Tuesday, 12 June 2012

ASWJ and the Istanbul II Conference

The recently held Istanbul II conference ambitiously titled “Preparing Somalia’s Future: Goals for 2015” was noteworthy not only for the participation of representatives from 54 countries but also for the fact that it was able to secure the simultaneous attendance of the Transitional Federal Government, Puntland and Somaliland. Notably absent however were any representatives from the Sufi militia Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ), a point that was largely ignored outside of Somali media organisations.

According to ASWJ this absence was because the group had not received a formal invitation to attend the conference, a seemingly strange claim given that the website of the Turkish Ministry of foreign affairs states that “Participants will be determined based on the list of invitees for the Istanbul I Conference held in May 2010. Somaliland, Galmudug and ASWJ will be invited.”

While there were apparent some delegates at the conference in Istanbul who claimed to represent ASWJ their participation was denounced and condemned by Abdislan Adan Hussein, the Head of Political Affairs for the group. It is possible that this represents a split within the leadership of ASWJ on the issue of its participation in the current political process; however this would also mean at least some factions remain in opposition to it.

The failure to issue an invitation to ASWJ, if indeed none was given, should be viewed as a matter of concern given the groups often poor relationship with Somalia’s Transitional Federal government. The failure to include ASWJ at the conference should be considered even more surprising given that the group can call on approximately 2,000 fighters and controls substantial amounts of territory in Galgaduud, Gedo and Hiran regions.

It is clear that whatever the case either ASWJ as a whole or at least some factions need to be reconciled with the current peace process in Somalia including the handover of power by the Transitional Federal Government to a new parliament on 20 August. If such a reconciliation does not occur then it is possible that what have until now been largely political disputes may become a military confrontation between the internationally backed government in Mogadishu and the clans who provide ASWJ with fighters and support. Whether or not relations between ASWJ and the Mogadishu-based government reach such a point much will depend on the ability of Ethiopia to exert influence of ASWJ given its years of providing military and logistical support to the group

ASWJ Statment on Istanbul II Conference

See the International Crisis Group 2010 Report Somalia's Divided Islamists and this article from SomaliaReport for more background information on ASWJ.

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