Algeria Pushes POLISARIO Toward a New War

Algeria, in the midst of its own internal power struggle, seems determined to thwart Morocco's growing diplomatic success in ending the Algerian-sponsored attempt to pry Moroccan Sahara away from the Kingdom. The Algerian leadership has clearly taken a very deliberate move to revive its proxy war against Morocco, using POLISARIO as its principal front.


Med-Atlantic received a leaked report from the Global Information System (GIS), an intelligence service used by the US Defense Department and other key Western governments, which details Algeria's plans for POLISARIO. We're running it in full here:


POLISARIO Congress Reflects the Major Threat to Maghreb Stability as Algeria Enters a Power Struggle, With Itself and the West


By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS. The great threat to stability in the Maghreb and the Western Mediterranean is not the ascent and spread of the Islamist-jihadist trend — which is extremely dangerous in the mid- to long-term — but is shaping up to be the rejuvenation of the terrorism campaign by the Frente POLISARIO (Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el-Hamra y de Rio de Oro).


POLISARIO is currently holding its special 12th congress in Tifariti, Moroccan Western Sahara (MWS), east of the berm. Because of the regional strategic dynamics, the calls for, and threats of, the resumption of the “armed struggle” against Morocco emanating from this POLISARIO congress may prove a greater destabilizing factor for the entire Maghreb than even the most recent jihadist bombing in Algiers.


The Tifariti congress convenes at trying times for POLISARIO and the whole “Western Sahara” cause.


More than 15 years after the latest ceasefire agreement in MWS, the entire population — both in Morocco and in the POLISARIO-run camps — has demonstrated a strong commitment to a return to stability, normalcy, and chance at the betterment of their own lives. The population of MWS has indicated, through elections and other indicators, a measurable determination to remain an integral part of the Moroccan rejuvenation and development. The MWS population has been passing this message for several years to the POLSARIO leadership via their expatriate kin in Western Europe. In contrast, the refugee population in the POLISARIO camps, mainly in the Tindouf area in Algeria, is exhausted from the closure, hardship, lack of prospects. The people see no hope for themselves in an Algeria torn by civil war and afflicted by economic misery.


The much-vaunted United Nations (UN) negotiations on the future of the MWS — while not inspiring any grassroots optimism as far as the UN delivering any solution for the crisis — did rekindle a grassroots yearning for a solution. The mere international discussion during much of 2007 of the imperative to solve the MWS crisis once and for good created an indigenous grassroots desire to return to normalcy and socio-economic development even if at the expense of utopian political solutions. And under these circumstances, the social and economic ascent of Morocco has stood in sharp contrast with the abysmal conditions in the Tindouf camps, let alone Algeria as a whole. Simply put, the people of MWS realized that their own aspirations can be best achieved when they are part of Morocco.


The Moroccan elections of early September 2007 provided an uncontroversial proof of this transformation of the people of MWS. In a sharp contrast with the low voter turnout in the urban centers of northern Morocco (national average was 37 percent, and 30 percent in the urban areas), the voter turnout in the MWS was extremely heavy, and particularly in the cities (Dakhla 62 percent; Smara 58 percent, El Aaiún 50 percent). This constitutes a clear demonstration that the population in MWS considers itself Moroccan, is convinced that it has vital stakes in the political process in Rabat, and is determined to have its say there. Indeed, foreign observers reported vibrant voting and political discourse throughout MWS. As well, no violations and improprieties were reported. Thus, the Moroccan parliamentary elections in MWS proved that the local population considers itself an integral part of a single, unified Morocco.


Meanwhile, the international community has become increasingly alarmed by failed ministates, such as Timor-Leste, and unchecked secessionism. Even the most ardent supporters of the “Sahrawi people” in the West now doubt the viability of a POLISARIO-run state. The West sees no need for another failed state and bastion of criminality, living off the smuggling routes between west-central Africa and Western Europe. All expert studies have demonstrated that a POLISARIO-run state cannot sustain any other type of economy on its own; industrial and resource development are impossible without reliance on the infrastructure and human resources of Morocco while POLISARIO advocates the complete delinking of MWS from Morocco. Hence, particularly after the POLISARIO’s intransigence in the UN-run Manhasset, New York, talks in early August 2007, international support for Morocco’s autonomy plan — with all its possible imperfections — has started to grow.


The UN-run negotiations process, however, is effectively stalled because of major legal issues raised by the US. Because of prior and much stronger commitments by the US George W. Bush White House to the independence of Kosovo and, to a lesser extent, Nagorno-Karabakh, the US insists that these policies should also serve as a precedent for all other similar conflicts, including MWS. Indeed, the US still insists on a referendum and optional independence for MWS, even when the Bush Administration itself is on the record favoring autonomy within Morocco as the optimal solution for the MWS.


Both the POLISARIO and their Algerian patrons (as well as Cuba and South Africa) have relied heavily on the US legal maneuvering in order to legitimize their own intransigence. However, both POLISARIO and Algiers are apprehensive that they will not be able to sustain their uncompromising “No” for long because of the growing international awareness of the population’s desire for normal life within the Moroccan state. And so, in mid-December 2007, the POLISARIO congress in Tifariti aimed to coerce international support for the POLISARIO’s hardline position by threatening the resumption of the armed struggle.


In his speech in Tifariti, POLISARIO Secretary-General Mohammed Abdelaziz stressed the imperative of the Sahrawis’ “just war of liberation”. This war, he stated, “will continue until its noble objectives are realized, however long it may take, whatever moves the colonists make and whatever means of struggle are authorized by international resolutions”.


