of the week
Somalia: US again backs the wrong horse
There is not a country where superpower involvement
is absent. That is obviously one of the traits of a superpower.
Even in countries like Iran with whom the United States has no diplomatic
relations, the superpower gets involved through proxies or groups
opposed to the regime. But in countries where the United States
plays a larger-than-life role, either by diplomatic or military
means, the United States keeps on doing the same mistake. It backs
the wrong horse in a conflict.
Somalia has been without a government since 1991, when President
Barre was ousted and the nation was plunged into lawlessness
and clan warfare. After several failed bids to restore order,
a new peace deal has renewed hopes.
Click through this guide to see the challenges Somalia faces.
When the people of Iran were rallying behind Ayatollah
Rohollah Khomeini during the Islamic Revolution in the late 1970s,
the United States tried its best to protect the unpopular Shah.
Before that in Vietnam, too, it was trying to protect the US-installed
puppet regime which the majority of the Vietnamese did not recognize.
The result of siding with the unpopular regime and earning the wrath
of the masses was un-ceremonial withdrawal from these countries.
If these were examples from the past, the present also shows that
the United States has not learnt any lessons from its sad experience.
In many Arab countries, the United States is covertly or overtly
propping up despots and monarchs who have little popular support.
In recent weeks, events in Somalia show that the
United States backed the wrong horse in the bloody power struggle
that had left this African nation without a proper government for
nearly 15 years. It supported various war lords while ignoring the
people's desire to rally behind a force that was capable of uniting
its various feuding factions.
Some six months ago, CNN showed a special feature
on Somalia. The underlying theme of the programme was the United
States war on terror. The programme was presented with the reporter
accompanied by a US military officer taking a ride on a US military
plane. The plane was flying low over Somali airspace and the military
officer was showing the areas where different warlords were in control.
This was at a time when nobody knew who was governing Somalia. The
military officer boasted of keeping Somalia under surveillance and
claimed that the situation was under control-meaning everything
was going well for the United States in Somalia, a country from
which it beat a hasty retreat in the early 1990s after the American
people saw a barbaric scene of Somali gunmen dragging the body of
a pilot of a downed US aircraft.
Smarting over the humiliation, some hawks in the
Bush administration felt that the United States had a score to settle
with in Somalia. In the wake of the 9/11 attack on the United States,
there were moves to bring Somalia also into the larger picture of
terrorism. Many believed that Somalia would be targeted after Afghanistan.
But fortunately, Somalia did not have a government and the United
States did not have an enemy in person -- like Osama bin Laden or
Saddam Hussein - in Somalia.
A Wall Street Journal report on December 12, 2001
quoted a US intelligence review as concluding that there was a small
al-Qaeda presence in Somalia that could be "rooted out with
limited operation by US forces or allies".
A Somali Islamic group called Al Itthihad al Islamiya
was placed on the US list of terrorist organizations and accused
of having links with al-Qaeda. It was believed then that al-Qaeda
and Taleban fighters fleeing Afghanistan in the face of unrelenting
US bombardment would sneak into Somalia. An interdiction force of
30 to 40 US naval ships, submarines and P-3 aircraft backed by Australian,
Italian, British and Canadian craft patrolled the sea and airspace
of Somalia with the help of the neigbouring Ethiopia to prevent
al-Qaeda members from seeking refuge in the war-torn African country.
However, the so-called coalition forces found no
evidence to prove that al-Qaeda had links with Somali factions or
it operated a cell in Somalia.
But it now appears that the US had been misled by the Ethiopian
government, which had a vested interest in Somalia over a territorial
dispute, and dollar-hungry warlords into believing that al-Qaeda
had a presence in Somalia, which had been under foreign occupation
-British, French and Italian - during much of the 19th and 20th
centuries. Thus began the United States' new liaison with the warlords
who grew richer by the day with US tax-payers money.
The United State's intervention in Somalia dates
back to the Cold War days. Somalia turned to the United States when
the Soviet Union abandoned it and backed Ethiopia during the 1964
war between the two African nations.
In 1992, when some 300,000 Somalis died of famine and civil war,
the United States led an international force - with UN approval,
of course - to provide humanitarian assistance. But it soon found
itself being drawn into the civil war which saw President Mohammed
Siad Barre being ousted. The US troops that came to help distribute
food aid to the famine stricken nation was fighting General Farah
The shooting down of the US aircraft by Aidid's
men prompted President Bill Clinton to withdraw US troops. He probably
did not want to get embroiled in a Vietnam or Lebanon-like situation.
From then onwards, Somalia did not have a proper
government. Different warlords ruled different parts of the country.
It was only in 2000 that Somali factions met in Djibouti to establish
a national charter or an interim constitution and appoint a president.
Abdikassam Salad Hassan, an aide of Said Barre, was elected president
but a number or warlords refused to recognize the new government.
Another government-making effort was undertaken in 2002 with neighbouring
Kenya facilitating. But fighting continued till 2004 when a Somali
parliament was convened in Kenya and Abdullah Yusuf Ahmed was elected
But the problem with Somalia was it had different
governments. It was against this backdrop that the people started
to rally behind the Islamists, known as Islamic courts. The Union
of Islamic Courts which defeated warlord after warlord in its march
towards the capital, Mogadishu, is not like the Taleban. This would
have probably disappointed those who are prosecuting the war on
terror and those who are promoting Islamophobia in the West. Leaders
of the Somali Islamic Court which now controls much of Somalia have
said that their task was not to impose Shariah law on the people
and assured that Somalia would not be a haven for extremists.
On Friday, the Islamic Court and the interim government
of Abdullah Yusuf Ahmed signed a peace deal in Sudan agreeing to
recognize each other and stop fighting.
Meanwhile, another factor that was uniting the
Somalis is their common hatred of Ethiopia which the Somali people
accuse of occupying what they regard as Somali territory and of
interfering in Somali's internal affairs. There is allegation that
President Ahmed is a stooge of Ethiopia.
It appears that after 15 years of mayhem and anarchy,
Somalia is close to forming a national government. The task of the
international community is to support Somalia's new nation-building
effort rather than pandering to the wishes of rightwing hawks.