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Local problems, global solutions

It was definitely not a part of the official agenda of the Arab Economic Summit in Riyadh which concluded yesterday. The summit had a clear focus on economic issues. Nevertheless it would definitely be there on the sidelines of the high-level official meetings in direct or indirect deliberations.
It is the fallout of the Arab Spring, highlighted by what has been going on in Mali and the French military intervention that has brought to the fore what had been discussed behind closed doors.
French President Francois Hollande’s decision to send his troops to Mali was commended at home and abroad as swift and decisive, intended to stop the progress of the militants. But the question is for how long can Paris tolerate the heavy political and financial burden of such a decision that even the American superpower failed to shoulder in Afghanistan? The situation in Afghanistan, politically speaking, is back to square one and now the Americans are contemplating on how to engage Taleban in the political process.
The same could be said about the American involvement in Yemen and surprisingly even in Mali itself.
According to a recent Washington Post story, the two US officials who served in both George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s administrations have been involved in a 10-year program with Mali to combat potential terrorism. The campaign started with what is known as the Pan Sahel Initiative with $ 7.5 million fund, designed to protect borders and combat terror. The program was replaced in 2004 by the US-European Command, whose main concern was to train military units of the Malian Army. Later Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership was formed comprising seven countries in the region. It was supported by the State Department, defense and other US agencies. As part of the program Mali got $ 37 million between 2005-2008 but it was not able to achieve anything significant.
However, in 2006 Mali was included into the US Millennium Challenge as part of an effort to promote development and good governance in the country. A total of $ 461 million was earmarked mainly for agricultural and trade sectors to help Malian products get market access, but that program was aborted following the military coup of March last year.
Ironically enough coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo was one of the beneficiaries of the training program and ended up turning against its goals by staging a military coup that led to the suspension of the program.
That is a big failure on the scale of Afghanistan and Iraq where thousands of lives were lost as well as billions of dollars wasted with no positive outcome.
And that raises the question about the future prospects of the French military intervention despite the current praise and willingness of other powers to support at least in terms of logistics. Containing what is going on in Mali and working out an indigenous political system that can accommodate all forces could be a more rational approach. Resorting only to military means or trying to impose certain solutions will not solve the problem as it was evident in the failed American experience in Mali.
But the issue on hand is how to develop such a system that can satisfy political and religious aspirations of the people while providing them with decent economic conditions? That was, and continues to be, an issue that needs to be answered by various experiences since countries in the region gained their independence more than half a century ago.
The Arab summit in Riyadh, with its emphasis on the economic side of the equation, is part of an attempt to provide some kind of an answer, but it needs to be treated as a process, not a once and for all attempt. In a continuously changing world environment, it is hard to reach conclusions or make lasting impact, but it is more important to work toward establishing this process and get various groups and political forces on board with an aim to continue improving the process.
The summit’s main focus is economy because there is no sustainable political system without a solid economic base. Various resources in the Arab world tend to complement each other. What has been preventing that from happening is the political fragmentation. A step in the right direction to achieve this goal will provide a ray of hope for what is going on in Mali and the region at large.

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