant because of its emergence as a menacing hotbed of organised crimes sprouting from its abject poverty. The scenario directly threatens the prosperous regions of Europe/Eurasian continents through a short hop across the Mediterranean. Like Cicero, early Roman Republic, expressing its anguish against high-sea pirates; can we label these crime perpetrators as enemies of human race? Such consensus would be easy to achieve only if international community musters collective will to render collective response to the conflicts.
The implicit and explicit narrative to counter brief but deadly inventory of threats directed against the African masses as well as Mediterranean shores would be phase two of the response. The catastrophe, in fact, has already festered within Sahel Region as phase one of the existential threats. Hence, assessing the task and pre-empting the challenges would certainly be prudent strategy than waiting for knock by the monster. The print and electronic media has seen particular hype in delineating the threat trajectory, emanating from Sahel region. Prevailing destabilizing environments surface in nutshell as the bed-rock of the menace. Sahel region has remained marred by the extensive governance deficit that exacerbated the miseries of masses over decades. Prolonged absence of writ of states prompted the clans to coalesce inwardly to seek added security and settle scores with their foes. The tendency led to formation of organized armed militias to redress their genuine or perceived grievances. Warlords flourished, at times out-weighing military capabilities of the so called legitimate native regimes.
The region has also become heaven for the drug traffickers who operate with impunity through Colombian-Sahelian-Eurasian cartels’ alliance. Illicit money enables terror gangs to flourish. Large segments of public, caught in the cross fire, attempts to flee massacre and poverty. It results in ‘boat-loads’ of irregular immigrants on European shores with dubious, if not criminal dossiers. Energy reserves and precious metals sites are subject of severe contention from within and without. While Africa moans, theatre of war without boundaries has also emerged in this region. Market states of consents are also grappling with transnational actors, inclined to wreak havoc as the Sahelian arena presents a perfect breeding ground for militants. There will be no clear victors and hence no conventional victory parades but the one staying the course would be winner, argued Philip Bobbitt. The region, in the wake of recent conflicts in Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa, is likely to draw more debate than ever. The fact that it is in the cusp of crises would be hard to deny. Elaborate strategies, modes and magnitudes to rescue it from the kind of a tragedy emerge as daunting questions. Here the issue has been approached from Atlantic alliance perspective.
Inspirations and Inhibitions
US, Europe fraternity have its military capability harnessed by NATO that performed operationaltask in Afghanistan in unison. US also has its dedicated forces ‘command’ for Africa as well. Though there is no dearth of military muscle, US and Europe have to be on same page while keeping UN on board. Concurrently, understanding among P-5 would be a geopolitical prerequisite to help Sahel region manage its threats. Model interventions on humanitarian ground in Libya and recent French military’s venture into Mali did draw some critique by the quarters that had reasons to sound their dissent. The divergent approaches manifested themselves all too glaring in the context of Syrian crisis. In predominantly Muslim world, spanning over Sahel from 20-90 percent of various countries’ population, Islamic Maghreb and adjoining Middle East, some views, even shared by certain Western think tanks, are emerging to the contrary. The talk of creating a threat-bogey by the powers that are inclined to trample Africa through resource wars is becoming conspicuously shrilling. The patterns of recent conflicts have rendered the opponents strong arguments that (according to them) overblown crises are in fact the pretext to grab African assets. At the same time, they argue that under the hoax of Al-Qaeda and a contrived war on terror, another predominantly Muslim region would be targeted for achieving the ends that have no relevance to the pretexts. US, in effort to enforce its values, has drawn considerable volley of flak. It faces such allegations as crystallizing and aggravating the ongoing (rich) North-South (poor) dilemma, reviving the crusades and above all, attempting to maintain hegemonic imperium. Even some credible western sources share such fears.
Sahel region however, sinking in a quagmire, bears threat of impending human catastrophe in the fold. It calls for liquidating the menace in a decisive manner for humanity sake, disregard to the obtaining geo-politics, for and against arguments. Question is how to do it while eliminating the threat and at the same time, maintaining universal credibility as well?
