I arrived in Ouagadougou on Friday. As an observer for the MNLA, I didn’t participate in the negotiations, but I stayed at the same hotel as the representatives from all three sides.
Of course, before the discussions began, people from different sides ran into each other in the hotel’s lobby. The MNLA’s members are Tuareg, as are some of those from Ansar Dine, so that makes small talk easier – we talked about our villages, our families, our Tuareg culture, and we even cracked some jokes. Some of us have known each other for years; some of the members of Ansar Dine are former MNLA members, and vice versa. We also ran into people from the Malian government, but with them, little more was said than “hello”.
"Both sides might eventually be able to agree to a partial application of sharia law"
The proximity between the MNLA and Ansar Dine gives me hope that we will find a compromise between these two sides. Ansar Dine won’t give up on implementing sharia law, but my feeling is that most people living in the north don’t want to live under radical Islamic rule. [The majority of the north’s residents are Muslim, but much more moderate.] Both sides might eventually be able to agree to a partial application of sharia law, which wouldn’t include corporal physical punishment like cutting thieves’ hands. Yes, we [the MNLA] suffered military defeats in the north and don’t have any permanent bases there. But I think Ansar Dine knows very well that most of the population agrees with our non-religious view of governance.
Some say that the best way to convince Ansar Dine to negotiate is to offer its leaders important positions in the future state of Azawad. If we can reach an agreement, I think we might also be able to get Ansar Dine to cut ties with Mujao and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.