SOMALIA: Puntland’s Missing Role in Turkey Talks
January 28th 2014
“Is it time to weigh up options”
The recent round of talks between Somali Federal Government and “Somaliland” in Istanbul and its subsequent communique shaws that there is serious bargain between the two negotiating parts. contrary to the common perception that SFG will stick to its position of preserving unity of Somalia, it seems that the SFG’s negotiating team went further and made some remarkable concessions that they could easily avoid.
It seems that the talks have moved to a very critical stage in which the sides will be negotiating their future relations, in other words the unity of Somalia is on the table .One can argue that the SFG is unnecessarily pushed to a path which can pave the way for secession, yet the SFG have not lost the initiative and can steer the talks to its advantage if it chooses so.
The deal had came just days before SFG’s new cabinet was approved by the parlaimnet and Puntland’s power transfer.It seems that ”Somaliland” was keen to strike a farmewark deal before those two important changes happen,developments that will undoubtedly affect future talks, at the end,the two Abdiwelis who came to power in the SFG ( PM Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed) and in Puntland ( President Abdiweli Gaas) are diffirent from the former weak SFG PM Abdi Farah Shirdon “Saacid”, and former “Somaliland” friendly Puntland president Abdirahman Farole, and Although “Somaliland” may be pleased to have scored few positive points for their secessionist campaign in the recent Istanbul talks, they should not be elusive and think that Somalia’s hard fought unity will easily come to end.
SFG’s amateurish talks strategy
The indirectly selected SFG in Mogadishu is constitutionally obligated to preserve the unity and the sovereignty of Somalia. It has no legal or political power to let some of Somalia’s territories to break away, nevertheless it can represent and speak for Somalia provided it upholds the constitution’s guidlines. the way the SFG is conducting the Turkey talks has risen questions and concerns among Somalis: Although there is no break through in the talks itself, the wording of the last communique is alarming and the SFG seems to be soft on “Somaliland” claims. One can ask himself if the SFG is diplomatically outmaneuvered, but that is unlikely for some reasons:
Firstly: the SFG has proved to be tough negotiator in Addis Ababa Jubbaland talks in which it staunchly rejected the wording of “Jubbaland” and “president” opting for ”Jubba” and ” the leader” for Ahmed Madobe’s post,which indicates the that SFG is not short of experienced negotiators and diplomats. Secondly: there is no mounting international pressure on SFG to recognize “Somaliland” as a separate country. the international community has no huge strategic interest in dividing Somalia except one or two regional countries, even the SFG can make naught of the Somaliland claims,both legally and politically.
For example the SFG can easily convince the world that it is now focusing on pacifying South and Central Somalia, where the international community would be more than happy to see Al shabaab defeated. an equally important looming 2016 elections will need more focus.and the international community who are deeply invested in Somalia, would like to see their efforts bear fruit. If some SFG’s international partners would like to see Turkey talks succeed quickly, they have no option but to accept the reality that “Somaliland” issue has been dragging for 23 years and SFG can not invent miracles to solve this impasse swiftly.
Turkey who may want to score diplomatic success after its Syria and Egypt failures should be reminded that “Somaliland” question is just like its Kurdistan secessionist region dilemma. moreover Turkish PM Erdogan has enough problems at home, and relations with the West are at their lowest level.Certainly Turkey is not in a position to dictate the outcome of this talks.
The SFG can enhnace its case by conditioning “Somalilnad” to let SFG nothern officials to visit their children and wifes/husbands in Hargeisa, Buruo, Borama and else where, scrap its draconian laws against the unionists and allow them to exercise their full political rights in “Somaliland” itself, If Hargeisa rebuffs such demands, then The SFG can tell the world that it should not be pressured to conside to a ”North Korea like” regime which even denies basic human rights of its own people, the”‘ family reunion” It can also rise the question of Sool and Sanaag regions, which points that ”Somaliland” project is not inclusive enough to represent the whole people of pre-independence British Somaliland.
Thirldy: the SFG should not be naive enough to underestimate the power and the determination of the landslide majority of its people who are committed to preserve and defend the union, and it should not feel free handed to sign deals that can resonate new conflicts specially in the north. justifiably SFG has thousand reasons not to rush in this tricky process.
Then the questions arise, Why SFG is unnecessarily conceding to “Somaliland” demands, is it outmaneuvered diplomatically and pressured by the international community, which seems unlikely, does it think that such concessions are tactical and decorative, which is questionable, , do SFG leaders feel secured if they breach the constitution and abandon their moral obligations, does the SFG want to marginalize Puntland and embrace ”Somaliland”, which sounds immature anti-unionist policy ( since Puntland stands for the unity of Somalia while “Somaliland” is campainging to break away from the rest of the country) Only SFG officials can anwser these questions.
