Who is falling into whose trap in Azawad?

Secular MNLA undergoes an internal debate on how to secure a secular Azawad vis-à-vis Ansar Dine · The Islamists have tripled their troops thanks to the recruitment of militants · Several voices within MNLA reject any agreement with Ansar Dine, while others argue that current circumstances almost force the secular movement to reach a pact with Islamists

After declaring independence on April 6th, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA, French acronym) stated that its goal was to create a multiethnic (Tuareg, Peul, Songhay) and secular country in the whole of northern Mali. By then, Azawad was already only partially in the hands of MNLA fighters, other areas being controlled by militants of Islamist movement Ansar Dine. At the beginning, MNLA refused to collaborate with Ansar Dine, but later it became known that both movements were negotiating an agreement that was officially announced on May 27th: MNLA and Ansar Dine were to merge into one single, Azawadian Islamic organization. Only a few days later was it known that the agreement had been broken, since MNLA did not accept to apply sharia law in Azawad -the main goal of Ansar Dine.

Nationalia has learned from sources very familiar with the matter that there is currently an intense struggle within MNLA on the strategy that should be followed vis-à-vis Ansar Dine. Some members of MNLA are clearly advocating to put a end to any kind of collaboration with this Al-Qaida-linked Islamist organization, but some others are willing to reach a deal with them. Why?

Some answers may emerge from the explanations by Siwel agency, that quotes an MNLA member in Gao as saying that Ansar Dine has been able to triple its troops on the ground during last weeks thanks to the recruitment of Islamist militants coming from Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan and Nigeria. In the meanwhile, MNLA suffers from fuel shortages and it even feels compelled to sell its own vehicles in order to raise some money. The MNLA member quoted by Siwel says that this is the real reason why a faction within the movement thinks that it is unavoidable to reach an agreement with Ansar Dine: maybe the alternative to that is to be wiped out from Azawad.

MNLA leaders who refuse to join Ansar Dine

Some MNLA leaders have vehemently rejected an alliance with Ansar Dine during the last days in several interviews with local media. MNLA commissary for communication Mossa Ag Attaher is one of the leading voices in this respect: "Applying the Sharia and Arabizing our people are grave violations of our culture and of our identity", he says. MNLA political wing spokesman Hama Ag Mahmoud has explained that the rapprochement of his movement to Ansar Dine was a "temporary strategy" and that under no circumstances could both organizations agree on a longstanding alliance. And he insists on the idea that Tuaregs are the most capable people in the region to stop Islamists.

In a similar way, MNLA political bureau member Magdi Ag Bohada considers that any MNLA-Ansar Dine alliance "goes against nature". But in his words there is also a hint about what could be happening: "While I wait [for the alliance with Ansar Dine to be ruled out], I suspend all political activity within the MNLA and call on all activists, fighters, managers, women and youth of Azawad to join my call to continue the fight for freedom in Azawad as a part of its ancestral values, as opposed to the obscurantist ideologies advocated by Ansar Dine and its allies." Has Ag Bohada realized that, within the leading ranks of MNLA, those supporting the agreement with the Islamists have now far more influence than they used to have only a couple of months ago?