Crisis in Puntland: The Endgame [Article]January 6, 2013 // News in English, Warar Somaali
The clock is ticking for Puntland. As the deadline approaches the question is whether the government like lemmings go off a cliff or will pull back from the brink to save their skin and save Puntland from unwanted turbulence.
The Sool constituency turned its back on Puntland. They are at present split in the middle with half coalescing around a local political entity and the rest, staunch supporters of Somaliland and its dream of secession from the rest of Somalia.
The Sanaag constituency is still committed to the idea of Puntland but are worried that the current crisis will fatally damage the existence of Puntland making them vulnerable to Somaliland’s sinister plots on their territory.
So the current crisis is effectively a making of the former North East Somalia (NES) regions of Puntland. Of the four regions of former NES region two are particularly relevant for the current crisis namely Karkar and Mudug and warrant a closer scrutiny to shed light on what is happening there.
The Karkaar Conundrum
The past is casting a long shadow on this region. There is a sense of déjà vu. it is almost a decade since a similar crisis engulfed the region which incidentally was triggered by extension of government term of office. Most of the protagonists of that era are now in Place and coming eye ball to eye ball but finding themselves in different camps this time round.
A former police chief and security minister is in town spearheading the opposition to the current administration. A makeshift base camp is in Place in Qardho town to drum up support for a rebellion against the government.
Opposing him is the current security minister, a former fighter pilot for the Somali air force and also from the region. He is a charismatic figure and a popular politician well known in all parts of Puntland. The scene is set, it appears, for a Mexican shoot-out between these two characters. Thrown into the mix is a former president and the former leader of that earlier crisis who is now engaged in a frantic shuttle diplomacy to broker a deal between the government and its opposition. As well as the major players there is also a cast of minor actors plotting and conniving to carve important roles for themselves.
The Mudug Mavericks
The other area where the opposition to the current administration is hardening is Mudug region. Never strong at best of times the current stalemate seems to have irreparably damaged the relationship between the government and the region. But the region is home to certain characters who hail from the epicentre of piracy in Puntland and they are not in good mood. They are breathing fire, huffing and puffing and threatening Armageddon if there is no election within days.
To make matters worse the government alienated the traditional leaders of the region some of them widely respected throughout Puntland who could restore calm and restrain hot-headed mavericks.
The government can ignore the belligerent noises and their potential for trouble making at their peril. Mudug is the frontier area and the first line of defence against militants who are never far away. A widespread unrest and general insecurity would create just the right environment for militants to operate and endanger the whole region and beyond.
The Battle lines
The battle lines are drawn. The government is relying on a new controversial force known as the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF). Trained by South African mercenaries and equipped with money from the government of UAE, this force was intended to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia but are being increasingly sucked into the Puntland crisis. Cynics always maintained that there was a hidden agenda behind this army and they are now doing what the administration always wanted them to do: suppress internal opposition. The two politicians most associated with the PMPF are the president and his finance minister; long term associates in exile in Australia.
Forming this army was against UN Security Council resolution imposing arms embargo on Somalia. But the international community turned a blind eye because of international community’s preoccupation with Somali piracy disrupting world trade.
The UN is now making noises and expressing concern at the prospect of PMPF being used as private army to supress legitimate dissent in Puntland. It would also be very embarrassing for the government of UAE.
Involving PMPF in internal matters is a dangerous business and the government should be warned that they are playing with fire. This course of action will anger important players not least members of the UN Security Council.
The tragedy that was visited upon Gadhafi and his sons is the most sobering example of what can happen when leaders attract the attention of the Security Council for the wrong reasons.
The PMPF is not the only force in Puntland though. There are still the traditional security forces in place. The government stopped paying their wages months ago but they are armed and ready in their barracks and see themselves as the true security forces of Puntland, not tied to any particular administration or individual. They boast among themselves battle hardened officer corps and rank and file units, veterans of numerous fights who were involved in the campaign against the Union of Islamic Courts and several armed encounters with Al-Shabab militants.
But there is even worse security risk. Vast quantities of assorted weaponry are in the hands of private individuals. Anybody with the most rudimentary understanding of security matters can see that Puntland is a powder keg waiting a spark to start a major conflagration.
The only hope to avert unnecessary problems is with the shuttle diplomacy of the former president. He represents the last chance for securing a deal and a way out of the current morass. He is seen by many as an honest broker and a man with no axe to grind. A no-nonsense general who speaks his mind with devastating frankness he is probably the only person who can tell the president some uncomfortable home truths.
As he gathers evidence and collects information from people from all walks of life, including opposition figures, traditional leaders, civil society and others the rumour mill is already working overtime. There is much speculation on the possible outcomes of this determined exercise in public consultation.
As people follow closely the unfolding of events the speculation is centring around two likely outcomes.
The first is to suggest extending the term of office not for 1 year but by 6 months followed by a presidential election by a newly constituted parliament.
This could be a very practical solution to the problem. With no political parties or election manifestos to choose from getting votes would depend on who has the deepest pockets. There would be a Dutch auction for votes with the highest bidder winning the crown. After all, this is the method which won the president his current job and after 4 years in power is unlikely to be disadvantaged in that sense.
But there is a snag. The sycophants in the presidential court will see it as a concession to the opposition and a humiliating climb down to be avoided at all costs. Over inflated ego and hubris will do the rest to scrubber this simple but perfectly sensible solution to the problem.
The second scenario is to accept the 12 month increase and election by political parties. In order to bring in the opposition now outside into the fold the registration of political organisations, which is now closed, must be reopened for few weeks to give them a chance to join the process. The government must also set up a credible supreme court to act as an adjudicator in case of disputes and a more impartial electoral commission both stipulated by articles in the constitution and the duty of the government in any case.
The advantage of this outcome is very clear for both the president and the opposition. A credible political process is what the opposition was always asking for. And the president can argue that it is vindication of his position that winning high office is too important to be decided by a small number of hand-picked members of parliament.
It is not known what the outcome of former president’s consultations would be but if all reasonable compromises are rejected by the government most people will blame them for starting the crisis in the first place and rejecting all possible solutions.
Puntland is too important to fail. The militants under pressure in the south of the country are already in position waiting for the right time to move in and take over. There is another problem. Pirates who suffered a string of setbacks recently and licking their wounds are waiting their chance to turn the clock back so they can act with impunity.
The international community will no doubt take a dim view of anyone acting irresponsibly and endangering the peace and stability of a region that has seen more than its fair share of problems.
By Ali Abdulle