A recent leaked secret voice record of president Hassan Sheikh’s special spokesman and close aide, indicates that at least some of SFG officails may be more inclined to pleasing “Somaliland” than preserving the unity of Somalia, In the record A/rahman Yariisow, who is apparently victim of “Somaliland” delegates or friends in Isanbul, consided that referendum may be an option to solve the deadlock. this voice record which seems genuine , shaws that ”Somaliland” is not hesitating to use diplomatically offending steps against SFG officials.
Puntland’s missing role
Puntland has constitutional right to be part of any national or international negotiations that may affect it or its interest, Somalia’s provincial constitution stipulates this clearly, articles 53 reads as fallows: in the spirit of inter-governmental cooperation the Federal Government shall consult the Federal Member States on negotiations relating to foreign aid, trade, treaties, or other major issues related to international agreements.
•b. Where negotiations particularly affect Federal Member State interests, the negotiating delegation of the Federal Government shall be supplemented by representatives of the Federal Member States governments.
The former “Somaliland” friendly president of Puntland Abdirahman Farole alllowed that his state’s constitutional right be denied. critics say that Farole is half “Somaliland” and should not be blamed why he let the negotiations go with out Puntland represented. Farole is also partly responsible for the unnecessary alienation of SSC people who are integaral to this debate.
Now Farole gone ,the newly elected president of Puntland Abdiwli Gaas has tough job to do: Firtsly, he should rebalance his political, diplomatic, and even (if need be) military postures. Keeping in mind that Puntland has been heavily entangled in the troubled South and Central Somalia in the last decade, he should be thinking to emulate his countryman Barrack Obama, who rebalanced US involvement from Middle East to the Pacific Asia where the great geopolitical game with rising China lies. Abdiweli Gaas should somehowe pivot from the south to the north, thus rebalancing his resources and commitment between the two.
I am not suggesting that Gaas should make great strategic error like that of the late Adolf Hitler, who made the self-defeating strategic mistake when he invaded Stalin’s Soviet Union while fighting with the West. Here the situation is diffirent The south and SFG are not currently belligerent and they should not be in the future since both SFG and Puntland are supposed principle allies (unionists) againsts secessionist “Somaliland”; A political and military maneuver by Puntland will give SFG itself a pressure point and negotiating card against ”Somaliland”
Secondly : Mr.Gaas should mobilize all avialible resources at his disposal to avoid the mounting strategic threat of losing SSC regions to “Somaliland”, a delimma that Farole’s term of office has exasperated. he should and must not allow that borders of Puntland and Somalia should be pushed to Yoocada, which is just 6Km north of Garowe, the capital of Puntland,and Qaw, which is nearly 12KM away from Bosaso, the commercial hub of Puntland. he should not allow nearly 1.5 million SSC brethrens to their demise by becoming second class citizens in a future break away “Somaliland” either. On top of that the unity of Somalia and energy resources of SSC should and must not go easily without fight.
The break up of Somalia will be great geopolitical disaster,given the volatile region it lies. If Valdamir Putin thinks that the desolation of the Soviet Union was greatest geoplitaical catastrophe in history ,at least for the Russians, the division of post- independence Somalia will possibly be the end of Somali nationhood,as probably the pre-indepedence south Somalia will disintegrate,which is more catastrodhic than Puitn’s assertion.
Puntland should revamp its strategy toward SSC regions and ”Somaliland” itself.Simplifying things, taking the question of unity or secession for granted, underestimating the opponents capabilities, and power preserving is not an option.
As a PHD holder from Harvad university,experienced former PM of Somalia, well aware of the international affiars and dynamics,arguably proven competent, and a ”dynamic figure”‘ as late Al jazeera english’s David Forest put it, Mr Gaas should and must be up to the job and spare no effort to prevent any attempts to break up both Puntland and Somalia, he can prove wrong his skeptics that he is not strong leader.
There is Somali sayng which goes ” daadku inta uusan ku soo gaarin ayaa la iska moosaa” which transilates, “‘the flood should be barricaded before it reaches you” which means you should not wait until threat comes infront of your door, that is way governments use preemtive diplomatic, political or military steps.
