France urges US to stay in fight against extremists in Africa’s Sahel

French Minister of the Armies Florence Parly meets with French officers of the Barkhane counter-terrorism operation in Africa’s Sahel region, at the Barkhane base near Niamey in Niger. (AFP)
Updated 27 January 2020

France urges US to stay in fight against extremists in Africa’s Sahel

  • Defense Minister Florence Parly to meet with US counterparts to discuss the crisis in the Sahel
  • France relies on US intelligence and logistics for its 4,500-strong mission in the Sahel

PARIS/WASHINGTON: France hopes “good sense” will prevail and the United States will not slash support for French military operations in West Africa, where groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh are expanding their foothold.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made the appeal as Defense Minister Florence Parly was due to meet US counterparts on Monday to discuss the crisis in the Sahel, a band of scrubland south of the Sahara.

The Pentagon announced plans last year to withdraw hundreds of military personnel from Africa as it redirects resources to address challenges from China and Russia after two decades focused on counter-terrorism operations. Those cuts could deepen following an ongoing global troop review spearheaded by Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

The possibility has alarmed France, which relies on US intelligence and logistics for its 4,500-strong mission in the Sahel. The deaths of 13 French soldiers in a helicopter crash during a combat mission in Mali in November increased France’s determination to secure more support in the zone.

France believes it is time to increase, not ease, pressure on militants to prevent “Daesh from rebuilding in the Sahel,” a senior French defense ministry official told Reuters.

Parly will put her case on Monday to Esper and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.

“I hope they will be rational to keep this partnership … and that good sense will prevail,” le Drian told reporters.

The US currently has 6,000 military personnel in Africa. Although some experts say a repositioning of forces is overdue, many US officials share French concerns about relieving pressure on militants in Africa.

“Any withdrawal or reduction would likely result in a surge in violent extremist attacks on the continent and beyond,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democrat Chris Coons wrote in a letter to Esper this month.

Former colonial power France intervened in 2013 to drive back militants who had seized northern Mali the previous year. Fighters have since regrouped and spread. Over the past year, militants have stepped up attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Although groups in the Sahel are believed to have the intent to carry out attacks against the United States, they are not currently believed to have the capacity to do so, officials say.

General Francois Lecointre, chief of staff of the French armed forces, told Reuters that the loss of US intelligence from intercepted communications would be the “biggest setback.”

“I’m doing my utmost to prevent this from happening,” he said, adding that French drone-based spying systems would not be operational until year-end.

France said this month it would deploy 220 additional troops to the region, despite rising anti-French sentiment in some countries and criticism at home that its forces are bogged down.

Parly recently visited the Sahel with counterparts from Portugal, Sweden and Estonia to press European allies to do more, especially by contributing special forces to a new French-led unit due to be set up this year.

One of the main aims of the outfit, officials said, is to improve coordination between regional troops and French planes able to carry out air strikes.

So far, take-up has been limited with only Estonia committing 40 troops, while discussions continue with eight nations. Germany has refused to take part.


Kashmiris slam Indian PM’s new domicile law for region as ‘obnoxious, insulting’

Updated 03 April 2020

Kashmiris slam Indian PM’s new domicile law for region as ‘obnoxious, insulting’

  • Modi announcement follows Delhi’s scrapping of Article 370

DELHI: A controversial decision by the Indian government to redefine domicile rules for people living in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir territory was on Thursday branded as “obnoxious” and “insulting.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday introduced a new set of laws giving domicile rights to non-Kashmiri Indians, a move which analysts claim was aimed at altering the demographic character of India’s only Muslim-majority region.

Critics also slammed the timing of the decision when India was in the midst of tackling the “monumental” coronavirus health crisis.

Under the legislation, which comes into effect from Wednesday, any individual who has resided in Indian-administered Kashmir for 15 years will be eligible for domicile certification. Permanent residency rights will also apply to students who have studied in Kashmir for seven years and appeared in secondary or higher secondary examinations in schools located in the territory.

The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs said that central government employees who had worked in the state for 10 years would be eligible too for the domicile status.

Modi’s announcement comes eight months after New Delhi scrapped Article 370 of the constitution that gave Indian-administered Kashmir special constitutional status and exclusive land and job rights to locals.

New Delhi also divided the state into two federally administered units — the union territories of Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir — which gave local legislators very limited political roles and power. The region has been in lockdown since August last year with 3G and 4G internet services still suspended in the valley.

Harsh Dev Singh of the Jammu-based National Panthers Party (NPP) told Arab News: “It is an obnoxious piece of superimposed law. It’s a robbery committed on the youth of people by opening the jobs in Kashmir for outsiders. We will all oppose this move.”

The opposition Congress Party described the new ruling as a “betrayal of the trust of the people.”

Jammu-based Congress leader, Ravinder Sharma, said: “When the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) removed Article 370 it promised that the rights and jobs of the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be protected but now by bringing in new  domicile laws New Delhi has again insulted the people of the region.”

In a tweet on Wednesday, the region’s former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, said: “Talk about suspect timing. At a time when all our efforts and attention should be focused on the COVID-19 outbreak the government slips in a new domicile law for J&K (Jammu and Kashmir).

“Insult is heaped on injury when we see the law offers none of the protections promised.”

Kashmir’s newly formed Apni political party also condemned the move calling it an “attempt to hoodwink the people.”

Mehbooba Mufti, the detained former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said the decision would create a “massive problem” for the region.

“The Indian government tries to manipulate a law that provides guarantees to Kashmiris. It is only further alienating people, by depriving them of their constitutional rights,” she tweeted on Wednesday.

However, the BJP said that the new law was the natural corollary to the removal of Article 370.

“What is wrong with the new domicile law? If the people of Kashmir can go to other parts of India to seek jobs and residence, why should the same rights not be extended to the people of mainstream India?” said Srinagar-based BJP leader, Dr. Hina Bhat.

“Those who welcomed the removal of Article 370 will understand the significance of the new domicile law. Those who say that the demography of the region will change are indulging in propaganda.”

Political analyst and constitutional expert, Subhash Chander Gupta, questioned the current need for change and what purpose it would serve.

“It’s not a wise political move and the domicile law attacks the identity of Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP is not demonstrating any foresight and vision in effecting such kind of change. It will not bring any development. It serves the BJP’s political agenda,” said Gupta.

Another political analyst, and former Indian air vice marshal, Kapil Kak, said: “There is a stealthy approach to what is being attempted in Kashmir. At a time when a monumental health crisis is hitting India, New Delhi has time to indulge in the humiliation of the people of the region,” he told Arab News.

“There is a mala fide intention and the intention is the violation of the Indian constitution. The fear of the people of the valley is justified that these are attempts to alter the demographic balance of Kashmir,” added Kak, who has challenged the abrogation of Article 370 in the Supreme Court.

Prof. Sheikh Showkat of the University of Kashmir, in Srinagar, said: “The domicile law is meant to alter the demographic profile of Kashmir. The political statements of the BJP’s paternal organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) say clearly that the only way to resolve the Kashmir dispute is by changing its demography.

“The series of missteps and the humiliation that New Delhi is heaping on the people of Kashmir are piling up; it might burst in time to come,” he added.