Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on Tuareg politics in northern Mali. Part I examined the factors shaping internal political development among Mali’s Tuareg community. Part II examines the factors shaping external relations among Mali’s Tuareg, the Malian government and France.
French forces are drawing down in Mali, with Paris claiming that much of their work fighting Islamists and terrorists in the Sahara desert is done and can now be left to the Malian army and its regional allies. An African Union force will be securing much of the territory regained from Islamist extremists until a U.N. peacekeeping mission is deployed later this year, but the secular, separatist Tuareg rebel group the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) remains in control of the northeastern part of the country around Kidal, with the tacit acceptance of the French. Meanwhile, there are still no political solutions on the table to address the underlying causes of the conflict that broke out in early 2012. As a result, the relationship among Bamako, Paris and the Tuareg remains precarious and characterized by mistrust and the potential for escalation.
Complicating the picture even further, France’s immediate goals in Mali seem difficult to reconcile, if not even mutually exclusive. To keep Islamist and terrorist groups from re-establishing safe havens in Mali's north, a large and sparsely populated area where armed groups still hold several French hostages, the French government will be counting on cooperation with the MNLA. As a well-equipped, experienced fighting force that knows northern Mali extremely well, the Tuareg fighters are the perfect proxy for Paris. At the same time, Paris wants the Malian government, which has lacked any form of democratic legitimacy since a coup overthrew the elected government in March 2012, to hold elections in July.