Puntland’s new leaders should mobilize their political,diplomatic and military resources and weigh up their options. Firstly; the new leadership of Puntland should convene a reconciliation conference for SSC regions to enhance Puntland unity and cohesion, which is what president Gaas put at the top of his priorities list . Secondly: Puntland should vigorously insist that it must be represented in the Turkey talks as per the constitution. In case SFG and Puntland restore relations, Turkey talks should be the first issues to be revised.. there is possibility that “Somaliland”‘ may complain about Puntland’s inclusion of the talks, but that would be major political and diplomatic flopping by the side of Somaliland, since Puntland is part and parcel of SFG, and Somaliland should not be dictating the other side’s delegation members.
Thirdly Puntland should revamp its regional and international relations, adopting relatively assertive foreign policy.the new leaders must articulate their case well in the diplomatic corridors, they should clearly tell allies and partners that their strategic interests should be taken to account. the perception that Ethiopia may pressure Puntland not to defend its to territory should be deleted from Puntland’s dictionary, the strategic decisions should be nationally debated and taken. Notably the Ethiopians could not pressure ”Somaliland” to stay away from Laascaanood in 2007, or to stop their political and logistical support to the now defunct IUC, who were fighting Ethiopian troops in Mugadishu (2006-2009) Puntland new leaders, while keeping good relations with Ethiopia, should not be fallowing the footsteps of the former president Farole, who some analysts suggest, was pliable for oustside pressure
Fourthly: If SFG rejects the demands of Puntland and proceeds the current trend of the talks, then Puntland should have plan “B” to scuttle what would be perceived as an “‘exclusively SFG-Somaliland hiden ajenda” thus playing its last cards to change the equation.
The two Alis “Khaatumo” initiative
At first glance, one can argue that ”Khaatumo” is direct product of Puntland’s inaction of “Somaliland” incursions in SSC,but two years on since ”Khaatumo’s” inception, the initiative is far from reaching its goals of ”libreting” Sool and ”uniting” SSC people. Although we can not rule out former PM Ali Khalif Galayr and former IMF official Ali Isse Abdi as loose politicians, the reality is that “‘Khaatumo” initiative is not working well, at end the “‘division” of SSC people continues, and Sool is yet to be ”librated”.
Some of “Khaatumo’s” critics dismiss it as ”minus Puntland plus Somaliland project”, however we cannot suggest that two top experienced politicians are conspring their own people to become disenfranchised minority in a future “‘SNM” dominated “Somaliland”
Some political analysts think that, given the “Somaliland”claim and presence in Sool, and economic, strategic and political situation of the area, “‘Khaatumo” will have to make miracles to be viable state,specially in a hostile neighborhood One can argue, unless “Khaatumo” wages aTaliban developed ”fourth generation warfare” type of resistance to drive “‘Somaliland”‘ forces out of Sool region, the initiative is doomed to fail.
Ironically, there has been attempts to promote a notion that Puntland and “Somaliland” are equal enemies of SSC people and they should be treated as such. but what some miss is that SSC people and other Puntlanders have common goal of preserving and defending unity of Somalia, in other words they have the same principles, while “Somaliland” is seccessinst project , thus forming unionists versus secessionists.
In a similar way , there has recently been a notion promoted by some Sunni Arabs and their Western packers, that Iran should be number one enemy of the Arabs, and,interestingly Isreal should be an ally of the Arabs to fend off Iranian interference of Arab affairs.according to the promoters of this notion, Iran and Israel are equal enemies at the best case.
Of course, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu should be pleased to see this U-turn position by some Arabs, and even he repeatedly portays hismself as the “‘savior”‘ of the Middle east from what he calls an “Iranian nuclear bomb”
A Somali saying goes as ( Labo bahal Biriirow hadday kaa isugu biirto hadba kii bahnimo kuu xigaa laysu buriyaaye), which means, if your are attacked by two monsters, you should be leaning to the close relative one. I am not suggesting here that SSC people should take sides on clan grounds, my point is the principle of Somali unity which both SSC and other Puntland share, should unite them.
Arguably the best option for “Khaatumo” is to participate the Puntland proposed reconciliation conference, and table their case by insisting on “‘ either you drive Somaliland forces out of Sool or you should not claim us as part of Puntland” this would be wise demand by “Khaatimo” that Puntland will have no choice, but to gear up for military conforantion with Somaliland, since it can not and should not let SSC people down,thus taking the tough long-awaited decision.
If SFG and Puntland fail to put their perceived cynicism aside and cooperate together in perserving and defending unity of Somalia, this will possibly give the secessionit “Somaliland” a chance to exploit the situation The new governments in Mugadishu and Garowe should narrow their diffifernces, not only in Turkey talks, but also other areas such as constitutional ”fraud” claims,federalization of the country and the establishment of all Somalia represented national army
Daahir Sheikh is Somalia political analyst