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Somalia, Iraq And The Price Of Defeat
By Dalmar Kaahin
For the relatives of Puntland prisoners held in Somaliland, what is more exciting news than the reports that their loved ones—over 60 men including the top Puntland commanders namely, Col. Deyr Cabdi and Col. Siciid Doob—who were captured in recent fighting in Sool region would soon be freed? Of course, releasing these prisoners without a doubt is yet another testimony of Somaliland’s determination to pacify the region. And while also many people enthusiastically welcome the release of the combatants, Puntland continues its war rhetoric against Somaliland rather than make peace with it.
Just one day after Somaliland announced that it would release all Puntland prisoners captured few months ago, Puntland Ministers convened a meeting where they surprisingly agreed to retake Las Anod. (See these
reports: http://tinyurl.com/32kw7b &
http://tinyurl.com/2sl9fx) So, after all, was the release of the prisoners a smart move? Maybe! Maybe not!
Don’t get me wrong. Like many Somalilanders, I commend President Rayale Kahin’s decision to release the prisoners of war POWs. It is a good gesture. In fact, the best way to defeat your “enemies” is to shake their hands. And that is exactly what the president is doing. Equally, I also commend Sool politicians in Somaliland for their enormous efforts to secure the release of the prisoners. Now, yet another question creeps into my mind. What assurance does Somaliland has that the commanders like Col. Deyr Cabdi and Col. Siciid Doob who are about to be freed won’t lead the next battle against Somaliland?
Clearly, the answer to that question is: none.
Meanwhile, Puntland didn’t even acknowledge that its top commanders and dozens of their soldiers were captured in the battlefields in Sool region of Somaliland, much less demand their release.
Additionally, Puntland rather than battle against Somaliland a frontline near the border between the two administrations, it chose to arm Somaliland tribes and hopes that they would do the dirty work for Puntland.
This is smart move for Puntland for two reasons.
First, the conflict takes place in Somaliland, not in Puntland, or at least that seems to be the plan.
Second, for Puntland rather than have its troops engage a bloody war with Somaliland forces, it uses Sool tribes as the bulwark against well-armed and trained Somaliland troops. Puntland knows there is no match. However, its goal is: once Somaliland troops either kill or capture a large number of tribal militias, the Sool population is verly likely to wage a war against Somaliland government, and this may possibly engulf the entire Somaliland—a tribal war and mayhem would be inevitable.
On the other hand, Hargaisa— Somaliland capital—shrewdly avoids falling into this diabolical trap. Understandably, the government is caught between a rock and a hard place. Keeping the fighters in prison is not only costly but it may also infuriate many people in Sool region. Furthermore, the anti-Somaliland groups would beat the tribal war drums and scream about how allegedly hundreds of people from Las Anod, the capital of Sool province, area are crowded into the notorious Mandheera prison. (During the former Somali regime’s era, many Somalilanders spent years in Mandheera prison, near port Berbera, Somaliland). The flip side of releasing Puntland prisoners is that they could easily rejoin the battlefields and kill as many Somaliland soldiers as possible. Should they be freed or kept? Damned if you do, damned if you don't! This is the dilemma for Hargeysa.
Strangely enough, while the release of the POWs might seem goodwill on Somaliland’s part, it also reveals Hargeysa’s hypocritically approaches to different situations in the country. For instance, men like Col.
Deyr Cabdi and Col. Siciid Doob who not only attacked Somaliland but also killed its soldiers inside Somaliland are about to be released in less than two months after their captures, but the Somaliland opposition party QARAN politicians, Dr. Mohammed Abdi Gaboose, Eng. Mohammed Hashi Ilmi and Jamal Aidid Ibrahim, who neither attacked Somaliland nor caused deaths were kept in the notorious Mandheera prison for up to almost 5 months, before they were released in December 2007. (See my article: Who is Dr. Gaboose?
http://tinyurl.com/yqh5m4) What is going on? What is the message here?
Attack Somaliland, kill its soldiers and you would only serve few months in prison. On the other hand, if you exercise your democratic rights peacefully, you would call Mandheera prison home. That is the message I’m getting. God forbid, but maybe next time someone may kill a Somaliland politician in Sool region, and the perpetrator may get vacation and bonus packages, much less charge him crimes. Who knows? This seems to be the trend. And this explains why while Somaliland is busy freeing POWs, Puntland is gearing up for another showdown with Somaliland, possibly led by the same commanders that are about to be set free.
Undoubtedly, Garowe—the Puntland capital—has many problems of its own, so beating war drums won’t soothe the pain caused by corruption, human trafficking, printing counterfeit money, kidnapping foreign nationals, its troops attacking banks, roadblocks littered throughout its region, insecurity and killings in major cities such as, Bossaso and Galkacyo.
Also, the naïve assumption that Somaliland troops would wait until they get attacked—time and time again—may have been stretched little too thin. Soon Somaliland may decide to take the battle into Puntland territory for change. Of course, we’ll pray to God that never happens; after all, there is nothing to gain from killing another Somali person. But for how long could Puntland keep stirring up trouble in Somaliland?
To sum up, releasing Puntland POWs is a commendable strategic foresight. However, there is no guarantee that they won’t come back to the battlefields, if need be.
Also Hargeysa’s inconsistent policy towards those who “break” the law could back fire. If QARAN party members who have done nothing more than exercising their democratic rights were kept in the infamous Mandheera prison and threatened to be charged by the government, why Puntland POWs who not only attacked Somaliland but also killed its soldiers would be set free so easily? It is clearly a double standard which is too obvious to anyone who has followed the government’s policy towards QARAN party members.
As for Puntland, it should advocate for peace not for war. Both Puntland and Somaliland have a lot to gain from cooperating economically and militarily rather than fighting.
And despite Puntland’s incursions into Somaliland territory, it is time for Hargeysa to swallow its pride, be a big sister, and extend its hand to reach out Garowe in an effort to establish a friendship relationship between the two Somali societies. It is time to end the sad history of war between Hargeysa and Garowe that has been evolving for the past decade and a half. Let's give peace a chance.
Dalmar Kaahin, Ottawa, Canada