Response Blueprint, Preparatory Posture
Employing military methodology, precisely assess the depth and magnitude of threat. A threat-prong aims inwardly at Sahelian states. International community, with larger input from trans-Atlantic alliance, should firm up Sahelian institutions’ functional capacities. Place their militaries’ sanitisation and modernisation at top of the agenda. Through extensive consultations, bring all Sahelian states and their immediate neighbours on board about inevitability of mustering collective response to achieve sustainable peace. Trans-Atlantic community should resort to diplomatic surge to seek concert within and of all other stake holders from UN platform. Strategic effort must be supported by strategic consensus. Second threat-prong aims outwardly at Europe, particularly its coastal states, Balkans and those located on southern and south-eastern periphery. They need to up the ante. Thwart arms, human smugglers and drug barons’ attempts of reaping illicit bonanza. Adopt passive measures like enforcing stringent laws, surveillance, sweep and search at Greece, Turkish, Bulgarian and Serbian border entry points to deter them.
Establish Sahelian Command Centre (SCC), manned by the constituent states military experts and UN observers’ team, to transmit real time intelligence, afforded by NATO, US African Command or any of P-5, to the military commands of the regional states. Enable them to locate, interdict and possibly destroy the carriers, collaborators or perpetrators of multifaceted organised crimes. The preparatory effort should be sanctioned by UN for a decade but subject to evaluation and performance audit every three years. When the Sahel situation stabilizes, extend SCC role to other African countries like Nigeria and Algeria to enable their governments to restore their writs, encouraging them at the same time to address their discordant root causes. Concurrently, prompt the states to achieve demonstrable bench marks on way to democracy that draws succour from absolute justice, free of shackles of class, creed, culture and faiths. Similar to provisions of accountability of crime against humanity, evolve a universal set up like ICJ, to deal with stinking corrupt rulers (Ministers, Prime Ministers and Presidents) anywhere in the world who remain out of the fragile net of respective states accountability apparatuses. UN charter should recognize corruption as a crime against humanity.
Execution Posture, Create and Deploy Military Punch
The preparatory phase is likely to come across some hiccups. SCC would also become effective gradually after coordinating and planting its tentacles with militaries of the host states. In the meantime, militaries of the region could be in reorganisation and restructuring phase. Hence pool up adequate military capability to assist SCC forthwith until it is capable of embracing the entire mission of war against rogue gangs with the help of native militaries.
Constitute a division size force under UN banner, requisitioned from African as well as Middle Eastern and South Asian countries having proven professional forces system. Designate it as UN Quick Reaction Force (UNQRF). Dominate at least three hotspots by virtue of its tactical positioning to straddle the entire Sahel region. Each segment of UNQRF’s conduct of war effort should mutually reinforce others in impact. Integral mobility would enable them to react fast and maintain an edge over the militant gangs and smugglers. Decision, whether UNQRF would need any additional reserve component, say of brigade size troops, should be made contingent upon the final assessment of the magnitude of threat. Commanders’ preference should focus on the desirability of creating an integral composite reserve within each of three battle groups of UNQRF to afford them response flexibility for unforeseen contingencies.
NATO and US African Command must not commit any ground troops. Instead tasks like reconnaissance, coastal surveillance, locate and destroy missions by air combat patrols in support of UNQRF should be assigned to them. For timely response, the region’s air bases and others on the periphery should facilitate air support missions. Invite other powers like Russia, China, Egypt, Israel, India, Pakistan, Australia and Indonesia to share the burden of Atlantic alliance’s material resources needed for sustained air operations. Command responsibility for the conduct of all air operations must be vested in the component that dominates the entire range of operations. More likely it would be US African Command. SCC and UNQRF would be responsible to UN for updating it through independent and exclusive periodic briefings.
It would take Herculean diplomatic effort to evolve consensus and execute the proposition but it would be economical, legitimate, non-partisan, quelling the critics and having silver linings to meet the challenges of Sahel.
Ljubljana, March 11, 2013