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Last Updated: Feb 11, 2014 - 5:11:05 AM
Somalia peace process must not reward terrorism [Editorial]

GAROWE ONLINE EDITORIAL | If he reforms, Col. Aweys must be willing to surrender weapons, must allow loyal fighters to undergo national rehabilitation program, and he must withdraw from Somali politics.

U.S. military officials have engaged in negotiations with Taliban rivals in Afghanistan. The Israeli and Palestinian leaders have met numerous times in world capitals, aiming to end the decades-long violence in the land of Palestine. Similarly, many world governments have engaged in direct talks with political opponents, armed or unarmed, in an effort understood to be aimed at resolving a political or military crisis in a part of the world. Such endeavor is both rational and human, for it is the aspiration of all well-wishing people to see an end to armed conflicts in different parts of the world.

However, such talks come with conditions that must be fulfilled by all parties in order for the negotiations to be bear tangible results. In recent months, Al Qaeda's member group in Somalia, Al Shabaab, has experienced heavy losses of men, material and territory. This military onslaught was undertaken by the African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu (AMISOM), the nominal 'government of Somalia' (TFG), and armies from Somalia's neighbors Kenya and Ethiopia penetrating deep into Somali national territory to dislodge Al Shabaab militants from key areas.

With Al Shabaab facing defeat in ground battles, internal frictions within the terrorist organization began surfacing. Differences over religious doctrine and military strategy resulted in creating a divide within Al Shabaab that has widened since the military onslaught began in mid-2011.

Last Friday, speaking at a mosque in the outskirts of Mogadishu, a top Al Shabaab official condemned civilian assassinations and cited Islamic teachings in his reasoning. Col. Hassan Dahir Aweys, a self-styled Islamic cleric, is most known as leader of Somalia's Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in 2006 -- the parent organization of today's Al Shabaab terrorist group.

Many Somalis, and foreigners alike, were caught with surprise by the words of Col. Aweys. As we all know, Al Shabaab terrorists and the foreign fighters among their ranks have engaged in some of the most brutal violence ever witnessed in Somalia's recent history of war -- including guerrilla warfare in residential areas, suicide bombings, roadside explosions, and targeted assassinations of prominent civilians. During this cycle of violence, which began in 2006, Col. Aweys has always sat the top of one insurgency group or another -- the ICU, then Hizbul Islam, and today, Al Shabaab.

One wonders, why has Col. Aweys failed to speak publicly before today to condemn civilian killings and assassinations used as a political weapon and fear tactic by Al Shabaab terrorists since 2006?

Even if we are to accept Col. Aweys is a reformed man, our acceptance of his reform must come with the condition that he quit Somali politics altogether, seek national forgiveness, and withdraw himself into seclusion. The blood of innocents killed by organizations for which Col. Aweys sat at the top as leader is still fresh in the minds of many, particularly the families of victims.

It is unfortunate that many political commentators are today arguing for the inclusion of so-called 'nationalist' elements within Al Shabaab into the Somali peace process. This is a catastrophic mistake -- it equates to rewarding terrorists and rewarding all groups who seek political power through armed violence.

Somalia, and the Somali people, have suffered tremendously since 1991. However, the cycle of senseless violence that erupted in 2006, under the leadership of persons like Col. Aweys, Godane, Shongole, Afghani, and Abu Mansur, has ravaged many parts of Somalia and worsened an already tragic situation.

If he reforms, Col. Aweys must be willing to surrender weapons, must allow loyal fighters to undergo national rehabilitation program, and he must withdraw from Somali politics. If Col. Aweys and other 'reformed' members of Al Shabaab continue to seek political positions, it must be seen as continuation of their old ideology under new circumstances. As such, nothing changes and in fact the enemy will be empowered to destroy the emerging system in Somalia from the inside. This cannot be allowed to happen, as it prolongs the suffering of Somalis and destroys whatever little credibility the system had to begin with.

Negotiations without reasonable conditions is a failure. The experience of governments around the world attests to this fact. As Somalia moves forward, under the watchful eye of international actors, it is imperative that Somalia benefits from the lessons of other countries.

If not, Somalia will continue its present trajectory of creating more problems instead of solutions.

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