Abdelaziz declared that, led by POLISARIO, the Sahrawis were determined “to fight to protect our rights by all means, by peaceful resistance and armed conflict”. Abdelaziz stated that only an “uprising” could break the deadlock in the UN-sponsored talks with Morocco. He then described and rejected the UN diplomatic overtures and called for direct negotiations as instruments for legitimizing Morocco’s enduring occupation of MWS. Abdelaziz left the clear impression that there was no alternative to undertaking drastic measures — such as the resumption of the armed struggle — if MWS was to be “liberated” by POLISARIO. Indeed, at the conclusion of the Tifariti congress, the POLISARIO Frente resolved to rearm and prepare for a new war which would be launched by 2009 if the diplomatic process could not deliver POLISARIO’s demands for full independence.


The local population, mainly the tribes living in MWS, were clearly alarmed by the call to arms. Hence, tribal leaders led by Himad Walid Al-Darwish organized unprecedented demonstrations in southern MWS, near the border with Mauritania. The demonstrators urged the POLISARIO congress to heed to the will of the people they claimed to be representing, reject the armed struggle, accept the Moroccan autonomy plan, and concentrate on the peaceful development of MWS. The protesters also urged the UN to address the issue of the refugees in Tindouf. This was the first time that both prominent regional and tribal leaders as well as grassroots population openly challenged POLISARIO and its claim to representing the “Sahrawi people”.


However, what makes POLISARIO’s threat to resume the armed struggle so ominous — beyond the continued military build-up of POLISARIO in its Algerian sanctuaries — is its impact on the Algerian succession crisis. Pres. Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s health has deteriorated recently. With no heir apparent, inner struggles are intensifying within the Algerian Government. Most important is the succession struggle between the “army élite” and the “energy lobby”, both comprised of most senior officials and their cronies. Furthermore, each of these groups is further divided into pro-Russia, pro-France, and pro-US sub-groupings. Therefore, all decisions are made as a result of power-maneuvers between at least six “clans” which confront each other and win through transient and narrow-issue alliances.


The “army elite” and some in the “energy lobby” believe that crisis and war are the quickest way — a shortcut — to the post-Bouteflika throne. In recent years, Bouteflika preferred to stay neutral. When he had to take a side, he tilted with the “energy lobby”, which generated US and Western support. However, in recent months, Pres. Bouteflika has clearly tilted toward, and even openly sided with, the “army élite”. While Bouteflika made his move because he believes the military élite is better suited to sustain him in power and follow his policies, he will have to “pay” for the military support by heightening the regional tension even if it leads to war with Morocco.


Meanwhile, Pres. Bouteflika must also generate international support and legitimization for his crackdown of the jihadists and his continued presidency. Toward this end, intelligence emerging from Algiers indicates that he plans to rely on the growing threat of eruption of violence in MWS, giving new life and importance to a process started in late-November 2007 in order to generate international pressure on Morocco. The US-led West could not tolerate a regional war and a threat to the flow of oil/gas from Algeria to Western Europe. Moreover, US officials have indicated privately that they were afraid that in case of war, Algeria would increase its weapons acquisition from Russia, thus increasing Russia’s access to, and influence in, the Western Mediterranean. Hence, Algiers is encouraging POLISARIO to threaten the resumption of war in MWS unless its demands are met at the UN.


Ultimately, Pres. Bouteflika is correct in his reading of Western politics. Because the escalation of terrorism has only negligible impact on the West, the West can afford to pressure Algeria to “behave”. On the other hand, a regional war would impact vital interests of the West. Therefore, the West would tolerate whatever it takes to prevent it, including placating Bouteflika by looking the other way on his crackdown and prolonged presidency.


As a result, Algerian diplomats are already warning Western governments about the explosive potential of the POLISARIO congress in Tifariti. The Algerians claim they cannot deal with two threats at the same time. They prefer, they say, to concentrate on fighting al-Qaida. However, the deadlocked talks between Morocco and POLISARIO already create an explosive situation. The Sahrawi people are, they say, in such despair over the lack of progress and the US support for the Moroccan autonomy position, that there are strong voices to abandon the political process and resume the war.


The resolutions of the POLISARIO congress do reflect the grassroots’ mood, the Algerians stress. The demands for the resumption of violence in the hope of breaking out of the despair and deadlock are really strong and Algiers has indicated that it was not sure the POLISARIO leadership could prevent fringe elements from picking-up guns and thus sparking a wider crisis/war. The Algerians warned that given the extent of brotherhood between the Algerian and Sahrawi peoples, Algiers would not be able to refuse help to their brethren once violence erupted. The Algerian public would not, they have said, tolerate abandoning their Sahrawi brethren to “Moroccan oppression” and suppression, and would demand that Algiers took whatever steps were required to “liberate” MWS from Moroccan occupation. Under such circumstances, the Algerians have warned, Algiers would have to abandon the confrontation with al-Qaida. So, the Algerian logic goes, if the West wants Algiers to prioritize the confrontation with al-Qaida, then the West must “deliver” the MWS to POLISARIO.


Thus, since the West must “deliver” the MWS to POLISARIO, since Bouteflika has to “pay” for the military support to his continued presidency by heightening the regional tension even if it leads to war with Morocco, and since the POLISARIO leadership has cornered itself by resolving that the resumption of the armed struggle is the sole viable alternative to the grassroots’ yearning for normalization under a Moroccan flag, it will now take only a small spark to flare the volatile Maghreb.

Posted by Medperson 

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